THE FIRST ISSUE
THE FOX HAT REVIEW “Nerdfighteria’s first literary magazine”
THE FOX HAT REVIEW est. 2013
Vol. I, Issue 1 2014
All work ÂŠ2014/ respective authors. December 2014 All rights reserved. Published in the United States by The Fox Hat Review www.thefoxhatreview.org
THE FOX HAT REVIEW THE FIRST ISSUE
Made in Nerdfighteria, 2014
Charlotte Victoria Marriott, Founding Editor Meghan Bee, Executive Editor
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EDITOR’S NOTE Hello, friends. Welcome to the inaugural issue of The Fox Hat Review, and thank you for your part in this endeavor, whether as a reader, a contributor, or someone we hope to publish in the future. The Fox Hat Review started with a years-long daydream that kind of just came to a head. In May, 2013, I began a social media campaign to see if I could garner any interest in the idea, despite my less-than-200 Tumblr followers, being the worst ever at tagging my posts, and other various obstacles which I very Sagittarianly disregarded. Posting “Literary Magazine?: an Open Letter to Nerdfighteria” brought me a truly invaluable asset to Fox Hat’s viability. I am, of course, describing the fabulous Meghan Bee. We were instantly compatible professionally, and it is today my great privilege to call Meghan one of the best friends of my life. We finally spent New Year’s Eve, 2013 deliriously watching the post “Nerdfighter Literary Magazine Needs You!” rack up hundreds of notes in the course of the evening, thanks to EffYeahNerdfighters.com and Nerdfighter-Art.tumblr.com, two epic Tumblr blogs that never forget to be awesome. Immeasurable thanks go out to both of them for helping us reach most of the Fox Hat community. I have many hopes and wishes for The Fox Hat Review, and I hope that so might you. The most immediate, concrete thing I want is for us to grow our editorial staff. There are many kinds of magazine staff, and we hope to take on a few new volunteers, so please see our website if you would be interested in joining our team. More staff will help us produce more frequent issues and other satellite projects we’d like to do, our list of beautiful maybes including meetups and a YouTube channel to feature our writers and musicians, open studio with artists, film and theatre videos, and a webseries adaptation of our own… In its baby stages, we still need to support the magazine more than it can support us, and one of the most important things we can do to help the magazine support its artists is to foster a truly awesome Fox Hat community by getting in touch with the creators we love, sharing our non-magazine projects with fellow Fox Hatters, and supporting each other’s projects as best we can. Don’t forget to be awesome. Charlotte Victoria Marriott, Founding Editor
CONTENTS POETRY “Tamamo-no-Mae” by V. C. Linde……………………………………………..1 “Psalm of Samsara” by Charlotte Victoria……………………………………...3 “Promise” by Charlotte Victoria………………………………………………...6 “Beneath the Bark of a Willow Tree” by Sarah Chaplin………………………..7 “You Remind Me of Andromeda” by Sarah Chaplin…………………………..9 “Our Betrayal” by Sarah Chaplin…………………………………….………..10 “Not a Cinderella Story” by Jill Sebacher……………………………………...11 “Canning Time” by Lauren Jones-Rabbitt…………………………………….13 “Piñata” by Megan Jean Foley………………………………………………….14 “A Song for Myself ” by Amelia Koontz………………………………………..15 “Doubt” by Caroline Cantrell………………………………………………….19 “The River” by George Doran…………………………………………………20 “Fledgling on a Farm” by Sofia Zheng………………………………………...21 “Seaweeds” by Shane Barr……………………………………………………..22 “Don’t Peel the Orange Twice” by Mark Noonan……………………………..23 “The Power Is Out and We Don’t Do Well” by Mark Noonan………………..24 “A Male Cardinal Is a Small Red Bird with a Black Mask On and Kind of a Mohawk on Its Head” by Mark Noonan…………………………...25 “Coffee” by C. H. Lauer……………………………………………………….26 “Matter” by C. H. Lauer……………………………………………………….27 “Eulogy for the Small” by Jillian MacLeod…………………………………….29
FICTION “Ghost Stories” by Aaron Lockman……………………………………………31 The Whitmore Chronicles: Part One by Aaron Lockman…………………………...44 “Siren’s Sound” by Dianne E.C.E.……………………………………………..61 “The Urge to Jump” by Dianne E.C.E………………………………………...67 “Bride’s Thoughts” by Amani Onyango……………………………………….70 “A Love Story” by Ameris Poquette…………………………………………….73 “The Book Girl” by Cara Nuzzo……………………………………………….79 “Fair Lorelei” by C. H. Lauer………………………………………………….82 “Mentality” by Dania Khan……………………………………………………87 “Such Stories” by Beth Damiano………………………………………………94 “The Bug” by Amy Deyerle-Smith……………………………………………..97 “Lazarus Hotel” by Amy Deyerle-Smith……………………………………...105 “Above All Else” by Acacia Ackles…………………………………………….114 “The Coffeehouse” by Ellie Rose McKee…………………………………….128 (continued on next page)
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NONFICTION “Leonora LoMedico” by Charlotte Victoria………………………………….131 “Worry” by Lizzie Hill………………………………………………………...136 “Darkness” by Lizzie Hill……………………………………………………..141 “Where’s Poochie?” by Lizzie Hill…………………………………………….144 “Flamenco” by Maya Granger………………………………………………..148 “The Types of Customers You Get in a Pub” by Jasmine Damen…………...151 “If My Resume Were Honest” by Rachael Bahr……………………………..153
VISUAL ART Golden Hour by Corinne Demyanovich………………………………………...155 Beach Light by Samantha Richardson………………………………………….157 Artemis by Rebecca Weaver……………………………………………………159 Dark Caster by Rebecca Weaver………………………………………………..161 Jade by Rebecca Weaver………………………………………………………163 Insecure by Rebecca Weaver……………………………………………………165 Horse Head by Anna Swarts……………………………………………………167 Untitled by Haley Yarborough…………………………………………………169 One Way by Corinne Demyanovich……………………………………………171 Koi Love by Alicia Caruso……………………………………………………...173 Untitled by Ameris Poquette……………………………………………………175 Untitled by Ameris Poquette……………………………………………………177 Untitled by Ameris Poquette……………………………………………………179
Cover by Charlotte Victoria
Tamamo-no-Mae V.C. Linde Tamamo-no-Mae was a legendary Japanese woman of extraordinary beauty and wit who was really a very old, cunning fox trying to kill the Emperor She knew all the words every answer, each question her mind knew it all. Knowledge is a clever mask matching beauty, art and touch. Her Emperor asked about the faith and the stars – she answered in turn. Careful chosen favourite we leave prints as we follow. Girl and Lord grew close with words and love, with closed eyes – he loved her strong light. She shone more brightly while he lay weak and fell far dark down. Teller, prophet, seer. Warns of the old in new skin – two tails tucked in skirts. And the servant girl vanished, And the fox had fled the coop. Out, out, chase the fox no longer girl, no more loved – the warriors ride. To protect the now and next from this long-lived cunning plot. Lanterns flicker twice and the fox-light shows the form – fur is draped in fear. Tomorrow I will catch it, the arrow digs in deeper. 1
The dawn rains sharp fire through the Plains to the mountains â€“ where one hit lands hard. Not spared, not good, remembered the body, in death, a stone. Cursed feet walk slowly as a haunted spirit stands â€“ guard the killing place.
Psalm of Samsara Charlotte Victoria 1. Back when you discovered fire, I was a jealous she-thing raised by wolves. I waited for you in sparse caverns and trumpeted hymns of you from a femur flute. So besotted was I that I invented music at the dawn of centuries. (It never carried to your ears.) I imagine you were laughing, the night we got kicked out of Eden; how the fiery X had you in stitches – stone-faced cherubim, armed in righteousness: hilarious. So irreverent you are, and yet so dear to me. We survived; 2. I mean to say I found you again. We lived on the banks of a great river. Were we furtive and forbidden then? One seraphic, one common: a barbarous pastime for wicked gods. 3. We would’ve made excellent tomb raiders, love. Fabulous thieves. Oh, we would’ve fallen into every booby trap, Pandoraed open every mummy’s curse. Say I could not bear children; 4. say you sprouted neon feathers. Say you learned how to fly and I lost you 3
again. Perhaps we met 5. as peasants in a bamboo forest; 6. perhaps we collided in a questioning crowd drawn by an impossible man from Galilee. I can adhere, I can abide. I can wait for the trumpets and the living creatures, for the elders and the martyrs dressed in dazzling clothes. 7. You find no credence where patience cannot home. And any concrete of yours is free-floating. 8. We honed our penmanship in dim Roman monasteries. We learned the relevance of ritual. 9. In the early 1800s, I followed you west. 10. I think you remember me watching you in 1927, in your absolute element. It was a frightening, magical time. It was fun to be young, 11. to be beautiful. 12. In between then and now, we were probably in some horrible accident. I think maybe we died together, young. Despite obituaries we would never recognize, we’re the only ones who’d understand. 13. Only we don’t either. I think of these things often; I keep them close to my heart 14. because they were awakened in me several Julys ago when we last found each other. I dreamed of you, saw you behind your current face for months before I knew it. We match; 15. I could read your chaos with remarkable fluency and 16. that scares the hell out of both of us, but 4
17. a shared affinity for novels and tarantellas, for technical felonies and dandelion diadems â€“ in short, for blind nostalgias â€“ how could that hold us through time? 18. Iâ€™ve vowed many times that I would learn to omit you from these lines because you are deliberate, because you render these works pale 19. plagiarisms.
Promise Charlotte Victoria I promise you gravity. We will pull harmoniously until the end of the age. I promise that we will spin and form and reform and create new surfaces, new smoldering innards. Our binary earths will pull again. I promise to rise with you when the morning comes, and if the sunlight finds me there alone, I promise I shall rise alone. I will create with you â€“ we will make life inside ourselves. I will face you plainly from the other side of stars. My arrow aims for the centric goodness between twins. I promise I will die with you and only you. I will go with you into the pyre; I will not be afraid â€“ I anticipate the unknowable amalgamation of our common dust. I promise to be the dust that envelops your dust; my ghost waits as on hinges, yearning to encompass your soul.
Beneath the Bark of a Willow Tree Sarah Chaplin For more than half of a human century I have listened Beneath calloused bark. My roots can no longer hide From the abysmal sky and the white pupils of stars That do not blink. In time I will drift again, cease to be a tree. I will return to my brothers suspended in black with eyes Altered and a throat gagged with pity. On the moon of my arrival I accepted that celestial plasma could not pity And I did not wish to listen To the squawks of gluttonous man or to peer into their shallow eyes. I was sure I knew what I’d find hiding There. A stone wall of ignorance and fear standing taller than any tree. But I was wrong. I found a woman who traced the stars With tiny fingertips so that they no longer were stars At all, but Gods and warriors who perhaps might have pitied The inevasible future of man. She hummed sweetly to the trees And I drifted into the unexpected purity of her tone as I listened With the tips of my green speckled fingers. She did not hide Her voice from the wind, but threw her head back in crescendo. Her eyes Lifted in praise of the omniscient moon. I wish to see through the eyes Of a woman, to be oblivious of those who inhabit the stars. I was sent as a Trojan Horse, a quiet intruder hidden To observe a frivolous people I was not supposed to pity. I scream to the woman to run, but she never listens. After all, I am only a tree. I don’t know if there are others like me. Perhaps all the trees Keep secrets and stare with beady eyes Like mine. Or perhaps I am as alone as I feel, listening To the condemned beauty of this world. The stars Aren’t destroyed by the morning sun. Pity, I think to myself. Such a pity that they’re only hiding. 7
They will come someday to extract my memories hidden In leaves that will never fall. They will not come as trees, But perhaps as larks or nightingales. My people have no pity For the plights of man, nor I suppose for mine. I will recognize their eyes. Black specks that somehow lack shine, their luster stolen by the stars And their empty cries that sounds like far-off static if you really listen. I listen for the murmurs of women and pray for silence from the stars. Peering through the eyes of a willow, my fear is hidden Away with my pity. I yearn for her sake to remain a tree.
You Remind Me of Andromeda Sarah Chaplin
It’s funny how benign words can create blisters. They are not sharp. They are not bred for harm. But they eventually break through your skin; make you limp. “She was beautiful and she married a mighty warrior.” She was chained to a rock and left to die. I remind you of Andromeda? I remind me of Medusa. I would much prefer writhing serpents to flaxen ringlets. I’d rather gaze into stone than pity. There is something pretentious these days about broken things. We are mysterious. We are shaken too hard. We need to be swept up into strong arms. But I am not a mistake so easily remedied. Your words can not rectify me, reanimate me. I don’t need it. I am a thrashing vitality.
Our Betrayal Sarah Chaplin
We eat toast and fruit for breakfast. Our crisped wheat triangles are cradled by fragrant reds and oranges and purples. We avoid the sizzling wails of grease and bacon in shallow black skillets. We wrench open our freezers and submerge our faces just in case murder might smell as dangerously good as we remember. We disappoint our German mothers who grew up on sausages and pork, who cannot comprehend the idea of meatless marinara, who forgetfully sprinkle diced ham on our salads, who feel guilty despite themselves, and who painstakingly pick out their fleshy mistakes from our bowls. We scour supermarkets and expedition through dark leafy greens in search of protein. Beans, pine nuts, spinach, kale, chick peas, edamame. Anything to strengthen oure resolve. We are not regretful but we are sometimes hungry â€“ hungry for convenience. For tolerance. We stand beside our mothers in hot kitchens on Saturday afternoons. They insist we learn how to brown beef for our sisters and future husbands. We in turn try to teach them to season tofu and bake portabella mushrooms in place of burgers. They listen with crinkled brows, but do not stick out their tongues in mock disgust as they once would have. We do not hate our mothers for what they put into their mouths. We hate the arguments. The incessant questions. And we hate our stomachs for the seditious thoughts they put into our heads.
Not a Cinderella Story Jill Sebacher I don’t need reminders, I still live in your neighborhood, pick up groceries at your Publix, pass my cart past coffee-creamer-corner where you stood countless times – your personal mission, to find to taste every new variety. I don’t need e-mail reminders around all holidays from vendors wanting to send you presents. I already know a Mimi’s gift card would have been the perfect gift – corn chowder dashed with pepper to begin eggs, scrambled bacon, crisp washed down with orange juice, the chocolate muffin wrapped to go – five years of Fridays. I don’t need reminders. The Barnes and Noble mailer must be a joke – the latest western, spy, and sci-fi you couldn’t have read in the end when Alzheimer’s 11
stole all of the words years before it stole you. I don’t need the giant sign, “Don’t forget dad – June 16th.” The rows of man-colored cards blue envelopes I’ll never label tumble over me tumble me over. I got the call yesterday: you’re at sea finally and finally. I don’t need a reminder that life is not a fairytale that no sparkly dress will fix this certainly not shoes that what I want – you back and whole – is as impossible as a bird dropping wishes, fruit for the unspoiled from a tear-grown tree, but if that is you smiling down from heaven in the seam of a cloud, the surrounding sky, the same blue of your eyes, that reminder, I’ll take it.
Canning Time Lauren Jones-Rabbitt
In the evening, when glow had gone and the harvest shiver set in, when
the dust from our falling skin settled itself together on the baseboard, pinched in between wall and wood. With the air of a farmer’s tired hope, he spoke, “You’ve created the next generation of people who hate themselves, congratulations.” In response, my electric muscle,with those old, paper-cut thin slices, (the ones with the hemophilia, who forgot to clot) descended deeper into The hard glass jar, only half full now of stagnant lemon juice, meant for its bulk to raise the juice to the brim. As if waiting for the words, Rocks, chained to sink it to the cold pulpy bottom. Left fermenting there, heavy and stinging, shrinking in the dark corner of our kitchen counter. Light bleeding out from those ancient fingernailsized slits. Crookedly streaming, the leaks of light clouding up the glass. I turned then and switched off the bedside lamp, “Goodnight.” Fastened the lid onto the loathing with the darkness. Sealed it up. Tight.
Piñata Megan Jean Foley I am an accidental firework my hip bones are bowls full of black powder I am a shot gun shell packed with piano wire My kiss is a baseball bat wrapped in bandages I am the dregs still hiding at the bottom of the upturned cup my scalp is a teabag I am a subwoofer beat upon and fighting back I speak like a preacher’s microphone burned out at both ends I am ripped in a circle like a shark’s jaw. I am a mortician with a weak hell My touch might turn you to silver or lightning I am a bell with a broken back I am running this show like an understudy. I am a piñata useful when broken.
A Song for Myself Amelia Koontz Once, when I went out for a walk barefoot, a man in a passing car jeered out the window, “I like your shoes!” like it was a show and not an experience. And I glanced down at my crooked toes and said “Thanks, I do too,” even though he was too far to hear. Because I like that my feet can take me places and that the soles pick up dirt as proof and it doesn’t matter where I’m going, just the focus I put into each step. I like that my feet can take me around a corner with a chest full of week-old weariness growing stagnant in my lungs and back around the same pavement edge five minutes later filled with a song instead. I like the poem my heart beats out, flowing in verses through my veins and heating me up with the quiet fire of doing. I like it because it says that I’m alive and that I have something to say (even when I’m sleeping the poem flows on). Whether or not I release those words is up to me but why not? Why not let that blood help my lips to form the words explaining what it means to exist? See, here’s the thing. People are broken, and messy. But only if you believe them to be. I unbelieve my brokenness, I call the mess a masterpiece. I am the god here, not the instrument. 15
And yet, it’s not always that easy. I have appeared to crumble beneath the weight of my existence; yes, I have shattered myself as quietly as possible because we are taught that this is what we are supposed to be, piles of missing pieces and broken hearts and so much empty hope. We build ourselves up crookedly with the intent of becoming beautiful disasters, but we are only ever catastrophes, a hurricane they just can’t stop watching holding their breaths in anticipation of the impact, the apocalypse. We are the casualties because they want us to be because not feeling whole is the only thing that can turn our temple, our body, into our prison so they can swallow the key and walk away feeling bigger, telling us that any thoughts about ourselves that are not hate are just selfish and incongruous with reality. it’s hard not to fall under the skepticism that comes when we begin to talk about ourselves and the scornful headlines on grocery store magazines, and the billboards blaring cures screaming missed cues pulling you under until you shred your skin like tissue paper in an empty bathroom stall and boil your tears so they can become the air you breathe and chop off your hair and dye it bright sorrow for the savage pleasure-pain of proving them right and you forget that it isn’t your fault because you’re the one who started the bleeding. And after a while that becomes all there is left, you make yourself into the pain, hurting and hurting and slipping and giving until there’s nothing left, until one day you find the unimaginable strength to pick up a pen and with no other choice left, you become that battered notebook you swore you’d never use hidden under your pillow 16
until the night comes and it becomes you, and the words thick and heavy burying you until one day they save you. And then you learn that there is something else, too: a secret that is too often swept into corners in the hopes that it will vanish under dust and years, a truth that we love to forget. It’s okay. It’s okay that your shoelaces come untied and you lose your car keys every five minutes. It’s okay that you don’t fit into those jeans anymore no matter how much you crush yourself. It’s okay that you sometimes shake pieces of glass from your shoulders when you walk, souvenirs of your desolation glinting in the hard sunlight. And when you cast off those pieces, and you think you’re just burying yourself, you will suddenly stub your toe on the fact that they do not exist, you are not glass or mirror or tsunami, you are flesh and bone and three-fourths miracle, made from the same ingredients as stars and fresh cantaloupe but so incredibly your own. It’s not about what you’ve done, the nightmares you’ve seen even though everyone pretends they don’t exist. it’s about the next step forward. and the one after that, and the one after. It’s hearing your heart pumping to the beat of that song telling you someone else understands, feeling your eyelashes carefully repainting the world in the colors you forgot you loved, walking for hours because you can and savoring the idea that it does not matter who you seem to be but who you know you are, who actually, as it turns out, is kind of amazing. It’s about doing all you can to push all of those wrong answers away and welcome the folding into yourself 17
that means you are becoming beautiful to the only person who really matters: you. I’m not saying it’s easy but it’s all we have left. We tramp this perpetual journey together – lost, and scared, and in various stages of disrepair, but never alone. We will follow each other out of the dark.
Doubt Caroline Cantrell My mother grew up in the Bible belt East Texas summers, hot as you-know-where church spires in sharp relief against the blinding sky She stopped going to church the year I was born But once, in the blue-gray flicker and mosquito whine of the TV at 10 PM I saw a shiver rattle her bones and she clasped her hands like she was praying When I asked her why she told me that itâ€™s much easier to believe in demons than it is to believe in God
The River George Doran I am here in my room, and in love with the wheeze of the street: the breeze that brings the sounds of distant of cars. I’m in love with the shards of orange, sodium street light; they ask of you nothing but to stroll with hands in your pockets, and whistle past the graveyard. I must go suddenly out into the night! I want the moon and the stars; I want the fear and I want the freedom. I want to walk down quaint Victorian streets alone and in love with solitude forever. The silence is deafening. The river (where bright angel-feet have trod) is flowing upon it like a song. The banks are separated by so much water still so cold on these hot summer nights. I’ll take off my shoes, take off my ribbons and jewels, and climb down a rusted iron ladder, and lie on the surface of the water: open my mouth wide and fill my lungs, and go under. I’ll be spread along the coast as sludge; a cockle-picker will pick my eyes from the mud; my bones will be white and brittle as driftwood; my brain on the bottom of the ocean could be mistaken for a sponge.
Fledgling on a Farm Sofia Zheng “Don’t go to war,” said everyone At the dinner table over a simple meal “Women don’t fight,” chimed one cousin Holding his spoon above the soup “Grandma has a bad hip,” said another Letting go of the pitcher “Help me tend to the farm,” requested father Chewing a small slice of bread “Bring me that bucket over there,” said mother Pointing to a rusty pail in a corner “I love you,” said my lover Holding my hand, looking into my eyes “Go to war,” he said Shedding my down I took flight “I love you too,” I said Waving goodbye
Seaweeds Shane Barr Shall I remind you of how our love began on that night in summer when we stood by the Chesapeake gently dipping our toes in the frothy surf lulled by the song of the waves beckoning urging us away from the safety of the shore further out surrounded and consumed overtaken we let go of the fear entangled we float out to sea we let go
Don’t Peel the Orange Twice Mark Noonan The important thing with the economic recovery is: you have to dig in firmly right from the start. Don’t peel the orange twice. So what do I mean by don’t peel the orange twice? Well, what I mean when I talk about peeling the orange twice is – you know when you peel an orange, not a clementine or something but a normal, full-sized orange, and you have all this white stuff on the outside still, the pith or whatever it is, and then you have to go around with your fingernail and get in under it and suddenly you’re just messing with it for waaaay longer than you ever thought you would be. That’s peeling the orange twice, and it is destroying the economic recovery. We’ve all had those good days right? Where you just get under it all that first time, and you peel the whole thing, lift everything up at once and then you’re just done, and you can go and eat the orange right then and it’s delicious, am I right? Sometimes it takes a little more investment at the start, you need a long thumbnail, or some people use their teeth to get it going, get in deep. I mean it’s disgusting, but that’s okay. Ultimately that’s okay. Whatever. Doing it the other way, I mean I don’t even care anymore about the orange. Let’s be honest here: we’ve all just said screw it, and thrown away an orange every now and then right? Or you call your kid in and say hey, you want an orange? I got it started for you. Listen, we can’t just keep passing this on to the next generation indefinitely.
The Power Is Out and We Don’t Do Well Mark Noonan One of us dropped the matches so I hold my phone to the floor to look for them and wish that I was sober and that this hadn’t happened now. We might have to eat from those mystery cans with no labels. Maybe if they don’t fix the power tonight. Your grandmother phones when you’re locking the door. I’m counting shells at the table. She tells me they have power. They’ve made chicken and rice and ask if we want to come over. I put my gun away and wish society would either disintegrate or hold together once and for all so I’m not just always waiting for the next godawful installment, where maybe we have to shoot the neighbours.
A Male Cardinal Is A Small Red Bird With A Black Mask On And Kind Of A Mohawk On Its Head Mark Noonan One day this cardinal showed up and ate from the floor of our balcony. He hung around for a few minutes, like he was thinking something over, then jumped through the bars, and fell straight down and no one ever saw him again, until at some point there he was, among the statues, hopping from one to another, regurgitating every seed heâ€™d ever eaten into their hungry, waiting mouths.
Coffee C. H. Lauer Distill this substance from my life and brew up a new trouble that will continue to keep me awake at night, for you have become my high. My fix. My vice. I was once found stumbling, falling, and careening. Now you pick me up. And cheap was fine, but I prefer rich. Fuck pale and light. I’ll take café and latté and whatever else I can get my lips on. So take pity on my rectified spirit because you bring the heat. You are the only way I truly let off steam.
Matter C. H. Lauer She makes me want to matter. I refuse to remain as just just an occupant of space – just matter. I crave to live a life of consequence because of her – one that… well, I guess one that matters. As a matter of fact, her being is what makes me, what sparks my matter into existence. Her being is a material piece of my substance; my something to be used and shaped and sewn together in order to become something that matters. No promise of heaven is of any matter to my circumstances because the uncertainty of any concrete matter to ensure its existence simply does not matter. And for that matter, I have no option but to believe that she has become all that matters to me – that her substance is what causes me to matter. 27
So together, while we lie in bed, underneath material strung together by fine threads, nothing but a pool of matterâ€Śwell, I guess thatâ€™s where Iâ€™ll matter. But what it boils down to is this: to me, she is a life and death matter.
Eulogy for the Small Jillian MacLeod A ratâ€™s life is swift and full of motion. Adventurous creatures who meet their small world with bright eyes and twitching spider-silk whiskers. Rarely keeping still-their little hearts beating time away so quickly. So it was the utter stillness of her that shocked me. I imagined phantom movements as I looked at her. A breath, a nod of the head. Where has all that life gone? I held her cold body, and I thought of what people sometimes say about the dead: She is no longer in there. She has gone somewhere else. But I do not think this is true-for we are only our bodies. But I understand why we say this of our beloved. For I looked at the little body in my hands, felt the terrible stiffness of her, once warm, wriggling, but frozen now-I was scared to touch her. Where have you gone, little one? If you are not here, then where are you? I buried her beneath an old pine, nestling her body between its roots so that the tree might drink of her, drawing life from her death. Her fur was bright against the earth. I covered her with the dry, golden needles that had fallen all around.
Death is a door that we walk through.
Nothing ever truly dies. All the matter of this world is recycled, for all time. And though she might not feel it, this little one who spent her brief life in warm, happy domestication, safe, content, but ever bound to a world of walls, will become a part of the forest where I laid her body down. She will be the bodies of a thousand-thousand tiny beings of the soil, and the soft new leaves of spring, and the air, and the rain.
We are all made of things that were.
