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The beggar boys lie in wait as the travel bus comes to a stop at the entrance of Fatehpur Sikhri. “The Caterpillar” they call it.

THE VANDERBILT REVIEW

empts and torments, instilling equal parts desire and fear in those unter it, the desert may be likened to the blank page. The most obviof comparison, however, is the one which bears the most truth: that oth wide open. The resemblance between their appetites naturally does the page, the desert hungers for marks to distinguish its anonne from all the others. Moreover, it is from the seed of this appetite mutual vulnerability stems. Among all things wide open it is the same. wait until they are seized—praying, in the meantime, that the hands seize them, mark them, are kind. The desert and the page are isolated d disorientation is not uncommon among those who navigate them. plified by their singularity: there is little wisdom in the assumption laws are mirrored elsewhere. The voices that populate such spaces be erratic, but they are invariably autonomous—removed from all oints of reference. Encountered on their own, then, their narratives nterpreted as the whole truth, because they cannot be critiqued or

VOLUME 32

Yo había soñado de los ce tu vestido que fluye y una Que eras un salmo, un arp eras el humo de mi juvent

I’m real careful not to snag the thread of th embroidered magnolias beautiful flowers that will never deca


2018 2018 2018 2018

THE VANDERBILT REVIEW


TABLE OF Prose The Beggar Children of Fatehpur Sikhri // Krishna Ammisetty // 35 Remodel // Rebecca Baldwin // 92 OK Pharaoh // Andrew Elsakr // 110 My Soul to Keep // Julianna Hernandez // 18 Rachel, Nevada 1968 // Emily Meffert // 84 Remember. Remember Where I Came From. And Do Good, Always. // Kelly Perry // 48 The Happiest Place on Earth // Mitchell Pollock // 122

Poetry Okra // Kristen Abram // 10 Pink /paNGk/ // Kristen Abram // 58 What I Am // Isabella Bruzzese // 82 Loug Kya Kahen Gay (What Will People Say?) // Laiba Fatima // 27 My friend, how quickly // Theo Kandel // 46 De Donde Vienes, From Where You Come // Nissim Lebovitz // 14 & 15 Te Vi en Belèn, I Saw You in Bethlehem // Nissim Lebovitz // 30 & 31 Poverty Yawns // John Newton // 106 A Seat at the Table // Keerthana Velappan // 102

Art Purple Drip Pitcher and Glasses // Hannah Albers // 53 Nebula Mugs // Hannah Albers // 78 Charlotte // Rebecca Arp // 28 2018 Planner // Rebecca Arp // 62 Jumping Girl // Rebecca Arp // 89 2


CONTENTS William // Emily Azzarito // 71 Vinny // Emily Azzarito // 72 Disappearing Acts 1, 2, 3, 4 // Lauren Ballejos // 13, 12, 80, 81 Untitled // Claire Barnett // 26 Untitled // Claire Barnett // 44 Grace Weber // Monica Gallagher // 16 Untitled // Monica Gallagher // 90 Sneak // Monica Gallagher // 104 Nobody’s Home // Nicole Gillis // 108 Serpentine Dr. S // Nicole Gillis // 121 Grandma’s Wallpaper // Lily Henderson // 76 Topographic // Katherine Hunsaker // 56 Lady Liberty // Megan L. Jordan // 109 Caged // Sydney Kaemmerlen // 42 The Kate Project // Grace Runnels // 32 Close Up // Grace Runnels // 75 Porch Readings // Catherine Sheehan // 64 Experience Times Square // Brent Szklaruk-Salazar // 66 Kodak.kodak // Brent Szklaruk-Salazar // 68 Eye to Eye // Brent Szklaruk-Salazar // 69 Jagger // Kyle Vanesko // 54 Homewrecker// Kyle Vanesko // 60 McCarol // Kyle Vanesko // 61 Cover Design by Rebecca Arp Graphic design elements by the Layout Staff 3


OUR STAFF

Editor-in-Chief Brynna Hall Managing Editor Ali Kominsky

Layout Editor Julia Lubarsky Poetry Editor Zachary Gospe

Prose Editor Krishna Ammisetty Art Editors Justine Kaemmerlen Julia Lubarsky

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Poetry Staff: Bethany Boggs Zachary Cooper

Prose Staff:

Rush Hogan

Naureen Azeez

Jacquelyn Olson

Rebecca Baldwin Ann Claire Carnahan Darius Cowan Andrew Elsakr Justine Hong

Art Staff:

Carter Johan

Madeline Amend

Joseph Lovinger

Rebecca Arp

Mitch Pollock

Bryan Ha

Layout Staff: Rebecca Arp Kaitlin Joshua Emily Kopec Elizabeth Leader Christia Victoriano

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LETTER from the

editor 6


If our arboretum-campus, nestled on these western edges of the city, was a body, I think The Vanderbilt Review would be the nerve endings on our fingertips. Reading through this anthology feels to me like running your hands down the wall of a long hallway, with your eyes closed, letting your body guide you through the art. This year has been a trying one, socially, culturally, and politically. The artists on campus, clearly, have felt that. The submissions across all of the mediums reflected that intimately. They touched on the very human fears of the unknown, of change, of hatred and carnage and violence, of loss, and of pain. In the darkness of these moments, there have been profound amounts of inspiration. But they also found beauty, the desire for love and the grace of finding it, in friendships, in romance, in acceptance, respect, and admiration for things that are different, things that are the same. I will always cherish the time I have spent with The Vanderbilt Review, and the opportunity it has offered me to look into the conclaves of the minds of the brilliant, beautiful beings teeming around this little oasis. There is art everywhere, they have taught me, these beings, if you only stop long enough to find it. Please accept this which we humbly present to you, this book of humanity, humanness, and a reminder that in all there is light, in all there is love, and in all there is art. Thank you, from all of us, and especially from myself. Thank you.

