PARAGON JOURNAL JOURNAL OF CREATIVE ARTS
The Paragon Journal: Journal of Creative Arts - February 2018 Cover Art: Allen Forrest Cover Design: Chris Shearer Heading and Subheading Set: Haettenschweiler Text Set: Times New Roman All authors/artists retain the rights to their work. All work that appears in this journal has been published with permission of the author/artist. ISSN: 2470-7775 (print) ISSN: 2470-3834 (online)
All drawings not labeled are provided by Allen Forrest.
Want to be published? Submit your work to the twelfth issue of The Paragon Journal. More information available at theparagonjournal.com
PARAGONJOURNAL EDITOR-IN-CHIEF MANAGING EDITOR EXECUTIVE EDITOR SENIOR EDITOR VISUAL EDITOR COPY EDITOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER INTERN INTERN
AUSTIN SHAY RISHIKA GOEL EMILY DEIMLER SARA STEVENSON LUKE MUMMAU KELLEIGH STEVENSON CHRIS SHEARER SAM BIXLER JULIA SLEZAK
TABLE OF CONTENTS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE: Sid, 1926 The Dream of a Dim House Socrates Valentine Or Any Other Reason Why Confessions of a Time Traveler Thoughts on the Train What Happened to the Dog “Home” Collection Charleston, South Carolina Body Subpoena The Girl Outside Dragon Breath Smoke Hourglass Air Riding A Big Plastic Duck At Sunset in Hanoi Three-Way Mirrors: A Reality Check from Hell Gertrude
LETTERthe FROM intern Dear Reader, I am writing on behalf of The Paragon Journal, an online literary magazine dedicated to showcasing the works of both new and established authors. We are currently seeking submissions for our first chapbook contest.. All are welcome to submit, with a small entry fee of only $20. The prize for this contest will be publication and $100. The Paragon Journal is looking for chapbook manuscripts that push boundaries. Entries should contain roughly 15 to 30 poems of varying lengths, the theme of which will be up to the contest entrant. Initial judgment will be overseen by our staff, while the top 5 chapbooks will be judged by poets Gabe Kahan and Marissa Higgins. Entries will be accepted until June 30th of this year. If you know of anyone who might be interested in this opportunity, please tell them to contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. You may also direct them to The Paragon Journalâ€™s website, theparagonjournal.com for more information. Thank you very much in advance. Sam Bixler Intern The Paragon Journal
SID, 1926 WRITTEN BY BURTON SHULMAN AUGUST Jacob, Ike’s father, and Mama, his stepmother, insisted on dragging him with them on their monthly visits to crazy Sid. Usually, Ike did what he could to avoid being alone with him, though there was no denying that Sid possessed a singular fascination: he’d known Ike’s first mother. He’d never given Ike a straight answer about her, but then Ike had never asked him a straight question; Mama was almost always around and he worried it might upset her. Now, Sid had been on the farm for six months. Ike made up his mind to ask, this time, everything his father wouldn’t talk about. As if God approved, minutes after they arrived Sid asked Jacob if Ike could help him in the fields: harvest time was coming. Jacob’s quick look warned Ike to comply; for once this matched his own plans. The leaves of the plants were yellow as corn. Sid muttered that it had been a dry August and he hadn’t been able to water them enough. He needed Ike’s help to finish a ditch he was digging to connect the duck pond to the field. Ike asked what kind of plants they were. Sid looked him over, apparently searching for sarcasm.
“Corn.” The hot August air held sounds close and made things too intimate – snapping twigs, Ike’s cough, Sid’s wheeze. In the ditch, a thin line of water braided through dead leaves before vanishing underground. The hot breeze didn’t cool; it only moved the nasty heat around. Working beside Sid Ike noticed new things about him. Short and thin with dark eyes, he breathed mostly through his mouth. Sometimes he stopped moving and threw a hand to his head as if bracing for something, after which a rapid series of small, shuddering expressions – smiles, sighs, grimaces – ran across his face like a flash-flood. Something in these expressions was distressingly familiar to Ike. Sid slapped his neck. “Goddamn mosquitoes.” His eyes darted around as if wherever they tried to rest singed them. “I ran,” he barked. “They told you?” Ike had no idea what he was talking about. “They lied – I didn’t run. They sent me. I’m supposed to get them out. I don’t know why anymore - here is like there except the dying takes longer. But they think it’s different. They think Jews are free, in America. From what? “My father died last year and I missed the funeral. Your uncle – your mother’s brother. You missed it too. Your first mother’s brother. We used to visit you Passover and Rosh Hashanah. You remember that? You were too little. Everyone said you were a genius.” He squinted. “You 1 | Fiction
still a genius? Used to say that about me. Not anymore.”
As if Ike’s memory was trying an experiment, Sid’s face momentarily metamorphosed into something vaguely familiar. But it shifted back so quickly that Ike didn’t trust it. No, he couldn’t sense Sid even in shtetl memory. “My mother…she was your Aunt?” Ike said. His knees felt tentative. Sid smiled, revealing a recently chipped front tooth. He shook his head. “My mother was your Aunt. Is your Aunt.” He waved around. “And here we are. Promised land. Chosen People.” His head lurched and he spat; apparently a bug had flown into his mouth. Even in the heat, Ike shivered; drops of cold sweat slid down his side. “What --” he started, except Sid brought his face close -- too close. “I have to get them out. I can’t.” His arms flailed, barely missing Ike’s face. “I should have stayed. I’m no good at this. Four years - you know how long that is? The letters get worse. I don’t sleep. I can’t stop thinking. Papa forced us into the cellar. Forced? I was a grown man, I let him. That’s right, I let Papa and Mama stand upstairs alone with Cossacks. Wasn’t I a coward? Admit it. My sister Effie’s down there too, with my wife and the little ones. We’re choking from dust but you can’t make a sound – with Cossacks you’re quiet as dust. Even the babies understood. Pieces keeps falling from the ceiling; I’m sure it’s about to cave in. I hate small places. I hear something crash so I start up the steps. Bertha’s fingernails grab my arm so tight they cut. I’m bleeding and she’s hissing ‘Cossacks”.” “Cossacks?” The color of Sid’s eyes was dirty blue, like the sky. “What have I been telling you? They were upstairs in the house while I’m in the basement with the women and babies! Cossacks! By the time the cellar door opens we’re close to suffocating. Light jabs like a knife. Mama’s got a bloody bandage on her head. She says Papa’s at the sawbones. The bastards broke his arm and bloodied her while I hid! She grabs me right where Bertha’s nails cut and starts squeezing. ‘Save us.’” Sid sneered. “Goddamn her.” His face paled. “Forgive me, Mama.” He stared at the dirt as if at a movie screen, blinked and looked up at Ike as if he’d just remembered he was standing there. “But you want to know about your mother.” He took a deep, wheezing breath. “Last time I saw you was the last time I saw her - must be 12 years. Your brother and you kept hiding behind her. She’d push you up to make you say hi but you’d squeeze behind again.” He heaved out a sigh. “My own girls were little too. My boy…was a baby.” He rubbed his eyes. “I was always chasing them around. Your father pulled the two of you from behind your mother and did a little dance, one in each arm.” He leaned back, bracing his lower back and looking at the sky. “Am I making this up? I don’t think so. Your father’s changed.” Sid pressed his palms against his temples. His voice came out now as a sort of growl. “Is it possible Uncle Jacob never even mentioned Cossacks to you? Cossacks are why you left. Why I 2