Ghost Stories Aaron Lockman
There was a house, and in the house there was a boy. The house sat, nestled cozily in the side of a cul-de-sac at the end of a winding residential street. It was surrounded by other houses, most of which were built in a very similar manner: white, clapboard, and boring – although the indifferent white paint seemed almost blue in the dark of the evening. The night was well lit by the moon and the stars, and the trees seemed almost restless. They bent and rustled as a cool autumn breeze wormed its way down the road. The houses and expensive cars of the neighborhood paid no attention to the trees, however, instead choosing to slumber peacefully in their foundations and driveways. The people of the street slept, too, even as the dark, wet grass of their lawns beckoned them to come outside, lie down, and look at the stars. It was a school night, and the caring mothers of Long Bank, Maine had ordered their children to sleep hours ago. The boy in question, however, was as far from sleep as it is possible to be. His wide blue eyes stared at the digital clock across his small bedroom, as his eyelashes made the bright green numbers twinkle in the darkness. He lay quite still, almost impatiently. There was a thick turquoise blanket wrapped neatly around him, securing him to his mattress in a neat, singular bundle like an American flag wrapped around a coffin. The clock display blinked from 11:54 to 11:55. Jonah snapped into action, extricating himself from his blanket cocoon with some difficulty. He grabbed a flashlight from his dresser (stealth was imperative), opened his door, and then slunk out into the hallway and down the blue carpeted flight of stairs. In the kitchen, Jonah found a stepstool and reached into the tallest cabinet, where he carefully took an unopened package of Mint Oreos from its perch. He poured himself a glass of milk from the fridge and took his snack back upstairs. When he reached the upper hallway, he turned – not right, toward his own bedroom, but left, toward his brother’s. The room was eerily spare; his mother had cleaned it out since the 31
accident. All that remained were the posters Tommy had stubbornly glued to the wall: an Eragon movie poster, the periodic table, a map of the world, an exploded diagram of the space shuttle. Jonah parked himself in the middle of the floor and attempted to open the Mint Oreos as quietly as possible. His parents were heavy sleepers, but one could never be too careful. He dipped an Oreo in his milk and chewed on it as he waited. It would not be long, he knew. It happened at precisely midnight. The room began to glow slightly as a silky, spidery ball of soft bluish light appeared several feet above the carpet. Jonah watched it with bated breath as it began to grow little tendrils and swirl around experimentally. It seemed to be reaching out into the room, testing whether it was safe to fully materialize. The ball of light apparently decided that it was indeed safe, as more tendrils grew out from its center, these ones more tangible and corporeal. They began to form shapes which unified into a single figure: sneakers, cargo jeans, a T-shirted torso; thin, powerful arms, and a mop of silvery, unkempt hair. The face was the last part to form: a sharp clever nose, a smirking mouth, and bright eyes that shone like stars. The ghost of Jonah’s older brother hung in midair in the middle of the room. Tommy took a moment to get his bearings, stretching his arms and rolling his neck around. He looked straight into Jonah’s eyes with that unnatural, penetrating gaze of his. “Hey, Jo,” he said. “How’ve you been?” It had all started about a month ago, one week after the accident. Something had woken Jonah up – a silvery light from the hallway, creeping around the edges of Tommy’s door. Inside the room he had found the pale, shiny, translucent form of his brother, quite as surprised as Jonah was at his presence. Tommy himself had several theories on the matter. “Perhaps memories don’t need a brain to manifest themselves,” he had said, rotating his neck, looking around his new and strange environment. “Perhaps they’re simply drawn to structure, and that’s why buildings have hauntings. I poured my heart and soul into this place when I was alive. I must have adorned this room with so many memories that some of them lingered.” He always appeared at the midnight between Wednesday and Thursday, the night he had died. 32
Tommy didn’t seem to have any recollections of an afterlife. Whenever he wasn’t in his room, he simply ceased to exist. He was never aware of any time passing between apparitions. “Like the Emergency Medical Hologram on Voyager,” he had said. Even from beyond the grave, he spoke in Star Trek references. “I’ve been okay,” said Jonah. “I have a story.” He plopped an entire Oreo into his mouth. “Ooh, a story!” said Tommy. “We haven’t had a story yet. Just sort of – updates on the mortal realm. How are Mom and Dad doing?” “So-so,” said Jonah with his mouth full. “Still kinda messed up. ’Cuz. . . you know. Their son died.” “Yeah,” said Tommy, looking a bit guilty. He’d told Jonah that, for whatever reason, he just wasn’t all that bummed about dying. What’s done is done, he had reasoned. And besides, the afterlife would get pretty old quick if all dead people just went around feeling sorry for themselves, banging chains, and sending specters after people who didn’t understand Christmas. “So what’s the story?” he asked. “Well,” Jonah began, “do you remember Ms. Drolie’s class?” “I was never in the gifted-and-talented program.” “You’re lucky.” Tommy laughed. It was a loud, barking, obnoxious laugh – although his ghost-ness seemed to muffle it a little. “You must have heard of Ms. Drolie, though,” Jonah continued. “She’s kinda the resident crazy person, right?” “Basically. She organizes all these weird fundraisers and dresses in weird costumes, and takes us on weird field trips.” “So she’s crazy.” “Not crazy. Just weird. Anyway, she told us last week that we were gonna be spending the evening of Halloween in a cemetery.” “Why? What class was this?” “English. And we were doing a scary story unit; I guess she figured it’d inspire us. Anyway, at first I thought it was stupid, but then I kinda got excited about it. Because. . . well, because there was this girl in the class.” Jonah had expected Tommy to shout out in mock horror at this point, to pretend to vomit, to jokingly complain that he had died in order to ESCAPE all the middle school melodrama. Instead, his brother simply 33
raised a translucent eyebrow. Then he smirked without saying anything. Jonah tentatively went on. “Her name was Isabel,” he said, still attempting to gauge Tommy’s reaction. “I didn’t really know her at all, even though there’s only eight people in the class. I never got paired up with her for projects or anything. And she sat on the complete opposite side of the room, ’cuz I’m usually sitting with Chris and Tim.” “Ugh,” groaned Tommy. “You need new friends.” “You should talk. Anyway, Isabel – she’s, um. . . she’s really pale, but not sickly pale or anything. Her skin is just sorta white and smooth. Like quartz. She has really red lips and really dark hair, and she usually braids it to one side. She always wears these dark-colored sweatshirts that are too big for her. So anyway, I got kind of excited about this field trip because maybe, outside the classroom, I could talk to her or something. I don’t know. “So anyway, we went to Pine Tree Hill cemetery – you know, the one by the elementary school?” Tommy nodded, his expression still unfathomable. “Okay. So Ms. Drolie drives us there in that beat-up old minibus the middle school has. And it’s only like 6:30 or so, but it’s almost pitch black outside already. And we get off the bus, and we go and sit down on the grass in a circle. Ms. Drolie gave us all candles, ’cuz she had said that anyone who brought a flashlight would fail the unit. She said that modern technology crimps creativity – I remember ‘crimps’ was the word she used. Like I said, she’s weird. “So we sat in the circle and tried to tell scary stories for a while. I had to go first, and. . . well, to be honest, I told them about you.” Tommy raised his other eyebrow. “Really.” “Yeah. I wasn’t feeling creative, so I just decided to tell the truth. They knew you’d died, and I knew they would think I was just making up the stuff about you coming back as a ghost. You know, to cope. But it wasn’t really a very good horror story because you’re not all that scary. No offense.” “None taken,” Tommy shrugged. “Is there some action in this story?” “Sort of,” said Jonah. “Kind of. Not really.” “ERGH.” “I’m getting to it. So one good thing did come out of me telling them about you, which is that Isabel looked really sad for me after. And at the 34
end, when all the girls did the whole ‘awww!’ thing when I talked about you dying, she did too.” “You’re welcome.” “Shut up. Most of the other stories were pretty lame, though. Like, Chris told this really dumb story about a monk and a key and a really long passageway, and there was this punchline about how we couldn’t know what was behind the door because we weren’t monks or something? It was stupid.” “I think I’ve heard that one.” “Yeah, he’d used it before. It was more of a shaggy dog joke than a story. So anyway, when Ms. Drolie went, she told this story about a girl at this summer camp, which was actually really awesome.” “You’re gonna tell it now, aren’t you?” “It’s important. So there’s this girl at a summer camp. It was one of those camps with cabins and a lake, and during the night the girl stole a row boat and paddled out to the middle of the lake so she could write spooky poetry in her notebook. For inspiration, I guess. It struck me as funny because we were doing the exact same thing, except at a graveyard instead of a lake. “So the girl was writing in her notebook when she heard a knock on the bottom of the rowboat. At first she just assumed it was a stick or something, but after a minute she heard it again. It didn’t sound like a stick bumping against the bottom of the boat; it sounded like somebody knocking. So she closed her notebook, got down on her hands and knees in the boat, and knocked where she thought the sound was coming from. There was a knock from the bottom again. So she knocked on the bottom of the boat twice – and the something, whatever it was, knocked twice in response. “And obviously the girl freaked out. She knocked three times, and the thing knocked three times. Every time she knocked on the hull, the thing knocked back the same number of times. “The girl wrote down what happened in her notebook, which is how the camp counselors found out what happened when they discovered the empty boat floating on the lake the next morning. But just below where the girl finished writing, there was an addition from someone else. It was the same pen (I remember Ms. Drolie said it was a blue pen), but the handwriting was really messy, and the page was wet where the second 35
message had been scrawled. “The message said, ‘I did knock first.’” “That’s really creepy.” “I know, right?” “Like, I’m a ghost and that’s creepy.” “That was really the point in the night when – ” “Like, if my heart could stop any more than it already has, it would be three times as stopped right now.” “Excuse me, who’s telling this story?” “Sorry.” “That’s okay.” “I use humor to deal with horrible, creepifying terror.” “I know.” “You can continue the story now.” “Thanks. SO. That was the point in the night when we really started to get scared. It’s funny, ‘cuz it’s not scared like when you’re in the middle of the road and see a car coming, or when you think you’re drowning in a pool. It’s irrational fear, is what it is. It’s probably the worst kind, because your fear doesn’t really have a subject, and you know there’s nothing to be afraid of, so you don’t know whatto be afraid of, so you can’t figure out WHAT you’re afraid of, so you can’t overcome your fear. I wasn’t afraid that some mysterious knocker was gonna come and knock on the bottom of my boat, because we weren’t on a boat. But I was scared now. And so was everybody else. “Anyway, Isabel was sitting right next to Ms. Drolie, so she went next. She told a story about a boy who was in love with this girl, but she was dating this other guy. So the first guy started cooking up all these schemes to kill the second guy. He tried a few times, but never succeeded. Then the girl found out and told the first guy that she could never love him, so he went crazy and ran away and started living on the streets. Then he meets this really handsome vampire who sees that he’s lonely and drinks his blood and turns him into a vampire too. So then the guy is all grateful to the vampire, and the first thing he does when he’s undead is to go to his true love’s window and try to turn her into a vampire so they can live together forever. But when he gets there, he sees the guy she’s in love with lying beside her and decides to kill him first. 36
“But then when he’s sucking the other guy’s blood, she wakes up. And then the curtains of the bedroom rustle open and the full moon shines through, and it turns out she was a werewolf the whole time. She throws the guy away from her lover, but it’s too late because her lover has already lost too much blood. In rage, she starts to rip apart the first guy with her teeth and eat him, and because he’s a vampire he lives through the entire thing. And she eats his eyes one at a time, so he can see inside her stoma – ” “Okay, stop,” said Tommy, visibly nauseated. “I think you’ve pretty much implied the gore – you don’t need to go through it.” “You were never this squeamish when you were alive,” Jonah laughed. “Yeah, well. It’s different when you’ve actually. . . you know. Experienced it.” “Are you saying you’ve personally had your insides devoured by a werewolf ?” “Shut up and keep telling the story.” “Right. So in the morning, the girl wakes up and realizes what she’s done with horror. And then she kills herself.” “Delightful.” “Yeah, the rest of the class pretty much took it the way you’re taking it. And I could sorta see what they meant, ‘cuz it wasn’t really scary. Just sorta passionate and gory and intense. And it used a lot of clichés, and the plot was pretty much plagiarized from every teen vampire book you’ve ever read. But I liked it.” “I could tell. You got way too into that.” “I can’t help it! It was just something about the way Isabel told it. It was like she was the characters, you know? She did different voices for all of them, and she had this gleam in her eye. It was like it was real.” “Mm-hm.” “So anyway, once everybody got to tell their scary story, Ms. Drolie told us to go off by ourselves and write something spooky. We just had to come back to the front of the cemetery by nine- thirty. I went off by myself and sat on a gravestone, and I tried to write. I wracked my brain and couldn’t think of anything, so I just got up and kept walking around. It was a really gorgeous night – the stars were really clear, and the air was cold, but not too cold. Crisp! That’s the word I’m looking for. The air was crisp. 37
“I got to one of those huge, tall gravestones with a cross on top – the kind that was probably for some really rich guy who died in the 1800’s. And as soon as I passed it, I heard a stick snap on the other side.” “Oh, god.” “What?” “It’s just. . . such a cliché.” “Well, easy for you to say now! But imagine it then – I was all freaked out ’cuz of all the scary stories bouncing around my head. It’s pitch black outside, I have no flashlight. And then a stick snaps on the other side of this big, imposing gravestone. You’d freak out too.” Tommy said nothing. “So I stopped and looked at the grave,” Jonah continued, eyeing his brother suspiciously. There was something missing in the ghost’s demeanor. The spark in his eyes was dimmer. “I could just see that someone was on the other side of it, but I couldn’t tell who it was. So I walked around to see, but they must have been thinking the same thing because they walked around the other side. So we basically switched places before we saw each other. “You know in those Road Runner cartoons, when Wiley Coyote is trying to peek around a corner and sees his own tail? And it looks like there’s two of him, but they both move at the exact same time? That’s what this was like, except it wasn’t funny – it was friggin terrifying. My brain was already on this stupid fear-high, and I didn’t want to shout out to ask who it was because I was worried I’d scream or something. And so we just kept circling around the gravestone. We both got faster and faster and faster, and my heart started beating like crazy and I started sweating even though it was pretty cold. “And, I mean – this all takes place in a few seconds; it just takes longer to describe it. And so after a moment I come back to my sense and just stop in my tracks. The other person ran into me, and the first thing I noticed was that they were cold. Like, really cold. Like, I couldn’t feel any body heat coming from them at all. I dismissed it right then, just ‘cuz it was a cold night. “The split-second after that, I realized that the person I’d run into was Isabel. “Which actually just made my heart freak out even more. And she was all like, ‘Holy crap! I’m so sorry! You just scared the crap out of me!’ 38
“I’d never seen her that up close before. And I noticed that her skin wasn’t pure white, like I’d thought: it also had little hints of red in it. Not even red. . . scarlet. It was like a painter had just added one or two scarlet brushstrokes to her face. And she had wrapped the ends of her sweatshirt sleeves around her hands as gloves, and she was clutching her notebook in front of her like that. And it was all just indescribably cute.” “This is all very poetic,” said Tommy, looking positively bored now. “But can we skip to the fun part? Did you kiss this girl or didn’t you?” “Fine, you pervert,” said Jonah. “Yes, I kissed her.” Tommy erupted into mock applause. “Bravo. Bravo, brave sir.” “It was about a half-hour later. We’d been walking through the cemetery together, and I gave her my coat – it was that bright yellow winter jacket that I really like – and she slipped her hand into mine…and you can stop glaring at me; I’ll cut to the chase. We kissed.” “You have been inducted into the selective league of boys who have kissed girls,” rattled off Tommy. “Congratulations, brother. You are a man now. So how was it?” “It actually wasn’t as great as I thought it was gonna be?” “Unsurprising.” “Well, I hadn’t kissed anyone before, and I don’t think she had either. I mean, it was nice, but also. . . weird.” “More detail than strictly necessary, Jo.” “No, but this is important to the story. Because her lips were really cold. And so were her nose and chin. Her hands were on my shoulders, and they felt cold. And my hands were on her arms, and they felt cold. And she was wearing my jacket, too, so you’d think she would’ve warmed up by now. It was like she wasn’t even emanating any heat for the jacket to catch. “So then there was that moment after a kiss when neither person really knows what to do. And then it got weirder. She suddenly seemed really sad. And then, without a word, she just slipped out of my arms and started walking away. After a little bit, she started running – that run girls do in movies when they’re really sad about something and want to hide it. She ran away until I couldn’t see her anymore in the darkness – my yellow jacket was the last bit of her to disappear in between the gravestones. “So naturally, I felt kind of awful and confused. I thought about shouting after her to at least ask for my jacket back, but I couldn’t bring 39
myself to say anything. I was struck dumb; I didn’t know how to react or what to do. “I looked at my cell phone, and I saw that it was almost 9:30. So I reasoned that I would see Isabel back on the bus with everybody else, maybe just ask her what was up. Or at least ask for my jacket back. I really liked that bright yellow jacket. “On the way back to the bus, everything seemed wrong. Like someone had shifted around the graves while I was wandering around. The trees looked more shriveled, and the stars looked out of order. “When I got there Ms. Drolie was standing outside the minibus with her clipboard, making sure everybody was accounted for. I got on and looked around – Isabel wasn’t back yet. I took a front seat by myself and leaned my head against the window. The cold glass felt kinda like her touch, and I started to go crazy thinking about what I could possibly have done wrong. “A few minutes later, Ms. Drolie got onto the bus and was like ‘Alright, that’s everyone! We’re going back to the school, does everyone have rides?’ “Everyone started shouting out how they were getting home, and then Ms. Drolie turned to me and said ‘Jonah, what about you?’ “And I was like, ‘My mom’s picking me up. But what about Isabel?’ “And then Ms. Drolie did something weird. She just stared at me for a moment, then looked away and smiled very pointedly. And she said, ‘Isabel? Who’s Isabel?’ “‘Isabel Collins, from our class? She’s still in the cemetery somewhere – she’s probably lost.’ “And then Ms. Drolie said – and this is verbatim – ‘I think your imagination may have gotten the better of you Jonah! We don’t have a student named Isabel.’” Jonah paused for a moment, to let the impact of his words sink in. Tommy said nothing. “And she said it very slowly,” stressed Jonah, “and very deliberately, like she’d been practicing saying that for weeks. And I was like ‘Very funny, but we should probably still wait for her.’ “And then Ms. Drolie just ignores me. She sits down in the driver’s seat and starts the bus. And at that point I stand up and start yelling, like ‘We’re seriously leaving without her?’ Because it’s just resonated in my 40
head that she’s leaving behind a student in an empty cemetery, which is probably illegal, not to mention just cruel. “So I look around at the other students, expecting them to be angry too. But they’re not. They’re just texting on their phones and stuff. And they’re not making fun of me or laughing at me, like usual. They know what’s going on, because sometimes they’ll look up at me, really sad, and then quickly back at their phone. Nobody wants to meet my eyes. “And I look back at Ms. Drolie in the rearview mirror, and I see that there’s a tear streaming down her face. But at the same time, she’s gripping the wheel really hard and I know if I try to stop her, to rip the wheel out of her hands or something and make her go back, that I won’t be able to. When Ms. Drolie gets her mind set on something, there’s really no stopping her. Except usually it’s a wacky fundraiser. Not this. “So I sit down in my seat, and all of a sudden I just feel exhausted, and weird. And heartbroken. And angry. Angry that everybody could be this cruel, angry that I don’t know what’s going on. Angry that I don’t have my bright yellow jacket anymore, on top of everything else. And I think about what Isabel’s doing in that empty cemetery, and whether she can walk home or if she has to stay there overnight. And I think about the other kids and Ms. Drolie, and how every single one of them pretended not to know who she was exactly at the same time. “And then I had a hunch. I was right at the front of the bus, and I saw that Ms. Drolie had put her stuff on the seat opposite mine – her phone, her jacket, and the folder where I guess she keeps all the class records. So I scooted over and grabbed the folder, and flipped it open to look for a list of the kids in the class, and. . . I found it. And there were seven names on the list. Seven. Eight kids in the class, but only seven on the list. “And Isabel Collins wasn’t one of them.” There was a pause. Jonah had been staring at the floor during this part of the story. He turned his head up to look at Tommy – but his brother’s ghost was gone. He glanced at the clock. It wasn’t even half past one. Usually, Tommy had a good half hour left until he disappeared. Jonah looked at the packet of Oreos, now almost depleted. His mother would be furious when she went to pack his lunch in the 41
morning. He sighed, picked up the Oreos and the empty milk glass, stood up, and began to walk out of the room. But he stopped in the doorway, staring at the place where Tommy had vanished. It bothered him that Tommy had left so early, so quietly, without even saying goodbye or yelling at him to yank him out of his storytelling reverie. Usually, when Tommy began to disappear, he felt it and was able to halt the conversation and wrap up. He had never once left without warning. Jonah felt a surge of quiet panic, there in the doorway – what if Tommy never came back? Had telling that story crossed some sort of cosmic line? He tried to remember the last snarky comment his brother had made. Was it when he was describing the kiss with Isabel? Why would that be a problem? Unless. . . He had searched everywhere at the school. The file drawers in the main office where all the student records were kept, old yearbooks, the online server. He’d tried Googling her. He’d even gone old school and checked the phonebook for her parents – no one with the last name Collins even lived in Long Bank. All evidence of Isabel Collins’ existence had been purged from the world, if there had ever been any in the first place. Whenever he asked anybody about her, they suddenly became cagey and wary, just like the other students on the bus that night. Every teacher, every secretary, even the principal. They all denied her existence and refused to meet his eyes. He almost could have tolerated the denying her existence part – if it had been just that, he might have been able to convince himself that he was insane and had merely invented her. It was the refusal to meet his eyes that unsettled him. Jonah made his way through the hall and down the stairs. The bitter thought struck him that, unlike with Isabel’s disappearance, there was no similar path of investigation he could follow with his brother. The only way to settle that was to wait and see whether Tommy came back next week. It was his only hope – and yet as Jonah thought about it he got a sudden sinking feeling in his stomach, like a rock tumbling down to the bottom of a pond. The kitchen was cool and serene. But when Jonah came in, his heart skipped a beat. His hands went limp, and the Oreos and the empty glass plummeted to the floor, the plastic-entombed cookies landing with a 42
wimpy sort of THWACK and the glass exploding violently into a million pieces with a terrible CRASH. Jonah knew that the sound would wake his parents, and that they would come downstairs to investigate. He also knew that by the time they did, he would have fainted, as he could already feel the blood rushing to his head. But he didnâ€™t care. He doubted he would ever care about anything else ever again. Because sitting draped over the back of one of the kitchen stools was a bright yellow jacket.
The Whitmore Chronicles: Part One Aaron Lockman
Amidst the Chicago Skyline The Whitmore Building was not the tallest skyscraper around, nor the prettiest or most expensive. But it was without a doubt the most powerful – a soaring obelisk of pitch black glass, seeming to absorb the blinding light of the midday snow that swirled in small tornadoes around it. Within the building, an eerie silence perpetrated the seventysix floors. Laboratories were abandoned, beakers and Bunsen burners and gas nozzles left untouched. Widescreen computers, usually kept humming all day, were silent and forlorn. Fluorescent lights were shut off, and nothing lit the empty hallways but the snowstorm raging cheerfully outside, light leaking in around the edges of the window shades. The building was almost completely deserted but for the small, darkhaired young man sitting in a resplendent office on the top floor – and the charming redheaded woman at the secretary’s desk outside who was about to walk in on him. Johnny Whitmore gazed at the blinding whiteness outside the enormous array of glass that made up two of the walls of his office. It was easy to tell that he was lost in thought: his mildly handsome, pale, freckled face was devoid of focus, and his short, slim body was leaned back in his expensive leather office chair in a position of precarious relaxation – hands behind his head and one foot on top of the other. He wore a plain black suit, with a black tie and shiny, black shoes. The lights in his office were off, but the snowstorm more than illuminated his airy, uncluttered office space. The carpets and walls were a dull gray with borders of silver, and the room smelled of sugar and leather and that new car smell. “Mr. Whitmore?” Johnny, caught off guard by the intercom and already stretching his office chair to the lengths of its abilities, twitched in surprise and fell to the floor. Hair disheveled, he righted his chair, climbed clumsily back into it, 44
and pressed the button on his desk. “Yes, Miss Pennyblossom,” he said, his voice squeaking. “Come on in.” The gray door swung open, and a tall, thin young woman with a squarish, pretty face and hair the color of strawberries leaned in. She wore high heels and an elegant, businesslike maroon skirt and blazer. “Your sister’s flight from New York has been delayed because of the snow,” said Claire Pennyblossom, in a slight accent Johnny had never quite been able to place. “She won’t be landing at O’Hare until one in the morning.” “Okay. . .yeah. Thanks, Claire,” replied Johnny. “Could you um, could you call the Royal and change the reservation to just the two siblings?” “Certainly, sir.” “You’re a lifesaver.” As Miss Pennyblossom began to close the door, the fact of her presence seemed to finally dawn on him. “Claire, it’s nearly two P.M. on Christmas Eve – what are you still doing here?” She leaned back into the room with a blank look. “I can’t clock out until you leave. Company policy.” “Company policy? Who wrote that?” “Your father did,” she said forthrightly. “Oh.” He wished the topic of his father hadn’t come up. “Well,” he said, casting around for something to look at besides her, “that’s not fair. You go home, you’ve been working too hard.” She smiled a mildly surprised smile. “Thank you, Mr. Whitmore.” “Oh, please, it’s Christmas,” he said, leaning back again and rubbing his eyes. “Call me Johnny.” There was a pause as they both debated the wisdom of this. He stopped rubbing his eyes. “Thanks, Johnny,” said Claire after a moment, the words sounding strange on her tongue. He nodded silently instead of saying “You’re welcome.” There was another pause. She stood in the doorway and he sat at his desk, both of them unsure how to proceed. “Doing anything for Christmas?” he asked. Claire swung on the door. “Not really. Just some quiet alone time, catching up on Breaking Bad.” “What about family?” 45
“Don’t really have one. I was raised in an orphanage.” “Really,” Johnny said, suddenly recalling how little he’d talked to Claire Pennyblossom in the near five years of her employment. “I never knew that. How, uh. . . how was that?” She shrugged. “Not too bad. Not nearly as dramatic as in the movies.” He smiled. “So. . . they didn’t try to sell you as a servant if you asked for more gruel? Or make you scrub the floors until they looked like the top of the Chrysler Building?” “You know your musical theater.” “It’s a guilty pleasure.” They laughed. There was a pause. The carpet suddenly became an entrancing thing to look at. “Well, um…you’re welcome to join us,” said Johnny, looking back up at her. “The reservation’s still for three.” “I don’t want to intrude,” said Claire. “I mean, Christmas is sort of a family thing.” “It’ll be fine,” he said. “Genevieve won’t mind.” Ellie would mind, he thought. But she’s not coming. “It’d be an imposition,” said Claire, clearly uncomfortable. Johnny got the feeling that she wasn’t really keen on eating Christmas dinner with an employer she hardly knew. “That’s fine,” he said, a little bit disappointed. “I’ll see you next year.” She smiled and said, “I’ll call and change that reservation for you,” exiting through the door and closing it behind her. Johnny pondered the closed door for a moment. Claire was a puzzling individual, alright. He could hardly remember a time when she hadn’t been his personal secretary, and yet neither could he remember any deeper conversation with her than the one they’d just had. Johnny got up from the desk and made his way over to the private elevator nestled in the corner next to the door. He grabbed his moleskin jacket and expensive scarf from the hat rack and held them in his arm as he pushed the button. With a rumble and a DING! the doors opened, and he rambled inside. The interior was the same shiny silver as the outside, lit with dark blue mood lighting that frankly annoyed the crap out of Johnny. He had messed with the elevator’s software endlessly, even 46
modifying it to play songs from his own iTunes library instead of that irritating muzak – but no amount of tinkering seemed to be able to turn off that blue mood lighting. He would have asked an engineer to get in there with a screwdriver and change the bulbs, but he didn’t want to seem pretentious. Johnny hated being in charge, he hated all his friends being afraid of him, he hated being in his father’s old office. But most of all, he hated this goddamn blue mood lighting. He pressed the only button on the panel and said aloud, “Billy Joel. ‘Summer, Highland Falls.’” Fast, lilting piano music came through the speakers, which calmed him down a bit. He closed his eyes and let the notes wash him away, Billy’s fingers tracing arpeggios faster than seemed humanly possible. Johnny decided that he was going to put off paperwork and relax this afternoon, maybe take a nap before he headed off to Christmas Eve dinner with Genevieve and an invisible, but nonetheless present, Ellie. Christmas Eve dinner, he thought, as one of Billy’s lyrics made him smirk inwardly. Talk about insanity. He sang along with Billy as the elevator sank downward and downward, like a rock thrown into the ocean.