Brynna Hall

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AWARDS Poetry Pink /paNGk/ Kristen Abram juried by Carlina Duan, MFA Poetry Graduate Student, Vanderbilt University English Department

Prose Remodel Rebecca Baldwin juried by Samuel G. Rutter, Vanderbilt MFA Student in Fiction, Editor of the Nashville Review

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Art Disappearing Acts 4 Lauren Ballejos juried by Farrar Hood Cusomato, artist and professor at Vanderbilt Unviersity

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Okra

Kristen Abram

“The future is contained within the present, as the plant within the seed� -Percy Bysshe Shelley

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My grandpa stooped down next to me To help me see what he could see. He plucked some okra, plump and green Right next to squash the shade citrine. He shook off all the dark, dark earth; It fell, again, one with Fort Worth. I touched the okra to my teeth, Then bit down hard, a soft relief. I’d never eaten such a thing That tastes like earth from which it springs. Faint petrichor right on my tongue. My grandpa smiled and he was young. At only five I did not know That such a man could ever slow. How could he not remember me Same child he bounced upon his knee? I squeezed his hand for one last time, Recalled the man who nursed fresh thyme. But goodbye always seemed too strong, For he remained with me like song. Within the pod exists the seed. From him, like light, I do proceed.

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Dissappearing Acts 1 (right), 2 (left) Lauren Ballejos 12


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DE DONDE VIENES De donde vienes, mujer, hay tulipanes tan blancas y pájaros de azul oscuro? Parecen todos los árboles que mudan el piel como tus muslos desnudos? Yo había soñado de los cerezos, de tu vestido que fluye y una abeja. Que eras un salmo, un arpa. Que eras el humo de mi juventud ofrecido.

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FROM WHERE YOU COME Nissim Lebovitz

From where you come, mujer, are there tulips so white and birds of dark blue? Do all the trees that shed their skin seem like your bare thighs? I had dreamed of the cherry trees, of your flowing dress and a bee. That you were a psalm, a harp. That you were the smoke of my offered youth.

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Grace Weber Monica Gallagher 16


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My Soul To Keep Julianna Hernandez

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X After

After Mona, I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich once I get home. I take out two slices of bread and lie them side-by-side on a cutting board in my kitchen. I spread peanut butter on one slice, and open a jar of jelly. I begin to scoop the jelly out with a knife and wrinkle my nose at the consistency of it. It isn’t smooth, like the peanut butter. It smells sweet, but sickly sweet, like the smell of the Benadryl I forced myself to drink when I get sick. It goes splat when it drops back into the jar, and it’s wet and chunkylooking. It jiggles when I shake the knife in my hand. I try mixing the jelly in the jar with a spoon to try and even out the consistency, like mixing flour into cookie dough. But despite my best efforts, I only make the jelly look worse. I try to reason with myself: it’s how jelly is. I’ve seen grape jelly thousands of times; its appearance makes sense. It’s supposed to look like this. It’s logical, it’s natural, it’s right. It looks like jelly. It looks like vomit. It looks like someone’s destroyed intestines. It looks like pieces of a heart destroyed beyond repair after being shot twenty-four times. I leave my unmade peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the kitchen counter and take the stairs two at a time up to my bedroom. On my nightstand is my alarm clock, its numbers an angry red in the darkness of the room: 3:07AM. Witching hour. I’m superstitious. I don’t have a problem admitting it. I have an obsession with variables. As a trauma surgeon, everything is variable when I’m at work. I could be treating someone with a sprained ankle, or I could be cracking someone’s chest open with a silver hammer and Lebsche knife and massaging their heart to get blood flowing up to their brain again. There are a few things that I can control before I walk into the hospital, and I like to keep it that way. I shave my legs whenever I’m on call. I put the same gel in my short, pixie-cut blonde hair to make it a little spiky. I’ve been wearing the same style of tan Timberlands for the past fifteen years. I park in the same parking spot every day. I stop at the same Dunkin’ Donuts everyday on the way to work and order the same large coffee with cream and two Sweet ’N Lows. Last year, the store stopped carrying Sweet ’N Lows, so I bought a box and asked them to keep it under the counter for me. Sweet ’N Low is pink. Equal is blue. Splenda is yellow. It’s a good system, if you ask me. Nobody makes a mistake. The trauma area is another rare constant at work. Everyday when I walk in, the room itself is the same. It’s a rectangular room with three bays. Each bay can accommodate two patients side-by-side when it’s busy. Everything is organized neatly, like coffee sweeteners: small trays full of instruments laid perfectly parallel to one another, tubes and cables snaking 19