left. They like killing Jews. It’s their hobby.” He was pressing his temples so hard now that his head quivered. “Going to America, like going down the street,” he snarled. “Saving, like –” he tried to snap the fingers of his mangled left hand; both of them stared as he failed. He put the hand behind his back. “I thought for a while they wanted to get rid of me - except there’s the letters.” He shook his head. “I should have stayed.” Ike heard himself utter words he didn’t mean to; he just couldn’t stop. “Why didn’t you?” Sid looked at him as if he’d spoken in a foreign language. Then his faced turned red. His hands tangled again in front of Ike’s face. “WHAT?” he shouted. “What?” A tear fell; perhaps reacting to the noise, a bird screamed. Sid threw a rock at it. “HAWKS!” he shouted. Ike hadn’t meant to say it; the question wasn’t meant for Sid so much as his own father. He didn’t know how to explain that. He tried to. “I didn’t mean you. You had to.” Sid threw another rock at the circling bird, stamping his foot bizarrely. “That’s what they said! I had to! Three weeks seasick in a boat’s guts and it spits me out here.” His eyes now seemed flat as windows, as if he were looking through them at himself. Ike couldn’t imagine what he was seeing. “I was a father, I was a husband. A son. Here I’m…crazy Sid.” Another, larger bird appeared above the treetops at the far end of the field. Sid stared. “There a musician. First of all.” He glanced at his hand, looked away. “Not anymore.” “I want to go back. But if I do, their hope dies. Then we all do. They already lost God.” His eyes followed the bird as it came closer. “You know what God is? God is a carrion-eater.” He ran a few steps and shouted up, “Vulture!” Ike’s heart pounded; Sid put his hands on each side of his own head. “So I scream at birds.” He looked at Ike with desperation. “I’m what they believe in. I’m supposed to save them. Someone who screams at birds!” A softer kind of pain edged across Sid’s face. “I can’t bring them here. I can’t go back. I’m their last hope. What a mistake. I keep breathing because they need me to.” He closed his eyes. “And if I went back would they welcome me? Who welcomes the Angel of Death?” Ike was feeling too many things to organize a thought. Sid’s face now looked so tormented it seemed to be sliding off. “The Chosen Ones?” He shook his head bitterly. “The Cossacks are the Chosen Ones; the new Rashi’s. They answer all the questions I don’t ask.” He slapped his own cheek with a loud crack. His hand left behind a splash of blood and bits of crushed mosquito. He stepped toward Ike, who reflexively turned to run. Another tear popped from Sid’s eye, mingling with his own blood. From his stricken expression Ike saw that he’d perhaps just meant to pat him. Sid turned away. 3
Ike’s eyes were feeling strange. They seemed to be enlarging. He decided that would be good, decided he’d like them to enlarge, grow so big they could see back to Proskurov, back in time. Pain shot into his neck. His hands balled into fists; he heard himself shout “What happened to my mother?” Sid turned back. For a second, his eyes held so much pity that Ike felt strange, and faint. “Little genius,” Sid said softly. He wiped the blood from his cheek with a handkerchief. He seemed to consider wiping the sweat from Ike’s forehead, then put the cloth back in his pocket. “Blond hair and blue eyes - your father called her his shiksa. Always cleaning, cooking. Like all of them. Had a nice laugh.” He shook his head. “If I knew then that this would happen I’d have asked questions. You never know when someone’s about to be... One day my family’ll stop waiting. One day you won’t have parents. I’m not scaring you, I’m saying get ready. Help yourself because no-one else does.” He waved his hand around. “This place – another thing I’m no good at.” He waved vaguely at Ike. “Go back to the house.” Ike didn’t move. His lip was curled with fury. “She wasn’t blond,” he said through gritted teeth. “She had brown hair. Brown eyes.” He was breathing heavily. “You lied.” Without a pause, Sid grabbed Ike’s shoulder. “I what? Blond! Blue eyes!” He was shouting again. “Ask your father if he didn’t call her his shiksa.” He shoved Ike, hard enough so he nearly fell. “Get away! I mean it!” Ike still didn’t move. Sid grabbed the shovel. Without looking, he started flinging dirt back at Ike; in a few seconds Ike’s shoes were covered. Ike started looking around for something big and hard to smash against Sid’s crazy head, but couldn’t focus through his tears. Sid was digging so fast it seemed he’d decided to bury Ike alive. Ike ran. ***
He didn’t go into the house, not at first. He dropped onto the steps, and watched Sid from a safe distance. He’d once heard Jacob tell Mama that Sid’s problem was that he couldn’t soften anything, not for himself or anyone else, couldn’t lie even a little. Then why lie about Ike’s mother? If he hadn’t lied then Ike’s memory had, and that wasn’t possible. His mother’s face was the only thing that remained clear, now, from shtetl days. His memory was messed up, but not about that. If he’d lied to himself about her he’d lied to himself about everything, which wasn’t possible. *** The hard leather seats in the old Ford they’d borrowed were painful to sit on. The dirt road leading away from the farm was pitch dark. It had too many bangs and bumps; Ike began to feel nau4
The headlights knifed into trees whose daylight fullness was now flat and pasty. Seen from the back, his parents’ heads bounced sharply, like the heads of marionettes. To reassure himself that Mama was still Mama he touched her shoulder. She turned and smiled; in a trick of the light her teeth shone carnivorously. Ike shut his eyes to picture her as she usually looked. “I hate him.” Mama frowned. She started patting his hand. “Imagine how lonely he is.” “Poppa? Are you?” “What?” “Lonely?” The patting stopped; started again. “How could I be?” There was a warning in the voice. Ike pictured his Proskurov mother at his left, his Proskurov brother at his right. “Then why am I?” He only mouthed this; these days when he had something true to say he made sure no-one heard, not even Mama. Truth was a waste; it usually brought punishments.
His Proskurov mother touched his cheek. Then she disappeared. His father had confirmed that Sid was correct: Ike’s memory had it wrong. Ike hadn’t apologized to him, hadn’t been able to because Sid refused to look at him, not even to say goodbye. Now, in the car, he found he tried to bring back his Proskurov mother’s presence and couldn’t. Mama was still patting him. At least she was real; he was desperately glad. “Poppa? If we’d helped Sid would he have moved?” He hated Sid; why ask that? Jacob whipped around, spinning the wheel so the car shook as if about to fly apart. Mama grabbed his arm. “Stop!”.
“How would we eat, Isaac? How?” Ike was ready to shout back but a big jolt threw him against the door, as Jacob struggled to get back on the road. What if the door popped open and he was thrown clear? What if they didn’t come back for him? He’d have to go back to Sid. For help. Ike pictured Sid in the field, cursing the ground that wouldn’t give up what he needed. They left me, Ike would tell him.
Of course, Sid would answer. 5
He would motion him over. Something would force down their heads until their lips were pressed to the ground. The forbidden Christian prayer position. Ike could taste the dirt. Why did his brain keep showing him things he didn’t understand? His teachers said God couldn’t be imagined, only worshipped. Now Ike’s Proskurov mother, his first mother, couldn’t be imagined either. She’d just become as unknowable as God. He buried his face in Mama’s arm -- the cool, fleshy part. He was too old to do this, but he did it. “No more time with Sid,” she said. Jacob shook his head. “Sensitive,” he sneered. DECEMBER Breathing through his mouth made his throat hot, but he had no choice because his nose was stuffed. The blanket scratched; he kicked it off, pushed himself off the bed. The floor was icy. He forced himself to concentrate, as if a secret were hidden deep in the wood, only discoverable through his toes. Strong winds leaked through cracks in the walls; the apartment creaked like an old ship. Ike’s dreams had turned bad again. A street-shadow crept along the wall in the shape of a person. His heart jumped. “You?” he whispered.
Could a ghost brush the hair from a person’s face? He pressed his cheek against the window. The cold was a relief from hot tears. Snow was falling; it seemed to carry its own strange light. Ike’s breath made clouds on the window that froze. Was Russian snow different? He was thinking about Sid, again, who knew his family was alive but could neither bring them here nor go home to them. “My being here is what they believe in.” That’s what he’d said. Was Sid a coward or was he brave? Ike still couldn’t decide. Maybe if he woke up Poppa he could make him answer questions before he knew he was awake. All he’d ever told Ike was “There’s nothing to tell.” But there had to be a reason Ike was growing up crazy, there had to be a reason his father hated him this much. He’d done something, something awful; he had to know what. Maybe Jacob would explode with the truth before he slapped Ike silly. He didn’t move. Snow was covering the street with a whiteness so pure that for a brief second anything seemed possible. Ike shivered, thinking how cold it was out there. What would it be like to freeze to death under this softness?
THE DREAM OF A DIM HOUSE WRITTEN BY ELIZABETH UNDERWOOD There, inside some unnamed childhood storm inside a dim house, a gray plant took a rainy blooming quietly and quite beyond serenity. There, was a half-lit loss of virginity.
no cognizance of virginity only the past the rainy child the quiet storm only after, can I conceive knowing something real of purity something real of emptying.
We with our phosphorescent eyes and our ashen attitudes were reduced to fossils. Remnants of a race that rooted and bloomed, now shivering like ferns. There, in the dimming. Was I there? Did I have any sense of fecundity? Here, is this memory, a beggar is this voice of loss that says pay, for this shedded self pay, for this memory for the myth of your virginity. But no, you seeâ€” There was nothing before the seed no understanding of innocence 8 | Poetry
SOCRATES WRITTEN BY SALLY CHOUEKA A word to the wise, And to the un-humble, And for all of those who, Know it all: You do not. You can not. A word to the curious, And to the modest, And for all of those who donâ€™t: You can. You will.