La Guardia Airport, Queens, New York City “Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like this storm won’t be letting up anytime soon. We’ve received reports that this is the largest snowstorm ever recorded in U.S. history, stretching all the way here from the Midwest, so I can guarantee you probably wouldn’t want to be up there anyway! No planes flying west will be departing for at least another nine hours. We apologize for the inconvenience once again. Happy Holidays, and we hope you enjoy your stay at La Guardia Airport.” Eleanor Whitmore didn’t look up from her iPad, but she sighed heavily. She was certainly going to have a long stay at La Guardia Airport. But looking around, she could tell she was not going to enjoy it. The advantages of flying first class – the isolation, the legroom, the peace and quiet – do not apply unless you are already on the plane. Here in the overcrowded terminal that seemed to stretch in every direction for miles, anarchy and noise reigned supreme. Families with crying babies 47
battled to control their young with dangling plastic toys not ten feet from Eleanor, while the tall, overweight, bespectacled young man to her right seemed to be engaged in a vicious war to contain the inordinate amount of mucus emanating from his nose. His hands flew from his nose to his shirt to his nose to his pant legs and back to his nose, like power plant workers struggling to contain a nuclear explosion. “There’s a restroom,” said Eleanor. The man turned his head and looked at her her with incomprehension, mouth gaping. She was an attractive woman of medium height, wearing a pitch black skirt and blazer, black nylons stretched over tightly crossed legs, and black high heels. Her brown hair flowed down her shoulders yet still seemed businesslike, and she had a face that was round and friendly – or at least it would have been friendly had she not been gazing steadily at his face like she’d just stepped on him. “What?” he said. “There’s a restroom,” said Eleanor, pointing across the sea of people to the twin water fountains that marked the entrances to the men’s and ladies’ rooms. “With paper towels. If you need to blow your nose.” The man looked as though the thought had never occurred to him – but then again he’d had that same expression on his face for the past fifteen minutes. Without a word, he got up and began clumsily shambling his way between the people and suitcases that lay strewn across the terminal. Eleanor sighed and looked back down at the eBook she’d been staring at determinedly. She had started reading Moby Dick a few weeks ago, just because it seemed like the type of thing she ought to be able to say she’d read. She didn’t like it much, but she’d kept plowing through it anyway. Only now it was impossible to concentrate, with all this ceaseless noise besieging her from every direction. She put the iPad to sleep with a few finger swishes, leaned back, closed her eyes, and silently cursed herself for flying on Christmas Eve – a bad idea even when the weather gods weren’t feeling ornery. Eleanor could easily have booked a flight a week earlier to avoid the crowds, but spending excess amounts of time with her brother and sister had no great appeal to her: she preferred her younger siblings in small doses. The family – what was left of it – had agreed on meeting at Christmas Eve dinner every year, and Eleanor grudgingly honored that promise. 48
It’ll just have to be Christmas Day dinner this time around, she thought. Or they might just as well have it without me, she amended bitterly. There’s no reason this year should yield any breakthroughs. As soon as the thought crossed her mind, her phone began to vibrate loudly on the seat next to her. She ignored it – it was probably Johnny, wondering what the plan for dinner was. The last thing she needed right now was even more noise in her ears. A young blondehaired, blueeyed boy sitting with his family to Eleanor’s left suddenly became entranced by the vibrating cell phone. He had never seen anything so shiny and rectangular and small and fun looking. Checking to see that his mother was occupied attending to his baby sister, the boy began climbing over the metal armrest and onto the next leather chair. With some difficulty, he reached over the subsequent armrest and picked up Eleanor’s phone. “Daniel! What are you doing?” The toddler’s heart skipped a beat. He’d been discovered. “Put that back!” said the boy’s mother, grabbing him and wresting the cell phone out of his hand. “What have I told you? You do NOT take other people’s things. It is not nice. I want you to apologize to – ” But then she turned to Eleanor, who, eyes closed, had been unable to distinguish the near theft of her phone from the surrounding din of the terminal. The mother, thinking that this elegant woman was sleeping, stopped midsentence. She quietly placed the phone back where it had been, inadvertently glancing at the screen. The screen said, 1 MISSED CALL EDMUND COPPERFIELD. The cell phone began to vibrate again, but against all odds Eleanor had actually begun to fall asleep. In her mind the phone’s noise began to merge with the noise around her, and she imagined all the noise coming together in a huge endless mass that stretched out to the horizon. She dreamed of herself sitting in an airplane, looking down on the infinite landfill of noise from the serenity of first class. It was the best dream she’d had in a while, and it would be a long time before she had another one that nice. Back in the real world, Edmund Copperfield called her again and again and her cell phone kept vibrating. It shook and shook, growing more irritated with every missed call. But it was just one ripple in an ocean of noise, and Eleanor couldn’t hear. The late afternoon storm 49
glowed gray through the huge windows of the terminal. The noise of the throng waxed and waned like the tides. And Eleanor’s phone kept ringing, and ringing, and ringing.
City of Colchester, Essex, England “Daddy, can I ask you a question?” “What is it, love?” “The world’s really big, isn’t it?” “Yes it is, Ella.” “And there are a lot of children, right?” “Yes.” “So how does Santa Claus deliver all the presents in one night?” Edmund blinked. He himself hadn’t even thought of this question until at least the age of seven, but he had learned over the past three years that his young daughter was not to be underestimated. “Well, Ella, it’s very simple,” he said, adjusting his weight on the tiny bed with a great creaking and groaning of bedsprings. “Do you know what time zones are?” “Of course, Daddy.” “So you know that, for instance, when it’s” – he glanced at his watch – “almost eight o’clock here, it’s almost nine o’clock in France, right?” Ella rolled her big brown eyes. “Yes, Daddy,” she said, “I know all that.” Edmund wondered vaguely what the dads of normal toddlers were doing at the moment. “Well, what that means is that Santa can use the time zones to his advantage. When Santa’s done delivering presents in one part of the world, he can fly across to the next time zone and start over. That way, Christmas Eve lasts much longer for him than it does for us, because he’s moving and we’re staying still.” Ella smiled. “You’re good at explaining things, Daddy.” You should tell that to my students, thought Edmund. “Why, thank you. But now it’s time to go to sleep,” he said, leaning down to kiss her on the forehead. “You’ve got to be asleep when Santa gets here; that’s the rule!” “I knooooooow,” said Ella, whining to exaggerate her annoyance with this rule, but smiling as she burrowed her way into the covers. She 50
didn’t need to see Santa – she knew he was there. “How is she?” said Nancy as Edmund made his way down the stairs. “Snug as a bug,” said Edmund. “I’m going to make tea. Do you want some?” Nancy shifted from her rather uncomfortable position under the Christmas tree to get a better look at him. “You just had tea.” “What are you doing under there?” said Edmund as he made his way through to the kitchen. Nancy heard the sound of the kettle lid flipping up and the faucet being turned on. “You wouldn’t be having tea again if you hadn’t just had a shock,” she shouted. “You wouldn’t be under the Christmas tree for any conceivable reason I can think of at the moment.” There was a soft clank as the lid flipped back down and a thunk as the kettle landed on the burner. Nancy propped herself up on her elbows. “We forgot the TARDIS ornament. Everywhere but the bottom was taken.” Black socks, corduroy trousers, a navy blue shirt, a handsome face with squarish glasses, and a sheath of bulletproof brownish hair came back into the living room. “Everywhere?” said Edmund, sitting down crosslegged on the floor next to his wife with some difficulty. “Everywhere,” she said, looking at him more closely. “We’ve got a lot of ornaments.” It was true. Most of the branches sagged downwards. The tree looked like an overworked mother carrying far too many loads of grocery bags – albeit small, spherical, and shiny grocery bags. “We can probably get rid of some of these,” said Edmund. “What’s wrong? Is it something with Ella?” “Nothing’s wrong, exactly.” “We’re not getting rid of any ornaments,” said Nancy after a moment. “I love them all too much.” “She’s realized that Santa Claus couldn’t possibly deliver all those presents in one night.” “Oh,” said Nancy. There was a simple moment of being, there on the beige carpet – him sitting crosslegged, her lying on her front, looking at him with her head resting on her fists. “What did you tell her?” she asked. “I told her about time zones.” 51
“Clever.” “It was all I could think of.” Nancy smiled. “I see.” “I didn’t mention that, even considering the time zones, Santa still couldn’t possibly deliver two billion presents in the time allotted to him.” She laughed, her long brown hair slipping over her pale skin and blue eyes. “She probably knows that. She just likes to hear you explain things.” Her beauty never ceased to surprise him. He smiled. “I do enjoy explaining things.” “And you’re good at it.” He leaned down and kissed her. They were silent for a moment. “But what happens when she figures it out?” said Edmund quietly. “Figures what out?” “That Santa isn’t real. Couldn’t possibly be real.” “The same as what happens to everybody else!” “She’s going to figure it out before we tell her.” “I’m worried about you.” “She’s going to figure out a lot of things before we tell her. She’s not gonna stop at Santa – she’ll find out herself about the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, and then after that – ” Nancy was getting up and sitting across from him, taking his hands. “What is going on?” she said slowly, looking directly into his eyes. He looked back. “I’m just…nervous.” “Why?” “She’s not a normal kid. We’re not normal parents.” It was true. Ella was a genius. Her intellectual growth rate was miles ahead of other children her age. She would be one of those kids who graduated sixth form at the age of eleven, and got their doctorate at sixteen – the same kind of teenage prodigy Edmund had so hated and envied when he was at university. “We’ll manage!” said Nancy. “It’ll be fine!” “I know, I just – ” “You get overwhelmed. All parents get overwhelmed. I love you, and Ella loves you, and you are an amazing dad. We’ll take it one step at a time, okay?” Edmund sighed and was silent. He often didn’t know how to respond 52
when she was so ridiculously kind. “You’re an amazing Mum as well,” he said lamely. There was a plastic clicking sound from the kitchen. “Tea’s done,” said Nancy. “I’ll be right back,” said Edmund. Nancy stayed in the living room to try and coax the TARDIS ornament into adhering to one of the few remaining unoccupied spots on the tree. In the kitchen Edmund fetched a chamomile teabag from the cupboard, ripped the package open, and took his favorite green mug from the dish drain. His mobile phone rang just as he was about to begin pouring the tea. He maneuvered it out of his pocket and looked at it: the number was withheld. He answered it and started pouring with the other hand. “Hello?” The voice could have been a woman’s, or a young boy’s. “Hello?” It was the most timid and shaky hello Edmund had ever heard. “Who’s this?” “Are you…” The voice trailed off. “Are you Dr. Edmund Copperfield?” The accent was definitely foreign, but Edmund couldn’t place it. “That’s me. Who is this?” “I have information about Reginald… and, and, and – ” the voice stuttered. “Reginald and Julianna Whitmore.” Edmund’s heart stopped dead. He twitched and spilled boiling water onto the bench and all down his trousers. “AAAHH!” he shouted. “Sir?” “Excuse me,” said Edmund. “I got tea on myself. I’ve got to put the phone down for a moment.” There was deep whispering on the other end, as if somebody besides the boy (it was definitely a boy) were deciding what to do. When the boy spoke, his answer was not his own. “Take a moment. Clean up your tea.” “Thank you,” said Edmund. His heart had quickened considerably. He reached for the paper towels and leaned down to wipe up the water from the floor and his trousers – thankfully he hadn’t burned himself. “Something wrong?” said Nancy, appearing in the doorway. “Spilled tea,” said Edmund, trying to hide his face. “Why?” Edmund stood up and looked at her for a second. “A student called. 53
He, um – he had a question about class. I got distracted and spilled. Don’t worry,” he said, gesturing to the tiny tea puddles on the bench. “I’ll clean it up.” “Okay,” said Nancy, smiling. “I’ll be upstairs.” She left, and the thought occurred to Edmund that he had never, to his memory, lied to her before. He put the jug down and picked up his phone again. “You still there?” “Yes,” said the boy. “I have information about Reginald and Julianna Whitmore.” “You’ve said,” said Edmund. “Who are you?” A pause. Deep, quiet mumbling in the background. “I cannot tell you. I can only tell you this information.” It wasn’t any use bargaining. If this child was being held captive by whom Edmund suspected, it could get the boy killed. “What’s the information?” “Reginald and Julianna Whitmore are alive. They have been imprisoned for the past ten years by Enders.” Edmund’s mouth had gone dry. He swallowed. “Where are they?” “I cannot tell you.” Edmund stopped himself from pressing, and decided to ask a question more likely to get a response. “Why are you telling me this?” “The Enders are intent that you should know.” The boy sounded frightened, the tremors in his voice a stark contrast from the blankness of the words he spoke. Before Edmund could stop himself, he said “Are they imprisoning you too? Are they telling you to say these things?” There was shuffling, and then a scream, and then the line went dead. Edmund cursed himself – there was nothing he could do to save the boy, why had he tried? He could have gotten more information. Why did the Enders want him to know what he and the other Whitmores had long suspected? Why now? Could he trace the call? He didn’t have any friends with the police or secret service or anything. Well, there was always the London office – but he didn’t want to get caught up in his old life again so quickly. Who was he kidding? He was already caught up in his old life again. He brought up the contacts on his phone and scrolled down to the E’s, 54
and touched the name of a person he’d hoped would never have to hear his droning voice again. He put his phone to his ear as Eleanor’s began to ring. “Come on, come on,” he whispered. He felt fatigued all of a sudden. No, not fatigued. Old. He felt old.
The Royal Bar and Grille, South Michigan Avenue, Chicago Four Hours Later Genevieve Whitmore was bored. Bored, bored, bored, bored. Bored as a cup of coffee at a sleeping pill convention. More bored than a car in traffic, a plane taxiing in circles on the runway, and a kid in a classroom COMBINED. She was more bored than. . . oh God, she was running out of analogies. That’s how bored she was. She was…almost exactly as bored as a twentysixyearold model who was far too gorgeous to be sitting in the same boring table at the same boring restaurant she sat in every single freaking Christmas. Genevieve felt wasted – not in the awesome, drunk way but in the boring, notlivinguptoyourpotential way. She felt like going out and partying, or else going to the gym – just doing something. But the clubs and gyms were all closed because A) they were all run by wimps who think that four feet of snow is a huge freaking deal, and B) it was also Christmas Eve and people wanted to be with their families or whatever. Genevieve sort of agreed with point B, but her accordance was rendered moot by the fact that her family WASN’T HERE. Genevieve crossed her legs, rolled her eyes, and exhaled loudly for the frajillionth time that night. She glanced around at the empty room. Red was everywhere: velvet carpets, scarlet tablecloths, red cloth napkins. Even the candle at the middle of her table was a deep maroon. Genevieve usually liked the color – she was of the opinion that she looked sexiest in a red dress, although tonight she had elected for an elegant black – but right now the overwhelming abundance of red was just BORING. Would it kill them to have some blue or green somewhere? And would it kill Johnny to get here less than an half an hour late? The Royal was a grotesque anomaly of expensive eating establishments, seemingly in denial of its own exclusivity. This was the 55
second location they’d opened; the first was in the fancier part of town, had chandeliers, and served clams and snails and caviar and the like. The smaller, more rectangular restaurant that Genevieve now sat in, plopped in among the college buildings and sandwich shops of the South Loop, was a failed attempt to branch out to a different, less wealthy clientele. The food was marginally less expensive, and they’d even gone so far as to add a kids’ menu. But the deep scarletgold tables and the still exorbitant prices managed to scare away Chicagoan and tourist alike. In general, Chicago does not reward glitz or glamour, and the Royal – in both its incarnations – exemplified both of those things in abundance. Truth be told, the Whitmores’ occasional visits were probably the only thing that kept the restaurant from going under. Genevieve had very seldom seen anybody else here. She rapped her knuckles on the table in a manic rhythm, and turned her head to look out the window. The maître d’ – a tall, thin black woman with a nice smile and very curly hair – had kindly allowed her to sit in the very front of the restaurant, seeing as there was no one else there that night, and so she had a lovely view of Grant Park across the street. It was kind of beautiful in the snowstorm. The white of the falling snow had diffused with the deep orange glow of the oldfashioned street lamps, which paraded off into the distance, arcing across the stone bridge that went over the train tracks. She could just see the headlights of a snow plow beyond that, way out on Columbus Drive. The trees throughout the park had thick, comfylooking layers of snow hanging from their branches. The bronze statue right across the street from the Royal had a snowcoat as well. Cars – mostly – slowly crunched their way down the avenue outside, their golden headlights illuminating the flakes of snow in front of them. It was all very Christmascardish. Genevieve shook her head and turned her gaze away from the vista. Where had all that come from? She was all for appreciating beauty, but think like that too much and you started to be like Johnny. Head in the clouds. Too much in awe of the majesty of the universe to get anything done. He was probably only late because he saw a friggin’ painting in a window and got started thinking about depth perception or some crap like that. She was just about to get out her phone and text him – half an hour, 56
she decided, was tardy enough to warrant a bit of pestering from your sister – when a short, thin silhouette in a dark coat turned the corner. As Johnny neared the window where Genevieve sat, she smiled and wiggled her fingers at him. He stopped, and his eyes peered back from between the brim of his thick woolen hat and his expensive black scarf, opening wide in an expression of mock terror. THE HORRORS I’VE FACED IN COMING HERE, his eyes said, in what Genevieve imagined was a hoarse, melodramatic whisper. THE HORRORS! She laughed. Johnny ran to the door of the restaurant and dove inside with the gusto of a fish flopping back into the water. The maître d’ was not at her podium further customers tonight were unlikely at best – so Johnny shuffled straight past and over to Genevieve’s table. “May I join you?” he said. Genevieve gave him the best Gretchen Weiners stare she could muster. “No!” she cried. “You can’t sit with us!” The adorably naive look on his face alone was worth it. “Something wrong?” he said. She laughed. “For God’s sake, I’m kidding! It’s a quote from Mean Girls. Are you ever going to watch that?” He smiled as he sat down, but it was a confused smile. “I haven’t gotten around to it.” “I literally GAVE you the DVD! There is no excuse.” Johnny began to disentangle himself from his various winter wrappings. “You’ve basically quoted the entire movie to me,” he said. “There’s hardly any need.” “Fair point,” said Genevieve. “So? Why have you kept your beloved sister waiting?” “I took a nap,” said Johnny. “And I overslept.” “That old excuse.” “Plus, have you even been outside? More importantly, have you been on the Red Line?” “I took a taxi. Why the hell did you take the Red Line?” Johnny paused, mouth open. “Taking the Red Line is insane even in normal weather,” said Genevieve, immensely entertained. “You know, one of the privileges of being a Whitmore is. . . you know. The money. For taxis.” 57
“Yeah, well. Have you heard from Ellie?” “I haven’t,” she said, picking up her phone and looking at it. “And that’s weird.” “Not so weird. Has she even called us all year?” “Yeah, but this is Christmas Eve dinner she’s missing. She should be freaking out and blaming it on us and calling every airline in the world or something. You know how she gets when things don’t go to plan. Plus, it’s just common courtesy to shoot us a text or something.” Johnny shrugged. “Ellie was never one for common courtesy.” “I guess. But total radio silence? On Christmas Eve?” “You’re right, that is weird.” There was a pause. Usually, this was the point in the dinner when Eleanor would say that that was enough of idle pleasantries, now let’s get to work. She and Johnny would dig charts and reports and maps out of their briefcases, and Eleanor would talk, and they would make a show of discussing the data. Reporting on Whitmore Industries’ progress in perhaps its most fruitless endeavor. Finding their parents. Johnny and Genevieve had long ago ceased to participate beyond the absolute minimum required to appease Ellie. But the eldest Whitmore sibling just kept chugging away, as if it were not hopeless. As if it hadn’t been ten years since Reginald and Julianna Whitmore had disappeared, as if they hadn’t already thrown away most of the family fortune searching every tiny recess of the globe for two people. Two people whom, to be painfully honest, the company could function without. The two siblings looked at each other. “Should we call her?” asked Johnny. Genevieve thought about it for a second. “Once. Let’s call her once. She should still be at LaGuardia, so her phone is with her. If she doesn’t pick up, she doesn’t want to talk to us.” “Fair enough.” They used Genevieve’s phone since it was already out; she put it on speakerphone, placed it between them, and pressed Ellie’s name with a tanned, manicured finger. “If she doesn’t answer, let’s leave a really annoying message,” said Genevieve, grinning. “Like, a horrible version of a Christmas carol or something.” 58
After a few moments there was a slight snapping sound, and Eleanor’s cool, acidic tones floated upwards from the phone. “You have reached the voicemail of Eleanor Whitmore. Please leave a message.” There was a beep, and they both erupted into a nasally, clownish rendition of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” complete with snorts, hiccups, and a total disregard for melody or tone. If there had been any other customers in the Royal they surely would have glanced over to the siblings’ table in disdain. “Hi, Ellie!” said Johnny once they’d finished, knowing full well how much she hated it when they called her by her nickname. “We’re at the Royal, and we miss you!” “But we are also getting on just fine without you,” said Genevieve. “We’re working really hard. As evidenced by our beautiful singing.” Johnny shot her a look. “Just. . . call us when you can, okay? We’re worried.” “Simply distraught!” “Bye,” they both said, and Genevieve hung up the phone. That was kinda rude of you, Johnny thought but did not say. His sister was laughing. “She’s gonna hate that. So whaddya say? Should we order?” “Shouldn’t we, uh. . .” Johnny was halfheartedly reaching toward his briefcase, and Genevieve fixed him with her best blank stare. People lived in awe and fear of that blank stare. “Johnny,” she said. “Look at me with a straight face and tell me that you seriously want to go through the motions of. . . you know, that. The one year Ellie doesn’t show up.” He did not respond. “Look. Her phone rang. And she’s either in the terminal or at a hotel, so the phone’s with her. She saw that we called and didn’t pick up.” Genevieve paused, surprised at what she was saying: “This might be… this might be what she needs to stop obsessing, okay? She’s gotta let go. We do too.” Johnny didn’t say anything – the middle Whitmore usually never got close to being this sincere, and he wondered how long the moment would last. She clapped her hands. “Right! We gotta get some wine up in here! Expensive wine! Where’s that maitre d’?” 59
And there it went. Ellie could have been napping, he thought, or in the shower or something. But pointing that out would not help, and anyway, she had a point. The maitre dâ€™ brought them their expensive wine, and then later their comedically small portions of fancy cuisine. And so they whiled the night away, discussing Mean Girls and showing each other funny YouTube videos on their phones. They talked about the immense skeeziness of the Red Line and about ridiculous things Ellie had done as a kid, and all of this seemed funnier and funnier the more wine they drank. Having this much fun on Christmas Eve was an unfamiliar sensation for both of them; it was like sunlight after a storm, the kind of sunlight thatâ€™s wet and warm and strange and intangible. The snowstorm kept working its magic, and on the other side of it Eleanor sat awake and bedraggled in LaGuardia Airport, her previous nap having thrown off her sleeping patterns, the phone call with Edmund still ringing in her head. She stared at her phone, at the missed call from her sister, and did not move. Across the pond, Edmund lay beside Nancy in an uneasy sleep, dreaming of the vagaries of his chaotic past as well as, for some reason, Santa Claus. And beyond that somewhere were Reginald and Julianna Whitmore. Trapped, presumably, and together, and very much alive. Not gone yet. Only missing.
Siren’s Sound Dianne E.C.E.
Something rippled just under the surface of the sound. At first, he didn’t notice the surge of movement. The second time a shape moved under the water, like an animal stirring beneath a set of sheets, he took pause. His felt his heart pound painfully when he saw it again, this time a much larger shape twisting just below the surface. His first instinct was to run, to disappear back into the crowded pier and make his way home without thinking twice about what was under the water. His foot twisted at the ankle when he tried to make a run for it, and he ended up falling face-first into the mound of smooth, polished rocks. Groaning, he sat up and turned his legs to inspect the bruises and the scrape on his left shin. He looked out at the sound once he assured himself he was going to be fine, ignoring the aching fear he felt that had made him run in the first place. But there was nothing there, not even a boat or swimmer in the distance. The sound was private property. No one was allowed on the water. Even he was trespassing. He found it odd the first time he heard about the sound, which split off a part of the Atlantic Ocean like a large lake. He found it odd because no one was permitted on or around it. On the curve of land that shaped the sound sat a museum of artifacts dating back from Lief Erikson’s voyages to the Native Americans who lived in the surrounding areas. The museum was curated by an elderly couple, a man and woman who were also the oldest living residents in the area. He was the newest resident. Without much of a choice, he remained seated on the rocks until he felt he could stand up and head home. The water wasn’t stirring anymore by the time he left. Above the surface, everything was calm and quiet. Underneath, however, the boy’s presence had caused unrest. The sound hadn’t been disturbed in over half a century when the elderly couple acquired it. Not a single boat, person, or land-based animal had set foot within the thirty meters of the sound that separated it from public property. Birds had a tendency to stay away from it, as well as small animals that lived around the edges of town. During most of the year, as the area was so cold, the water at the edges by the shore was 61
frozen over and kids of all ages were discouraged from trying to sneak in. The town already had an unusually high number of disappearances. There was a legend in town that monsters lived in the murky depths of the sound, ready to feast on the flesh on any fisherman who dared to sail on it. The water was dark with a quality that made it resemble churning syrup, ready to trap its victims and suffocate them if they got too close. The boy had gotten close, just not close enough for that. The next day, he returned. It was not the wisest of decisions, but he couldn’t bear to stay in his new home with a newborn wailing at all hours of the night and his parents fussing about the house. His dad left for work with bags under his eyes while his mother leaned over the sink, her hair loose from its bun and a bit of pale pink lipstick smeared on her front teeth. He wanted no part in that. Avoiding the place where he slipped the day before seemed like a proper adjustment in his day’s adventure. He walked along the beach where the sand was so coarse it crunched under his shoes, no doubt embedding into the creases and making it a difficult job for his mother to clear up later when she refused to have him trailing sand all over the house. He hugged his jacket closer to him for some warmth, inhaling the scent of the fabric softener before trudging up a hill and sitting on a flat boulder. Grass peeked out between the sand and he twisted his fingers in it, yanking it out and ripping the blades from the ground. He brought them up to his face for closer inspection, then opened his palm and let the icy wind take them to fly over the sound. Following the path of the grass blades, his eyes zeroed in on a shape in the middle of the sound. At first he couldn’t believe there was something in the water, since it was one of the town’s most frequently repeated laws to keep out of there. He stood up and stared, his heart beating erratically. He watched the shape as it disappeared back into the water then searched the area around it for the creature that was in the sound. Without any luck, he sat back down and shook his head, running his hand over his face. He was seeing things. He had started to believe the sound was actually infested with monsters. He looked out over the waves again, his heart jumping into his throat when he caught sight of a girl in the water just ten meters out from where he stood. He blinked, sure that what he was seeing was impossible. She 62
wasn’t wearing any clothes, and that was enough to bring a warm blush to his face. Seaweed and sand stuck in her hair and on her richly colored skin, like she’d swum on the bottom of the sound and picked up parts of the floor to adorn herself. But what made her more fairytale than reality was the faint steam coming off of her skin, as if she wasn’t swimming in an icy sound on Canada’s east coast in the middle of autumn, but rather enjoying a leisurely swim in a hot spring. They watched each other for a few minutes. They watched each other until the girl raised her hand out of the water and unfurled her fingers, revealing a few crumpled blades of grass; the wind tugged at them and carried them closer to the boy. He blanched at the blades as they passed by, wondering if they were the same ones he’d pulled out of the ground just ten minutes ago. When he looked back at the girl, she had swam closer to the shore, enough for her to sit down with the water level at her collarbones. She was the first to speak, but, when she did, it was in French. He stared at her, she repeated herself, then he cleared his throat and shook his head. “I don’t,” he started, took a deep breath, and continued, “I don’t speak French.” “Est-ce que vous êtes celui qui a jeté les herbes?” He took a breath desperately. “Je ne sais pas,” he stated, trying to recall what he’d learned in his French class, “Ce que tu dis?” She regarded him carefully, then nodded and put up a finger for him to wait before disappearing into the black mass of water. As soon as she vanished, he looked around for her again. He expected her to come out somewhere on the shore. But he was alone. He waited another five minutes, bringing his legs up on the boulder and hugging his knees to keep himself warm. The sun was supposed to go down early, just after five in the afternoon, so that only gave him another hour before he had to return home. The girl reappeared, rising out of the water gracefully like an heiress slipping out of a fur mink coat. She wasn’t alone. With her was another girl, this one with lighter colored hair and much fairer skin. “Parles-tu anglais?” the dark-haired girl said. He shook his head, unable to understand. The light-haired girl glowered at him. “English,” she said, “Do you speak English?” 63
“Yes,” he replied immediately, his heart leaping. Who were these girls who wore the sound and broke the law? The dark-haired girl was excited. She swam forward then she called her friend forward. The light-haired girl didn’t share her enthusiasm, but she joined her nonetheless. With the water up to their collarbones, steam rose off of their skin and the boy wondered if the same would happen to him if he stepped into the water. The dark-haired girl gestured towards herself then said, “Je m’appelle Madeline.” She turned to her friend and nodded her head at her. “She says her name is Madeline,” the light-haired girl says, “And I’m Antoinette.” “Hi,” the boy replied, blushing hard when he realized he was staring at them, “I’m Quinn.” “Quinn,” Madeline repeated. He stared, leaning back to sit on the rock, and asked, “Why are you in the water?” Antoinette repeated what he said to Madeline in French, then Madeline looked back at Quinn and smiled, saying something he couldn’t understand. “Madeline says, why aren’t you?” Antoinette translated. “Why aren’t I what?” “Why aren’t you in the water?” Antoinette pressed, leaning back into it and giving him her first smile. “It’s nice and warm, why don’t you come in?” “There’s ice on the shore,” he said, “It doesn’t look warm.” “It’s fake,” Antoinette said, her voice sounding like laughter, “It’s meant to keep people out.” “Well, who’s trying to keep people out?” “The old couple that lives on the hill,” Antoinette answered, “They don’t want anyone on their property. But it’s fine. We’re here all the time.” She turned to look at Madeline, who met her gaze with a straightlipped expression. Antoinette flicked water into her face and Madeline muttered something at her in French. It felt cold to him. It felt extremely cold out, actually, but Madeline and Antoinette looked completely at ease sitting in the sound. “I’m not wearing a bathing suit,” Quinn said, looking down at his clothes. “Neither are we,” Antoinette whispered. Quinn’s heart stuttered, then picked up at twice the speed. “Vient-il à?” Madeline asked. 64
“Are you coming in?” Antoinette asked. “I’m only fifteen.” “Age has nothing to do with this,” Antoinette replied, stretching out on the water. Her hair shifted, floating around her head and in that position, she was completely bare towards the sky. Quinn’s breath caught for a moment, then he gulped and looked over at Madeline, who was watching him with an amused expression. She raised her hand out of the water, curling her fingers, beckoning. She whispered something in French that sounded like music to his ears. “Venez, mon ange, entrent et jeu entrez et jouez.” He was standing. His jacket was left behind on the rock and he was slipping out of his shoes without a care about the coarse sand or the mud or the ice on the shore or whatever he should have feared. Madeline rose out of the water until it was at her waistline, enticing him, willing him to fall into her arms. His shirt was gone and he removed his jeans, standing in his boxers and socks at the water’s edge. He pulled off his socks, then stepped into the warm water. Antoinette was sitting up again, watching Quinn as he waded slowly in. “Quelques pas de plus!” Madeline sang, her hands outstretched for him, “Venez, mon ange.” With the water up to his waist, Quinn removed what was left of his clothes. If he reached out, he could probably touch Madeline’s fingers. He moved forward once more, and then finally, Madeline’s hands were on his forearms, pulling him toward her. He lost himself in her. She caressed his arms, then his chest, then smoothed her hand over his neck and his jaw. And she kissed him. Then he felt another pair of hands and Antoinette’s lips on his back and he was gone. They fell into the water, slipping further into the caramel abyss of the sound until there was no longer any floor beneath them, and all that held him aloft was from were Madeline and Antoinette’s hands. Antoinette wrapped her arms around him, resting her head on his shoulder and kissing his neck, while Madeline held his head above the water and smiled at him. For a moment, he caught sight of the seaweed on Antoinette’s arms. It looked like it was attached to her skin. Then her hands moved over his body and he forgot where he was. He sank into the sound with his eyes closed, daring himself to open them when he felt the water encase him entirely. Madeline’s features were distorted in the water, the seaweed looking much like the kind on Antoinette’s arms. He thought 65
nothing of it until she opened her mouth, revealing her lengthy canines and her dark tongue. They sank their claws into his flesh with Madelineâ€™s lips on Quinnâ€™s mouth and his scream in hers.