from poles and machines in a tamed chaos to my experienced eye. The temperature in the room is warmer than the rest of the hospital. The air is still, like a town that has been evacuated before a massive storm. No, the trauma area is always the same. The only thing that is variable in that room are the patients. X Before Gun violence makes no sense. There is no pattern. Sometimes, people try to explain gun violence like a change of seasons. I suppose it’s like the behavior of an ice cream shop; the weather determines the customers— or patients. The Dairy Queen ten minutes from my apartment is closed in the winter, because business is slow; it opens again on the first day of spring, when the weather warms. Police statistics suggest that shootings decrease in cold winter months and increase in the summer, when the weather is warm. Just like how it rains in the winter and the heat pounds against the pavement in the summer. Cyclical, predictable, natural, logical. Just like ice cream shops. I think it’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. The worst case I’ve ever seen was this past winter, when all the doors to Dairy Queen were locked and firmly shut. It was February, and I could hear the wind rattle the windows of my office. Rain was falling heavily outside, thick, fat drops pounding against the pavement like they were trying to wake the Devil himself. The night was pitch black, the streets of the city illuminated only by street lamps and the muted glow of desk lights behind closed blinds of apartments and houses. Still, I could imagine downtown as clear as day: bars blasting music, people flooding the streets. I like to imagine it, whenever I’m on shift: my city, on a late Friday night. It’s a city full of life, no matter day or night, life or death. My city is a constant. Its life will never change; and, as I realized thirty years after becoming a trauma surgeon, neither will the city’s habits. My trauma pager went off a little after one in the morning that night, the rain still beating against the pavement like a drum. LEVEL 1 MULTIPLE GSW. SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD FEMALE. Sixteen. I remember immediately sprinting down the same route I had taken so many times before, the laces of my Timberlands coming undone as I ran down the stark white hallways. I did not stop to fix them. I ran, and I ran, and I ran, and I did not stop until I burst into the chaotic hell that was the trauma area. Sometimes, I am plunged into the memory like I had been thrown overboard into the sea in the middle of a hurricane, and it overclouds my 20


senses so that all I can think and see is that room on that night. There was shouting, voices razor-sharp and calling out orders and vital signs. I can still remember how the room smelled, as clear as the blue sky in the middle of July: metallic with hints of antiseptic that crept into my nostrils. On the bed was a small frame, impossibly small, dark black hair surrounding her head like a halo. The sheets were a cherry red, like the cherry water-ice I had brought Kirk Pilgrim once. Her dark, coffee-colored skin was splattered with blood streaming from bullet holes in her flesh. A tube was inserted into her private area—probably the only area not marred by bullet holes, if the doctors had chosen to insert it there—to replace the blood that was rapidly spilling out of her body and pooling beneath her. I snapped my purple latex gloves onto my hands and approached the table. My head spun with information that was being spewed at me, different ways to approach the situation, different ways to save this girl’s life, how different this would all be if she was not sixteen, just sixteen, only halfway through high school, barely a quarter of a way through her life, and she was lying in front of me on a table in the trauma room and bleeding out and covered in more bullet holes than I have ever seen before in my nearly thirty years here and dying and she was only sixteen— “God fucking damn it.” I remember spitting the words out as I grabbed my tools. “God fucking damn it, what the hell.” “Wait.” Doctor Daneeka grabbed my forearm, stopping me from approaching the table. “It’s pretty bad. I don’t—“ “Don’t tell me the odds.” My vision tunneled to hone in on the figure of the young girl bleeding out on the bed. I yanked my arm from Daneeka’s hands. “It doesn’t look good—“ “She’s sixteen.” I said it without looking back, my eyes trained on the mess of blood and guts before me. “Piss off.” Something I learned very quickly when I first became a trauma surgeon: when I’m in the operating room, no matter how much experience I have, no matter how good I thought I was, I will always have an angel and a devil with me. I figured out one problem regarding the girl in front of me: she wasn’t breathing. The angel. I could fix that; I had restarted plenty of hearts before. Good, you’re good at this, you know what you’re doing. You can save her. You can do this. I took my silver hammer and Lebsche knife, and I lined the knife up and hit it with a hammer until I cut open her sternum—tink, tink, tink. Then, suddenly, there was a horrible, bone-chilling CRACK followed by an echo, and my knees shook, and suddenly her rib cage was open and I could see her heart. Her heart was full of bullet holes—one, two, three, four, five. The devil. You’re the worst surgeon ever. You’re going to kill her. 21


You’re going to kill everyone you try to save. I reached in, I massaged the girl’s heart like I had done so many times on so many people before. The angel. It’ll work. You’re doing everything you can and everything you know. It has to work. Her heart did not move, did not twitch. It was as inanimate and immovable as stone, oblivious to the forces that tried to move it. The devil. You killed her, you stupid bitch. You killed her. Minutes, seconds, centuries passed. I kept my eyes on the girl’s heart and ignored the rivers of blood that flowed from every part of her body, forming an ocean on the gurney she was lying on. I kept my fingers covering a few holes in her heart as if I could stop the tide. Her blood was a tsunami that was gathering beneath her, and I was afraid that if I allowed the rivers of blood to run out of her heart, the wave would come and take her away. “Doctor Blackwell,” a voice said beside me. It was Doctor Daneeka. His arms and lab coat were stained red with blood, like he had spilled Hawaiian punch all over himself. I did not respond at first. I stood there, wrist-deep in guts and eerily still organs and holding this sixteen-year-old girl’s heart in my hands, the blood from the bullet wounds in her heart dripping into the rest of her bulletridden insides. “Doctor Blackwell,” Doctor Daneeka repeated. “No.” I had already known what he was going to say, and I had no interest in hearing it aloud. “She isn’t breathing,” he continued. I can save her. Let me save her. “We can—“ “No, Elizabeth.” The trauma area was as silent as a graveyard. “We can’t.” I remember feeling paralyzed; I did not move. I forced myself to look at the body in front of me. Her hair was covered with blood, her body ridden with enough bullet holes to make her look like a slice of Swiss cheese. Her eyes were closed, mascara running down her face—from the rain? Tears? Did she cry while she was being shot? Her dark skin was smooth, free of wrinkles that come with storms and old age and instead stained with cherry red blood. I resisted the urge to look away. I stared at her destroyed body, and I imagined the face of all the patients I have saved and lost from wounds like these and the children from Sandy Hook and the people from The Pulse nightclub and I stared at them, too. “Elizabeth,” Doctor Daneeka said again. “Alright.” I gently released the girl’s heart from my grip and removed the instruments that kept her rib cage open. I remember how my eyes burned, how the shoelaces of my Timberlands were still untied. The laces were still dragging on the ground when I finally noticed, and were stained 22