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VALENTINE WRITTEN BY ELIZABETH UNDERWOOD I keep thinking, it would have been nice this time around if I could have been one of those women who loves only once, and for life. Like a Juliet, so breathless behind the masque and formal steps of the dance that hide an unflinching passion. She has seen and has touched her singular future. And she knows this. She will hear the call only once but it holds the entire spectrum of sound, it does everything a trumpet can do. And when she gets to the end of her life and lays herself down, she knows, truly knows, she has been loved for all time. Yes, I keep thinking, that would have been nice. But itâ€™s too late for that now. Of course, there was a first love all suited up in the Romeo cloth. He smelled like the sea or some oriental spice I never could name. But he did not make me queen and end the wars for all time. Mine was an early fall from grace, the grace of first and all-consuming love. And what I knew, as my surrender was complete, 11 | Poetry
was that I would not be a Juliet, or even Jane Eyre. No, I would be a Guinevere. I could look forward to no discipline, no calm or clarity in the methods of my love. No crystal ball of chastity for me, and not even a convent to return to after marking the wantonness of my ways. No, I was meant to fall in love too many times for anyone. And now, I cannot focus on the great scope of my vision, cannot presume to meditate while my mandala is moving as fast as a targeted deer. And now, I have tired of the endlessness of loving and loving and loving and then having to cease loving. Why is there not a law of physics that prevents it from stopping once it has begun? Something like this, this â€œlove,â€? is too much like God for it to just stop. I want there to be no breaks, no gaps, no holes. I want it to be like the precision of a laser beam, a perfectly polished fitting of a groove, a song that youâ€™ve known all your life from the start, like the sound of history being built while you watch. And I want to know I have loved and been loved for all time.
AVEM WRITTEN BY
this body is a cage. my wings are clipped, i cannot fly. for a long time i had feared i would die and rot away yes, I’ve always felt different but i didn’t always know why everyone tried to tell me who i was tried to speak for me because I couldn’t yet speak for myself i let them force the labels into my mouth and swallowed them reluctantly. they left a sour taste in my mouth, tangled in my throat, embedded in my teeth i was choking on the words that weren’t mine. i couldn’t spit them out i wanted to be open yet i was scared, scared of the people who hate kids like me, scared of the people who think i am a sin, it’s much easier to lie but it feels much worse. i used to be lost, floating around in the world without knowing who i was, but i know now. and i’m not afraid anymore.
13 | Poetry
OR ANY OTHER REASON WHY WRITTEN BY BRIAN PETTI Characters: Girl, 17 Man, 40s
Setting: Girl: a therapist's office, present day Man: a police interrogation room, three years previous ACT I Scene 1 There are two delineated areas of the stage, one containing a MAN and the other a GIRL. They can cross into each other's sections at various times during the play, but they remain unaware of each other. The MAN is in a police interrogation room at the time of the events spoken about in the play. The GIRL is in a psychiatrist's office some three years later. There are no stage trappings of either place, only chairs and perhaps a table. The focus should always be on the character speaking. GIRL I think those first few weeks were then. Maybe since then too. I know me it would be so much easier if I why this whole thing is so Goddamn
the happiest time of my life until I'm not supposed to say that. Believe didn't feel that way. Do you get now confusing?
All we did was meet at the diner. And talk. God, we talked until we were hoarse and then we talked some more. Lauren thought that was weird--like it would be okay if he just wanted to sleep with me, but actually being interested in what I had to say, that was perverse. I said to her, who else wants to hear what I have to say? My Mom who's at work all the time? My Dad, wherever he is? If he wants to hear what I think about The Scarlett Letter at least somebody does. Sofia said she would have talked to me about The Scarlett Letter, which made me feel bad because she really was a good friend and I didn't mean it as a put-down. I told her it's different than talking to a friend, that talking to him made me feel more...sure of myself. Like I had the right to a real opinion, about books, about music, about the world. Talking to him 16 | Play
made me feel like I was important to somebody. Anybody.
Maybe he got what he wanted from me, and those nights at the diner sharing fries with gravy and chocolate pudding were a means to an end. I get that. I can see that. But I got something too.
MAN You know how my wife met the guy she left me for? Online dating service. Yeah. E Harmony dot com. Thirty cross- sections of compatibility, or whatever the commercial says. Whenever I see that guy on TV, I just want toâ€Ś She hadn't even met him when she left. They just talked online. For over a year. For thirteen months she put our kids to sleep, got into our bed with her laptop and chatted with loverboy while I watched baseball games. And I was so stupid, I thought... I was convinced she'd settled down. That her discontent wasn't there anymore. I thought she was finally digging the whole wife and mother thing. That we were in some beautiful, predictable, domestic bliss. Are you married? Then you know what I'm talking about. Just that sitting in the car holding hands while you're driving kind of happy. But no. She was in the bed right next to me, our bed, falling in love with some other guy. I was just happy she wasn't complaining that I was watching Sportscenter. And I'm a bad guy. She lies and deceives and connives and breaks up a family and she gets to walk away with my children. And I'm here. Because I wanted something better than that for myself. Something pure and good. It's some world.
GIRL He told me he loved me. And then he asked if I loved him too. I said to him, how would I know. How could I possibly know.
MAN Oh, she does. She absolutely does. She told me of her own free will, and I don't care if you believe me of don't. I would have never have said another word if she didn't feel the same way. Whatever she says now, or is being forced to say, I never would have acted without a sign from her. I'm not a monster. I'm not some... I wasn't searching for this, I wasn't... rooting around like some animal. She came to me. I didn't... She came to me.
Lauren noticed first. She said, look at that guy, he's totally leering at you. Of course I looked, I mean, who wouldn't look? He was at lane nine with his boy and girl. I was at the snack bar with Lauren and Sofia, which is a little behind and to the left if you're facing the pins. We were all three sharing a fry, 'cause Lauren was trying to hook up with the guy at the shoe rental and Sofia just didn't want to be home alone with her stepfather. I just wanted to be somewhere, somewhere that wasn't home trying to stay awake until my Mom got home from work. He wasn't really leering. He was definitely sneaking peeks, in between trying to keep his little girl from dropping her bowling ball on her foot. She almost did, once. She lost her grip while she was bringing the ball back and the ball rolled, like, three lanes down with the guy chasing after it and apologizing. When he finally caught up with it he stood straight up with this tiny pink ball in his hand and he looked right at me by mistake. He was embarrassed, but he smiled in that whattya-gonna-dowith-kids-these-days way. And I looked back like how-the- hell-should-Iknow? and he just kind of laughed and shook his head. I don't remember feeling any way about him, positive or negative. He was just some Dad. Some normal, suburban, bowling with his two kids Dad. Whatever that is. I knew he "liked" me. I mean I was young, but I wasn't ignorant. Even if you've never been looked at like that before--and believe me, I hadn't-you can feel it when a man's look is boring into you. It's not even a little bit subtle. It reaches the back of your skull. It's nearly like pain.
MAN Love is a curious thing. You don't know where it will come from. Or when. You don't know if what you've been settling for is really it, until you've glimpsed something more. Once it hits you, it hits you from everywhere at once. Your head, your heart, your skin. It's like... it's like you're exploding from the inside. The sun shines brighter. Food tastes better. You think about crazy things, like diving naked into the ocean, or staying outside all night to watch a meteor shower. Everything seems more possible. Yeah, keep laughing. You have a badge so you know better than me? know what I feel. Who are you to tell me otherwise?
I know my Mom wants me to be here, but seriously this was all like three years ago. It's ancient history as far as I'm concerned. I'm not dating anyone because I don't want to. All the boys who are "interested" just want to be with the girl who had the affair. I had to change schools, and still it followed me. What's the healthy way to react to something like that, start sleeping around? I don't get it. I know what this is really about. She thinks I'm going to turn eighteen and go running to him. Like I'm some brainless robot whose whole world revolves around this one guy. She's freaked out, so here I am being forced to talk to you for an hour every week. My Mom should be the one here, not me. (Pause) I'm fine. Really. I don't have any â€œlingering effectsâ€? from this "devastating" thing that happened. No it's not my word, devastating is what everybody else calls it, as if they know better than me about my own life. I'm not devastated. I'm careful. What happened happened. I had an experience and I'm a different person and I've moved on. What choice did I have?
MAN I honestly don't care whether or not you believe me. I did not sleep with her. I wanted to...I'm not going to deny that and I'm not going to apologize for it either. We kissed. On occasion. When it felt right. I never let it go any further and no, before you ask, I don't think I deserve a medal. She wanted to do more. You can go wherever you have her stowed away and ask her yourself. She was even worried that I wasn't attracted to her, if you can believe that. I know I couldn't. I just explained that it had to be this way until...yes, until she was legal, is that what you want to hear? It's not the truth, but why should we let that get in the way? What's the truth? The truth is...I wanted her to be ready. I wanted her to come to me freely, without a shred of doubt in her mind. She's something out of a dream. I would have waited for her forever.