The Urge to Jump Dianne E.C.E.
With the wind pushing against her body, creating an invisible wall to keep her from falling over, she leans over the side of the cliff. “Be careful!” her brother yells from behind her. She throws her arms out and leans further, closing her eyes. Something overcomes her body, something daring and desperate, and her eyes fly open. The view is incredible. She doesn’t quite understand what she feels. The breeze, the cushion against sure death, grants her power. She feels unstoppable. She feels invincible. There’s a sound below her with still waters, the surface only broken by small islands barely large enough to fit a house. Everything is green and fresh around her, so unlike the terrain they had to travel through to get here. Her brother finally catches up to her, slumped forward with his hands on his knees. The hike is worth seeing everything at the top. The sound turns into a river far off in the distance, and even further it turns into the ocean. But this early in the morning, fog covers the mountains and the great big blue like a white, gauzy shroud. Directly beneath them is only rock, a two-thousand-foot drop to icy water. “This is incredible,” her brother whispers in awe. She gestures for him to join her and he steps hesitantly to the edge of the cliff. The wind invites him in, holding him in place so he won’t fall over. The expression on his face is one of pure bliss, one that breaks her heart. “How much longer till the sun rises?” she asks, leaning forward again with her eyes wide open. She doesn’t want to miss a single moment of this experience. Her brother sighs into the wind. “Like half an hour,” he answers. “It’s probably going to look amazing over this landscape.” “I’m so glad I’m here,” she says. His composure breaks and he turns his head to look at his sister. She knows that what she just said could have a double meaning, and she hopes he understood it. “I’m glad you’re okay, Lucia,” he whispers so quietly, the wind has to carry the words to her ears. But she does hear them and it reminds her of 67
the night just over a week ago when she called him at three in the morning. She’s so glad she called him. They spend another few minutes enjoying the blowing force of the breeze on their bodies, exhilarated by the danger and the complete delivery of their lives to nature. They’ve handed over control of their existence to the air and it feels even more liberating than checking out of a hospital room. “Hey, I bet the sunrise will make for some amazing pictures,” she says. Her brother smiles. “Do you think you could walk over to that hill and take a picture of me as the sun goes up?” He looks back to the hill she pointed out. “Do you just want me to take the picture with you here and the sun in the back?” he asks. “Yeah,” she answers. “It’ll probably look amazing.” “Alright, I’ll go over there just before the sun starts to rise.” They smile at each other, then turn back to look at the world laid out in front of them. A flock of birds flies over their heads and she gets the feeling they aren’t flying so much as they are letting the wind carry them. She thinks about the picture her brother is going to take of her in less than ten minutes. It’ll be the most beautiful photograph he’s ever taken, she’s sure of it. And he’ll have it up in a gallery along with all of his other photographs, finally getting the recognition he deserves. “I feel like I’m finally alive,” she whispers, then she feels her brother’s hand slipping into hers. There’s a bit of pain when he squeezes her hand, from the places where the needle was taped. She closes her eyes and smiles to herself, a few tears escaping her eyes before she can help it. “The sun’s coming up in a few,” her brother says. His hand leaves hers and he turns to leave. Just before he’s out of earshot, she calls to him. When he turns, she smiles wide, giddy, happy, excited. “The urge to jump,” she yells, “does not mean you want to die!” He stops in his tracks. It was one of the last things he said to her before the incident. “This cliff is more powerful than me!” she yells, a giant smile on her face, “but I am more powerful in my choices!” She’s breathing hard, her chest heaving, smile still plastered on her face, a face that looks almost identical to his. He realizes then what she means. She wants to live. He smiles back. “I love you!” he yells, walking backwards so he can continue speaking 68
to her. She throws her arms up over her head and laughs. “I know!” she yells back. And then he’s at the hill, pointing his camera at her. The sun is a moment from rising over the mountains off in the west and he takes a photograph, then another and another. Every passing second, the bright orange glow of the morning star grows and spreads over the horizon like an ink spill on cream-colored parchment. Lucia leans into the wind and laughs and he takes a picture. The sun is behind her and she’s a black silhouette, hair flying, arms out, completely alive and he takes a final snapshot. He straightens out, smiling so wide it’s painful. He can feel the hard beating of his heart. He can feel the rush of the blood in his veins. He can feel every nerve in his body come alive. When his sister turns to look at him, she puts both hands to her mouth and sends him a dramatic kiss. He laughs, then she swivels around with her back to the sound and leans into the wind. His heart jolts for a moment at how daring and careless she’s being. Then he watches as her legs unmistakably push off the ground and she falls backwards, arms out, legs straight, head facing the heavens and eyes wide open. With his hand clutching the camera, the only thing he hears is a shutter as his sister falls two thousand feet over the cliff into the still sound, disappearing completely in the mass of white fog below.
Bride’s Thoughts Amani Onyango
It’s almost surreal, really. I mean, I’m getting married. Me! When he first proposed, it seemed like a dream. And now we’re here, after months of planning and preparing, and it still seems unreal. It was like we were getting ready for someone else’s wedding. Some other couple, with our names, our families, our interests. Not us. Not me. But here I am, dressed in all white, looking prettier than I have in my entire life. For once, I think I kinda believe that I’m pretty. I know he’s going to laugh and tell me he told me so. He always laughs at me. But it’s okay. He loves me, and he does it for fun. He would never hurt my feelings on purpose. Sometimes, I just get a little insecure. Everyone’s here – well, not everyone. He didn’t want Alina to be here. Not after the fight. And I agree. She had no right to accuse him of those things. She shouldn’t have interfered. Still, when I look at my best friends and sisters, it doesn’t feel quite right. The lineup seems…incomplete? Imbalanced. No…empty. I keep looking around, expecting to hear a bossy voice telling me off because I’ve forgotten to use a straw again, and my lipstick has wiped off on the glass – oh look, it has, and now I need the bathroom because I’ve drunk too much water – or because I’m wiping my sweaty palms on my dress and there’s a stain on the silk because I tend to pick at my lips when I’m nervous and the lipstick comes off – maybe no one will see that… But no. She shouldn’t have said those things. He was right to tell me to cut off our friendship. Friends don’t meddle. They support without questioning. I know what’s best for me and my relationship. Not her. We’re sitting down now, and he looks over and smiles at me. I smile back –nervously, of course. I’m nervous. But he isn’t. He’s always so confident. He always knows what to do, and he’s always right. None of my old friends from school are here. He didn’t want them here, and I guess he has a point. They’re all guys. It wouldn’t be appropriate – right? I wipe my hand on my skirt again. 70
I miss them. If they were here now, they’d be standing opposite me, making faces, trying to get me to laugh a little. They always said I was too quiet, and that I should laugh more, relax more. And Alina would be telling them off too…That’s always funny. I chuckle to myself. He gives me a look and I stop laughing. Time to be serious, Ameera. You’re twenty years old and you’re getting married; don’t mess up, you’re not a child anymore. The judge begins to speak, and I look up. My girlfriends and sisters wave at me and give me a thumbs up, but I’m still nervous. I try not to pick at my lips, but I can’t resist. I wipe my sweaty palms on my skirt again. Pink fingerprints all over it, and trying to wipe them off makes it smudge worse. It would’ve been completely inappropriate to invite the guys. It’s my wedding, and besides, I shouldn’t be talking to boys – no, not boys. Men. I shouldn’t be talking to other men. I’m getting married. It’s not right. He doesn’t talk to other girls. And even if he did, he treats them like his sisters. He’d never do anything to break my trust; I know that. And I shouldn’t give him a reason not to trust me either. I’m getting married now. I shouldn’t hang out with other men. Besides, it’s for my own good. It’s for my own safety. Men only want one thing – and I can’t give it to them. I won’t. I won’t even look at them. He’s only trying to protect me. He promised to keep me safe. Yes, it’s safer for me this way. The judge begins to speak, and Alina’s words ring in my head. I don’t care if this affects our friendship, Ameera, I don’t care if you never talk to me again, but I am going to say it.I don’t care if you end up hating me, this has to be said. I block them out and take a deep breath, like he told me to. Deep breaths help calm me down. I get too emotional – it’s not good, he says. It’s not good to get emotional. Deep breaths, Ameera… The judge continues to speak, and I can’t help but feel slightly panicked. It’s just pre-wedding jitters, I tell myself – well, not exactly prewedding… But yeah. It’s okay. They’ll go away. Alina’s words grow louder inside my head. Are you really that desperate for a guy that you’ll marry the first man that comes along, even if he doesn’t respect you at all? You think he’s protecting you, you think he’s 71
your Prince Charming – well, think again, you dumbass, he’s treating you like a fucking slave! And your parents actually approve…wouldn’t have expected any more from them to be honest… All of you are so deluded. I can’t even believe you’re the same girl who used to be my best friend… A lump forms in my throat and my heart feels like it’s sunk to the bottom of my stomach. I look up again. I miss the boys. I wish they were here, to make faces at me, to make me feel okay. It’s not impossible. Decent guys do come along. You just have to be patient. Remember Sarah from our ninth grade class? No guy even gave her a second look, but she’s with someone who makes her insanely happy now. I wish Alina was here. I wish she would take me away and make it okay. She always made it okay. You need to grow a backbone, Ameera. I can’t look out for you all the time. I can’t save you from this. You gotta save yourself. I don’t know why he can’t make it okay. Even though I listen to him, even when I do everything he tells me to do, it’s not okay. I don’t know why. I feel like there’s something wrong with me. He loves me. His advice should make me feel better. You don’t have to do this. He loves me. And I love him. I look at him and find him looking back. He’s smiling; everyone is clapping. They’re all standing up – wait, is it over? Don’t marry him, Ameera. I’m married. Don’t marry him. I miss Alina. I miss the guys. He holds my hand and whispers, “I love you.” I can barely swallow the lump my throat. Instead, I smile and nod, and try to look pretty.
A Love Story Ameris Poquette
I left the porch light on.” “What?” He stopped ringing his hands to quarter-turn in her direction. “The porch light. I left it on.” He turned away from her again. “Don’t worry about the light, Liz.” “It’s going to run up the bill, Jon.” She stood up from the hard slab of wood that passed for a bench, and her heels clicked briskly as she walked across the cell. Jon shifted in his seat, putting his back against the cold, brick wall. “It won’t make a difference,” he said finally. “What won’t?” “The light.” “How do you know?” she snapped. She ran her acrylic nails across the bars, making a tap tap tap sound as they encountered each bar. “I’ll take care of the bill. Don’t worry about it.” She turned around to glare at him. “Like you took care of the garbage disposal last week?” Jon let out a breath slowly through his nose. “Well if you weren’t such a–” There was a chuckle from a corner of the cell. They both turned and looked toward the sound, as if they’d forgotten anyone else was in the room. “You remind me of someone,” a man said, wagging a finger at Liz. He looked to be in his mid-forties, with heavily tattooed arms and a pepper-gray beard growing down to his chest. “I know,” he said, still smiling, “my ex-wife.” Liz glared at him and dropped onto the bench, crossing her arms across her knees. “I didn’t mean to make you mad, little lady,” said the man. “My name’s Ed.” He extended a grizzled hand toward Liz. She looked at it for a long moment, and finally extended a hand and shook it lightly, turning her head away as if shaking against her will. Ed’s eyes flicked from Liz to John. “What’s your story?” he asked. His eyes hinted genuine curiosity at the couple in evening-wear sitting in a jail 73
cell before him. Liz didn’t say anything. John glanced at her, then said, “Public drunkenness.” Ed let out a roar of laughter. “So that’s it, eh? Well if I had a nickel for every time I’d been arrested for that...” Liz ground her teeth. “We were at a party,” she said. Ed smiled and winked. “Got a little out of hand, did it?” Neither of them said anything for a very long time. Liz got up and started pacing the cell. “This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t--” “Now it’s my fault,” Jon cut in. “You knew I didn’t want to go, Jon.” “Well if you’d actually go out now and then I wouldn’t have to--” “I have to pee,” Liz snapped. She waved an arm at an officer sitting at the desk. “Excuse me,” she said. “Bathroom?” The man got up and fumbled with his keys to escort her to the bathroom. Ed produced a cigarette and lighter. He took a long drag and let the smoke out slowly. Then he chuckled. “Lovely couple.” Jon leaned back in his seat, as if relaxing for the first time since he’d been there. “I’m sure you know how it is, ex-wife and all.” He nodded as he took another drag. “How long have you been married?” “Just over a year.” Ed’s eyebrows went up. “Honeymoon’s barely over, eh?” “What honeymoon? We only got married because –“ The cell door swung open and Liz re-entered. The officer closed the door behind her, then noticed the lit cigarette in Ed’s hand. “Hey, no smoking in here.” He held out his hand and Ed relinquished a box of Marlboros. “How’d you get a hold of these, anyway?” He turned the box over, as if fingering a newly-acquired prize. Ed shrugged. “Musta missed it when you searched me, boss.” The policeman looked doubtful, but seemed content with the answer. He returned to his desk, cigarettes in hand. Liz sat down on the floor by the wall, not bothering to wipe away the dirt that would doubtless find a home on her dress. 74
Ed produced a fresh box of cigarettes, slid a cigarette halfway out, then seemed to reconsider and placed the package back in his pocket. He eyed the couple curiously. “How’d you end up here, anyway?” Liz crossed her arms and looked away. Jon sighed. “I already told you what we were charged with.” “Of course I know what you were charged with. I asked how you got here. You don’t just get picked up for that. So whatja do? Go diving in the fountain? Flash a cop?” John laughed. “Nothing so exciting.” “I threw up on the hood of a police car,” Liz said. “I had a bottle of vodka in my purse.” Ed thundered with laughter. “Well if that wouldn’t be a sight,” he said. “I don’t drink very much,” Liz said by way of an explanation. Conversation gave way to an awkward silence. “What about you?” Liz said finally, looking at Ed. Both Ed and Jon looked, surprised, in her direction. Ed grinned. “What about me?” “What did you do? You seem to know everything about us.” She started drawing in the dust by her feet. Ed grinned. “Now that’s a bit of a story.” Liz looked up, glanced around the cell, eyes lingering on the bars. “I think we have time.” Ed sighed and leaned back against the wall. “Well, I have this neighbor. See, I live in this trailer park. I moved there after my fourth stint in prison, when I vowed to clean up my life. This guy, though, this goddamn son-of-a-bitch just won’t quit. He could have any of a number of lots in the park, and have more land, too. Does he choose any of those? No, of course not. He chooses the one right smack-dab next to me. Says he likes the view. Bull-fucking-shit. I don’t usually give a damn what he does or doesn’t do. He can bleach my yard with fertilizer, hack my bushes to bits, or have obnoxious parties. That I can deal with. But this weekend, this weekend his son crossed the line. He came over and keyed my bike.” He growled the last bit, obviously still upset about the matter. Liz and Jon were watching him now, an almost stunned look on both of their faces. “What did you do?” John asked. 75
“Well, I tried to confront him about it. ‘You can’t know it’s him,’ he said. But I know it’s him – carved his goddamn name into the paint. Problem is, kid’s name is Jake. ‘There are a lot of Jakes out there,’ he said. And he’s right. I didn’t see the kid do it, even though I know it’s him. So last night, I found some left-over spray paint from my tagger days, and decided to make a field trip to his house. He has these gnomes, see. Out front, all lined up, like some kind of freak doll house. He has names for all of them and everything. He’s a real piece of work. So last night, about one AM, I snuck into his yard, and I painted them. Every last one. I painted ‘em.” “What color?” Liz asked. “What color did you paint them?” Ed grinned. “Pink. Head to toe.” “And you landed here?” Jon said. “In a jail cell, and not just with a court date?” “Well, given my past arrests...” Ed said. “Especially for vandalism. I can’t say I blame them.” He chuckled. “Sure was a sight, though. Seeing all those barbie doll gnomes, lined up down his yard.” Both Ed and Jon broke into cackles of laughter, but were quickly silenced by a glare from Liz. “Aw, come on, hon,” Jon said. “Don’t you think it’s just a little funny?” “Don’t call me ‘hon,’” she snapped. “And no, I don’t. I don’t condone vandalism.” “He had it comin’,” growled Ed from the corner. “But you do drunkenness?” Jon asked. Liz looked away and didn’t respond. “We shouldn’t even be here,” she said after a while, almost to herself. “Lighten up, Liz,” Jon said. “Sometimes a good night is worth a night in jail.” Liz turned to glare at him. “No, Jon, it’s not.” Jon leaned back and shook his head as if in disbelief. “We have a future together, Jon,” she went on. “We have a life. We can’t jeopardize that.” Jon let out a laugh. “You know, Liz, I never would have married you if you weren’t...” He seemed to catch himself, and let the sentence trail off.
It was enough for Liz. “If I wasn’t what, Jon?” she asked. “Knocked up?” Jon didn’t say anything. “You don’t have to answer.” Liz got up and began pacing again. Jon looked up at her. “You know it was a lot of responsibility on us. On me.” “As if that’s something I can control.” Jon looked down again, resentment in his eyes. “You said you were on birth control.” Ed was watching the proceedings with wide eyes. Liz turned toward Jon, seeming to have forgotten Ed entirely. “I was, Jon. They’re not one hundred percent effective. Read the packaging.” “You could have just gotten rid of it,” Jon said bitterly. Liz’s mouth went slack. She stared at him for a minute in disbelief. “How could you suggest...” She closed her eyes and swallowed. “You know I couldn’t go through that again.” “Well none of it matters now, does it?” Liz’s eyes snapped open, and she glared at him. “The funeral’s barely over, Jon. You could at least pretend to have some remorse.” “What is that supposed to mean?” Liz didn’t say anything for a long moment. “You were never very good with responsibility.” Jon laughed cynically. “Who was it bringing home the paychecks during those months?” “And yet you refused to help out at home at all. Cleaning bottles, changing diapers, none of it. Instead you hired that blasted nanny.” “I hired her to help you.” “And did she? Look what she did. It was all her. Everything was her fault.” She sunk in to a chair and buried her face in her hands. “It was not, Liz.” Jon was bordering on shouting. “The doctor said–” “I know what the doctor said, Jon,” she lifted her head. “I know what all of them said. It doesn’t matter. It could have been prevented. If she was more attentive...” There was a long silence. Ed remained silent in his corner, looking more uncomfortable by the minute. “Why didn’t you get rid of her?” Liz said finally. “I asked you to fire her. On a hundred-and-one occasions. I told you she was no good.” 77
Jon shifted uncomfortably. “She was a good nanny.” “She was anything but good,” Liz said bitterly. “How many times did she walk away from him while he was crying? How much did I have to remind her how to mix the formula?” “I wanted to give her a second chance, to see her succeed. She was a sweet girl.” “Bull,” Liz snapped. “You were afraid of responsibility. Afraid of what might happen if she wasn’t around.” “You know that’s not true.” “You never wanted him in the first place. What did you care if something happened to him?” Jon stared at her in disbelief. “I loved him as much as you did,” he said softly. “You have a funny way of showing it, letting a nanny waltz in there and kill our only son.” “She didn’t kill him,” he yelled. “She did, and you saw it coming.” “I didn’t! How could you even suggest–” “Why was it, then? Why did you keep her around so long when she wasn’t capable?” “Because I was fucking her!” The words exploded like air out of a balloon. Jon sat back on the bench and rested his head against the wall, closing his eyes. “I was fucking her,” he said again, softly. He sank down in his seat, as if he could no longer hold himself up. Liz stared at him, her lips working at words her voice couldn’t produce. She sunk down onto the bench and stared out of the cell, a blank look on her face. She didn’t look surprised, or hurt, or upset. The sun was starting to come up, its amber light spilling through the bars on the window. “How long?” she asked. “From the beginning.” Liz pulled her knees up to her chest and rocked back and forth, slowly. As if that’s all she could do. After a long time, she said, “Was she better than me?” Silence. “By a mile.” The door clanked open, a police officer standing in the doorway. “Jonathan? Elizabeth? You’re free to go.” 78
The Book Girl Cara Nuzzo
Once, there was a girl who wanted to become a book, so that many
people would pick her up, crack her spine, caress her, inhale her. Love her. In return, she would take them away from reality for a time. She worked for years to find a way to achieve her wish, knowing deep in her soul that is was possible. Finally, years of research led her to an ancient bookbinder. One sunny day, she entered his shop, tucked away on an old cobblestone street, crammed in between two buildings, as if it were being squeezed out of existence. The inside was dark despite the sunny weather, the only source of illumination was a few weak beams of sunlight that slipped through the spotted storefront window. Dust was everywhere, thickening the air, covering the floor, and tickling the girl’s nose. It coated the ancient books tucked away into the mahogany shelves, muting their old secrets that were long forgotten. Tongues that were obsolete. The girl had searched for this place for years on a hope. Chasing a myth takes time, you know. She had buried herself in archives of Latin and ancient runes, bribed meek librarians, and ignored the seemingly ceaseless buzz of her phone because she was so close. She had lost people along the way. But finally, finally, everything had led her to this shop. At the cluttered counter front, an old man sat with his back to her. If her research was correct, and she knew it was, this bookbinder was the key to realizing her dream. The girl approached the bookbinder cautiously. The counter was higher than she realized; she had to stand on her tip-toes to properly be seen over it. The girl feared her words would get lost as she whispered, “Desidero legatur.” The bookbinder snapped around quickly, and the vertebrae in his neck let out a crack so loud the girl feared he had snapped his neck. He looked different than she had imagined him; his skin was as yellow and wrinkled as sodden parchment. The top of his head was bald, and his hair grew long, grey, and thin on the sides of his head down to his shoulders. His eyes were sunken and dark, but full of excitement that they hadn’t held in ages. “Those are words I haven’t heard in decades,” the bookbinder croaked. “Do you know what you’re doing, girl?” “Yes,” she breathed.
“You must be clever, since you’ve come this far,” he scrutinized her with his dark, watery eyes. The girl gulped. Dust continued to settle on the shop. “Alright, wait here,” he said, after what seemed like ages. The bookbinder vanished into a back room that seemed to have just appeared. The girl waited in silence, but she swore she could hear the books whispering. After a few minutes, the bookbinder reentered in a cloud of dust and paper while coughing profusely. He slammed a very large, very old book down on the counter in front of the girl and grinned. As she opened the book and flipped through the pages, silverfish fled their home in the spine, and the bookbinder squashed the ones that escaped onto the counter under this thumb. The book’s smell met the girl’s nostrils: earthy with a trace of mold, and the years it had seen gone by. Taking a closer look, she saw that it was crammed with hand written symbols, scrawled in black faded ink on the worn pages. “I’ve never seen symbols like this before, and I’ve studied them all,” said the girl. “They don’t resemble anything I’ve seen in the slightest.” “Quite,” croaked the bookbinder, “and you’ll never see anything like them again.” “So, what do I do with it?” she asked, regaining some confidence. The bookbinder leaned in close. “You eat it. Every last page.” The girl swallowed hard. “What do you want for it?” “Don’t worry, my dear,” the bookbinder chuckled, “I will receive everything from you in due time.” He wrapped the book in brown paper like a present, and the girl took it home. It stayed on her nightstand for weeks, watching her come and go, sleep, and change her sheets. And the girl watched the book. They sized each other up. Until one late night (or rather, early morning), the girl came home, her face pale, her hands shaking, her eyes watery, gasping for breath. She tore the brown paper from the book in one greedy swipe. The girl opened to the first page and ripped it out, crumpling it into her mouth. It tasted old and vile. Moldy, gritty, and somehow – sweet. She ate another page, and then another, and then another. Shreds of paper stuck in between her teeth like poppy seeds, and ink coated her throat, making it even more difficult for the girl to breathe. Looking down at the book, she realized she had eaten about fifty pages. The girl She belched, and tasted the pages again in her mouth. “Well the bookbinder didn’t say I had to eat it all at once,” she thought. 80
Somewhat calmer than when she had entered, the girl climbed into bed, turned off the lights, and succumbed to sleep. The next morning, she woke up feeling hungover. She leaned over the side of her bed and lurched to vomit, but remembered her late night snack and restrained herself. She stumbled into the bathroom and spat the acidic taste into the sink. Straightening herself, she looked at her reflection and shrieked. Her skin was as white as a ghost – no – white as a sheet of paper. Veins of black leaked through her irises as if someone had injected them with ink. Maybe they had been. The girl looked down at her trembling hands, and just barely, underneath her fingernails, the same black color was leaking through. She felt it. The girl walked briskly back to her bedroom, picked up the book, and began to eat. She shoved three or four pages into her mouth at a time, until her throat felt cracked and her stomach clogged. Suddenly, her throat felt as though it crawled with the legs of a million insects, she clawed at her neck wildly, trying to make it stop. The sensation gave way to flames licking the inside of her esophagus. She screamed, and the world faded from her view. She woke up on her floor to the shrill demand of her ringtone. The screen informed her that the caller was her mother, to whom she hadn’t spoken in a few weeks. Sighing, she answered the phone and opened her mouth to speak but no words came out. “Hello, hello? Honey? Hello?! Honey, I’m very worried! Please call me back as soon as you can.” The call dropped and the girl was still trying to speak. She tried to scream, to sing, to cry. Nothing. She ran to the mirror. Her eyes stared back at her completely black, as were her finger nails. On her cheek she saw some of her skin peeling, she scratched at it, and it tore. The sound of ripping paper reverberated off the tile. Frantic, the girl ran back to the book, this time determined to consume it all. As she swallowed the last page, her skin blistered and boiled. Then words appeared: these words, in the same black ink. The girl was finally a book, as she wished.