with the blood and guts that had spilled onto the floor while I was operating. I cleared my throat. “Time of death: 1:17AM.” The devil. Sixteen years of life, and it had only taken her seventeen minutes to die. X After Before I ever deliver news to a family of a gunshot victim, I always talk to the police to receive more information, answers to the variables that I could not solve in the trauma room: what happened, where it happened, who it happened to. If you think about it, it’s like a game of Guess Who. I ask questions, and eventually, I figure out the identity of my patient—or body. Her name was Desdemona Chaplin, and she was sixteen years old. She went by ‘Mona.’ She was a junior at Saint Anne High School. She ran track. She wanted to study politics. One night, she played poker with her boyfriend and some of his friends. She took home her winnings, and her life went on as usual. Except the people that Mona played poker with weren’t just normal, high school classmates. They were almost ten years older, and they were the gambling kings of Mona’s neighborhood. And they were not happy that Mona had won some of their money. The amount? Fifty dollars. About a week after the poker game, Mona was walking home shortly before midnight when a car pulled up next to her a few blocks from the house she shared with her grandmother. A man that played poker with Mona that night exited the car and shot her four times in the back. Mona fell to the ground, and he approached her again. He stood over her and shot her more at point-blank range. In the chest. In the thigh. In the abdomen. In the arms. In her hands—probably when she lifted them to defend herself, flesh against bullet. Desdemona Chaplin was shot twenty-four times over a fifty dollar poker game. I repeated this phrase to myself over and over again like a prayer as I changed my blood-stained lab coat for a fresh one as Doctor Daneeka wrote a toe tag for the body on the gurney. Twenty-four times over a fifty dollar poker game. Twenty-four times over a fifty dollar poker game. After I tied my shoes and fixed the collar of my coat, I left the trauma area and made the short walk to the waiting room. Desdemona Chaplin’s grandmother and younger sister were waiting inside, alone aside from the security guard at the front door. They were surrounded by chairs, juice boxes, and empty coffee cups—the epicenter of their own natural disaster. Her grandmother was gripping her cane tightly, her hair still in curlers and dressed in her night robe. Her younger sister was curled up on one of the couches, eyes drooping but jerking wide open again 23


every few moments in an effort to stay awake. Her long, dark hair spilled over the right side of her face like a curtain, protecting her from the bright hospital lights. I approached them slowly, touching the pad of my fingers to my thumb as I walked. I was a small, white cloud made of nothing but my lab coat drifting towards them, and I remember Mona’s grandmother staring at me as if I may unleash a hurricane. I understand. To her, I was unpredictable. As a medical professional, I bring good news, or bad; I am the variable. I am the unknown. Outside, the rain ran down the windows like a river. “Hi,” I said. I shook the hand of Mona’s grandmother with my own, hands that were covered in her granddaughter’s blood barely ten minutes ago. “I’m Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell. I’ve been treating your granddaughter.” “How is she?” She asked the question slowly. Her eyes shone with hope and unshed tears, and her hands gripped her cane so tightly her knuckles turned white. A cold cup of coffee sat at her feet. “How is my Mona?” I clasped my hands behind my back. I imagined myself far away, on an island with blue skies and calm seas, mentally locking my emotions in a small box, separating myself from the waiting room and Mona’s family with practiced ease. “I’m sorry. Mona has passed away.” Her face remained blank, her mouth turned downwards in a frown. She licked her lips and began to chew on her bottom lip. “We did everything we could.” I said it like an offering, like the way people in ancient times would leave a basket of fruit on the top of some mountain to ask the gods to protect them from storms and death and misfortune. Except Pompeii still happened, and people still died. “What do you mean, she passed away?” Mona’s grandmother asked. Her head is cocked to one side, her eyebrows drawn in concentration in an attempt to solve the mystery I had presented her with. I cleared my throat. “She died. I’m so sorry. She died.” And that’s when the realization hit, when the eyes of Mona’s grandmother widened in horrified understanding. Mona’s grandmother covered her mouth with her hands. Then, she hugged herself and began to rock back and forth. When she began to cry, soft, miserable moans escaped her mouth. I flinched each time she inhaled, focused on my breathing when she began to cough on her own mucus. Her hiccups sent shivers down my spine, and the sight of her misery shook the very ground beneath me and made the room spin. If I concentrate, I can still see how her tears ran down her cheek but were caught in the hand she was holding against her mouth, a cloud becoming heavier and heavier until it would finally become too heavy 24