No, he never forced... God! I'm so sick of explaining this! He asked permission to hold my freakin' hand. You get it? When Lauren heard that she nearly laughed herself off her chair. She was like, are you kidding me? What is this the 1950s, going to the sock-hop? She said just grab him one night and stick your tongue as far down his throat as it will go. But that was Lauren, that wasn't me. Lauren? Lauren just...lives, you know? She doesn't stop to think about anything. People say she must act that way because she has low self esteem or something, but she's got to be the most self-assured person I ever met. I wish I was more like her...but I'm just not. I have a hard enough time just figuring out what it is I want without grabbing it by the back of the neck and making it mine. (Pause) Sofia didn't like him from the start. In a weird way I think she was jealous. But like, not of me but of him. Not that she's gay or anything, although maybe she is, it doesn't matter. I think she wanted me to be around more, like I used to be. Pretty soon I was at his place every day from the time he got home from work until my Mom was due home. I'd cook. Sometimes we'd get a movie on Netflix and have a picnic on the floor. It was...easy. That's what bothered Sofia, I think, because it used to be her I'd be watching that movie with. So she'd start saying stuff like he's just using me, or he just wants to get into my pants. Hurtful stuff. She said that's what men do, they just lie to you and then they hurt you. Though how would she know? I told her over and over that it wasn't like that, but she wouldn't let up. Finally I just said to her, he's not your stepfather you know. I shouldn't have said that. Saying that is one of the worst things I've ever done. MAN Yes, I did go back to the bowling alley to seek her out, but it's not like you're making it out to be. It wasn't...predatory. Look I've seen that molester show on TV and I read Lolita and I've seen all two thousand Law & Orders. I am not that guy. That's what I can't get you to understand. I didn't go back intending to...take advantage of her. I just had to know. If what I saw was real. (Frustrated) How can I explain what I don't even have the words to describe?
I just needed to look her in the eyes and see it again. That's all I was after, I swear. I don't expect you to understand it, you'll say it's "inappropriate" or "morally wrong". But just because you can't understand it doesn't mean I don't feel it. You don't want to get what I'm talking about, but you do. If you're a living, breathing human being, you do.
GIRL How am I supposed to answer that? I don't know...I was flattered, I guess. Empowered. All the other girls at school with their flirting and sexting and touching--they knew something I didn't, they could reach something that was always beyond me. You could see it in their eyes, that they knew their power already. Knew it and enjoyed it, through their whole bodies, to their toes. I had no idea about what they knew. And I suppose part of me wanted to, desperately. Wanted to be inside that shining place where the girls smiled and winked at each other and the boys knew your name and you had...value. This...man...somehow saw something in me that no one had ever seen. No one, not even myself. How could I not be...overwhelmed? Plain old me in my jeans and hoodie. He really wanted me. What an aphrodisiac. Even if I wasn't old enough to know what that word meant.
MAN No, you're misunderstanding me. I have no illusions that I'm in any way...worthy of her. I mean, I'm good looking enough for my age, but she... She's radiant. Not just beautiful, not just attractive. She glows. Her skin. Her eyes. Have you ever seen someone glow. You can't look away. You can pretend you don't see it, but you can't ignore it. She's the purest soul I'll ever know. What could I ever do but corrupt her? To utter a word to her was a corruption.
GIRL He told me all the time how beautiful he thought I was. I told him to stop it, that I didn't want to hear it. But he wouldn't stop. I'd look at myself in the mirror in the morning and wonder what is he seeing? My eyes are saggy and I have blackheads on my nose. I told him I wasn't anything special. He just said my feeling that way is what made me special. I didn't know how to argue with that. Truth be told, I didn't know if I even wanted to. 21
Don't drag my kids into this, okay? It's bad enough I'll probably never see them again no matter how this turns out. How did I do wrong by them, tell me how? By introducing them to a sweet, loving, responsible person? My ex-wife has them living with a guy she met on the internet for Chrissake! A complete stranger from nowhere! And he's raising my son and daughter. That girl wouldn't hurt a soul and I'm glad my kids got to know her. (Pause) That's sick. Really, you're a disgusting person. That's my daughter you're talking about. Man, you people...
GIRL My biggest regret is getting to know Annie and Jake. Not that I don't love them with all my heart. The most meaningful moments I had were watching Spongebob and doing Annie's hair in pigtails while Jake laid his head on my lap. I know it wasn't like being a real Mom or anything, but it was just...nice. Comfortable. Like a real family. Not my family, but still. We'd get pizza and play "Chutes & Ladders" and Annie would put her little, soft hands on my face... I never had a little brother or sister, it was always just me and my Mom. It was only every other weekend, but I felt like...they loved me. And I loved them. Now I wish it had never happened. We'll never be able to see each other again. (Pause) Look, I know my Mom is worried about me, but she really shouldn't be. She raised me to make my own decisions since I was nine--what to wear for school, what to make myself for dinner, when to go to sleep. It's not her fault she had to work all the time. I'm sure it wasn't her childhood dream to be a single Mom with two jobs. I just had to grow up faster, that's all. When there's no one there to tell you to do your homework, or... whatever, do the dishes, you realize you have to choose to do it yourself. Stop being a baby and take some responsibility. None of this was her fault. She's a good person. She does what she does to keep a roof over our heads. It's been me and her against the world. She shouldn't blame herself just because I was lonely.
What could I possibly have in common with her, that's what your trying to say, right? All that stuff, that pop culture crap we're riddled with from birth, that ties people of the same age together by songs and TV shows and movies, it's all just trash. You don't even have a choice in the matter--you grow up in the 80s and you're stuck with The Breakfast Club and Adam Ant and The Cosby Show your whole life. Who cares if she never read Bonfire of the Vanities? Not me. There's enough going on right now. (Short pause) Although to be truthful, I can't stand that pop radio "music" she listens to. Especially the women. Pink and Ke$ha and Lady Gaga...they don't leave enough to the imagination, you know. Listen to me, I sound like an old man.
GIRL All I wanted...all I really wantedâ€Ś
Why can't I...deserve someone like her? Someone innocent. Not ruined. Someone who doesn't look through me through a glaze in her eyes. Like I'm some big disappointment. (Pause) Maybe I'm not the richest man, or the most successful man...but I know how to love somebody. I know how to listen. Yeah that's funny, that's hysterical isn't it? Why are you so much better than me? (Pause) Well I haven't committed a crime either. I managed to find someone in this horrific, decrepit world who makes me want to hold my head up high and call myself a man. I'm not giving that back. I'm not giving that to you because you think I'm a bad person. What she thinks matters, not you! What do you have? What do you have besides a gun?
GIRL I just wanted...someone. My own someone. I saw Lauren with her boys and they looked so...knowing...and present. I mean they were just hooking up, but there was something unspoken between them too. A connection. 23
I wanted that. I didn't necessarily want to sleep with anybody...but I did want somebody to look at me that way. I know what you're going to say, I'm seeking male approval because I never knew my father, but I think that's such a crock. Who doesn't want approval from the opposite sex? I was practically invisible for the first fourteen years of my life, and then he... He didn't just want to sleep with me. He was...proud to be with me. I made him proud. Just by being myself.
MAN She told you that? What did you do to that poor girl? No, you had to do something, 'cause she never would have said anything if you hadn't. Did you make her feel guilty? You did, didn't you? Goddamit, she's just a kid.
GIRL Why do I need to talk about this? What good is it going to do to speak the words? What miracle is going to occur?
MAN I think it's time for me to stop talking. You guys have my side of the story. I don't need to prove anything more to you.
GIRL Saying it out loud isn't going to change anything. It won't. All it's going to do is put it right smack in front of me again. Why would I want to do that?
MAN No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. This can't be happening. I've got kids.
GIRL Fine. (Pause) It was one time. It wasn't even important. It just happened one Friday night after we put his kids to bed. That was it. (Short pause) 24
What more? There is no more. No, he didn't hurt me, he treated me like I was made of glass. It's not even the part of this whole thing I remember and it's all everyone wants to talk about. The detectives and my Mom and every single person in my school and now you. (Short pause) No I don't. I don't "understand everyone's concern". It was nothing. It was just sex. I didn't think the clouds were supposed to part and the angels start singing. I'm not that girl. (Short pause) I'm the kind of girl who doesn't cry "rape" after making a conscious choice to sleep with somebody. I started it, or at least I didn't stop it when I could have. And I could have. I don't know how old "old enough" is. Actions have consequences. So maybe I wasn't...mature enough to realize that. And now a man is in jail because of me... (Pause as GIRL collects herself) Maybe you're right. Maybe I'm not â€œresponsibleâ€?. But I feel responsible. Nothing would have happened if I didn't let it happen. Sure you can say he should have known better, he was the "adult" or whatever. But he wasn't the responsible one. I was. Whether that should be true or shouldn't be true makes no difference. It was. Do you get why I don't want to talk about this? It just goes round and round and round...