Fair Lorelei C. H. Lauer
idea made her uncomfortable. Colin was so young, just at the
tipping point of maturity; the only sign of youth that remained, the morning eyes, alive and awake, ready to begin the day. To end his morning phase and lead him near the periphery of night seemed almost cruel, but inevitable. And she forced herself to repeat that. It was inevitable. Colin arrived at Lorelei’s home in the early afternoon, just as she was finishing her lunch. The dark, confined walls of the Edwardian home absorbed sunlight through the kitchen window, creating a strange glow that reflected off of the ubiquitous layer of dust. Lorelei grimly picked at the edges of her English muffin and watched the tiny particles swim through the warm air. She welcomed the distraction, but the doorbell tolled deeply through the house anyway, echoing off the walls. Lorelei looked through the archway and down the hall towards the front door, almost nervous to move. She had been expecting Colin. It had been less than eighteen hours since she saw him last; she had seen him from the stage as she sang her songs at the battered sailors’ pub turned coffee shop. Lorelei had gone in search for her next house guest –someone to listen to the ancient song that once drew in many visitors and sustained her hunger for life. Within the last few decades, she found it difficult to come by many people who could become enchanted by her song, and chose to move to the bay town of Prosper. She luckily found a few prospects in the surrounding residents, allowing her to survive. Colin was the unfortunate bastard that chose to listen that night, and the only person in the audience who Lorelei really didn’t want to be listening. Throughout the years, she’d grown remorseful for the number of young lives that she’d destroyed and ultimately uprooted to the neighbor town, Ilume Park. But even so, it was necessary. With Prosper Bay nearing its population limits, it was down to Lorelei and a small group of others to find the prospective citizens who could easily assimilate in Ilume. However, unfortunately for her, the Prosper demographic had grown significantly younger in the last decade, and they were the easiest ones to 82
move. Time was like the bay to Lorelei â€“the harder and longer the waves crashed, the more quickly she eroded into a sunken structure desperate for a regeneration, not unlike the remains of the wooden ship which had now become a landmark, standing in the center of the bay. Walking throughout the town, Lorelei would find herself staring at the molded ship that appeared as if it would collapse at any moment. Quickly, she discovered a deep affinity for the decaying structure, almost a kinship. Lorelei knew that she was beginning to wither away too, and no longer had the option to be empathetic. If she was going to survive, she had to do her job and feed. Lorelei moved steadily towards the front door without haste. She knew Colin would still be standing there on her creaking porch no matter how long she took. He wasnâ€™t going anywhere. The door cracked slowly open, causing the light pouring in from outside to illuminate the dust around Lorelei, which created the illusion of a glow. To Colin, she might as well have been. He stared at her longingly while pushing the door in an attempt to enter. The door resisted like an oar through a river until Lorelei released her hold and let the young man walk inside. Colin stood at about the same height as her, Lorelei noticed, with a long, thin neck. His chest was wide and flat and expanded to immeasurable lengths when he inhaled, and contracted to nearly half its size when he sighed at her. He lifted his hand and rested it on her sunken cheek, the tips of his fingers caressing her hairline. Lorelei shivered at the sensation and moved his hand into her own as she led him to the sitting room. The wallpaper should have been yellowing despite it being such a deep red. One could say it was blackening instead, with pieces rolling down at the corners due to the countless summers passed in the humid bay air. The once-gold frame of the mirror over the blackened fireplace had grown rosy over time, and paint chips from an old painting of a siren that sat on a decaying fauteuil chair were scattered across the thick carpet. The upright piano sitting in the corner of the room appeared as if it were sinking deep into the fibers of the carpet just like the ship that Lorelei so liked to visit. Lorelei walked Colin to the bench of the piano and swung her legs around the other side, her yellowed cotton dress rippling around her feet. 83
She sighed deeply, opening the latch to reveal eighty-eight age-stained keys. Colin stroked one, accidentally loosing its deep tone throughout the room. His cheeks reddened beneath his tanned skin and he gave an anxious smile. Lorelei shut her eyes, steadied her breath as she placed her grayish hands over the keys, and began to play. Lorelei had always experienced music differently than others. Instead of unseen melodic tones playing in her head, songs had a physical manifestation. She could both see and feel her music, especially that of her own composing. Colors vibrantly danced around her, sending chills up her spine and thrilling the pores on her skins. “How long have you been playing?” Colin asked, breaking the hollow silence that surrounded them as he brushed an unruly curl behind Lorelei’s ear. The music continued without pause but she stiffened under his touch while he let his hand sink alongside the curve of her back. Lorelei knew that he was close to being entirely entranced. By this point, Colin was probably seeing her music too. “A long time,” she replied, almost regretfully, as she tried to hide a grimace of self-condemnation for her impending actions. A smile pulled at the corner of the Colin’s lips. Lorelei witnessed the change of expression and the slow depressing of his shoulders through the edge of her sight. A boy like Colin never stood a chance against Lorelei’s song. His drugged smile reminded her of an encounter with her only survivor. The woman was young in age, but physically worn from years of drug abuse, but Lorelei’s song was stronger than any substance that would ever enter her veins. But that woman was accustomed to strange opiates that caused her head to swim, and she never truly lost herself, unlike Colin. By now, he had become too far besotted to escape. A soft tune escaped her lips and the melody swam through Colin’s head until he began palely imitating the sounds. The harmony of their voices and the chords of the piano began picking up speed and Lorelei’s posture lifted higher. Waves of comfort drifted over Colin as she Lorelei began to lull him into a daze. “Ich glaube, die wellen verschlingen am ende schiffer und kahn; und das hat mit ihrem singen Die Lorelei getan.” “I think that the waves will devour the boatman and boat as one,” Colin began slurring in a similar tune after Lorelei. “And this by her sheer power Fair Lorelei has done.” 84
Colin began slouching further and further onto the edge of the piano and Lorelei’s lips pulled tight. She slowly and fluidly closed the piano without a sound as he tried stretching his neck in an attempt to thwart the buoyant sensation. But a tempestuous force made Colin’s head crash towards Lorelei. The current between them created a riptide of eager urgency of kissing and grabbing, dragging Colin into the inescapable abyss of Lorelei’s need. The air grew thicker and seemed to engulf Lorelei and her prey in its sodden, briny grip. The sunlight now penetrated the windows and cast off of the glossed piano and the mirror above the fireplace. The light hit Lorelei, creating a refraction like cut glass; she could see that she was mesmerizing Colin into a state of paralysis. Her skin grew as soft as down. Her nails became like talons that scored down the length of the back of the boy who seemed too distracted by her greedy mouth to care. A crushing sensation pressed Colin’s chest deeper onto the piano bench beneath him until Lorelei thought his body had become nearly lifeless. She retreated to the foot of the painting in the corner of the room and hugged her naked knees, catching a glimpse of her hands. A rosier color had begun to spread up her arms, and her fingers seemed livelier. She touched them to her cheek, almost surprised to feel a cushion-like sensation instead of the sharp bones in her jaw. Lorelei breathed much more easily now. As the process of regeneration rushed through her, she let her head fall to the cushion of the chair as she basked in delirium. It had been close to a year since Lorelei last fed, and she had nearly forgotten how much more awake and alert she felt, fueled by someone’s stolen energy. Colin still lay on the piano bench, barely able to move. His unfocused eyes vaguely followed the cracks of the plastered ceiling. Lorelei stood and sat near him. Now, she felt his body tense up instead of melting under her touch. “Shh,” she cooed, dropping to her knees and laying her head on his chest. “I promise it will all be over soon.” Colin’s breaths were loud but shortened. The red walls seemed brighter, more vibrant. No longer did the room feel heavy in a saturated way, but now in a palpable tension. Colin tried rolling his body off of the bench, but Lorelei’s arm held him still. “Shh,” she repeated regretfully. “I promise this is the worst of it. It’ll 85
pass.” Lorelei wrapped her arms under his body and guided him to the loveseat on the opposite side of the fireplace. His eyes focused on her face. Frown lines shaped her lips and her brow came together at the bridge of her nose as she held his hand tightly in her own. “I promise you will feel better soon.” She watched him lay on the couch, unmoving, as his breathing steadied. She waited patiently for him to fall asleep entirely before she stood up and walked to the kitchen, warm from the sunlight. She cleared the dirty plate on the table that had been leftover from lunch, and stopped to stare out the window. From her home, Lorelei could see the sun reflecting off the bay water that surrounded the capsized ship. For a moment, she almost understood how hypnotic a refracting, crystal-like body could be. But crashing and tearing sounds ripped Lorelei out of her stupor. She sprinted to the living room and discovered it empty. Colin no longer lay on the loveseat, where she had left him, and the fauteuil had been overturned. Lorelei walked towards the center of the room, where she found her painting on the floor, frame snapped in pieces and the siren punctured through the heart. She picked up the remains and walked back into the hallway. The front door had been left open. Walking onto her porch with the painting in her hands, she turned and saw Colin charging toward her with a poker from her fireplace. The instrument pierced Lorelei through the chest and she heavily dropped to the ground. Her chest rose and sank quickly as Colin loomed over her, suddenly faint again and trying to catch his own breath. Lorelei’s voice lowered to a satin, navy whisper as her eyes pleaded to Colin. “I’m so sorry.”
Mentality Dania Khan
The first time, she screamed through tears. They tore her first and only child, a lifeless corpse, merely three hours after his birth, out of her arms as her cries of desperation filled the hospital ward. After they sedated her, she made a vow to join her child in the afterlife, and spent weeks facing the wall, neither speaking nor eating. Only her tears indicated any remnant of emotion. The nurses, once tolerant and understanding, became apprehensive after repeatedly restraining her as she yanked out the IV in her arms. The steady flood of chatter, which they had always kept up whenever they came to tend to her needs, ceased, to be replaced by pity-filled glances shot at her husband. He came every day, driving three hours to console his wife. At first he pleaded with her to live, as broken as she was. Upon realizing she had removed her wedding ring, he too resorted to silence. His silence, however, was not of despair – it was anger. The third week, his anger succumbed to stress (the loss of their child, the daily drives, the hospital bills, the tension at work, and his wife’s depression), and for the first time in their five years of marriage, he shed tears in front of his wife. His head on the skimpy mattress of her hospital cot, he released the past three weeks’ worth of grief. Eventually, he felt a hand stroking his head, and raised his head to wave away whatever concerned nurse had walked in on the scene, only to recognize the ring on the hand. For the first time in weeks, she smiled at him through her own tears. She recovered steadily after that, and was soon able to conduct small talk. The day the doctors informed them that she could head home, he went home and discarded all of the now useless toys and furniture which they had purchased for the child they had been expecting. After returning, she paused for a moment at the doorway, but said nothing aside from commenting on how clean he had kept their home. At the advice of her therapist, they adopted the habit of doing something new together at least once a month. They repainted their home and gardened together in silence. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, and eventually he ceased waiting for her relapse. They joined a different social circle (full of people who wouldn’t ask awkward questions about 87
her delicate state) and acted as if those last few months had never happened. The second time snuck up on them. He let his guard down and wasn’t ready to find her as he did; sobbing in the midst of the wreck which had been a nursery when they had left for the hospital all those years ago. They contacted her therapist again, and he shielded her from the remarks made by relatives whom he once considered to be loyal. Their garden withered, choked by weeds, and the once cheery colors of their walls now seemed fallacious. Upon finding that their house was no longer a home in her absence, he sought comfort within the house of God. At the mosque, no less than three brothers attempted to persuade him to leave his wife and seek to satisfy his own personal desires. Their words pricked at him, tempting the thoughts he had banished to the depths of his subconscious and brought them forth into consideration again. Guilt surged through him as he told them that just because their wives were unable to satisfy them at home, it wasn’t necessary to bring their lust for action into others’ marital affairs. The imam who had been loitering nearby gave him a stern talking-to about brotherhood and respect. He returned home and spent a week sitting in front of the television, doing his best to keep his eyes away from the drawer containing the trigger which could end his misery. The TV blared on in the background as he fought his urge to free himself from the chains of this marriage. He found himself standing at the desk many times, pushing aside her (once again) discarded wedding ring to pull out the divorce papers he had obtained after the loss of their first child. The clock ticked the hours away as he stared at the blank page, containing official words like “dependents” and “judicial district,” reducing the turbulent struggle of the past five years to nothing more than names and numbers. Finally, he gained the courage conquer the weight of the pen which seemed to anchor down his hand, but guilt continued to weigh down his heart. I have a right to happiness too. She recovered the first time around, there’s no reason she can’t heal again. The shrill call of his phone startled him out of his trance, sending the pen clattering across the floor. He took a breath to calm his racing heart, reassuring himself that he had done no wrong as he answered the 88
hospital’s call. A nurse briskly informed him that his wife’s condition had stabilized and he was cleared for visitation. A sort of grim determination took hold of him as tension faded from his body. He tossed the divorce papers back into the desk on his way to the car. They’d be necessary afterwards. As an intern walked him to her hospital ward, he sorted out how he was going to speak, his hands thrumming out a nervous beat against his crossed arms. She can deal with the paperwork...afterwards. All I have to do is say the words. He burst into the room, ready to declare his intent, only to find the bed empty and the intern eyeing him nervously as she backed out of the room. Embarrassed, he sat down on the flimsy hospital cot, wondering why nothing ever worked for him as it was supposed to. He was so intent on wallowing that he failed to notice her entrance until she was standing just before him. Startled, he opened his mouth to say the words that would end their union, but his voice faltered at the sight of her. She was not the shadow of herself that she had been the last time she’d suffered. What had formerly been a lack of life in her eyes was now present. But there was still something missing. Its absence was visible in the way she moved, in the way she smiled blankly at him as he got up so that she could lay down, and in her words as she spoke of hospital life. It was an absence of belief in the meaning of life. His words reached her; the meaning behind them did not. With sudden clarity, he understood that the world was a house of cards to her, brilliant and dazzling, but with neither purpose nor promise behind it. With another pang of guilt, he realized that he had been about to further that lack of conviction. Abruptly, he stood to leave, pausing in the doorway. “Gather your things, we’re going home.” The doctors protested at first, not wanting to let her go. It was only when he asked for their rationale that they faltered, and he understood that no more could be done for her in the hospital. She had been silent the entire time, sitting on the edge of her cot as he argued with the doctors. She raised her eyes to meet his as they left, and he realized that she had known the entire time what he had come here to do. She had anticipated an end, for him to falter, and for a moment he was angry with her for having such low expectations of him. Once in the car, his anger turned to mortification for living up to her expectations. The guilt ate 89
away at him in the following hours as he helped her unpack, as he fed her, as he cared for her like he had always done. The only solace he was able to find was in-between prayers, when he was truly alone – accompanied only by God’s forgiving presence. What was even worse was being pitied. It seemed that every soul in the entire country was willing to donate as much was needed in the name of God to help cover the bills accumulated by her medications and therapy, but no one was willing to come and comfort her in her hours of isolation, when she fought her demons. The advice they all had to give was the same: she needed to find her way back to the right path, he needed to take care of his family properly; all it took was prayer. After what seemed like the millionth time he was given such advice, he went home and pored through their old albums, looking for any sign that they had ever done anything to bring such a trial upon themselves, or any way they could return to happier times. He became so immersed in their memories that he didn’t notice her enter the room until it was too late. She took a photo album from the stack and ignored his attempts to distract her. Watching her expression intently as he put away the other albums in order to prevent further damage, he chided himself for being careless and steeled himself for the guaranteed decline in her condition. They sat together in silence for what seemed like an eternity, with his hands darting out every few minutes or so in a feeble attempt to grab the album. She thwarted him, her own hands moving in unison. Suddenly, as he was contemplating whether or not to retrieve her medication, a smile crept on to her face. “Look at this, we were so excited to have a child,” she said, pulling at his sleeve and pointing to the picture in question. “Ah – ” was the most he could manage, before she spoke again. “And here, remember how we volunteered to gain some experience with kids?” She looked at him, clearly expecting some sort of response. “Yeah, that was fun,” he said, giving in to her enthusiasm. “And over here, from the time we...” They spent the entire night looking at pictures together, laughing over old memories. He felt himself relaxing, thinking that maybe what they had needed was not a new form of happiness, but a reminder of what happiness felt like. He noted that she neglected the albums from before their pregnancy, but pushed it to the back of his mind 90
immediately. It was the first time they had laughed together in months. There was no need to jeopardize it. He put his head on her shoulder as she continued to flip through albums, wishing there was a way to capture this moment before they had to venture outside of their home and face reality again. “I want to adopt a child.” He stared at her, openmouthed, and then at their therapist’s exasperated expression. The therapist was adamant: this was not the time to bring a child into their lives, but she was determined to have her way. After being lectured, she appeared subdued within the walls of the office, but once they were within the walls of their own home, it was an entirely different matter. She told her husband how she felt her life was missing a piece whenever she had a relapse and she was certain that a child was exactly what she needed. He was hesitant at first, but the moment she stated that a child was what would make her truly happy again, he obliged. It took a hefty chunk of their savings, as well as a great deal of paperwork and time, but they eventually adopted Aida. Their therapist did not appear to be pleased when they returned after several months’ absence with a child, but accepted that nothing could be done to change what had occurred. As far as he was concerned, his wife was happy, their child was happy, and so he was relieved of his sin. He woke up every morning to the sound of the two chattering happily, and came home each night to their smiles. At times, he wondered if he had been missing a piece of his life as well, if he just hadn’t noticed his desire for a child. Often, he found himself wishing they had adopted a child at the very start of her depression. Perhaps then he would never have even considered parting with his wife and the guilt which weighed on him wouldn’t exist. He may have made up for his sin, but his guilt was ever-present. The house was a brighter place now, scattered with Aida’s belongings. They’d dug up the withered old flowerbed and replaced it with a chicken coop. Aida would frequently parade through the yard, a row of chicks struggling to keep up with her. She was solemn and serious; to the point that they sometimes found themselves forgetting that she was their child and not a companion. He was reminded of this one morning when he ventured out to the chicken coop to check for eggs and instead found a dead chick. He buried it a ways away from the house, and 91
returned inside for breakfast, puzzled by the lack of damage to the coop. Aida ran past him to look in at the coop before he could stop her and then returned to solemnly tell him that the chick had magically teleported away. It was while he was pondering what animal would possibly have weaseled its way inside the coop only to kill a chick without causing harm to anything that his wife called to remind him to pick up groceries as Aida chattered away in the background. “Mama, it worked!” “Don’t forget to pick up the tissues – what worked, Aida?” “The magic pill made the chi – ” The phone suddenly disconnected. He tried to call back, but the call didn’t go through. He tried to shrug off the incident and continue working, but something continued to lurk in the back of his mind. This feeling was an entirely unwelcome addition to the guilt which was always there. He did his best to ignore it, but it nagged at him as he sat through meetings and approved paperwork. It was not until received a panicked call from Aida that the feeling of suspicion burst forward in all its awful clarity. The poor child was barely coherent, and he later thought that it was a wonder that she had enough sense to call him in such a state. He managed to gather that “Mama” had taken “magic pills” that were supposed to “make her invisible,” but had failed to work. Everything after that point was a blur, and later he would think of Aida’s bravery when she led him and the police officers to the room in which his wife lay. He had never thought about whether he truly considered himself to be a father to Aida, but there was no question from that moment on what his motives were. His wife had passed, not only unhappy but upon discovery of the divorce papers he had stored away. Her wedding ring, lying neatly on the counter where he was sure to see it was indication enough of the message she meant to send. Now only Aida could be his redemption from the sin of killing his wife. From the moment the door creaked open, it was Aida whom he shielded from the gory scene and the telltale papers scattered everywhere, it was Aida over whom he kept watch all night at the hospital, and it was from Aida’s ears that he shielded words of finality such as “death certificate,” “suicide,” and “divorce papers.” It was Aida’s hand he held 92
at the funeral service, and on the airplane as they entered their new home across the street from his in-laws. It was Aida who held his trembling hand when he made phone calls, overwhelmed with guilt, to thank people for their being there. It was she who drove him to the doctor when memories overwhelmed him and he developed an ulcer. It was he who made her let go when she left for college and again when the time came for her to walk down the aisle to a future with another man. He often wondered why Aida had never discussed his wifeâ€™s death with him. As a child, the situation was beyond her control, and too complex for her to possibly understand. After she grew up, he began to notice the uncertain glances which she sent his way, but she never asked the questions whose answers he found himself rehearsing at night. She merely continued to be by his side, silently acknowledging that he was not perfect, but he was still her father. Aidaâ€™s patience and acceptance of his flaws was beyond his understanding of human nature, and occasionally he wondered if she had been sent down by God himself. Aida kept him grounded, kept him from falling prey to the same sickness that had taken his wife. It was Aida who held his hand as he lay on his hospital bed, awaiting death. She came every day to feed him, just as he had fed his wife. It was Aida who, as his soul slipped away and his senses faded, pled to God for his patience to be rewarded through reunification with his wife and infant in Heaven. It was Aida who, through her love and care, granted him the peace which he had spent decades searching for. He closed his eyes, finally sure that the love and care he had given to Aida was enough to pardon his sins.
Such Stories Beth Damiano
Who are you?” The woman smiled at the wall she faced. “Who have they told you I am?” She asked the child behind her. The sound of shifting cotton told her the child had shuffled in place. “They told me you are a bad lady who likes to steal children and kill their parents.” A pause. “They also told me that you didn’t exist.” “Yet here I am,” the woman turned at last and reveled in the child’s gasp of fear. “Did they forget to tell you about my appearance?” “They said,” the little girl swallowed before beginning again. “They said you had no eyes.” The woman smiled. “Did they tell you they burned them out? Did they tell you that I saved three children and destroyed their abusive parents to keep them safe? Were you told of how your people held me down and dug out my eyes with hot pokers before they beat the children to death, claiming they’d been tainted by my influence?” The child inhaled sharp as a knife flint. “No,” was all she said. “So, these people, your people,” the woman waved a hand, “they lie to you and try to scare obedience out of you. Is that right?” “I suppose,” the child said. The woman put a finger to her lips and tapped them. “So, if I am to be feared and even more, do not in fact exist, why are you here?” The little girl shifted again, her shoes squeaking as she took two steps forward. “What color were your eyes?” Startled at such a question, the woman lost her smile. “Green. A rather fetching pale green, if I do say so myself. Though it’s been thirty years since I last saw them; I may be romanticizing.” “My eyes are blue,” the girl said. A small hand touched the woman’s. Wet, likely from the river that led to the hidden house. “I’m sorry that happened to you and the kids you saved.” There were no clever words that came to mind and the woman 94
had been alone long enough to think of all the clever things she could ever say should something like this happen. “Thank you.” The little girl wrapped her fingers with the woman’s. “May I ask you something?” “You may.” “After you saved those kids, what were you going to do with them?” The woman sighed, her heart heavy with the weight of a future she didn’t have. “Teach them to make medicine from the plants and befriend the forest animals. They were to live in this cottage with me and I would raise them as my own. I had such marvelous stories I wanted to tell them.” “Tell me,” the girl said, part question and part statement. “Your parents will consider you tainted. I don’t want you to come to any harm.” The girl took the hand she still held and placed it on her face. “Wet,” the woman said, “with tears? No,” she said before the child could answer. She rubbed the liquid between her fingers and caught the metallic tang in the air. “Blood. Your parents?” “Daddy killed Mommy and my new baby sister in her tummy. I used the kitchen knife on him.” The child sighed. “It took a long time because I couldn’t reach his heart, so I had to keep stabbing him until he fell down and I could kill him like the butcher kills sheep for dinner.” The woman took in this new information and nodded. “And you came here?” The girl was quiet, then said, “I’m sorry, I was nodding. I forgot you couldn’t see me.” “Why did you come here?” “I wanted you to be real,” the child said. “I want you to steal me. I took care of the other part for you.” A laugh came from deep within the woman and rang through the small cottage. “Child, what is your name?” “Ramona.” “Come Ramona,” the woman walked to the pitcher of water she 95
used to bathe. “Clean your face like you washed your hands in the river. Then I will make us some dinner and tell you my stories.” The child’s voice was smiling. “Yes, Mother.”
The Bug Amy Deyerle-Smith
Cold. Dark. Still. The darkness hides the cracks. Cracks that break the cement floor up into crooked triangles. Cracks that creep towards the walls, as though one could watch them grow. Cracks filled with the fallen flecks of paint held down by the water that occasionally drips from the pipe. Drip. Drip. The pipes are sheltered by a sink, once silver, now brown with rust. Several names have been scratched into the side with sharp objects â€“the ghosts of knives, pins, needles and Sharpies still linger. X has claimed the east wall as his own, while NA and KT are trapped together in a heart. Shoved off in the corner is the toilet. Porcelain shiny white and crack-free, it lords over the rest. The cracks pool at its base, but it pays no heed to the lowly, the rusty, the broken. It ignores the crumbling restaurant on the other side of the door. Between the toilet and the wall sits Night Girl. She holds a flashlight and a book, but the flashlight isnâ€™t on and the book is closed. Her head leans against the wall, framed by a mass of black spray paint from when she tried to cover up some graffiti not to her liking. Still, if she looks especially hard, the yellow sun sometimes comes through. She sleeps. Warmth. Motion. Peace. The tall grass dances back and forth in the wind. Every now and then, a car will drive by, and it will have someone to wave at. The grass hides the teenagers in the corner, caresses the side of the crumbling building. It tries to cover the sign that once said FOR SALE, until someone replaced the ALE with HIT. 97
The building might have been white once, or maybe it was grey. Leaning against one side are a few letters –B, U, G, giving the lot its name. People make up stories of what it used to be –government hideouts, secret plyg home –even though everyone knows that the missing letters are R, E, R, and it’s a lot less exciting. In the center of the lot is the tree. It rises high, high above the buildings as it tries to touch the sun. But it’s a kind ruler, flinging shade to the passerby and the bowing grass. Its thick branches ooze sap, some of which is stuck to the overlarge t-shirt of Day Girl, who stands just out of the shadow. She touches the sunlight, and it breaks. Dividing the ground into the Light and the Dark. Day Girl smiles at this, and waves her hand slowly. Back, forth. Back, forth. The grass sways under the shadow. A few feet away, the tree turns the light to splinters. The world comes back in bits and pieces, black on black, and when Night Girl finally pulls herself into reality her first action is to light up her watch. Her second is to run. There’s places to be, nicer clothes to wear. People to smile at and nowhere to hide. Nowhere to hide there, but she has to go. And so she runs. And as she’s running, between the tables, taking the shortcut under the bar and through the back door, dodging the places where she knows the roof is crumbling, she sees Day Girl for the first time. She doesn’t have a reason for stopping, even more reasons not to, but she does anyway. Stares through grimy window at the girl in the sunlight. The girl who turns and for a second looks back at her. Hi, Day Girl waves. Hi, Night Girl waves back. And then she remembers what happens if she doesn’t go fast, and then she has to run again. Run run run back to a cleaner world with shiny things and people and noise noise noise. Back to pretty smiles and pink lined rooms. Run run run run through the shadows. The first time they speak, it’s evening, and they’ve just tripped over each other and landed in a tangled mess. Day Girl sprinting one way,
Night Girl the other. The grass jumps quickly up to hide them as they lie there, rubbing their respective bruises. I’m sorry, says Night Girl. I wasn’t looking. It’s okay. Day Girl looks to see if her arm is bleeding. I wasn’t looking either. Night Girl gets to her feet. I’m late. Me too. A pause. Hi. Hi. Bye. Bye. …See you. They flee into different worlds. The second time they speak, there are no bruises, but it’s still evening. The barrier of dirty glass still stands between them, a jagged hole the only opening. Night Girl sits in one of the chairs. Day Girl kneels in the grass. Sorry for hitting you, Night Girl says. It’s okay. I hope I didn’t get you in trouble. You didn’t. I got in trouble. My knees got all dirty. Night Girl breathes on the window, then presses her thumb against the fog to make a print. Careful to keep her fingers away from the broken edge. I’m sorry. It’s okay. I just didn’t have time to wash my knees. My mom wanted to take pictures. How old are you? Ten. Oh. How old are you? Day Girl scratches her knee, where an ant is trying to forge a path. It falls. I’m eleven, she says, a little proud. I turned eleven last week. Happy birthday.