and unleash the rain. I looked at her, this old woman falling apart on the waiting room chair like her granddaughter had fallen apart in my hands. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to say, It’s okay. I wanted to say, I saw what they did to her. The rest of the world may look away and forget her once they stop being angry, but I won’t. I saw her. I wanted to say, Please, forgive me, for I have failed you and your granddaughters. I wanted to scream and cry with her. I wanted to lie down on the ground until a massive earthquake split the pavement open beneath me, and I could fall into the earth’s very core and die. But I could not. It’s not how I was trained as a medical professional. There is a routine to tragedy: deliver the news, describe the next steps, let them grieve in peace. “You’ll be able to see her shortly,” I said. “A nurse will come in here to speak with you in more detail. I’m so sorry for your loss.” As I left the waiting room, I saw Mona’s grandmother embrace Mona’s younger sister. Her tears were finally free, and they began to fall to the floor—a tiny rainstorm that will precede all hurricanes to come for their even-smaller family. “Shhh,” she said. “Shhh. It’s okay now.” She said it over and over again, although to this day I don’t think she totally understood what was happening, what the implications of your loved one getting shot include. Then again, no one does. Not until it happens. Not until you see the body. “Grandma?” The voice of Mona’s sister was small, quiet. “Hush, now,” Mona’s grandmother told her. She was still crying, and sometimes when I walk through the hallways I can still hear her sobs echoing off the walls like how you’d hear the sound of the ocean through a conch. “Go to sleep. Don’t forget to say your prayers, now.” The last thing I heard as I walked away was Mona’s sister praying. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I ‘wake, I pray to God my soul to take…”

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Untitled Claire Barnett 26


LOUG KYA KAHEN GAY

(WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY?) by Laiba Fatima Let it rain carmine from drunken clouds, dare I say, tonight – Drown away in heedless gulps ‘loug kya kahen gay’ tonight. Elope to the lost lands of inconsequential pleasure, The ghosts of our abandoned childhoods wish to play tonight. The misfortunes of this world will find some sanctuary, When consciousness and stupor collide halfway tonight. They have never tasted love, what would they know? Those hapless priests! The joys of wine and lust alike they will gainsay tonight. Heaven might be inherited in lieu of innocence, For your lustrous caresses, I will be led astray tonight. Pour over your body, soul and spirit zamzam in vain, Ills of our fathers ablution can’t wash away tonight. Bathe yourself in scents virgin and divine all you desire, Even ittr would not make the angels cross our way tonight. I am not the same, nor you, our pasts no more around, We are two unholy shadows, faiths on display tonight. While rosaries burn with vintage flames incandescent, We will count every speck of ash ‘til doomsday tonight. But kneel and grovel for mercy once darkness surrenders, After all, we’re like sinners on Judgment Day tonight.

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Charlotte Rebecca Arp 29


TE VI EN BELÈN. Te vi en Belén. Estuviste plantada en la tierra dulce, y de tus brazos pendieron las frutas sagradas: atractivas, secretas, llenas de palabras antiguas. Me hiciste fijarme en ti; querÍa morirme para descomponerme bajo tus raÍces enredadas. Fuiste bastante poderosa, en aquel momento transitorio, para llenarlo todo: el universo amurallado del patio, esta boca, el espacio entre sombra y sustancia. Me dejaste can visiones impresionantes, sueños que confunden. Tú fuiste aquellos naranjos, inescrutable, escondida por sus hojas terranales, y desde que te vi fuera de la iglesia, no he respirado en una enternidad.

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I SAW YOU IN BETHLEHEM. by Nissim Lebovitz I saw you in Bethlehem. You were planted in the sweet dirt, and from your arms hung the sacred fruits: enticing, secret, full of ancient words. You fixated me; I wanted to die so I could decompose under your tangled roots. You were powerful enough, in that transitory moment, to fill everything: The walled universe of the patio, this mouth, the space between shadow and substance. You left me with awesome visions, confounding dreams. You were those orange trees, inscrutable, obscured by your earthly leaves, and since I saw you outside the church, I have not breathed in an eternity.

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The Kate Project Grace Runnels 32


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The Beggar Children of Fatehpur Sikhri KRISHNA AMMISETTY The beggar boys lie in wait as the tourist bus comes to a stop at the entrance of Fatehpur Sikhri. “The Caterpillar” they call it. Its feet groan in a metallic grinding of brakes, exhausted from its ceaseless travels between Delhi, Agra, and now Fatehpur, the latest breeding ground. Exhaling, the Caterpillar’s head flaps open and out pours its children. Newborns, they are pale in the light when the Fatehpur sun touches them for the first time. Fateh- it means victory. Fatehpur is the City of Victory, but that was a long time ago. The kings are gone. The courts are gone. Now even the Fatehpur sun is no match for the children of the Caterpillar. They come white and will leave white, protected under their heavy sunscreen and sunglasses and golf visors. The sun will not penetrate them as it has the beggar children— children with toasted skin like rusky Indian bread fresh from the earth, not the fluffy white bread international companies try to sell. No, the pink faced ones shall leave as they came, but with lighter pockets if the beggar children can help it. An odd sight it is as these ragged predators swarm their prey. There is no spectacle here. The royal Bengal tiger does not deign to hunt amid these ruins, the erstwhile capital of Akbar’s Mughal India. No, this is a place for scavengers now. The children rush out of their hiding places, from behind chai stands and ice cream carts, from gunny sacks and behind columns; they sprout, pitiful maggots, from the dry cracked earth. Caterpillars and maggots. Butterflies and . . . what? And what? “Gori Sahib! Gori Sahib!” “Maam Sahib! Maam Sahib!” The beggar children wave brochures under the tourists’ noses; slim, fine refined noses on fat faces and fat bodies, gluttons next to the reed stalks that solicit them. The children, ribcages on broken stilts. They rub their bloated bellies 35