MAN You know a friend of mine...a guy I work with... I come into the office one morning and the guy sees something about me, a look on my face or the way I'm walking, whatever it is. And the guy says, "You must be happy!" He knew me through the whole thing with my ex...losing my kids...so he...had seen me at my worst, you know? So I must have looked as if a weight had been lifted off me. So I say to the guy, my friend...I say, "You know, I think I am." Stupid, huh? That I convinced myself that she could make me happy. That I really was happy. (Short pause) You're right, I'm just feeling sorry for myself. If I don't who will?
Love? You're kidding, right? okay, what do you want me to say about love? (Short pause) Does it exist? (beat) Yeah, I'm sure it exists somewhere. How should I know where? (Short pause) No, I'm not in love with him. I'm 17 years old, what I know about anything wouldn't fill up the first chapter of a book. And you know what, he wasn't really in love with me either. He was in love with whatever fantasy he had going on his head about who I was. His illusion. So that's what I learned about love. You can build it around anybody if you're desperate enough. Even me. Even a pimply-faced, 14-year-old nothing. (Pause) No. That's not how I think of myself. I'm something. I have no idea what. Maybe I was trying to find out. I won't be making that mistake again anytime soon. I'm closed for renovations.
MAN I love her. If I thought for one second I had hurt that girl... It's the last thing in the world I would ever, ever do.
GIRL My Mom, she...she used to get off every Christmas Eve. It was like her personal holiday. We had these plastic cookie cutters, with, you know, a star and a reindeer and Santa's face in profile. Snowflake. And me and my Mom we'd make up batter for sugar cookies--not the pre-made one, the one from scratch--and we'd cut out the shapes from the cookie dough and decorate them with colored sprinkles and pieces of Maraschino cherries. Every year since I can remember. Until three years ago. When I was little we'd keep a few cookies for Santa and put them out with a glass of milk. Even after I knew about Santa, she used to take the cookies and leave some crumbs on the plate so I'd see he'd been there in the morning. God, do I miss that. I think that's love.
CONFESSIONS OF A TIME TRAVELER WRITTEN BY JAY CARSON I’m a fair-weather Anglican who only occasionally thanks God for the Chilean sea bass or soul-tearing sunset over Cartagena. I appreciate every moment of my first-class upgrade on Cathay Dragon airline: loving God’s gifts; isn’t that a form of prayer? But when the stomach goes bilious or my feet to slush, I fervently ask for help. I know seriously spiritual people think this is childish heresy, but they are good, often getting better; I’m getting worse, older, and more fearful. You can laugh at me, but wait till you open the last quarter of your allotted amputated century, when a flight of 20 stairs becomes a terrible trudge to the top of the Gaudi cathedral, where the magnificent skyline of Barcelona makes it almost worthwhile until you realize that all the amazing edifices were created by men like you, not just aging, but dying, as the sea and distant mountains continue to look on with indifference.
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THOUGHTS ON THE TRAIN WRITTEN CARLA MCGILL Born into time, we make determinations. How to get from here to there. What to do with now and then. Overtaken, we split like atoms into all the confusion. At night, find the only purity, a gleam of light, nothing else. We measure things. The spinning Earth, melting glaciers. Wristwatches, bells, calendars with waves. Earthâ€™s core, solid iron, and then molten. If the magnetic field is intermittent, this is the danger. We conclude. Looking up and out, spectacular happenings. Stars explode, collisions in the great expanse. Stellar winds speed through space like careless words. Motion and repetition. Questions. It seems there is always a before and after in the regular continuum. Why is the body in time a sorrow? Where is the most beautiful observation? Are the earthquakes wholly righteous? Yet, the sea is a blue immensity. This train is on the edge of California, the end of Western dreams, the sapphire world of duration and span. Meanwhile, every edge is felt as we fade and cool like the ancient galaxies, like the white dwarf stars.
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WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG WRITTEN BY THEA ENGST After Margaret Atwood I don’t remember why we made the potion. We started with the berries that should have been red but weren’t ripe yet, mixed in some relish from the fridge and decided it could use some liquid. We chose Coke Zero and dish detergent. I added sand and a sprinkle of torn Maple leaves. It had been made, we couldn’t waste it, we had to use it. We threw it on the stray dog who appeared two or three times a year. It had mange; our parents told us to stay away from it. Small handfuls of brown fur spotted its body; ruby red bumps lined its spine and its left eye was stuck shut by a yellowed, hardened pus. It limped and usually only walked with three legs; it was dying anyway, we said. We were doing it a favor. I remember the sharp movement it made when the liquid hit the skin. I remember the berries sliding down the raw parts, the whimper the dog made, like a baby or a house cat. It ran off and we never saw it again. We’re sure it survived, the potion was only lethal if ingested. We’re sure it was fine, we told each other for weeks. If anything, the potion healed its cuts, loosened the hard pus keeping its eye shut. We never saw it because it got better and ran back to its home which was far, far away.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA WRITTEN BY THEA ENGST Outside a light blue home a hitching post stands, waiting for the Confederate horse that took its master years ago, war-bound. The mother inside knit countless scarves through four winters and prayed life into each stitch, while her friends prayed victory, gossiping over the rows they pearled in red and blue. The women would have been scandalized if they walked by her pastel house and saw her up late at night, cooking for her son who still hadnâ€™t written. The food dwindled each day, still she wasted her corn, the milk her neighbor brought when he noticed her frame shrinking. No one saw the meals rotting, piled in pantries and closets. Waiting, like her, for the sound of his horse trotting to the door, for his laughter at the scarves carpeting floors and the appetite to eat four years worth of dinners. Never did she believe that he was already dead, buried beneath the body of someone elseâ€™s son.
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BODY SUBPOENA WRITTEN BY SYLVIA NASREEN CHOWDHURY touched young thats why I'm like this. twist from post-trauma back to life I am NO heroine I have no fate I am no victim it happened to me then more so I am responsible for a portion at least. after will encounters everything against it. fill force in. reality concretizes. I cannot imagine the taste of the sidewalk until my face is there up against it. I, child stick my hand in the sidewalk. yelled at. ran off. time tags my wrist ordered meat at a fish market. scales have been alleviated. a thigh or breast or mouth & hands. a little little everywhere. crossed legs & a hair like a hazard sign. excrement me white into hot, foreign soup. traditionally, attempt. toes are the offering. burn my home down & count how quickly Iâ€™ll betray you. a magnet clicking into place, medusaâ€™s snake choking itself, when succession proves enough. to be belligerently obvious, what I did not work harder to prevent rests acidic in my esophagus. if order makes a difference infectious is always before symptom before sick before sympathy. if prison & memory could work how I needed them to all good mammals deserve sleep
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THE GIRL OUTSIDE WRITTEN BY JAKE HUNTER The woman outside your building, packing her car with plastic containers of makeup and other belongings, tells you to call her. She’s blasting gangster rap over the Acura’s speakers, a 90’s model, cheap, busted, and now she’s threatening to get naked, pulling her sweatshirt up to reveal her skinny torso. And you’d hardly know it because of her genuinely charming brown eyes, deep black hair, and surprising sense of humor, that she’s a meth addict and could be dying maybe soon or in a few years or close to that, and you’re smiling, and it’s cute because she’s a few years younger, probably messed up, smiling too, leaving the man she stays with who gives her the stuff, maybe, who is ghoulish and worse; and though she’s beautiful, she’s missing teeth and half her will to live so you leave it alone, drive off.
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DRAGON BREATH SMOKE WRITTEN BY JAKE HUNTER Purple liquid waves, electric blue white, abyss black starry spray, dragon breath smoke against your light shine in the midnight of a thousand nights away
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HOURGLASS WRITTEN BY VINCENT FITZGERALD In the second before the last grain falls, through neck, from bulb to bulb, my life will project on the lids of my eyes, and I’ll live our days again. I’ll savor your glance as we meet in a hall; and inhale your vanilla hair. Aware we’d yet to share a day, yet sensing you always there.
I’ll relish our coffees and late-night calls for the bedrock formed under our feet, And how a crack I feared might shatter the stone, instead gave birth to a tree. I’ll thank your eyes for lighting my way; your words that served to mold, and how you breathed in me a confidence and dared me to be bold. I’ll seize the day I cut your chains; freed you from torments past; And how you taught me tears were born of strength when I fought mine back steadfast. I’ll feel your breast heave against mine as you laugh at my eccentric ways; Those parts entrusted only to you who secured them deep in your heart. Then, while at my most rapt, a memory will storm of a day demanding its due; One pissed away through foolhardy rants, and lapses of reason and mind A day we deemed superfluous, as if a day could ever be; Kicked to the curb, expelled with our trash, sentenced to vagrancy. We had endless chances to alter its course, if not for mulish pride, But instead we banished it to the chill where it succumbed to cold and died. I’ll spurn the shields we yielded and swung, as we each deflected blame; Detest my crippling, toxic tongue once curative, and loathe to maim. Though we mended our rift at the next day’s dawn, and vowed to stay our road, I took brief pause to mourn the day we cast out from our abode. Now as the grain kisses the glass and offers eternal reward, I’m fated to stir, and toss, and turn, and grasp for the gift I ignored. While I wander in limbo, and curse my regret, desperate to feel consoled Will I find you there, also bereft of the day that died in the cold?