They stare at each other for a few minutes. Trying to understand. To understand why one stays in the dark and one spins in the light, why one is inside and the other outside. And this time it’s Day Girl that makes the fog, presses her thumb against it. Why do you stay in here? She asks. My dad says that someday it’s going to cave in and kill the banged up teenagers inside. Night Girl shrugs. I like it here. It’s quiet. And you can write on the walls. My mom doesn’t let me write on the walls. She just had them all covered in this ugly paper. And then Dad didn’t like it and so he had it covered up again when she wasn’t home. I can’t draw on the wall either. But people draw on the outside of the Bug. Huh, says Night Girl. I never noticed. The thirty second time they speak, it’s become a routine. Night Girl has convinced Day Girl to come inside, and they sit on top of the counter, pretending to order from a menu written when you could get a burger for thirty cents. I’d like thirteen pizzas, two bars of chocolate and a shake to go, Day Girl says. I want an elephant, Night Girl says, trying on a British accent. An elephant and a chimp and a side order of….. It’s here she stops. Giraffe? Day Girl suggests. And they are nearly thrown off the counter by laughter, even though they both know it isn’t that funny. There’s a castle on the wall. It’s red and blue, with towers that go up, up, as high as they can reach. There’s a moon, too, and the little spraypaint people live on it. They run around together in packs, jumping up, up in the air. Night Girl never goes to the tree, and Day Girl never sees the bathroom, but they rarely go to those places themselves anymore. They’re too busy crouching in the shade, in the little worlds they’ve made in the dusty building and the tall grass, with the talking trees and the colorful buildings. They never tell each other their names. They’re the gods of this world. They can eliminate the moon people with the touch of a button, 100
and create a new land in seconds. They know they aren’t who everyone else sees, so they don’t need to be called what everyone else calls them. But Night Girl sees Day Girl’s mother once, just for a second. And she goes home troubled. Because until then, she had imagined Day Girl as not quite existing. Living in the Bug and only appearing for her. Like an angel. But then the smiling woman came, and Day Girl ran to her, and the smiling woman picked her up and spun around once, and Night Girl knew that was her time to disappear, and the illusion cracked. But the discomfort only lasts for a few Bug-less days, and then she is back. And Night Girl turns eleven too, and then Day Girl turns twelve, and Night Girl turns twelve. There was never one point when it became a fact (facts are useless in their world) but they’re always there on Thursday afternoons. Sometimes other days too. And sometimes they’re there for hours, just one. But it’s Thursdays, after days of classes and work they don’t understand, that they can rule. Thursday evenings where they’ve both left home and end up at the Bug, sometimes on the same side of the glass, and sometimes it splits them in half. Once Day Girl asks how Night Girl is allowed to spend so much time here, and Night Girl shrugs and stares at the wall. The spray paint –purple – is cold in her hand, and she moves it slowly across the plaster. Day Girl picks up the green and draws another line. Barney colors, Night Girl says. And then she paints a purple smiley on Day Girl’s t-shirt. Day Girl stares at her for a second in total shock. And Night Girl looks down at her hands, just in time to see them turn green. She reaches for another can. Three days later, their skin and hair is still stained all colors of the rainbow.
My teacher wanted to know what I did. Did you tell her? I told her it was paint and that I couldn’t wash it off. I think it’s pretty. Me too. My mom just laughed. But then she got all squinty. I didn’t see my mom last night.
The Secret is hidden under boards and dust, and when Night Girl reveals it, she gets a satisfying look of shock. Day Girl reaches out and picks up the kitchen knife, staring at it as though it might explode in her hand. Where did these come from? My house. Why? But Night Girl isn’t entirely sure why. It’s just a fear, lurking. That someday the silence between her parents will explode like the stained glass window did when the neighbor hit it with a croquet ball and when that happens there can’t be anything sharp. I’m preparing. Oh. They both stare at them for a few more seconds. And then Day Girl puts it down and they cover it back up. Flowers grow on top of it.
They paint worlds on the wall.
But eventually the worlds falls apart.
Night Girl comes to the lot, and the Bug is gone. The tree is gone. Boards and a stump are the only sign that they were ever there. The tall grass is hacked down. Shorn, like a sheep on a spring morning. The FOR SHIT sign isn’t even a hole in the ground. It’s nothing. Nothing but short yellow grass and gaps and a foundation. She stands for several minutes, staring. And then she turns, calmly, walks down the road, and tries coming around the corner again. Maybe if she does everything exactly right, takes just the right amount of steps, then everything will go back to normal. But it’s still empty. The tree that ruled the lot and the toilet that ruled the bathroom. The world on the walls. The place where Day Girl painted 102
a sun that Night Girl didn’t cover up. The chairs where they talked. The spray paint they had stashed. She’s twelve years old, but she feels like her life is over. For a long time, she waits. Lies in the short grass, coated in sunlight, she waits for Day Girl. But it’s not Thursday and Day Girl doesn’t come. The sun passes, and Night Girl knows she will be the one that isn’t there on Thursday, because at this moment she is sure that there is nothing left.
She regrets it. On Friday she comes. And the Thursday after. She is alone.
The Laundromat grows slowly, yet it seems to Night Girl that it appears overnight. She doesn’t go back much. She’s busy searching for a new place to hide, yet sometime along the way she realizes she doesn’t need one. But for a long time after, even as she attempts to rejoin the world, she looks over her shoulder. As though she’s hoping to see someone. But she doesn’t ever, and eventually she just walks looking straight ahead. Loud. Smelly. Chaos. A chorus of children’s voices bounces off the counter, the tables, echo throughout the room. The room that smells of grease and sweat, where the napkins come in shiny boxes and the windows aren’t broken. There’s even a menu with modern prices, hanging over the heads of the uniformed teenagers like a crown. They’re all wearing the trademark pleasant expressions, Hi May I Take Your Order Do You Want Fries With That Should I Supersize It, but you don’t have to look hard to see the irritation underneath. The crowd of girls that just entered aren’t looking. They’re newly teenagers, these girls. Awkward bodies bouncing off each other as they push to be at the front of the line. Keeping track of who gets their periods first and who has the biggest bra, the most conversations with boys. Newly teenagered, but they feel like they know everything. 103
They’re not looking at the people taking their orders, and they’re also not looking at the door to the bathroom. A girl hides in the doorframe. Pushed out of the way by children with AN EMERGENCY and the parents going after them. Her hair is pulled back, and she’s covered in a t-shirt several sizes too big. She watches the girls with an air of superiority. A look that says she feels that she’s above them and yet longs to be one of them. She watches, but she’s watching one in particular. It takes several minutes, but finally someone notices. The noticer pokes the watched, eyebrows raised. A slight nod towards the watcher. Mouthing something. And the girl who turns is not quite Night Girl. She’s not the girl who crouched in the bathroom. But the girl who broke sunlight is gone, too. And Not-Quite-Night Girl looks at Not-Quite-Day Girl, and smiles. Hi, Not-Quite-Night Girl waves. Hi, Not-Quite Day Girl waves back. There’s not much more to do after that. This time, their worlds don’t connect. So after a few minutes, Not-Quite Day Girl leaves without ordering. She walks home in the shadows. There is no graffiti on the walls, and the bathroom is bright and shiny. People bring in clothes coated in sweat, dirt, stains. Admire the strip of well-kept grass outside, and sing along with the radio when they think they’re alone.
Lazarus Hotel Amy Deyerle-Smith
The little green sprouts signal death. That’s the rule of thumb, anyway. If you’re an avid gardener, and you get horsetail – you move. The fuckers have roots that go down a good eighteen inches, and they spread faster than fire on straw. The untrained can’t even pull them – a yank will merely break them off in chunks, leaving less above ground to work with. Mark has been pulling horsetail at this hotel for going on thirty years. If nothing else, it means that Leslie’s never going to fire him – and that had been a comfort, when he first got the job. When he was twenty five, with leaves in his hair and flowers in his shoes. Now he just wishes that his poor artemisia wasn’t getting smothered. The weed is easy enough to pull, though – he’d perfected his technique early on. Pull from the top, gently, gently: and the entire stalk will slide out, to the little rotted black base. The horsetail is constant. Thin, with the little spores sticking out in skirts at regular intervals. They grow so fast – once, he’d make a comment comparing them to his Nat. But Mattie just sort of stared at him, and he hasn’t made an analogy since. That had been during the drought in their marriage, when every word cracked the dirt under their feet. When each breath felt like air they were taking from each other. Then Nat had blurted out his truth, all sweaty palms and cringes, and once again they’d had a cause to rally behind. Once again they’d been a tidal wave. He’d wondered, for a while, if it was the flowers. If he shouldn’t have raised his son to know which branches of a rose should be pruned off, the difference between an orchid and a calla lily. He’d wondered if “there was nothing you could do to keep your son from being gay” is something that they just tell the parents – but if it is his fault, he isn’t sure if he regrets it. Sodomy is one thing, but at least Nat isn’t going to knock a girl up. (Mark knows better than most where that leads. Mattie had miscarried only after they were married.) Grunting a little, he tosses another sprout into to the bucket. The vine weed is going at his lilac again, and he has to get down on his hands 105
and knees, feel around. Digs his fingers into the dirt – but instead of root, he hits metal. Frowning – maybe something got churned up with his last round of enthusiastic weeding – he pokes around for a moment, getting whatever it is lose from whatever it’s caught on. In the fading light, he examines his discovery. It’s a cross. About as long as his thumb, heavy in his palm. There’s something etched on it, but the dirt has worked its way into every crack. It’s been here a long time. Ten years last month, actually. He doesn’t need carbon dating to know when and for whom it was left: sometimes he can still see the impromptu memorial covering the hotel. Wreathes and flowers and toys and cards. (There were two men and one gun –Mark hadn’t known the one on the wrong end, although it feels like he did, because that’s how tragedy works. The shooter he had known to say hello: but he doesn’t know why he had shot Todd Thronton before leaving a suicide note full of Jimi Hendrix lyrics. And in the end that is the only question anyone cared about.) (They call the incident Purple Haze, as though giving it a name gives it a meaning.) He should give the cross to someone –Todd’s mother, perhaps. But he doesn’t know if she’s religious. And they’re going to be hosting a wedding reception at the hotel soon. The murder will be brought up at some point, but he doesn’t want to start a brouhaha early. Mark puts the cross in his pocket. But he doesn’t dig any more – it’s getting dark, and it’s as good enough time to stop as any. He doesn’t bother to pack up his tools: nobody will take them, and it’s not going to rain tonight. The ones that can’t handle dew aren’t the ones that were meant to last, so they’re left to keep the plants company as he heads towards the Break Room. The pub is attached to, but not legally part of, the hotel. Glued to its side like a clingy younger sibling, it’s what Nat’s friend Cole calls a bingo club. In actual fact, they only play bingo once a month. Most of the time, The Break Room is Lazarus’s only good restaurant and civilized bar. It’s where the kids hang out before they can get into Misty’s, eating burgers and grilled cheese and trying to convince Leslie that they’re old enough 106
for alcohol, really, their parents let them try it all the time at home. And it’s for the older ones, who just want a goddamn Jack Daniels without having to put up with the dancing and whatever those kids call music. Mark is hailed from three different directions when he enters, but the only one that matters is the woman behind the bar. “Shouldn’t you be off losing weight, or whatever women do the week before their wedding?” he asks. Leslie pats her stomach. “What, and make all my relatives think that’s how I landed a husband? The extra pounds are part of the package, old man. Now, what can I add to your beer belly?” “Hey. My kid graduated same class as your kid.” She smiles a bit. “I wouldn’t call Ree ‘my kid’ around her.” Maybe not. Mark grunts when he plops down on the bar stool. “You practically raised half ’a kids in town.” His own son included. But Leslie’s soon-to-be stepdaughter had never been ashamed of making her presence and opinions known, and going to great lengths to show independence. “She pissed?” A shrug. “She doesn’t sound pissed in her emails. And bi-weekly phone calls. But what do I know.” “She coming back for the wedding?” “Says she is.” Leslie drops the mug on the counter. “On your tab?” “Yeah.” She leans forward on her elbows. “’Tween you and me, I’m planning on having words with her. Only time Pete sees Ree is when he goes out there – she hasn’t been back here since she left. And he misses her more than he’s gonna say.” “Glad he’s got you then.” Mark raises his mug. “To the future Mrs. Anderson. I should buy you a drink.” He gets a wink. “I get off at nine-thirty.” They both laugh. “Nat was pretty upset too, when she left.” Leslie probably knows this, but he offers it up anyway. Ree Anderson seems like a good kid, and he can applaud wanting to live your own life, but it’s a father’s job not to forgive people that hurt their kids. Leslie moves a step away from him as she starts mixing together something fruity for the woman who’s just ordered. “Though you probably shouldn’t bring that up – Nat being upset when Ree left, I mean. He’d probably kill me.” 107
“You talking ’bout Pete Anderson’s kid?” the woman at the counter asks. Martha. Mark recognizes her from his wife’s knitting circle – they’ve talked a few times about her azaleas. “I’da thought her skipping town would have been good for Nat. She seemed to be encouraging his. Um.” Oh. It’s going to be one of those nights. “I’m too old to get in bar fights, Martha,” he says. “But that don’ mean I won’t.” Leslie just frowns, and Martha looks awkwardly between them for a moment, raising an eyebrow full of connotations that Mark does not like, thank you very much. He settles for glaring at her as she sits down and pointedly ignores them. “It was probably good, Ree getting out of town,” Leslie says. “Although it wouldn’t kill her to come back once in awhile. I always thought she’d go somewhere blue. Like California or New York or something.” He should probably know this, but he doesn’t. “Where’s she living?” “Rapid. South Dakota.” Leslie sighs. “She moved out there for her girlfriend. Said she was between jobs anyway, might as well.” “That serious?” “Can’t be, they broke up six months later. She kept the city, though. Two other girls come and gone in a couple days, so I guess –” Leslie doesn’t finish that sentence, instead slides another shot down the bar, but Mark can mentally tack on his own crude joke. God knows Ree hadn’t been the first gay kid in Lazarus, but she’d been the first to wield it like a weapon and a defense. “I love having Nat here,” he says. “Love it, I really do. But I wonder sometimes if that wouldn’t be good for him too, you know? Get the hell out of here. There’s nothing for him.” Leslie blinks, and when she speaks, her voice is almost too quiet to be heard. “That’s not what I see.” Cole. “Yeah.” Cole’s a good kid, but he’s never coming out. Not here, at least, and if it weren’t for the fact that they’d been more or less together (there have been spats in between, and Mark doesn’t want to when they started officially being a Couple how long before Nat told them, and what that becoming official involved, because his son is gay and he can handle that but what he cannot handle is any mention, implication of, or evidence that he’s actually doing things. No father should ever have to find 108
KY Tingling Jelly when he’s looking for old newspapers. Ever.) for seven or eight years he’d have told his son to move on already. “There’s nothing for them, though. I don’t get why they don’t just get on a bus.” “And I don’t get why Ree doesn’t come back.” Leslie pours herself a glass, despite that probably not being allowed, and holds it up. “To ridiculous children.” Mark taps it with his bottle. Ree getting her own life, the idea of Nat and Cole maybe buying a house together or something on the coast – it makes his stomach hurt, in a way that takes a second to identify. He starts to ask if Leslie ever feels like other people are moving on, starting out, and she’s already wasted her chance by weeding the same yard for decades – but then he remembers that Leslie is getting married in a few days. She’s still… doing that changing thing people do. She’s still starting new things. “You ever wish you had kids?” he asks, before realizing how insanely personal that is. She doesn’t seem to mind, though. Around them, the bar is emptying – maybe it’s near closing time. Mark doesn’t know how long he’s been here, but he doesn’t really want to go home. “In a few days, I’ll have a twenty-five year old.” Leslie shrugs. “Maybe I’ll get grandkids.” “But…” Mark considers for a minute. “How would –” “Maybe we should get Nat and Ree to do that artificial in-semen thing. That results in twins a lot of the time, right?” Another drink is poured. “That’d be perfect. One baby for you and Mattie, one for me and Pete.” His beer is starting to taste like water. Or maybe he’s forgotten the taste of water. “What about Ree and Nat? Do they get their babies?” “You trust them to raise kids?” And then Mark is laughing. They’re both laughing, and he shifts in his seat, and that’s when the cross falls out of his pocket. “Shit.” He’s used to squatting and bending, but that doesn’t mean he’s wild about the idea of getting off his stool. But there are no spry young mean eager to help him – not like it was when I was a kid, he thinks, even though he knows that’s bullshit because kids are never going to show as much respect as adults think they deserve – and so he retrieves it himself. A few people look over at him, and another crowd comes in. Not close to closing time, then. 109
Leslie pulls away from him, goes to take their orders and yell at whatever kid is trying to earn extra pocket money this week. He twirls the cross between his fingers for a few minutes, trying to think – but all he gets are the same old thoughts, looping around. To talk to Mrs. Thornton or not to talk to Mrs. Thornton. It’s not as though he has anything to say to her. He doesn’t know how someone gets over losing a son like that, or if it’s possible. He doesn’t know what her reaction would be. He considers leaving it on her doorstep, but that’s childish. He’d ask Leslie, but she’s busy, and she’s getting married in a week. No point in bringing up old shit if he doesn’t have to. Maybe he’ll ask Mattie. Maybe they can have an actual conversation. It’s with this thought in mind that he waves to Leslie and everyone else in there that he’s supposed to wave at. Trumps towards the door, and begins the walk home. It’s not a long walk, but it’s familiar. The turns, the landmarks: it’s changed in the last few years, the way small towns do, into something less authentic than whatever was there before. But the truth is, as much as he might bitch about their Safeway and Dairy Queen drive-through, he can barely remember what was on those lots before. The Dairy Queen might have been some homemade (and therefore better, by logic he accepts without understanding) ice cream place –because he remembers standing on this corner as a kid. Sticky hands, sticky face, and something strawberry dripping through his fingers. There’s no before or after – only that memory. He considers stopping, getting Mattie a Blizzard, because she likes Blizzards, but he doesn’t know if she’s on one of her diets again. He’d get one for Nat, but he doesn’t know if his son is going to be home tonight: he works on the inside of the hotel, and they’ve been doing some wedding-prep re-arranging. And the odds that he’s going to go home with Cole (or that Cole is going to help him clean the rooms extra throughly) is at about sixty percent. He notes this with a touch of nostalgia and a bit of envy – he and Mattie had been like that, once. Now all he gets is the back of her head as she laughs at something on TV. “I’m home,” he says. “How was your day?” she asks. 110
“Fine,” he says. “I talked to Leslie. What about you?” “Fine,” she says. “I finally caught that rat that was in the attic. How’s Leslie?” “Fine,” he says. “What are you watching?” “Airplane,” she says. “But it’s a commercial now.” “I can see that,” he says. The cross is heavy in his pocket, but he looks at the TV instead. He is still standing. “Those ads with the kids are pretty cute, aren’t they?” ‘Yeah,” she says. “I found a cross today,” he says. “In the garden. From the memorial, probably.” She looks at him, now. “Been there a long time.” “I guess. What do you think I should do with it?” The movie comes back on, and her eyes go back to the screen. “It’s up to you.” “Okay.” he says. “I think I’m going to go to the cemetery.” Mark continues waiting, framed in the doorway, but when she doesn’t respond, he turns. It’s dark out, but he knows the way. But he has a routine, and he feels a little uncomfortable breaking it now. He doesn’t go to the cemetery this late. Not since that incident with the fake haunting and the Cheetos. But there is a cross in his pocket, and a sureness in his step. It’s only a four-minute walk. Lazarus’s cemetery is not particularly noteworthy. There are no ancient graves, nobody important buried there – the oldest one is from the early twentieth century, some unfortunate John or Jane Doe whose name has worn off due to poor grave care. Luckily for the more recently dead, Mark is here now. It’s peaceful at night. Quiet. It isn’t ballsy-teenager season, and so the area remains mostly undisturbed. And he can’t help but nod a hello to the familiar stones as he passes – toss out a comment, here and there. “Saw your son today, Mr. Ballard. He’s looking well,” or, “Gotta take care of that ivy tomorrow, Loraine.” Mark doesn’t believe in ghosts. He knows they can’t hear him. But he can’t help but feel that it’s appreciated, all the same. That the families of these people, here and everywhere, might like that their loved ones aren’t entirely forgotten. 111
His parents are here, too. On the other side of the big oak tree that serves as the cemetery centerpiece. He’ll be here too, one of these days. But maybe Nat will be buried somewhere else. He doesn’t know. He wonders who will take care of the flowers here after he dies. He wonders if anyone will talk to his headstone. It’s unlikely. But here is the grave of Todd Thornton, the purpose of his expedition. He watches it for several moments – does he just drop the cross and go? Should he bury it, tuck it out of sight under the marigolds? Should he say a prayer? Whisper words into the wind in the hopes that they bring someone comfort? They’re just words. That’s what he told Nat, all those nights. Anything people say to you, they’re just words. That’s what he told Mattie, when they got married: some people will say things, about her being pregnant, but they’re just words. And they were. They faded with the seasons. But they never really left. Thump. The cross lands on the ground. Todd doesn’t have an epitaph. Just a name, a birth, and a death. No words there. Words. He sees the azalea bush when he turns – it’s not blooming, but it reminds him of Martha and her unquiet disapproval. There’s a horsetail sprout at the bush’s base, and it’s only by habit that he pulls it – and then twists it between his fingers, considering, before he leaves. Getting to Martha’s house is harder, because even with reflective street signs and lamps, he isn’t quite sure where it is. This is far out of his routine and that makes his neck itch. People could be watching from their windows, musing aloud about the change. Doesn’t Mattie do as much? There’s Pete Anderson, he’s sure been at The Break Room more than usual, I wonder what it means. Someone could be doing the same thing, right now – there’s old Mark the gardener, looks like he’s getting up to something… But he’s just talking a walk, now. Listening to the crunch of shoes on pavement, the grumbling of of the odd car that wants to know why it is being taken out at night for what can’t possibly be a long drive. Cats, 112
watching him, muttered hellos to rare passerby. From the cemetery to the hotel to the high school, this is the town of Lazarus. And he’s on a mission for justice. Sort of. After twenty minutes of random turns, he finds the house he’s looking for by accident: their last name is painted in crooked letters on their mailbox. And, of course, there are the azaleas. He checks up and down the street. Empty. The front curtains are closed. He’s only got moonlight. Moonlight, but the town is alive. Buzzing just bit as it always does when a big event is coming. A thin layer of energy. Like it’s falling from the clouds. People are coming. Strangers. Strangers who could become friends. For someone else, maybe. He studies the garden – plants, not in perfect rows but a more haphazard beauty. Mark is too old for new friends. Leslie is getting married in a few days, Nat needs to be dropped off at a crossroads, Mattie still thinks Airplane is funny, and Mark is too old for petty revenge. You can’t control what people think, he reminds himself, not for the first time and not for the last. So he crushes the horsetail in his fist and throws it into one of Martha’s bins. It’s not the plants’ fault hat their tender insulted Mark’s family. So with one last nod at the azaleas, he heads for home.