as they hold brochures. “I’ll have a brochure, child . . . Oh, only 20 rupees. Certainly some fine brochures I presume . . . No change? . . . No, no problem. Give me two,” the tourist says. As he hands over a note, he can’t help but laud himself just a little bit. “Of course I do not need these brochures,” he thinks, “but the children must be fed. Yes, surely they must be fed.” And funny isn’t it? It is the beggar’s hunger that brings him bread. No one takes pity upon a fat child. But some of the tourists are hardened, having already been in this third world country for some time. Long enough for their sympathy to have become exhausted and for the novelty of almsgiving to have worn off. After a point, the beggars become a bothersome hindrance to their “authentic” experience. But the beggar children know the type, and they are determined to work the crowd. Despite the shooing of the tour guide, they mingle in, breaking through the membrane of the tour group. A small boy of no more than four approaches a jovial looking man with a round belly. The boy holds out some trinkets in one hand while sucking the thumb of the other. “Oh, Little Man. You have something to sell too?” says the jolly man with a laugh. The boy stands silent and adamant. Clutched bracelets and beaded necklaces held out. “Little Man, you are too cute for this work,” the jolly man concludes. With that statement, he would have walked away had the child not latched onto his leg. The jolly man attempts to casually shake the child off, but the child has a vice grip. He is accustomed to holding onto whatever should fall into his hand. Laughing, the jolly man tries to extricate himself but fails. Fearing to appear harsh before the ladies in the group he decides to take the ordeal in stride and continues moving, child in tow. Walking until his face is as red as the sandstone from which the palace was built, finally he stops. The child, though, is perfectly content in his perch. The jolly man caves. “Ok kid, what do you want?” The child frees one hand to hold out the trinkets. “Fine, I’ll take one.” The child shakes his head in dissent. “Two? . . . Three? . . . OK. Alright. I’ll take the whole damn lot just get off my damn leg!” There is an exchange of paper and plastic and finally releasing his grip, the child saunters off, thumb still in mouth. Elsewhere the tour guide himself is being supplanted. 36


Another boy of 11 years, lean and wispy with shaggy dust dark hair, approaches a female tourist who has strayed from the neat conformity of the tour group. She is clad in khaki shorts, a white top, and suspenders. Young and energetic, the woman bounces around the edges of the group, snapping photographs, asking questions the tour guide cannot answer, walking ahead, waiting, ready to move. Approaching her, the boy questions, “Vous venez de la France?” The woman stops her bouncing and looks quizzically at him. “I’m sorry what did you say?” “Oh, you are American. I thought maybe you are French.” “You know French and English?” “Spanish, Italian, and of course Urdu and Hindi too, maam sahib. These are just a few things I have picked up from visitors.” “Wow, that’s a lot.” “There is much more I can share with you. I know this place better than anyone. Better than your tour guide, even. Come with me, and I will show you.” There is an intensity in the beggar boy’s eyes. They kindle in the light against his black bark skin, holding out a promise. So she follows the street urchin through the red sandstone capital of the once great Mughal Empire, now overrun with tourists and beggar boys. Every once in a while, the beggar boy-turned-tour guide stops to point out something interesting: “Here, see these three buildings. These were the Queens’ quarters. I say ‘queens’ because Akbar had three. One was Hindu, one was Muslim, and one was Christian. Akbar was a smart man. He knew how to bring a kingdom together. The three palaces all look different, no? Yet they are all the same. Akbar was a smart man, see. He wanted all of the palaces to be equal so none of his queens would be jealous; and so according to their tastes, he built the Hindu queen’s palace large but simple, the Muslim queen’s palace small but luxurious, and the Christian queen’s palace… well somewhere in between.” The tourist takes it all in, exhilarated by these bits of knowledge, doubtless passed down through generations of beggar boys who inhabited the area. How fortunate she is to have found the boy… or was it the boy who found her? Recollection eludes her, and she moves on. Snatches of words drift through the hot air from the “official” tour guide, from whom the beggar boy lifted his latest client and perhaps even a fact or two. “Behold Akbar’s three palaces . . . individual yet equal!” The crowd is awed, but not so much as the adventurous tourist was with her little guide. 37


The little guide continues to lead his patron. “Here is the Buland Darwaza, the Lofty Gate, which Akbar built to commemorate his victory over the Gujaratis.” The tourist marvels at its magnitude, the grace of its arches, the gaping maw of its dome. The sandstone edifice, HIGHEST GATEWAY IN THE WORLD, stands stark against the clear blue sky, dawn colored with white marble highlights. “What does it say there, across the top?” she asks. The boy does not squint to read the inscription on the gate. It wouldn’t help anyway. He cannot read, but he knows what is written. “The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses upon it,” the boy says. His voice is heavy and bereft of irony. The tourist moves closer and she can see where time has dented the walls, where the colors have faded, where the inlaid gems once adorned the façade. Black beehives hang from the ceilings. Here is the Panch Mahal, with its five-tiered construction, a great accomplishment in those days; and here Anup Talao where once were Akbar’s pleasure gardens, until finally, ‘Ahh maam sahib, you will like this place.’ The beggar boy points out an aberration in the signature Sikhri color scheme: a low-lying, flat roofed white marble building at the corner of the central square. “This is a shrine— we call it dargah— constructed above the tomb of Salim Chishti. He was a great Sufi saint. Go in, pray,” and then pulling a thin green ribbon from his pocket, “once you are done, tie this ribbon to the wall— you will see others doing it— make a wish. The tomb is magical and your wish will come true. Go on Maam Sahib, my tour ends here.” The tourist is pleased with this. Isn’t this what she came here for? A touch of magic, a hint of mystery, a spark of imagination to take her away for a brief few weeks from the world she left behind. “Thank you very very much for showing me around. Here, I have something for you, too.” She counts out some notes, which the boy accepts without hesitation. “Have you been inside the tomb before?” “Yes,” he says. “What do you wish for?” She fingers some more notes in her pocket. She wants to show her kindness and wonders how much a pair of shoes or a t-shirt costs. The boy thinks for a moment. “I wish to be like you,” he answers. “With lots of money to travel. One day, I want to be able to come to your country and see your ruins.” “There are no ruins in my country,” the amused tourist says. “How is that possible?” The boy is genuinely surprised. He, who has spent his whole life amid crumbling columns bearing the imprint of countless 38