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AIR WRITTEN BY
Out the window, we could see the flat hospital roof with its coat of gravel and air-conditioning unit, the parking lot stretching below, random wings of the rambling complex, the ICU room quiet but for the rhythm of a ventilator simulating breath in a life all but gone, his eyes not closed as if sleeping but sealed shut; the machine, once turned off, followed by so few breaths it confirmed the choice: He had no lungs, after years of emphysema, left to live on. Later, exhausted by tears, we left the air-conditioning and trudged into the heat and drove from the parking lot, the hospital receding behind us, our weeping still with us, still leaving us— as we struggled to square his absence with the cruel, monstrous presence of the earth’s lovely air— gasping for breath.
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RIDING A BIG PLASTIC DUCK AT SUNSET IN HANOI WRITTEN BY JOHN DORROH I watched the orange sun set over the coffee-colored river, Hanoi’s children playing kickball in a nasty litter-covered park as I rode the colossal white paddle duck boat past their mothers who hustled for a day’s pay with their homemade wares, their scarred inner thighs, their erased memories of nickel-plated moons over barren rice paddies. She told me not to talk, placing her index finger in front of her closed lips. This is where the king sleeps she says. He does not need to know that we are gliding over his soul, that we are invading
his consciousness. Be forever quiet about what went on here; never tell false stories about people whose lives you don’t understand. Do not come here looking for what your brother left behind. You might find it, and then what would you do? Ride the duck into the yellow sun. Be quiet.
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THREE-WAY MIRRORS: A REALITY CHECK FROM HELL WRITTEN BY HALI MORELL It started in the Nordstrom dressing room. After shaving off a few pounds, I decided it might be time to try on some jeans. Actually, it was a promise I made to myself: “Hali, you cannot buy new jeans until you lose weight.” So, I thought I was in good shape…literally and figuratively. And as I pulled down my loose-fitting skirt (adding to the reality that I was in fact skinnier) and grabbed the faded blues, that’s when I saw it…or them. The backs of my thighs. You see, Nordstrom has these three-way mirrors. I used to like three-way mirrors. Actually, I used to not even think twice about three-way mirrors. They’ve now turned into my biggest nightmare. “Oh my god,” I said out loud to myself. A mother and daughter were in the dressing room next to me, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t breathe, honing in on the ripples that had taken over my thighs and larger-than-I-had-expected white ass. I stared at them for another two minutes in disbelief. “How? When? Why? How?” All that was left was “Who?” but I knew who. “Who” was me! How the hell was this “who” me? And, more importantly, was there a way I could instantly disappear through the lightly carpeted gray floor of the dressing room? You mean I’ve been walking around like this? In public? In my house with my husband and my cat looking at me? Putting on those gray cotton shorts that I thought gently cupped my butt and strolling around without a care in the world? Flopping around on the sofa with everything hanging out? Bending over, ass waving in the air, to fill my glass of water from our Arrowhead bottle that’s two feet off the ground? I immediately wanted to call my husband and apologize for exposing him to such a disaster. I began to experience a flash of emotions. Denial was no longer possible. The confusion and frustration and embarrassment left me paralyzed. But I’ve been exercising! Every day! Squatting and jumping and dancing and grapevining (so much grapevining!) and sweating! It wasn’t adding up. Before I spun myself even further, plummeting at a rapid speed into the doorway of hell, I grabbed my skirt to cover myself up as quickly as possible, told myself not to cry, and turned my depression into determination. *** Sephora is a place I’ve never ventured into. Probably because I don’t wear makeup or use perfume or any “healthy” body products whatsoever. Why? I don’t know. But I was on a mission. “Do you guys sell…cellulite cream?” I actually whispered the word cellulite because I couldn’t believe I was actually having to say it…about myself! A nice woman wearing all black escorted me over to a corner in the back of the store, which is just where I wanted to be. In the back corner, disappearing into the walls of beauty products. “This is the only product we sell.” She handed me a slender red box. Clarins Body Lift Cellulite Control. “Does it work?” I prayed for reassurance. 62 | Creative NonFiction
“I don’t know. I haven’t personally used it myself, but you can read the directions.” Of course you haven’t used it yourself, because you have a perfect body and probably won’t ever get ripples on your thighs, you bitch! With $73.18 deducted from my checking out, I walked out clutching the black and shiny Sephora bag and walked briskly to my car. I wanted no one to look at me. Even though my skirt was long, I started to imagine that the ripples could be seen through the thick cotton waves of fabric. I wanted to be a blur to those around me. *** The bag sat untouched in my bathroom for eight days. I knew it was there, as I had placed it next to the toilet and glanced at the red tissue paper that was inside. It wasn’t denial. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to use it. It was the haunting suspicion that these types of products are total bullshit and give people the false hope that the ripples will magically disappear. *** I have weight issues. Major, major weight issues. Hitting puberty in the fall of my first semester of college didn’t help. Neither did the cafeteria located underneath my dorm on Beacon St. in Boston. Never having had to worry about gaining weight in the past, or even being aware of it, I dragged my tray through the line, filling it with greasy potatoes, burgers dripping with cheese, and the last stop…my favorite, the chocolate milk dispenser. Little did I know that the grease and fat and starch coupled with my late-blooming body would lead me to gain twenty-five pounds in seven weeks. A series of horrible events ensued. Psychotic roommates who literally bullied me; a crazy ex-boyfriend whom my parents had to get a restraining order against, following up on his threat that he was going to come to Boston and kidnap me; and my parents’ surprise divorce had manifested into a compulsive eating disorder…now referred to as Binge Eating Disorder (BED). In between classes, when the roommates weren’t around, I’d sit on the floor with my plastic bag filled with chocolates and shove them into my mouth as fast as I could while listening to Joni Mitchell and crying. And although it’s not at that point anymore, thank god, the disorder has got me. For twenty-three years it’s had me. So the struggle is prominent and deep and feels never-ending. Sometimes I have more control, and sometimes I lose it. If someone asks me how much I weigh, my typical response is, “It depends on the week.” My body shape changes constantly and I’m acutely aware of it. Aware of where the fat will gather, feeling my neck and arms before I’m even fully awake in bed. When it’s bad, I get a real duck look. My ass sticks out and my stomach sticks out in the opposite direction. Put a sailor cap on me and I’m a female Donald Duck…Donna Duck. At the start of the summer I was three-quarters Donna Duck, and now I’m about half. But now that I’m working again and my routine has shifted drastically, I fear that I’ll be full Donna within two weeks. *** Two days ago, I finally got myself to open the box…wrapped in plastic, which came with instructions…detailed instructions complete with multiple drawings of a woman, a very skinny woman, who would never ever need to buy this product. A brochure that folded out into a roadmap formation with multiple diagrams. A woman sitting with her back against the wall, her legs out in front of her with knees slightly bent. Below that, sitting with her back against 63
the same wall with her legs pulled toward her torso. And then I read the part that said, “Apply to legs and buttocks seven times a day for the first week.” Oh god. This was a process. For a low-maintenance girl like me, I couldn’t imagine myself getting into these positions seven times a day, especially since we don’t have any empty wall space. I folded the map back up and shoved it back in the Sephora bag, but I did keep the bottle out. It’s funny…I was looking for a quick fix…as I tried many times with my bingeing. I don’t think there is one…for either. But, knowing me, I’ll keep trying. Looking for shortcuts and easy paths. Ultimately, as with so many aspects of my life, this requires a much deeper investigation and exploration of myself. One that I’ve grown accustomed to and that is all too familiar. Positive change occurs very slowly for me. It always has. Late bloomer…I hate it.
GERTRUDE WRITTEN BY MADELINE PUCCIONI CAST LIST (ANY RACE) GERTRUDE - Woman, about 35, beautiful, regal FORTINBRAS - Man, about 30, handsome, weary a warrior HORATIO - Man, about 30, scholar, thin, lanky, a courtier DEAD MARCH. LIGHTS UP CENTER. QUEEN GERTRUDE lies as dead, goblet in hand, center. FORTINBRAS and HORATIO enter. FORTINBRAS wears the RUBY RING. FORTINBRAS The last and fairest of our royal dead Ay me. Horatio. Hath she no women to attend her now? Dress her and compose her for the funeral bed?