Above All Else Acacia Ackles 0300 I wake up in a cold sweat to find my gun already in my hand. Next to me Nathan stirs, drawing his own pistol out from under his pillow. I press a hand to his chest – his muscles seize under my palm – and shake my head. “No, no, no,” I whisper. “We’re fine. We’re good. Code green. Go back to sleep.” He goes back to sleep; he was never really awake. As soon as I swing my legs over the side of the bed I know they will not hold my weight tonight. My right leg is tense from knee to toe, like a guitar string stretched taut, knotted around a bullet bite that just barely scratches the muscle. I try it anyway. I lurch forward, press my toes into the floor, lower onto my heels – and collapse as my right leg gives. I throw my hands out and land with a soft exhale of breath and an ache that shoots from my fingertips up to my shoulders. My calf aches. My heart pounds. My hands shiver with the weight of my body. I stand and limp into the kitchen. Slowly, carefully, I close the door out into the main hallway as quietly as I can. I make it to the nearest chair and lower myself into it, massaging my leg. Breathe, Sadie. I lower my head between my knees. One. Two. Breathe. One. Two. One, two. One, two, one, two, one two one two one-two-one-two – I sit up sharp and gasp for air. My leg and lungs may ache, but the dreams that woke me up absolutely burn. “Dreams,” I murmur. “Dreams. Just dreams. You are here, this is real.” When one of Nathan’s soldiers stopped short, frozen by fear—usually one of the kids who should’ve been turned away at the gate—he would go to them and say that, over and over, until they heard it. You are here. This is real. (So pull yourself together.) 114
I hated hearing him do it. I hate hearing myself do it. But sometimes it’s all that works. Sometimes it’s all you can think of. Without pressing too much on my leg (Nathan had said I should just cut it off at the knee; he was joking, but it’s suddenly enticing), I stand up and pull a glass out of one of the cabinets to fill from the sink. I gulp down a whole glass of water at once and go to get more; my hands, still shaking, betray me. The glass slides out of my hand and meets the floor with a crash— —and with still three bombs to go the roof shatters, glass spraying in every direction, raining down like tiny needles into my skin and I bite back a scream of pain because I can’t waste breath on that, we have to run, the bullets will start to fire at any second, and Nathan grabs my arm and we sprint, past the still-imploding train car, past the girls not any older than me who have glass lodged in their throats and are trying to breathe, who are looking at me asking me to save them, and I look them in the eye and I run straight past them and I can’t tell anymore whose blood my feet are soaked in— “You are here this is real you are here this is real you are here this is real.” I can’t stop the shaking but I can unfurl my arms from around my knees and I can at least get on my hands and knees and crawl over to the glass. I grab it by the handful and dump it into the trashcan. Tiny beads bury themselves in my hands and blood wells to the surface; I turn on the sink and wash out as much as I can and hope Nathan doesn’t notice. 0900 Nathan starts to wake up while I’m buttoning my formal jacket. “Morning,” he says, sitting upright. I look back at him. “Morning.” “You look nice.” I shrug. The mirror says so, but I still feel stiff in blazers and dress pants. Melanie hired someone to help her with public appearances like this, but the idea of having someone that involved in my personal life makes my skin crawl. Stretching, Nathan finally clambers out of bed. “When’s the cabinet 115
meeting?” “Starts in forty-five minutes. It’s a twenty minute drive. Half an hour with our security. Get dressed.” He walks up behind me and wraps his arms around me, buttoning the rest of my jacket for me. “Did you sleep well?” I turn around to face him and smile. “Yes.” It doesn’t even feel forced anymore. 1030 “We will, of course, be expediting the process of compensation to the families of veterans.” Senator Harris taps his papers on the desk to straighten them out, a habit of his when he wants to expedite the process of getting everyone else to move on to a new topic. “That’s what you said three months ago,” Nathan protests. The six other senators seated around the table shoot him a glare. I put a hand on his arm, a gesture that I hoped conveyed take it easy. If it did, he doesn’t take notice of it. His jaw has gone tight and his hands are balled into fists and I know I have already lost. “Forty-five minutes into this meeting, and all you’ve talked about is what we’ve already done and what we can’t afford to do yet. Those men and women died to put you all at this table and you haven’t given their families anything as a thank you. How long do you expect public support to last if even that gets tied up in bureaucratic red tape?” Melanie, at my left, looks up with as calming a glance as she could manage. “Nathaniel,” she says, sweet but full of warning. “Government takes time.” Senator Harris looks between the both of them with equal venom. “Thank you, Ms. Quinn,” he says, each word measured. “Mr. Archer, your frustration is noted but hardly necessary. I don’t mean to sound condescending but you and your friends are – how old now, eighteen, nineteen years old? I’ve been studying government nearly that long. This bureaucratic red tape, as you call it, is the only thing which will ensure the continued safety of the Democracy which those men and women, as you said yourself, died to create. We cannot rush things.” My hand stays on Nathan’s wrist, but I can feel how much he itches to squirm away from me. “I understand, Senator Harris, however -” 116
“Furthermore, I expect public support to last rather longer than it might if all we hoped to fuel it with was a revolutionary fever. Fever breaks. Tape holds.” They hold each other’s eyes. The rest of the cabinet waits, patient and expectant, like waiting for the tide to go back out. It will move, and you can feel it coming, and you know eventually it will come back in again. Nathaniel had not elected Senator Harris. Nathaniel, in fact, had elected no one, but he had at least publicly supported the rest of our cabinet members. “I expect the budget will allow those payments to begin to go out by the end of the month,” Senator Harris states. Nathan nods. “I expect so.” “Now,” Senator Harris continues, “as for the issue of public transit...” As everyone starts to relax and slip back into routine government business, I feel something poking my left wrist. I look down to see Melanie’s hand pushing a folded piece of paper towards me. I unfurl it discreetly and read in her careful handwriting: This gov’t will never be what either of them thought it would when they signed that declaration. It won’t even be what I thought it would and I wrote the damn thing. Good thing I didn’t die in the rev. because I would have hated to die for this. P.S. Lunch @ 12:30? Rosemary Park Cafe. You can buy. I put a check-mark next to her lunch date. After a second’s thought, I put one next to the previous paragraph, too. 1100 Nathan puts an arm around me as we start to leave the meetinghouse. “Head down, mouth shut.” “I know how to do this.” “So you always say. Then we go home and you’re shaking for an hour.” “Nathan.” 117
“I’m just saying.” I ball my hands into fists and fix my eyes on the ground. We push the doors open, half-jog past the cameras and microphones swarming the hall like flies around a carcass. “Sadie Falcon, can you tell us more about what goes on inside the cabinet?” Head down. “Sadie Falcon, what can you personally promise the people about this new government?” Mouth shut. “Sadie Falcon, what do you have to say about the rumors of unrest in one of the outer precincts?” Head down mouth shut head down mouth shut. We’re parked around the block, and as soon as we break free of the twenty-foot radius surrounding city hall, the sidewalk opens up. Most of the reporters chose to stay around the city hall steps in case someone else important came out. We make it all the way to the car. I don’t know how she got there, or why, but a sharp-looking woman with a microphone and a camera is loitering by our car. “Please let us enter our car,” Nathaniel says, reaching for the handle. The woman puts her hand on the handle and turns the microphone towards me. I flinch, even though I’m not surprised. “Sadie Falcon,” she says, like everyone always does, like it means anything. “During the recent Grassroots Revolution you were known as the People’s Voice, is that correct?” Mouth shut. Mouth shut. Mouth shut. “Yes,” I say. Nathaniel grabs my wrist; I jerk it away. The reporter leans in closer. “Recently you’ve been turning down all interviews; why is that? Why have you stepped out of the public spotlight?” I can’t think of an answer fast enough for her. It’s my personal choice, I want to say, but that doesn’t mean anything, not really. She presses on. “If you’re the People’s Voice, don’t you feel a responsibility to keep speaking for them?” I look at the camera and the microphone and at the swarm of microphones a block away. In my pocket, I can feel Melanie’s scribbled 118
note digging into my leg. “I don’t have anything left to say,” I tell her, and she’s surprised for just long enough for Nathan to yank our car door open and for us to slide into the back seat. He pulls the door closed, shouts something to the driver about not letting people loiter around our vehicle. “That was stupid,” he hisses as we drive away. “You don’t get to tell me that.” He laughs, shaking his head. “Whatever, Sadie. Don’t blame me when that turns up in the morning news.” I stare out the window at the city blurring past. At this speed it’s hard to tell what state of reconstruction all the stone buildings are in. “I don’t watch the news,” I mutter. “No,” Nathan agrees. “It watches you.” 1230 By the time I arrive at the Rosemary Park Café, Melanie has already ordered herself a drink. I slide into the booth opposite her. She signals for the waiter to take our orders. Melanie twirls her straw in her empty ginger-ale glass while she waits for the next one. “We can lead a revolution but we can’t legally order alcohol in a restaurant,” she muses. “Maybe that’s something we should expedite.” I grimace. “I’m so sick of those meetings.” “But democracy, Sadie,” she says with mock enthusiasm. “The thrill of freedom! Can’t you taste it on your lips? Can’t you feel it in your bones?” “I don’t feel much of anything anymore.” I wince as soon as I say it. Melanie gives up her charade and leans on one fist. “Take off your glasses.” My hand travels up to my face, tracing the thick frames. “What? Why?” “Because I want you to be joking, love, but I want to see whether you’re hiding bags under your eyes before I accuse you of that.” Shakily, I peel them off. She leans back in her chair, folding her arms. I push them back on and try to remember how they were positioned to hide the dark lines that felt permanently etched above my cheekbones. “When was the last time you slept?” Melanie says. “And I mean really 119
slept. Deep sleep, REM sleep, good dreams that left you refreshed in the morning.” “Um... couple of months.” “You’re lying to me.” She leans forward once again. “No, no, Sadie, it’s been longer than that, hasn’t it? It’s been years. Jesus. What was the last dream you had?” “I’m fine, Mel.” “You are not fine. Look at yourself ! You’re shaking!” I look down at my hands, resting on my thighs. They’re quivering, the way they used to in the thickest part of the war, the stress reaction that took me out of Nathan’s army and onto the podium to become the People’s Voice. I realize I don’t notice when it begins anymore. Maybe it never really stops. “It’ll go away.” Melanie frowns, studying the lines in my face, the clouds in my eyes. “What happened, Sadie?” she murmurs. The rough edges that characterize her usual comforting tone have all been smoothed out. “I still...” If you admit it to Mel, it’s real. “I’ve still been, occasionally, having these flashbacks. About the war. The sights, the sounds. And then I go to sleep to try to shut it out and the nightmares...” My hands rattle so violently that I knot them together to try to stop it. “They’re always, almost always, just... James.” She looks as sick to her stomach as I feel and I wish I hadn’t told her. The waiter drops off our drinks. I nod appreciatively; Melanie’s still staring at me. “I don’t know what to do, Sadie,” she admitted. “Jesus. I really don’t.” “So it’s just me,” I mused. “I’m the only one still crazy over this.” “No,” she said quickly. “No, you aren’t crazy, and no, I still...” She pauses and shakes her head. “There are streets in this city I won’t drive down, not now, not ever. There are shops I can’t walk into, shops I can’t even look at. It’s not just you. It’s not.” I nod but the pit in my stomach grows heavier and heavier until the weight of it pulls my mouth open. “But you can avoid those streets,” I said quickly, “and those shops, and you can go shut yourself in your house and hide from it all. It’s all in 120
my head, and I can’t get out, and there are people on every street corner who want nothing more than for me to relive the war with them. And if I don’t smile and go along with them, then it gets worse. What’s wrong with her? What’s she hiding? What secrets doesn’t she want to share with us? And rumors lead to unrest leads to riots leads to gunfire leads to war, all over again. And I can’t… I can’t let it go back to that. I won’t be to blame for it. I’ll die first. I will.” Melanie waits for the waiter to come and go before she says anything. “Of course you will,” she says. “You’re trying to kill yourself, after all.” “No,” I say hastily. “I’m not.” She waves her hand dismissively. “Sure you are. Slowly, maybe. One day at a time. But you are trying to kill yourself. Because you know if you keep going like this for much longer, you’re going to die. And you aren’t doing a thing to change it.” 1410 When Nathan first told me they were building a monument to us, I told him to tear it down. We’d fought about that one. I’d lost. It isn’t done yet; demolition of the old Presidential Meetinghouse is still ongoing. When I walk past it that afternoon, people are walking around with baskets, picking up chips of marble that had sprayed out after bulldozing the central wing. And so it goes. We’ll be immortalized in an abstract bronze-work in the city square and the President’s house will end up on everybody’s mantelpiece. I stare at the ditch in the ground that they’ve dug up to lay the foundations for our sculpture that’s more like a patio. They’re going to lay out bronze sidewalk steps, and plant bronze grass creeping up from underneath so resolutely that the sidewalk shatters. Melanie thought the metaphor was nicely done; I thought it was heavy-handed; Nathaniel just wanted to make sure everyone’s names would be on it. “Of course,” the sculptor – someone the Senate commissioned, I don’t remember who – had assured us during our meeting with him. “And of course if you like, I can put the Martyr’s name front and center.” 121
The Martyr. They’d come to call him that, days or weeks after his death, as if every casualty of war could be epitomized, and justified, by the death of my best friend. When James bled out in my arms, legs blown off in an attack gone wrong, his heart was still pumping long after he’d slipped into shock and his eyes had gone glassy. In those last moments, when he couldn’t even hear me screaming his name, I doubt he thought of himself as much of a martyr. I doubt that he thought of himself as much of anything. As I watch little kids sort through the fresh rubble in front of the meetinghouse, I can feel a cold dread wash over me and I suddenly know it doesn’t matter what they write on it. Someday people will come by in baskets to take it apart. Maybe they’ll have dragged Nathan and I out to the city green and shot us in the head. Maybe our democracy will outlive us and whoever we leave behind will have to take the bullet for us. But someday we won’t be their heroes and this won’t be a war memorial. 1715 I’ve been walking through the city for two hours, counting. I tried to go home – got a taxi all the way to 15th, in fact – but I got out three blocks early and walked the whole way back to the war memorial site and then beyond. Did I change your future? I think as a little boy in a baseball cap brushes past me. Would you have become a soldier otherwise? Would you have been shot in ten years? An old woman shuffles by, face hidden under a straw hat. Did I kill your daughter? Was she one of the ones I watched bleed out? Was she one of the ones I shot, before I lost my stomach for pulling triggers? A young woman with a briefcase. Would you have been imprisoned for treason? A teenage couple. Did your friends die for me? A little girl. Did I save you? Her older sister, shouting. Or did I destroy you? I don’t know. I’ll never know. But in my mind I can’t make the scales balance.
1900 “Sir,” I say to the man at the boathouse. “Do you have any more rides available today?” He looks up, sees my face, does a double-take. “Sadie Falcon,” he says. I make myself smile instead of wince. “Yes.” He reaches his hand through the opening in the booth. “Honor to see you here today.” I take his hand and shake it firmly. “Thank you. Do you have any boat rides?” A quick glance at the clock. “It’s getting late...” Nodding, I start to take a few steps back. “No, of course, right – I understand. I didn’t have my heart set on it. Just a whim.” His face falls. Don’t disappoint her, it reads, and I feel sick to my stomach again. “I can reserve one for you, if you want to come back tomorrow. First thing in the morning. Or any time, of course, any time that’s convenient for you.” I shake my head firmly. “No, really, it’s fine.” I should be going; I should’ve been home at least an hour ago. As he’s about to apologize one more time, a little boat rolls back up to the dock, depositing the last passengers of the day. He cranes his neck to see who it is, then pulls back inside the booth. “Stay right here,” he says quickly, and rushes out the door in the back. I can’t protest; I can only watch him rush out to meet the man driving the boat before the man can pack up for the day. They have a quiet, heated conversation – I think I hear my name come up a few times – and then the man from the booth turns around and walks back towards me. “You can have a quick ten-minute ride around the harbor right now if you want to. Or you can always come back tomorrow. Or both, if you like. What suits you?” I look over his shoulder at the boat-man, begrudgingly climbing back into the driver’s seat. I imagine the booth-man walking back to him, saying never mind, Sadie Falcon’s not going to go on a ride after all, you can go home now. 123
“Now,” I say quickly. “Just now. Ten minutes is perfect. Thank you.” “My pleasure,” he says, and he means it, and that’s what stings. I clamber into the back of the boat, a little speedboat that usually takes people on a full tour of the harbor and down one of the connecting rivers. “So,” the driver says as I shove a life-vest over my head. “What brings our esteemed Sadie Falcon out to the docks at seven in the evening?” I can taste the venom disguised as praise, and whether it’s from having to work overtime or from the very mention of my name, I can’t tell. Tell him it’s some special day for you, tell him you love the harbor at night, tell him you just thought you’d go for a boat ride, just for God’s sake don’t tell him the truth. “Most businesses closed down at least once or twice during the revolution, if they weren’t destroyed altogether,” I say. “These boat rides never did. I admire that.” He sneers, starting the boat. “Sure you do.” “I do,” I whisper, but it’s lost to the sounds of the engine as we take off across the water. We whip past the city so fast it starts to blur, the lights turning into streaks out of the corner of my eye. Flecks of water jump up out of the harbor and splash against my skin, almost as cold as the wind that whips through my hair. If the boat-man is giving his standard tour speech I can’t hear it over the engine and the wind. I don’t need it, anyway – I’ve heard it enough times, and I don’t want a tour. I stretch my arms out and splay my fingertips so the wind presses against as much of my body as I can. The cold air stings, jump-starting the blood that pumps through my veins. And the blood starts to warm with something else, something I haven’t felt in a year, since I stood above crowds of people cheering for a war about to break, since I clutched a piece of paper that meant everything then and nothing now and screamed for freedom till my voice went raw. A sense of vigor, of being really, honestly alive. 1950 124
When I step through the front door Nathaniel’s sitting at the kitchen table, tapping away at his laptop. He doesn’t look up at me until I close the door behind me with a light tap. “Evening,” he says absently. “Where’ve you been all day?” “Out,” I shrug. “Seeing the city.” He smirks. “Coming along nicely, isn’t it?” Just for God’s sake don’t tell him the truth. “Yes,” I say. “I’ve been talking to the military,” he continues. “Well, if you can call it that yet. A bunch of boys in uniform with weapons that we’re trying to make into a military.” “Do we have to?” I murmur. He closes the lid of his computer and scowls at me. “Sadie,” he says. “Not tonight.” I fold my arms over my chest. “Of course,” I say, shaking my head. “Sorry. Someone’s got to talk to them.” Smiling, he stands. “I’m glad you understand.” He crosses the kitchen and puts a hand against my neck. I kiss him, and try desperately to feel it in my chest. 2200 “I am sick of you acting like you never asked for any of this!” My heart pounds, my fists clenched so tight it hurts the cuts in my hands from this morning. “I didn’t,” I spit through gritted teeth. Nathan takes another step forward. “Yes you did, Sadie,” he hisses. “Yes, you goddamn did. When you asked me to build you an insurgency that’s when you fucking asked for it!” “I wanted a revolution, not a nightmare.” “It’s a side effect!” I feel my hands shaking and I tuck them behind me so he can’t see. He keeps going. “It’s part of what we have to deal with. It’s part of us. You can’t start something like this and drop out when the fun is over and you’re sick of dealing with the consequences. You can’t pack up and go home because there isn’t anywhere to go, you helped destroy it, and you’ve got to face that with me! Do you understand?” 125
Tightened jaw, clenched fists, eyes flat and empty. He’s like a drill sergeant once again, back in the front lines, yelling at some little kid who doesn’t want to go on, and he loves it. Nathan aches for the war in a way that he used to ache for me. “I’m not saying I think I can change it,” I say. “But I hate this life we have.” “You hated what we had before! We didn’t have anything before!” I shake my head. “We had something,” I whisper. “I had more of myself.” “What the fuck does that mean?” “I don’t know. Nathan, stop yelling—” “I’ll stop yelling when you stop talking like you regret this!” “Maybe I do!” I can see the change happen in his face—from confusion to realization to anger—and I only have enough time to brace myself before he grabs both my shoulders and pushes me against the wall. “You don’t talk like that.” “Let go of me.” “You start saying those things, who’s going to say them next?” “Let go of me.” “You can’t doubt this, not for a second, not unless you want it all to shatter to pieces.” “Nathan I will break your jaw, let go of my shoulders!” He does, violently, like he’s disgusted to touch me. I leave the bedroom, slamming the door behind me, and I keep walking all the way out the front door and down the street. 2230 I jump over the turnstile in the old subway station without much trouble, even holding my flashlight. There was a time you could get shot for doing that. But the trains don’t run anymore and illegally crossing a precinct border isn’t a capitol offense. As I walk down the bullet-riddled stairs into one of the subway tunnels, I can hear the words Melanie once put to paper echoing in my head. They clatter against the insides of my teeth until I have to let them out, reciting them one more time, this time in an empty hall. 126
“We, the citizens of Westerley Precinct, declare a new republic for ourselves and for all citizens of our nation.” I walk along the tracks, once live with current, deep into one of the tunnels. The flashlight beam isn’t wide enough to bounce off the cavernous walls, so the expanse looks endless and infinite. “And we hold these as our three most fundamental rights:” The air gets warmer and more stale as I travel deeper into the heart of the underground, where natural circulation doesn’t quite reach. “The right to free speech and press.” It almost feels like suffocating. “The right to equality for all persons.” I stop abruptly and flick off my flashlight, and the darkness swarms over me. “And the right to live freely, securely, and without oppression.” My legs start to shake underneath me. I let them collapse under me and I fall on the concrete, bones rattling with the impact. “We declare these rights, and additional rights to follow, for ourselves and for all those who value liberty and freedom above all else.” I don’t remember the rest. If I close my eyes I can almost hear a train coming, barreling out of the darkness, ready to catch me in its path. I wait. It never comes.
The Coffeehouse Ellie Rose McKee
Right in the centre of
town, between the railway station and the
natural history museum, is where you’ll find Henry’s – the grey and brown coffeehouse where all children brought up within a ten-block radius had once come to squander their pocket money on chocolate éclairs after school. Housed inside the shell of what was once a grand theatre, Henry’s had been operating at that address since before the war, outliving all the modern cafés that had long since come and gone. It was a place of warmth, in both the physical and the atmospheric sense. A team of four women, of varying ages, who served each and every day were always friendly to everyone – everyone that didn’t suggest ‘fixing the place up,’ that is. “We’re NOT for having change,” they’d snap at poor passersby that didn’t know any better. “It would distress the regulars.” And that it would, all six of them. Each day five retired servicemen marched in for a cooked breakfast at 9.45 on the dot, only to sit and chat till noon. They were often heard stating quite forcefully that “Things aren’t as good as they used to be,” but at least they had “this place.” This place had two long-standing mysteries. The first being the fact that no one knew who the eponymous Henry was. Not even Gladys knew, and she’d been working there so long that when Sue, the original owner of the coffeehouse, passed on some ten years previously, she’d left it to Gladys in her will – on the condition that the name stayed put, of course. The second mystery wasn’t so much a mystery as a man so old he’d become the subject of folklore for the ladies. He was the other regular, but nothing like the servicemen. He came in each morning at nine for one thing, and always stayed right through to closing; always sat in the same dimly lit corner, always with his bran muffin (lightly toasted), his black coffee (with free refills), and a set of battered set of first-edition Sherlock Holmes books. 128
It was with great glee that the ladies passed on rumours about the man to inquisitive non-regulars. They’d teasingly named him Arthur, for no one knew his real name. As it was, none of the ladies could even recall ever hearing him speak. He had no need to verbally order, he’d just give a little nod of thanks when Gladys brought his usual to him. The third Thursday in October, it was, the day things finally and irrevocably changed – the third Thursday in October to be precise. Gladys had come in twenty minutes early to open as she always had. The bell above the door chimed that morning, at nine as you would imagine, and so Gladys started making her way to Arthur’s table with his plate and mug – which was incidentally the same mug he’d always used. She’d never been as startled as when she glanced up to discover Arthur wasn’t sat down in his regular seat. Refusing to believe for one moment that he’d sat elsewhere, Gladys’ eyes immediately darted to the door to see Arthur’s small frame slumped on the floor. He’d made it through the door but not much further. Gladys rushed to the phone to dial emergency services, spilling coffee as she went. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics were quite confused by the fact no one claimed to know the man’s name, or anything about him, yet more and more people had stopped to exclaim, “What on earth happened to Arthur?!” “What did happen to Arthur?” Tracy, the shortest-serving member of the four ladies, asked Gladys for the fifth day in a row following the ‘incident.’ “Did you ever phone the hospital?” “Yes, I called but they couldn’t tell me anything. Couldn’t or wouldn’t. All I know is that he was still breathing when they closed the doors to the ambulance. They’d put one of those oxygen masks on him and...” “And? And what?!” Tracy demanded as if she hadn’t already heard the details multiple times already. “Shh,” said Gladys as she gestured towards the door. It was Arthur, looking rather worse for wear but still sporting his first editions. “Just tap water with the bran muffin today, ladies,” he croaked. 129
There was a silence as he hobbled to his seat. Tracy still had her mouth partially open in shock, but Gladys had sprung into action. She had the glass at his table almost before he reached it. He sat there, reading for hours, just as he’d always done, and the ladies whispered quietly about him out of earshot, just as they’d always done. Things were almost felt normal again when a girl of no more than fifteen, with dark brown eyes and equally brown hair bounced in and tripped over the welcome mat. “Sorry about that. I’m always falling over something!” “May we help you?” asked Tracy but the girl had already bounced off towards Arthur’s table. There was a collective gasp from the ladies as she approached him and took his arm. “Come on, Gramps, I’ve come to make sure you get home okay. Doctor’s orders.” As they were leaving Gladys lightly touched her hand to the girl’s shoulder, “Will he be back?” she asked. The girl sighed as she shook her head. “Well, if you don’t mind me asking, what is his name?” The girl smiled and said, very matter-of-factly, “It’s Henry, of course.”
Leonora LoMedico Charlotte Victoria
In 1969, Thomas Gaetano LoMedico crafted the bronze medallions
awarded the first astronauts. He was an executive member of the National Sculpture Society and his work is distributed all over the world; everything he touched continues to be bought and sold and auctioned between galleries and private collections, generating a movement of capital in figures that could only be described as obscene. In death, Thomas LoMedico belongs to the world. He was extremely well known in art, and he was also my great-great-uncle. In the hallway of my parents’ modest ranch house is a plaster model for a sculpture Thomas LoMedico blew up in bronze: a woman carrying a bird. My sister will inherit it, but I don’t mind because the best thing about Thomas Gaetano LoMedico was not his genius, nor any of his vast achievements, but the woman he married. At Cousin Bobby’s New Year’s party welcoming the year 1999, I was in the second grade. His giant house was packed with LoMedicos, and back then, I didn’t know who any of them were. Somehow at that party, our family started talking about Thomas LoMedico again. Bobby didn’t have anything LoMedico-related in his art collection and never had; this bothered him something terrible. But someone knew where to find Thomas LoMedico’s widow, Leonora. And so it was a few months later that my mother called Leonora LoMedico and arranged for us to visit her. I was a little afraid. I’d heard her husband was nasty. What if she was nasty too? It was in the beginning of 1999 that my mother explained to my sister and I in great detail how very important Thomas LoMedico was, not only to our family, but to Italian Americans, regular Americans, and everyone all over the world. It was March: the ugly gray beginning of springtime. She told us that Thomas LoMedico put the LoMedico name on the map. She explained that we would be driving to a place called New Jersey to visit his wife, Aunt Lee. As we lived in Wappingers Falls, 131
the ride to New Jersey would be a long one, down along the river, past Lady Liberty; really, I had no idea where we were going. We picked up my mother’s aunt Carmela on the way. She was living in the Bronx and my mother needed to use her bathroom. Aunt Carmela had a pack of enormous dogs in every possible dog color. This scared me, but Aunt Carmela promised they wouldn’t eat my mother. In the car, my mother and Aunt Carmela talked about visiting Uncle Tom and his wife in a much younger decade while my father drove, incensed with the traffic for existing like always, and my sister and I listening to our mom and her aunt in reverent silence. I thought Uncle Tom’s wife must live somewhere really grand to dilute the sadness of being alone, as he had left her childless (which was a decision I felt, even then, should never be left to the person who gets to die first). But as we entered what I thought was the town of New Jersey, I realized that all the houses were connected, all of them uniform, endowed with the solitary flow of a sea of yellow vinyl siding. We must be passing through to the rich part of the town of New Jersey, I thought. But when the car slowed down and my dad parked in front of a dwelling on a canary-yellow corner, I learned that this was not just to stop and ask directions. I must swallow disappointment, confusion, and that nervous feeling that comes with half your expectations proving wrong. What else would not be as I expected it? I wondered frantically. What if Lee had bigger dogs than Carmela’s?! “Oh, hello!” came a genial voice and a face was floating through a cheap screen door, which swung open as the ancient speaker trod carefully out. “Are you Laura?” she asked my mother. “Oh, of course you are. I haven’t seen you since you looked like––oh! What are your names?!” “This is Charlotte and this is Kate,” my mother said, introducing my sister and me. “Oh, those are beautiful names! You’re just wonderful!” “And this is my husband Tim––” “Hi, Tim!” “And this is Aunt Carmela.” 132
“Hi, Carmela! Everyone, let’s come in!” So everyone followed Aunt Leonora into her little condo. The inside was overcrowded with things; at first, I didn’t know why such an old lady needed so much stuff. There was so much art packed into her condo that it was actually unattractive, and I thought that attractiveness was the point of keeping art in the first place. This was just another assumption about which I had yet to be wrong. “Make room, make room,” she told us, moving carvings and things as if she hadn’t seen the living room underneath in a number of years. When we were finally situated, she fought her way to the closet in the corner and after rummaging inside it for a moment, procured a very dusty bag of chocolates, which she presented to my sister and I. “You girls just open that and take as many as you want, you hear? You’re just so beautiful...” I was scared of strangers; not only was I very shy, but in my second grade class, we had just read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and watched the movie. I didn’t want to die here. But she really wanted my sister and I to feel comfortable here, so we humored her. The chocolate was very hard and slightly tasteless, but we still ate some. We listened to Aunt Carmela figure out that Aunt Lee was in fact her aunt. Aunt Lee looked over at my sister and I again. “I’ve been saving it in case any children came over!” she told us. “I love children. I never got to have any, but I always wanted to. Tom didn’t want any because we were always traveling...” She looked momentarily sad. “You could still have kids,” I offered. “Nah, I can’t, I’m ninety! Can you imagine that, ninety years old?” My mom spoke up. “I remember coming to your house when I was a little girl, when he had the studio.” “The studio’s gone now,” Aunt Lee said, sounding sad. “’T’sall gone.” “I remember going to your house,” my mother said. “Uncle Tom 133
would show us his studio, but you were always so happy to see us kids. You were magical.” My father took Kate and I to a wintery beach even though we didn’t want to leave. It’s the only time I’ve seen the Atlantic in winter, and I found it confusing. It was as if the beach did not get to stop carrying on even though its domain of summertime had collapsed. I found a piece of a brick on the sand. When we came back to Aunt Lee’s house, I showed everyone my brick before realizing that I was interrupting something important. Aunt Lee led us through the condo. She explained that her house was filled with Thomas’ art. (I’d thought that was a little obvious.) But her problems of childlessness and ninety-ness persisted: there was no rightful heir to whom she could leave his vast accumulation of work. She wanted my mother and Aunt Carmela to take as much of it as they could with them today. “What if I don’t see you again?” she asked. What stands out to both my mother and I is an Ecce Homo wood carving. The rest of the space was so crowded it was difficult to navigate, but LoMedico’s Christ possessed an extraordinary gravity. “If there was something I was going to take today,” my mother said, “it would be Jesus.” “Good! Take him! I want the art to stay in the family. Tom and I have no children. My nieces will take everything, Laura!” But my mother and Aunt Carmela felt that it would be wrong to take the art from Aunt Lee at the end of her life. It was all she had, they said. What was more, we already had five people packed inside my dad’s Chevy Malibu, and we could not operate a Noah’s Ark for the magnum opera of Thomas LoMedico today. My mother suggested contacting Vassar College’s museum. Aunt Lee said she liked that idea, and I knew that the only thing she feared was dying in possession of his art so that strangers could sell it all. Before we left, Aunt Lee said she wanted to give us one last thing, my sister and I. She said that she was going to give each of us a piece of truly great art and held out three little clothespin dolls which were very beautiful, and told us that we must take one each and that she would 134
keep the third. She said she had a special friend who had made them for her. They were really extraordinary little things in elaborate hats and gowns; hands-down, the worldâ€™s best clothespin people. And we hugged her goodbye and got back in the car. We passed the Statue of Liberty, which had nothing on the woman with the bird in our trunk. My parents spent the rest of that year preoccupied with a lawsuit against our next-door neighbor, who was suing them over a tree that was three-quarters on his property; then we moved away because it was no longer safe to live next door to him. In the summer of 2000, my Grandma Charlotte came over to see our new house for the first time. She said Aunt Lee had died in March and her nieces had taken everything.