invaders, cannot fathom this. The tourist ponders this question for a moment. She thinks of her nation’s grand monuments: a red bridge across a bay, a colonnaded dome over the legislature, a Roman goddess who stands facing the East, torch in one upraised hand, and whose only sign of wear is the soft green patina over her metal exterior. She thinks of the condo she recently purchased, and the spotless stove she has yet to use. All unscathed… all untouched except for the periodic renovation. She attempts for a moment to imagine strange people disembarking from a ship to reap the land and subjugate the people—the American people—the image is so ludicrous she cannot consider it seriously. How could she explain to this boy that the world is not plundered equally? That there are ruins because there are people who ruin. But these thoughts are nebulous at best, even in the tourist’s mind, and to articulate them in this moment is beyond her. “I’m sorry… I don’t know,” the tourist says, as she turns away and starts toward the shrine. She walks a few paces, looking downwards in a rare reflective mood until she feels a tap at her elbow. “Maam Sahib, you dropped your ribbon. You can’t make a wish without it,” says the boy. “Oh! Yes, it looks like I did. Thank you.” The sight of the glittery green thread jolts her back to her previous train of thought. “I almost forgot. Here’s a bit more cash for you. No, take it. Don’t be shy. You can go to the movies. The movies are great for traveling!” She hands the boy a crumpled wad and hurries again toward the shrine. “What should I wish for?” she ponders. “What more do I want?” Inside the dargah, she sees devotees trembling before Chisti’s tomb, hands clasped and eyes closed, murmuring their deepest yearnings. She too is in awe, not from a feeling of attachment or belief, but from feeling close to some authentic experience she expected from her journey to India. She attempts to conjure a mystical sensation commensurate to the sacred place, and feeling the desired jitters rising up in her breast she moves to the carved perforated marble screens enclosing the shrine. The honeyed sunlight is shining through the translucent stone, thrown into myriad colors of gold trimmed ribbons. Sticking her thumb in front of her she can blot the sun from the spaces in the screen, a pale finger eclipsing a pale sun. She laments the NO PHOTOGRAGHY ALLOWED sign posted at the entrance. Tying her ribbon into the latticework, she thinks intently about the beggar boy who had been her tour guide. She wishes for his deliverance from his troubles, all and whatever they are, and the deliverance of all the beggar boys, all and whoever they are. What this means or what form it should take she does not attempt to imagine, leaving that responsibility to 39


higher powers. Yet just as she pulls the ends of the ribbon into the final knot, stretching the two tails gripped between her thumb and forefinger in opposite directions, the familiar face of a man appears in her mind, with a half-smile exposing lightly tea stained teeth, a shock of hair swaddled just over gray eyes glistening with a warm melancholy tinge; a slightly chubby, oft pinched cheek turning away, towards the door and out of her life. She wonders why that face left, though she knew or thought she knew or believed she didn’t need to know anymore. That is why she came here. Why she left everything behind (for two weeks) to forget, forgive, and find herself in INCREDIBLE INDIA. Yet suddenly she yearns for that face to return. Gray eyes. Swaddled hair. A cheek turning back. She wishes. Outside on the marble tiled floor surrounding the dargah, people sit, some resting and some in poses of meditation. Sitting Indian style. Real Indians, she thinks with a chuckle to her school days as she takes a seat herself. Unlike in the rest of the complex, there are locals here, who come to this place among the relics not as tourists but as patrons— to the small unlikely beating heart inside the butterfly, pinned up and placed behind glass.

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Caged Sydney Kaemmerlen 43


Untitled Claire Barnett 44 44


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My friend, how quickly Theo Kandel Just how was I supposed to know? Your brightest days were left behind. My friend, how quickly did you go. The seasons turned from spring to snow With you – your darkened, damaged mind – Just how was I supposed to know? It wasn’t that you burned out slow; You made connection hard to find. My friend, how quickly did you go. I tried to help but even so You feigned correction, left me blind; Just how was I supposed to know? The last time that you said hello The light was dim, the soul resigned; My friend, how quickly did you go. It’s hard to see the afterglow Of stars that formerly aligned. Just how was I supposed to know? My friend, how quickly did you go.