HORATIO All fled. Fearing thy soldiers and their fate, all fled. FORTIBRAS Tell my men, when they return To place her next to her dead son Hamlet, til this woeful state is done That all may honor them; for she, Like he, hath proved most royally. HORATIO With his last breath Hamlet did welcome thee And declare thee Prince of Denmark, Royal Fortinbras. Since there is none else to offer it I shall present thee with his sword That thou shouldst the sooner wear his crown. (kneels)
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Our thanks, Horatio. With sorrow I embrace my fortune; I -- What--do the dead arise? GERTRUDE rises to her feet. A vial falls from her sleeve. Horatio picks it up, conceals it. GERTRUDE Hamlet? My son? Whose blood…? Is this? FORTINBRAS
Queen Gertrude! GERTRUDE Horatio!
And cousin Fortinbras!
Is this Hamlet’s blooded sword I see? In thy hands nEVE? As token of … thy regency? My Hamlet? Prince Hamlet Where is he? FORTINBRAS Royal Gertrude… I - my soldier’s tongue... cannot complyHORATIO Your Grace, our Hamlet,
by Laertes’ blade
Is slain - mayhap as well,
a subtle poison made -GERTRUDE
Slain? My Hamlet! No! My son? Prince Hamlet! Where is he? FORTINBRAS We have borne him hence, to rest in majesty Upon the royal catafalque, that all may see -GERTRUDE: Ay, me! (faints gracefully into FORTINBRAS’ arms)
Horatio, do thou this bloody field attend. HORATIO I shall, my Lord. (bows and exits to get a mop and bucket) FORTINBRAS Beauteous and aggrieved Queen, accept these arms To lift thee up and take thee hence To sleep, to rest, to ‘scape awhile The stormy inundation of thy pain And wake to sorrow and to sense. FORTINBRAS carries her to chaise, left; LIGHTS UP on HORATIO, center, with mop: HORATIO Now doth Horatio, that had sometime hoped To ride his Hamlet’s wings to higher place---
A title! Duke of Sunderland! (bows, with flourish) Your GRACE! A modest post, perhaps: Ambassador to Spain -One t’would satisfy a modest taste for sunlight, boys, and Spanish wines -But once again Dame Fortune farts amiss And once again, ‘tis “Pray Horatio, do thou this And this! Now clear away th’ royal mess!” “An it please Your Grace!” I cry And bend my knee to kiss the royal ass. HORATIO picks up goblets, and vial, sniffs each carefully; hides them in his sleeve. HORATIO Ho! What mischief do I now perceive Dimly as yet...but such… My expert nose believes. (exits) LIGHTS UP LEFT: FORTINBRAS and GERTRUDE, who reclines seductively on the chaise:
Sweet lady...do not wake. Thy physic hath a cup prepared… GERTRUDE (wakes; refuses cup) Brave Fortinbras, within thy care I feel the strength to sorrow bear FORTINBRAS Lady, is there aught to comfort thee That you might accept from Fortinbras,
Thy sometime... seeming enemy? GERTRUDE Dear Norway… I see no enemy in thee; I knew thee, and thy sister, Anne, when served we at your mother’s court. FORTINBRAS You were at my mother’s court? With Anne? GERTRUDE We watched thee learn the skills of war To ride, to joust, to wield a sword… I confess, we often made much sport of thee. FORTINBRAS (laughs) Deservedly. Yet, I confess… I knew thee not. GERTRUDE None knew me then.
A frail girl,
Heart In her grey eyes. Fourth daughter of a minor Lord. Your mother took me in, called me Her ”pretty thing”. None dreamed that I Would ‘flame the passion of a King.
Nor yet become a wise and gracious, much-loved Queen. GERTRUDE What I must do now is put away my tears And think of Denmark, and my people-That do love me as they did love my son-Huddled there beneath my balcony, Certain that all of Denmark reeks decay. I shall offer them such comfort as I may. And speak of Hamlet’s last desire That Fortinbras --should wear his crown. FORTINBRAS Lady, such grace and courage pierce my heart. (SOUND CUE: CROWD) LIVE OUR QUEEN!
LONG LIVE OUR QUEEN! LONG LIVE QUEEN GERTRUDE! LONG
GERTRUDE Beloved Denmark! All shall yet be well Though we have suffered much this day! CROWD LONG LIVE OUR GRACIOUS QUEEN! GERTRUDE! LONG MAY SHE REIGN! GERTRUDE Nay, hear me please… my people! Hear me please! It was my Hamlet’s last decree-That our cousin Fortinbras, of great renown Shall put on Denmark’s ancient crown. CROWD (SOUND CUE) (silence) Gertrude shall rule! Gertrude our Queen, Gertrude!
(beckons to FORTINBRAS) And I do add my voice to this, My darling Hamlet’s dying wish! FORTINBRAS! AND DENMARK!! CROWD (SOUND CUE) (sullenly) FORTINBRAS! QUEEN GERTRUDE! DENMARK! QUEEN-FORTINBRAS I thank thee all, and I shall attempt to honor Hamlet and your gracious Queen and pledge my heart, my sword, my life for Denmark, justice, and prosperity. CROWD FORTINBRAS! GERTRUDE! GERTRUDE AND FORTINBRAS!!! GERTRUDE (they go back inside) Horatio has set Hamlet’s coffin highest of the three. So near and yet so far away from me. FORTINBRAS My lady, we shall honor him, and pay him due befitting to his royal state. And you may view his gravesite, from this window, night or noon. GERTRUDE How can that be, dear Fortinbras?
Thy flag is raised, thy soldiers housed This is thy palace, and thy nation now The trumpets cry thy victory I am but Denmark’s vanquished Queen To be disposed of … as you choose. FORTINBRAS What fool, or monster think’st thou me, that I would dare to banish thee? 72
What of thy own queen, and family? Wouldst not bring them here to Elsinore? FORTINBRAS I have no wife, no Queen, no family, nor aught but scars and strife, to offer such a one Battle is my life, my practice and my book; Ne’r have I even asked a woman to be wed. A Queen, I now bethink me, have I sought The while; a Queen by whom I could be taught The laws of courtesy and politic And arts of love; a Queen, e’en such as thou. GERTRUDE (turns away; smiles) What sayest thou, dear Fortinbras? FORTINBRAS
Sweet Gertrude....what I believe ...I mean to say Having lost so much to-day, coulds’t --entertain… A match with Fortinbras...despite thy present pain? GERTRUDE You are … proposing---that we...wed? FORTINBRAS Aye, dear lady. That we wed. Such as I am Old and scarred before my time, and thou Forever beautiful and young!
Thou look’st a maid with lilies crowned. GERTRUDE I am no maid.
And six years past thy mark.
But I thank thee for thy courtesy.
No courtesy, dear lady, I but speak my heart GERTRUDE Nay. To Roskilde, and the Nunnery, I shall retire Fain though... would I
hear more of thy desire? FORTINBRAS
For thy people, and thy present comfort, pray, Bind thou rough Norway with this gracious hand And ere th’ crescent moon doth shine Shall we our two nations, and our two hearts entwine. GERTRUDE My lord, I know not why… I tremble at thy speech. (aside)
Addition Norway to our Denmark! FORTINBRAS
Wilt thou marry me, Sweet Gertrude? What say'st thou? (aside) Addition Denmark to our Norway! GERTRUDE How I cannot say… Thy words have captured me Both heart and mind. Yes. I answer thee, and yes! Sons I can give thee yet, that shall our nations bind. They kiss, passionately HORATIO (enters)
What’s this? Norway and Denmark junctured in a kiss? FORTINBRAS
(draws his sword) How dare you enter here unbid! HORATIO
Nay, good my Lord, you’ll thank me soon. 74
Horatio? What have you to say to me That must be told so urgently? HORATIO Lady, as these cups, and this glass vial show Thou dids’t King Claudius, to his death dispose Hamlet and Laertes, by accident did share A different poison, unaware --GERTRUDE Horatio, ‘pon my soul! Have you turned mad, or traitor, now? HORATIO And here is proof! Fall’n from thy very sleeve! (shows her the vial) GERTRUDE (snatches vial) Liar! T’was Claudius
Who plotted long and secretly To murder both my Hamlet and then me! Did you not hear Laertes say, “The King’s to blame”? HORATIO Recall’st thou this? Thou hadst but newly died, madame. Or slept, rather -
for in thy golden cup was naught
But a light sleeping draught. (offers Fortinbras the cups) Here, my lord! But scent… and scent! GERTRUDE Horatio! If thou’rt not mad from grief, Thou liest i’ the teeth!
Fortinbras upon thy life, believe her not I would here my liege and friendship prove! (aside) Certain to profit from thy royal love! FORTINBRAS (scents cups)
They do present distinctly. But naught
So convincing, that any should believe this calumny. (to Horatio) Draw your sword sir - and disgorge your lies! HORATIO Soft, soft, Your Majesties. Ha, ha. Now do I see Who rolls the dice of destiny. Mayhap, we can comply. My Queen. (bows)
The title, revenues, and estates
of Sunderland and its old vineyards, that do grow nearby My silence… and my ambition, shall satisfy… GERTRUDE
do we see thy traitor’s game, thou fiend!