Worry Lizzie Hill
When my mother went out of town it was a challenge for the rest of
the family to function normally. My three sisters and I always missed her because our father didn’t fix our hair the way we liked and because he seemed wildly uncomfortable dealing with four young girls, even though he tried his very hardest to make sure we enjoyed our time with him. I wanted my dad to succeed, and when things inevitably fell apart around him I worried that it would cause my mother to yell at him again, or that he would leave and come back stumbling around the house like usual. The stumbling wasn’t so bad because he looked like he enjoyed himself, but my mother would get even more angry, and the next morning he wouldn’t want to say goodbye to us before we left for school. One time my mother went to Dallas to visit my grandfather, and she left her four young daughters with my dad. Cadie was the oldest and the nastiest person I had ever met. Bentley was the awkward child, who always wanted to play with me, but she was usually too annoying to stomach, and Hallie was the baby, the perfect, petite, princess. Then there was me. I was the agreeable little girl who would do everything in my power to avoid causing a stir in my family even if that meant bottling everything up until my mind was a war zone of anxiety. My father announced one afternoon of my mother’s absence that we would all be going Palo Duro Canyons to see the caves. The toxic pit that lived in my stomach began to spread throughout my body, and my mind started racing. Are you going to let this happen? This is a bad idea, and you know there will be trouble! Maybe you should say something to Daddy. No, he knows what’s best; you’re just worrying too much like Mama says you do. I will just let Daddy take care of everything. But he doesn’t know how to make everyone listen; he doesn’t know how to keep Cadie from hitting me. No, no he’s the Daddy, and he can do it. I still don’t want to go; this is horrible! I wish he would let me stay home alone; I’m old enough to take care of myself. I wonder if the witch living in my closet who wants to tickle me to 136
death will know I’m alone. I better not stay at home after all; plus if I say that I want to stay at home then I might make Daddy sad. So, without enlightening anyone about my internal anguish, we got ready to depart. I wanted to sit up in the front seat, and I would’ve called, “I’m in the front” in the sing song voice that my sisters and I used, but I couldn’t because my dad’s rule was the oldest sits up front, so I was out of luck. I didn’t think it was fair that Cadie got to do things just because she was older especially because she always told me I was stupid and went out of her way to make my life miserable. I thought of the time my mom brought her a small pouch filled with thumbnail sized Native American Dolls. My mom explained that they were Worry Dolls; you whisper your worries to a doll and put it under your pillow. When you went to sleep the doll took your worry away. I was awestruck and a little angry by this Worry Doll discovery. How could no one have told you about this, Elizabeth? This is one of the greatest powers any person could have! Mama must think they’re too important to get you some Worry Dolls too. I wonder how they work. I bet they just look like regular dolls, but when you’re asleep they get up and take the worry right out of your head. If you tell them the worry then they will know where to find it. I bet they drag it all by themselves all the way to the window and throw it away. But what if the window is locked? I guess they must drag the worry all the way to the kitchen sink and throw it down the drain. The drain has a switch that makes everything smaller so it will fit. That thing can make crayons and glue go down the drain, so I’m pretty sure it can grind up a worry. But if they turn on the grinding thing on in the middle of the night, wouldn’t someone hear it? They must just leave the worry there for when someone uses the grinder during the day. Of course Cadie never used her Worry Dolls, and when I dared ask to borrow them, she laughed at my stupidity and hid them so I would never see them again. Because of Cadie, I was forced to live with all the worries and anxieties in my mind. All it would have taken was one Worry Doll to help me, but I was stuck torturing myself because of Cadie. If she had let me use her Worry Dolls then my mind may have been clear enough to see that our Palo Duro Canyon trip would be a disaster. 137
The drive to the Canyon is about 45 minutes from the house we lived in, but it seemed like hours because I had to sit next to Bentley, and she was so annoying. I should have thought to bring her security blanket named Sheety because then Bentley would have sat quietly with her thumb in her mouth and Sheety held to her nose. I didn’t remember it though. How could I forget something like that? Now no one would have any peace expect for Cadie who got to sit up front with my dad. When we arrived, it was entirely too sunny, but I felt relieved because if my mother were there she would complain about how my father didn’t make us wear sunscreen. The walk to the cave was horrible! Bentley wanted water, Hallie wanted Mama, Cadie was too hot, and I just wanted to go home. My dad seemed to be walking on uneven ground because he kept stumbling like he did when he came home from work late. I saw him struggling, and I began to feel guilty, because I was responsible for ruining my dad’s adventure. He was trying so hard to make this fun, and I was spoiling it. I wanted to tell him my worries, but I knew he wouldn’t listen because adults never listened to kids. We finally reached the cave, but it was clear that this cave was not family friendly. It was small with a hole in the center that looked like it reached all the way to China. I could see this was not going to end well, but I didn’t say anything because no one would listen. Thankfully two men came crawling out of the hole. They were wearing bright yellow climbing shoes and flashlights strapped to their heads. They looked prepared. They saw my swaying father with four girls under the age of nine, and I could imagine them trying not to laugh at this ridiculous sight. They explained very slowly and carefully that there was no way we would be safe climbing down the hole, and I think my dad had just given up by then because he didn’t argue. We just turned around and walked away. I could feel the red hot fingers of embarrassment creep up my neck and face. Our adventure was a complete failure after my dad had tried so hard. I couldn’t stop my mind from taking over as I became overwhelmed with guilt. How could you, Elizabeth? Why didn’t you tell anyone this was a stupid idea? I can’t believe you let Daddy bring us all the way out here when it wasn’t going to work. 138
You’ve just wasted everyone’s time. You could have at least thought to bring flashlights. Even those men knew to bring flashlights! Why didn’t you think of that? On the walk back to the car, the uneven ground my father walked along must had shifted, because I watched as he stumbled and fell on his ankle. Oh no, oh no, oh no! Why weren’t you watching the ground? What is wrong with you? How can you expect Daddy to take care of us without any help at all? The least you could have done was watch the ground to make sure he wouldn’t fall. Now because of you we’re all in trouble, and we’re probably stuck out here in the middle of nowhere until someone finds us! This was such a bad idea, and now we’ll probably starve to death or get eaten by coyotes! Somehow he got us to the car, and he drove us back home. I don’t remember how he got the strength to get us to the car nor do I remember the drive home. The next thing I remember was sitting on the floor of my parent’s bedroom looking at my father lying in bed. Somehow my mom’s best friend Barbara had found out about the cave and came over. I had always liked her; she was always nice to us, but today she was angry. She was yelling at my dad and stomping around while she fixed his ankle. I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t his fault. However, I didn’t say anything because I knew she wouldn’t listen to me. I don’t remember exactly what she yelled, but I do remember her throwing the word “drunk” a lot. I had heard it before and in the same tone of voice, so I knew it was a bad thing that happened to my dad often, but no one ever made an effort to explain what it meant not that I’d dare ask. I was afraid that if I asked I would get in trouble because any time anyone talked about “drunk”, they seemed angry. I knew that my mom was going to be extremely angry with my dad, and he was going to be blamed for what I did. What are you going to do now? This whole thing is your fault and Daddy is going to get blamed for it. You have to tell someone so Mama won’t get mad at Daddy again. What will I say though? I know I can’t say anything, because no one will listen, and I will just make everything worse. What do I do? I know, I will just pretend that I don’t know why everyone is so upset. I will act like I had a great time at Palo Duro Canyon even though it’s a lie. I wish I was brave enough to tell everyone about my worry; I 139
wonder what would happen if I did. The worries wouldnâ€™t go away, and everyone else would be stuck with them also. I need to sneak into Cadieâ€™s room and look for those Worry Dolls; they are the only ones who can save my family from all my worry. I never did find those Worry Dolls.
Darkness Lizzie Hill
I lay in my twin-sized bed on the left hand side of my sister Cadie’s.
My mom had just finished tucking her in, and it was my turn. I knew she would say our prayers soon, and I would be forced to lay in the darkness. I knew that the creeping fingers of darkness would soon try to penetrate my pink island of fluff and comfort that was my bed. The only person who could save me was my father. The sun was just going down, so the last rays of light forced themselves over the horizon and cast a fiery shadow on the pink walls. “Mama, why do we have to go to bed now? It isn’t even dark out!” “I told you, Lizzie, it’s Daylight Savings Time; you’re still going to bed at the same time” “Where’s Daddy?” “He’s not here” “Where is he? I want Daddy!” “I told you, Elizabeth, HE IS NOT HERE!” He was out drinking again, and because it was still light out, he didn’t know it was time to come home to sing me to sleep. My father was never where he was supposed to be when I needed him. He was either at work, asleep, away on business, or drinking. Most of my childhood was spent wondering where my father was. It wasn’t that my mother was around much more than he was I just preferred my father’s company to everyone else’s. He was the smartest person I knew. He was the funniest person I knew. He was the most talented person I knew. He was my rock star and my hero. I acted in a version of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and my whole family made the obligatory appearance to one performance, and while I was happy that they came to see me, I felt guilty because I knew they didn’t really want to be there. One night toward the end of the show’s run during curtain call I saw my father standing in the back of the theater smiling. No one asked or expected him to show up; he wasn’t 141
even in charge of picking me up after the show. He just came to the show because he wanted to see me. That was the first time I felt like some one loved me just because I was loveable. I looked out my window and my heart began to pound in my chest. The sun was almost gone, and my dad wasn’t home yet. What was I going to do? There were witches in my dark closet waiting to tickle me to death, and they weren’t even the worst of it. The most terrifying were the things my imagination couldn’t even conceptualize; they were just a presence in the darkness. They were the reason I ran to my bed after I turned the light off; they were the reason I feel asleep with the covers over my head, and they were the reason I was terrified of being caught in the dark without my fluffy pink “bed shield.” My mother had no power to scare the dark evil back under Cadie’s bed; it only hid until she left the room. Only my father could protect me. I think the evil knew when my dad wasn’t around or when he was drunk because then it would taunt me. I would watch as a dark tendril crawled towards my bed looking for a hole in my bed’s defenses to taunt me. It put images and thoughts in my head to coax me out of bed. One minute it made me think that I had to pee, but I fought it. Then it made my room look like the “Pink Elephant” scene from “Dumbo”. I’d see terrifying shapes and alarming pink elephants dancing on my walls. The worst was when the darkness played tricks with my ears. It would make me believe I could hear my father’s voice. That’s when I would begin to whisper aloud to myself. “I heard his voice. I heard his voice! No, no he isn’t here; you’re just imagining things like Mama says. Shhhh be really quiet. You might be able to hear if it’s really him…I heard him! I know I heard him! “DADDY! “DADDY! “DADDY!” I spent all of my time looking for my father when he was alive, but after his death I spent my time trying to forget him. When the dark evil played tricks on my ears and made me hear his voice, I knew that he wasn’t there and he never would be. When I’d walk down the street and 142
smell his cologne, it would take a minute to convince myself that he wasn’t going to turn the corner and smile at me with his kind blue eyes. The first time I smelled beer on a friend’s breath I couldn’t understand why I found myself crying. I realized that the smell of beer reminded me of my father, and I’d never get to inhale his scent again even though he’d been gone for years and seemed long over due for a visit. The worst was the smell of the Easter Lilies my roommate got for her anniversary. I flashed back to the hundreds of Easter Lilies strewn about my house when he died. The smell had become acidic to me much like other sights and smells that brought me pleasure during his life. It all turned to ash just like he did. Even the evil darkness that haunted me, the darkness that only my father could scare away skulked away because it isn’t fun to try scaring a child who no longer knows what childhood fears are, because she has been exposed to real life fears. The evil darkness knew that it could not scare me more than the thought of another suicide in my family, so the evil just turned its heels and retreated back under Cadie’s bed. I never saw or heard from the darkness again. I sometimes mourn the loss of the dark evil much like my father’s absence, a dull ache that misses the fancies of childhood, even the scary ones. I long for the evil darkness to slowly creep its long tendrils from under my bed, so my father will have a reason to come rescue me. “DADDY! “DADDY! “DADDY!” Silence. I hear footsteps, and my heart soars! I know I’m about to be safe again, but then I hear a woman’s voice, “What is it, Lizzie?” “Mama,” I ask through my tears, “where’s my daddy?”
Where’s Poochie? Lizzie Hill
The brown 1953 Chevy Belair Station Wagon is driving down the
Pennsylvania Turnpike at sixty miles an hour in the middle of a hot summer day. The car jerks toward an exit and turns around, now going back the way it came. Suddenly, the Station Wagon comes to a halt and five sweaty, tired, and irritable people get out of the car. One child is sobbing uncontrollably while a girl tries to comfort him. A couple minutes later, the mother whips the third child with the switch that she brought all the way from Texas to threaten her children. When she is finished, they all get back in the car and drive away. My stepfather, Tom, comes from a fascinating family. He grew up in Sealy, Texas outside of Houston with his parents and three siblings, Eileen, John, and Jason. Tom was the third child, and he dealt with “middle-child syndrome” by acting up. For example, one time he thought it would be fun to run down the aisles of the town movie house screaming. The moment Tom sat back down in his seat, he realized that his parents decided to attend the movies that day as well. His mother, Kay, grabbed Tom by the arm and dragged him out of the theater. With a voice full of fury she snapped, “Walk home now. Your father will deal with you when he gets home.” Needless to say, that was a long walk home for Tom, and an even longer wait for his parents to return from the movie. An hour or so later they returned, and Tom received several thwaps on the rear end from his father’s belt. Tom’s father, Bo, loved his family more than anything, and he did everything in his power to keep things calm, and until his death in 2010, he was the sweetest man I’d ever met. Tom’s mother, Kay, was a probation officer, an extremely strict Irish Catholic who treated her children like her probationers. Fourteen years after her death, Tom still refers to Kay as “she who must be obeyed.” Kay’s favorite accessories were the switches she cut from her pear tree. She always kept them 144
around the house to inspire fear and saintlike behavior in her children, and every time she wore one down she would go out and cut a new one. Tom believes that because of his strict Catholic upbringing, a little mischievous, troublemaking side of him was born, which he calls “Bad Tommy.” Today, Bad Tommy comes out when my parents get invited to the Cowboy game and he decides he doesn’t like The Cowboys anymore, so he’s going to cheer for the Washington Redskins. Loudly. My mom will laugh it off to her friends while she looks at him with her teeth clenched and bared. Later, she will call him an asshole and yell that she’ll never get invited back and, “Some people still like the Cowboys, Tom.” These days, when Bad Tommy comes out, my mother yells at him, but back in 1954, Kay would exact her punishment with an iron fist. Tom believes that Bad Tommy was born was born on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the summer of 1954 when he was three years old. Kay was born and raised in Connecticut, and she met her husband, Bo, in New York City before he was deployed during World War II. When he returned from the war he married Kay, and he brought her back to Sealy. They had four children in eight years, and they were very popular and well known in their small Texas community. Every few years, the entire family would load up and take a three-day drive to Connecticut to visit Kay’s family. In the 1950’s there were very few highways especially farther West, so they drove on two-lane country roads passing through small towns at thirty miles an hour every forty miles. There was no air conditioning in the Station Wagon, and even though baby Jason stayed behind, there was not enough room for three kids to coexist peacefully for a three-day drive in the middle of the sweltering summer. They reached the Pennsylvania Turnpike on their third day of driving. The highway was a marvel; the biggest road the young family had ever seen. There were cars everywhere, and there were exits, and they all drove fast. On this day however, the wonder of the highway was lost on Tom. Tom’s older brother, John, was five. He and Eileen sat in the first backseat while Tom sat behind them. After three days of being 145
crammed in a hot car, everyone was irritable, and they were sick of each other. In such a tense situation an argument was inevitable, and of course, argument between John and Tom occurred. It was most likely about space, but it could have been about anything. All that matters is that John angered Tom. The fight was either broken up or presumably settled, but Tom’s anger lingered, and his need for revenge was strong. John had a stuffed dog. The dog was soft and comforting, and he was John’s best friend. The dog’s name was Poochie, and John took him everywhere; if Poochie went missing, John was the first to form a search party. Poochie’s face was made of soft plastic like a rubber ducky, and his face was painted on the plastic. He had giant blue doggy eyes that looked up at John and said, “Please love me!” When Tom noticed that Poochie was left unguarded, the opportunity to strike was too tempting. Tom slowly opened the sliding glass window and without hesitation, he hurled Poochie out of the moving cart onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Not much later, John began to look around for his buddy, and to his surprise Poochie was nowhere to be seen. John began to panic, and he let out a caterwaul, “Where’s Pooochiiiee?!” The parents turned to look at their children. Eileen looked confused, John was beginning to whimper, and Tom could hardly keep from smiling. John was the first person to understand what the vengeful Tommy had done. Suddenly John’s eyes widened and he began screaming, “Tommy threw him out the window! Poochie is gone! We have to go back! WE HAVE TO GET POOCHIE!” At this, Kay began screaming at Tom; John continued to scream for his fallen comrade, and Bo screamed for everyone to be quiet so he could find an exit to turn around to find the dog. They finally turned around and drove a few miles. Someone saw the limp body of a stuffed dog on the side of the road. They pulled over to fetch and observe the carrion. The stuffed part of Poochie was intact, and repairable. On the other hand, Poochie’s plastic, painted face had been modified. Right across the middle of his sweet blue eyes ran a giant black tire mark. 146
John took one look at Poochie’s face and started wailing again. Eileen tried to comfort her little brother, and Bo wanted to calm everyone down. Kay and her sharp angry eyes flashed at Tom. She stomped to the car; she grabbed her pear tree switch; she ripped Tom’s pants down, and she whipped him until he was raw. Tom doesn’t remember what happened to Poochie after his adventure on the highway, but he does remember that trip as the birth of Bad Tommy. When my sisters and I were young and my parents were dating, Tom would entertain us with stories from his childhood. Poochie was our favorite story, and whenever Tom recited the “Where’s Poochie” line, we’d laugh and laugh. We thought Tom’s mischievous nature was so funny, and we were all a little jealous of his nerve to do and say things like that. Fifteen years later, it made me laugh just as hard when Tom told me the story of some guy in a Hummer towing a giant boat that blocked the only open gas tank at the station. Tom slowly drove by, rolled down the window, looked at the man straight in the face and said, “I bet you’ve got a little dick too.” Kay wasn’t there, but if she was, I’m sure she’d whip him with her pear tree switch for letting Bad Tommy out.
Flamenco Maya Granger
I am stretching in an empty dance studio. The floor to ceiling mirror doubles both me and the swirling mural on the wall behind me, and, watching my stomach fold over on itself as I bend to reach my toes, I wish I could cover it up. Dancing makes me feel wonderful, makes me feel free and strong and light. Watching myself dance takes all of that away, smacks me right back down to earth with iron weights around my ankles. “Dance as though no one is watching,” they say. But in a studio, you’re always watching yourself. The mirror twists you backwards and your form is occasionally broken by a crack, but it’s you all the same, and you are always watching. Arms up, over, twist back, bending at the waist, fingertips just brushing the floor. Up again and around, hands meeting each other and clasping in a sweaty handshake behind my head. Twist backwards, bits of my hair escaping from my bun to brush the back of my neck. I look in the mirror as I turn, hold, lift, lower, reach. One two three four five six seven eight and lift two three four five six seven eight. My movements look flabby and halfhearted. My arms are already tired and I haven’t even done their exercises yet. Pirouettes are my weak point. I’m dizzy enough the rest of the time, my head forever in the clouds, without spinning in tight circles. I forget to spot myself as I practice, let my head turn away from snapping back to my eyes in the mirror each turn, spinning out and away from myself as my body continues to turn. There’s a moment of bliss as I lose that constant awareness of my own judgmental eyes and everything starts to fall away into whirling colors, but it soon passes as I am brought sharply back to reality by the familiar smack of my butt hitting the floor. Losing my spot made me lose my balance, and now I’m sitting dazedly, ungracefully, and painfully on the cold floor.
The ballet students are usually in here at this time, a whole pack of noisy, stuck-up preteen girls being ushered from studio to studio, class to rehearsal to recital by a veritable battalion of identical blonde, bright eyed, manicured stage moms, but the air conditioning’s gone out, so I’m the only one left, turning sticky pirouettes in a darkened, empty echo of a stage. Sometimes I wonder if those girls want to dance, or if they’re secretly grateful when the sun sneaks in and turns the barres to scorching. Because it hurts. It hurts. None of the operas, the ballets, the shows, none of them tell you about the pain that brings that beauty, that grace to the stage. None of them show you the dancer’s feet – bruised toes, the broken nails, the ankles that have been broken far too many times. I wish the audience knew. I wish they could see those blistered, broken feet beneath the sparkling costumes, the stage makeup, the lights. I wish they could see what is sacrificed for the grace of a performance. I wish they could see that what is entertainment for an evening, a marvel of flashing colors and twisted bodies and music, is a life for the performer. A life bruised and twisted as much as a dancer’s feet. It’s possible we’re all enchanted, caught in some faery ball, forced to spin and twirl despite the pain, jump and toes pointed, toes flexed, forced to dance. Those old stories of mortals lured into the faery rings – maybe the pixies’ve stepped up their game, planted dreams of tutus and pretty ballerinas in little girl’s heads. I’m still sitting on the floor. No tutu for me today – just a practice leotard and a pair of stretchy leggings, flamenco shoes scrunched onto my sore, protesting feet. I turn over, lie facedown, let the scraped wooden floor, weathered down by years of thundering feet, soothe my heated, sweaty face and bare arms. A few minutes later, I sigh deeply and stand up again. My knees feel stiff and sore, like a clockwork figurine left to rust. I lift myself onto my toes and pull one leg up behind me, bend down until my fingertips barely touch the floor, come down, switch. I walk over to the stereo, set it
to a piece Iâ€™ve been working on for a few weeks, preparing for an audition. And then the song begins and I forget all the reasons that I hate what I do, all the reasons that make me consider letting go of this thing that takes up all of my time, my mind, my dreams. I forget that I am too awkward, too clumsy, too big to ever be graceful enough to be a true dancer. I let the music carry me, let my body move as it wants to, as it never would if I had consciously chosen for it to move that way. The music carries me like a river and I am dancing along the top of it, never sinking. Â I swirl in the eddies, race and tumble through ripples, slide over and through a waterfall of sound. A sudden crescendo and I barely hesitate. I pirouette, and my feet are ice and fire and I am the sky. Â
The Types of Customers You Get in a Pub Jasmine Damen 1. The Demanders These are the impatient ones. The ones who expect their food to be plated and sent out in the time it takes for them to walk from where they ordered at the bar to their table. God forbid they ever have to wait fifteen minutes during a busy lunch service. These people storm up to the bar, yelling that they have waited at least thirty-five minutes for their chicken baguette to arrive. They are inevitably the ones who demand complementary coffees, desserts, and the soul of your firstborn. They will assure you that “this will be written up on Trip Advisor,” and before finally storming out without eating the chicken baguette. 2. The Ones who Don’t Understand These customers don’t seem able to grasp the concept that you cannot carry all seven meals to them at the exact same time. These are also usually the ones who perplexingly stare at you as you stand in front of them with a gourmet burger. This gourmet burger will be passed around the table as you hear mumbled cries of, “What’s a gourmet burger?!” Be warned, these people will also tend to hop from table to table, trying to find the most prestigious seat. They will remind you of an indecisive child picking out a chocolate bar at a newsagent’s. As you pass by them, you will hear them bemoaning their utmost troubles. “These have comfier seats, but ooh, look at the paintings by that table!” Of course, they won’t let you know where they eventually do decide to sit, so you’ll be wandering around Table 74 with their order whilst they’ve pitched camp down at Table 3. 3. The Ex-Waitresses Ex-waitresses make golden customers, and will do all they can to make your life just that tiny bit easier because they’ve been there, and they know how shit most people are. The common John Doe will leave banana skins draped around the edges of the table, torn up napkins 151
scattered over the floor, and the remains of a bowl of chips emptied onto the carpet. However, these angels will pick up after themselves, and they may even stack their plates for you. 4. The Ones who Believe You Have the Power to Do Everything These people will do everything they can to get their point across. You may be simply folding napkins when someone loudly comments behind you that there is no variety on the menu and that he can’t believe that this appalling establishment still exists. You will be able to feel their hot glare burning into the back of your neck as you continue to fold napkins and wonder why they’ve even decided to eat here. This guy will expect you to produce a five-star menu extravaganza that you’ve created just for him. 5. The Ones who Talk to You in the Bathroom I don’t know why some people think it’s acceptable to talk to strangers in the bathroom, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s a very uncomfortable experience. Picture this: You’ve been at work for 5 hours and haven’t had the chance to go to the loo. You finally manage to slip away for a minute, and just as you enter the bathroom, a lady informs you that her food hasn’t arrived yet and they’ve been waiting quite a while. By all means, tell someone who isn’t about to urinate. Please. 6. The Saviours Last, but not least, we have the normal pubgoers. The family that comes in for a bite to eat. They are friendly enough. The couple who come in for a few drinks. Don’t underestimate the value of these people because it is their presence that will get you through having to deal with all of the shitty people. Their politeness and general happiness will keep you going through your treacherous ten-hour shift and you never know – they may even tip.
If My Resume Were Dead Honest Rachael Bahr MY NAME GOES HERE And here’s my contact information. Not that you’re going to call me, most likely. EDUCATION I could only afford to go to a public university. Ivy League would look more impressive, I know. Bachelor of Arts, English—just stop there, why didn’t you keep going and get a teaching degree? That’s all English majors are good for, right? Minor: Creative Writing—oh boy oh boy, you picked a set of winning programs, didn’t ya. GPA: I’m pretty sure you don’t give a shit, but here have this number anyway. This is the other university I went to, because I want to seem well educated. But actually I only went here my freshman year, is that bad? Should I have left this off my resume? Study Abroad: Look at that, I’m worldly. I’ve traveled. I partied all the time and didn’t actually go to classes. But you don’t need to know that. EMPLOYMENT HISTORY Office Assistant • I mean, could that be a more generic job title? • I probably only did about three hours worth of work per day. • I played a lot of Candy Crush. 153
But you don’t need to know that.
Sales Assistant • Retail teaches you a lot about life. • Like how to hate every customer that you interact with. • Don’t act like you’re better than the people who work here. • “I learned so many valuable skills from this job!” is what I’d say to make this relevant. • Because really all I learned was how to hate myself and everybody else in new ways every day. SKILLS I’m pretty sure this section here exists for redundant purposes only. Everyone these days knows how to use a computer, and Microsoft Word. My interests? What do you care about those? The only purpose I serve to you is to become a nine-to-five working machine, slowly decaying from the inside, out, working to pay off that massive student loan bill, and slowly letting my creative dreams get covered up and muffled until they’re shoved to the back of the closet, forgotten. And when I do remember that I had great aspirations at one point, it’ll be too late, and all the drive I had to once be something spectacular somehow became a drive to simply survive, and plod along, following the herd. Please hire me.
Golden Hour by Corinne Demyanovich. 155
Beach Light by Samantha Richardson.
Artemis by Rebecca Weaver.
Dark Caster by Rebecca Weaver.
Jade by Rebecca Weaver.
Insecure by Rebecca Weaver.
Horse Head by Anna Swarts. Graphite on 60 lb. sketch paper, 2014.
Untitled by Haley Yarborough.
One Way by Corinne Demyanovich.
Koi Love by Alicia Caruso.
Untitled by Ameris Poquette.
Untitled by Ameris Poquette.
Untitled by Ameris Poquette. 179
The inaugural issue of The Fox Hat Review, Nerdfighteria's first literary magazine, is OUT! Read it here.