Doest thou dare extort thy Queen? HORATIO Fortinbras! She hath two husbands slain Would you give her such an opportunity again? FORTINBRAS Traitor! Prepare to die! FORTINBRAS draws his sword, and tosses HORATIO HAMLET’S blooded sword) HORATIO My Lord!
I am no swordsman! Wouldst thou murder him
who hath but tried to save thy life? FORTINBRAS Thy judgement lies with heaven.
Then heaven be thy champion, as will I. While the men fight, GERTRUDE hides the vial and the cups, and prepares a tray with a decanter of sherry and two small glasses for a victory toast. FORTINBRAS strikes the mortal blow. HORATIO falls. GERTRUDE Well done, my Fortinbras! The match is won. FORTINBRAS (pause) Now--- heaven claim thy troubled soul, Horatio. (aside) And mine. HORATIO Farewell, my Prince, I am undone-Oh! Sweet Hamlet! Hast thou come
To welcome me? Thy very
( Horatio dies, reaching out to...) GERTRUDE Horatio!
Didst see my Hamlet? (gently closes his eyes)
Tell him I shall see him soon. And give him all my love. FORTINBRAS Guards! Take him from this haunted place And bury him, far from our sight! “GUARDS” obey and exit; GERTRUDE rises, pours sherry into the glasses, from the sherry decanter GERTRUDE (raises glass) Now do we, our nations, hearts and bodies join With this … and this... (toasts FORTINBRAS, kisses him)
FORTINBRAS (raises glass, but fears to drink) Now do we together pledge our troth And
build on trust, a fortress of our love! (sets his glass down) GERTRUDE (annoyed, picks up his glass, and gives it to him)
God bless the issue that our passion prove And grant us sons and daughters from this love! FORTINBRAS (sets his glass down) To Mass, and thence to publish holy banns That our purpose may be thwarted by no man! (tries to leave) GERTRUDE
(GERTRUDE smiles, kisses FORTINBRAS, exchanges glasses with him, links arms with him, as in a wedding toast) Weâ€™ll drink a wedding toast, to seal our love Ere we shall all the pleasures prove. (kisses him) They drink from each otherâ€™s glasses, then kiss, passionately -- eyes wide open. BLACKOUT, CENTER
CONTRIBUTOR Notes John Dorroh (“JD”) taught high school science for a long time and changed energies a few years ago, working with teachers and school districts who are interested in how reading and writing can be used to learn content. He had about 30 science education diddies (who reads that stuff, right?) published, a book of flash-fiction (99 Words), a book of “white-trash nekkid poetry”, and several poems in both print and digital publications. He loves to travel, invent new dishes, and hang out with dogs and cats. Hali Morell is an actress, writer, and teacher. With a bachelor’s degree in acting and a minor in creative writing, she has written and performed two semiautobiographical plays as well as a one-woman show. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Forge Journal, The Penmen Review, and Tower Journal. Hali has attended the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and studied with Karin Gutman, Monona Wali, Mark Travis, Terri Silverman, and Frank Megna. Alongside her writing partner, she helps run memoir writing/talking council workshops called The Missing Peace. When not writing about navigating the world’s anxieties with humor, she teaches and facilitates two to three twelfth-grade Rites of Passage trips per year. Burton Shulman earned his MFA from Warren Wilson College. After the birth of his daughters, he worked for a number of years as a corporate vice president, mostly for Thomson Reuters and Standard & Poor’s, before shifting to a consulting position that allows for more time to write. When he is not writing, he composes songs for guitar, and studies secular Buddhism.
Madeline Daly Puccioni is a “re-entry” playwright, glad to be back at her real work after grading English 1A essays for 30 years. In 1980, her TWO O’CLOCK FEEDING was produced at THE MAGIC THEATRE, SF, and published in West Coast Plays IV. Since retiring two years ago, Madeline has had twenty-two productions of her short plays at various theatres in SF, NYC, San Jose, LA. and Australia, and has had several staged readings of her longer works in progress, CYCLONE DANCING and #NO LONGER A 10. She’s a member of Playwright’s Center, Dramatists Guild, PlayGround SF Theatre Company, PlayCafe, and Towne Street Theatre, LA. Brian C. Petti is an award-winning playwright who has been produced internationally by such
companies as Ten Grand Productions, Theatre of NOTE and Dormant Pheonix. MASQUERADE was staged at Cherry Lane Theater in NYC and NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM was the winner of the Humboldt State University National Play Contest in California, where it received a student production. THE MEASURE OF A MAN and ON THE EXPECTATION OF WHITE CHRISTMASES are published by JAC Publishing and Promotions, and BANSHEE is published by Next Stage Press. ECHOES OF IRELAND was recently produced in County Cork, Ireland by the Skibbereen Theatre Society and is published through Eldridge Plays and Musicals. TEN SECONDS was produced by Motivational Theatre as winner of the Carlton E. Spitzer Excellence in Playwrighting Award. THE LOVE SONG OF SIDNEY J. STEIN was part of the NYC All Out Arts' Fresh Fruit Festival in July, 2013. Most recently, BANSHEE was produced by Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood, CA. Vincent Fitzgerald is a psychotherapist and writer from New Jersey. His work has been featured in various CNF journals, and he has also blogged for several mental health organizations. He strives to blend his experiences as a therapist and client into his writing. Jay Carson is a seventh-generation Pittsburgher, he taught creative writing, literature, and rhetoric at Robert Morris University, where he was a faculty advisor to the literary magazine, Rune. Retired, he is now a full-time writer. Carla McGill earned a doctorate in English from the University of California, Riverside. Her work has been published in A Clean Well-Lighted Place, The Atlanta Review, Shark Reef, Crack the Spine, Westview, Common Ground Review, Caveat Lector, Inland Empire Magazine, Vending Machine Press, The Penman Review, Cloudbank, Burningword, Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts, and Broad River Review. My story, "Thirteen Memories," recieved an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's MAR/APR 2016 Very Short Fiction Contest. Thea Engst received her MFA in Creative Writing with a focus in Poetry from Emerson College. Her nonfiction book "Drink Like a Bartender" was published by Simon & Schuster this past fall. Sally Choueka is currently a Masters student at Penn State Harrisburg. Jake Hunter is a poet from St. Louis, Mo. He has two black cats, Seahorse and Coal. Mark Belairâ€™s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alabama Literary Review, Atlanta Review, The Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Poetry East, and The South Carolina Review. My latest collection is Watching Ourselves (Unsolicited Press, 2017). Previous collections include Breathing Room (Aldrich Press, 2015);
Night Watch (Finishing Line Press, 2013); While We're Waiting (Aldrich Press, 2013); and Walk With Me (Parallel Press of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, 2012). Sylvia Nasreen Chowdhury was raised in Brooklyn and moved to the Puget Sound in 2015. Over the last year she has raised puppies, piglets and stopped using nail polish. She studies Poetics at The Evergreen State College. She is hopeless with impressions. Robin Clement is a young writer currently looking to get his work out to the world. He writes poetry as well as fiction and attends an arts school for creative writing.
Elizabeth Underwood, Mill Valley, CA. A fourth-generation Californian (rare species), Elizabeth now lives just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. She puts food on the table and in the cat bowl by writing and editing in the wonderful world of advertising—currently working as an editor in San Francisco. Recent poetry publication credits include The Cape Rock, Marin Poetry Center Anthology, The Midwest Quarterly, and Slab. Former professions include vocalist, audio and video producer, and radio announcer/programmer. Completely unable to get Radio out of her blood, she now volunteers at KWMR (FM and .org) as the host and programmer of “To Hell and Bach,” a highly eclectic show integrating almost all genres of music and spoken word. Mali Fischer is an illustrator living in Portland, OR. She grew up on a small island in Washington and later moved to Vancouver BC, where she attended Emily Carr University of Art & Design. Since graduating in 2014, Mali has illustrated for artists, brands, and individuals alike using her signature comforting style. She is known for emotional, therapeutic scenes. Allen Forrest is a writer and graphic artist for covers and illustrations in literary publications and books, the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University's Reed Magazine for 2015, and whose Bel Red landscape paintings are part of the Bellevue College Foundation's permanent art collection in Bellevue, WA. He lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada .
THE PARAGON JOURNAL . ISSUE 12 . FEBRUARY 2018
The Paragon Journal is an online literary journal that specializes in helping younger authors find their way in the literary world.
Published on Feb 28, 2018
The Paragon Journal is an online literary journal that specializes in helping younger authors find their way in the literary world.