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Remember. Remember Where I Came From. And Do Good, Always. by Kelly Perry “Remember. Remember where I came from. And do good, always.” Mommy, I know you love me, even if you don’t say it out loud. Whenever I’d get sick, you’d buy me kaotom from Sankampang – rice noodle soup from my favorite restaurant. Whenever I had to stay up late to finish homework, you’d silently sit by my side “reading” the newspaper. Even though you pretend to always move fast and tsk at when things don’t go your way, you’re also the first to say mai pen rai, “it’s okay, it’s okay.” *** “Ai Buak! Don’t be stupid! Pi kaa, brother, you’re not a grandpa! Let’s move faster than this, shall we?” The fast lane is my mother’s red carpet. She meets those stealing her spotlight with extravagant insults. Her dress – a show-stopping, red-light-running golden Toyota Hilux Vigo – propels her forward at 120 kilometers per hour. If another car dares to get in her way, she either flashes her headlights or cozies up to the car’s bumper to make its driver uncomfortable. Sometimes she does nothing – her response depends on her mood – but even then, drivers often seem to sense her sizzling wrath, their cars signaling to get out of the way. Drivers in Thailand are polite for the most part, just like the lax traffic laws, though even my mother can’t evade the notice of the authorities entirely. Stacks of speeding tickets – dusty with neglect because she doesn’t pay for them – decorate the dining room counter. My mother approaches life with fire: those who dare step in her path get scorched. Even my father fondly says she trapped and burned him. Twenty-five years ago, my father was biking around Chiang Mai’s Old City when he fell and broke his shoulder blade outside a pharmacy. The male pharmacist, Eui, ran out to help get him to a nearby hospital. In Bangkok, 48


six hundred kilometers from Chiang Mai, my mother and four of her friends had been planning to fly out to visit Eui, but the night before, the four friends contracted food poisoning and wanted to cancel. “Wantanee, you go without us. It’s okay.” And so she did. My mother tells me Eui is one of her closest friends whom she met in pharmacy school in Bangkok, and it had been a while since they caught up. Also, my mother had always wanted to visit Chiang Mai. When she arrived, Eui had already become friends with my father. He introduced my father to the woman whom he now calls his Nightmare of the North, his Wonton, his Wantanee. In the mornings, the Nightmare of the North is the Grinch, her hair styled atop her head with a touch of Albert Einstein-flair, eyes pinched closed to prevent sunlight from seeping through. My father spoils her. The second he sees her walk through the kitchen door, he lifts himself up gallantly to grab her favorite mug, which he keeps chilling in the freezer with ice already towering over the rim the way she likes. Once my mother sits down, he turns on her favorite channel, AXN. Then, he pours Tipco orange juice into her mug and presents it to her around the time she scoops jasmine rice onto her plate. His gesture is methodical, so loving – one would think my mother would say “thank you, darling,” but no. All my father receives in return is a grumpy nod in his direction. Once my mother is semi-awake, both on workdays and on weekends, she warms up her brain by firing witty jokes at my father. He returns the favor. The back-and-forth tirade of endearment seems to function as my mother’s daily ego boost. Once she consumes her orange juice, ice still towering above the rim, she “gets ready” for work simply by putting work clothes on. She doesn’t wear makeup and barely combs her hair (though she does apply a lot of anti-aging facial creams). My mother’s fashion statement seems to be simplicity. She doesn’t wear fancy clothes, nor does she put on any jewelry. Sometimes I think that she has tamed the regions of the brain responsible for desire. I understand why. My mother grew up in a flat above a Thai coffee shop, where desire was a luxury of the rich. Her mother, my aama, was famous in Bangkok’s Urupong area for her coffee and tea, her drinks declared the best on Rama 6 Street. My mother says she and her siblings – two older brothers, Podt and Aathit and a younger sister, Jimm – ate every grain of jasmine rice on their plate as they were growing up, because they didn’t have much else to eat, and also because they didn’t want to anger their mother. In between serving customers tea and coffee, my mother craned her neck over her studies in the shared bedroom upstairs. Biology, Physics, Calculus, Chemistry (her favorite), and English Language – she excelled at all the subjects she studied. Long after the houses on the soi, street, turned off their lamps, my mother recited 49


chemical compounds and their properties, drew the photosynthetic cycle, and practiced differential equations. Her studies were the “little world” she could control, she tells me. Because my mother’s family didn’t have much to begin with, family members seemed to register each gain and loss profoundly. One night, while everyone was asleep, someone broke in and stole her family’s television. My mother, seventeen at the time, says she vividly remembers the empty space in their two-roomed flat. Her mother didn’t have any money to fill that space. *** Mommy, I know you and your family made many sacrifices for me to stand where I am today. I haven’t forgotten and will never forget. *** My mother tells me that her older brother – Podt – sacrificed his own education so she could advance hers. “I owe him everything,” she says, her voice trembling. He finished high school and immediately began working as a mechanic in order to support my mother through high school and then university. The most prestigious university in Thailand – Chulalongkorn University – accepted her. Her grit, her desire to detach from the perpetual cycle of poverty, spring-boarded her toward a pharmaceutical degree and an MBA. She bought her family a house. She bought herself a car. Even though she lives in the fast lane now, my mother hasn’t forgotten her roots. Sawasdee-kaa, hello, she says to the janitor. Sawasdeekaa, she says to the C.E.O. of Abbvie Pharmaceuticals. “Kate, treat all human beings equally, regardless of their job or what they look like.” She buys Thai desserts for the hospital secretaries, saves her in-flight meal from her Bangkok-Chiang Mai travels for janitors, and gives alms to monks. My mother also approaches her job with the same dedication. Her work ethic, creativity, and resilience haven’t gone unnoticed by Abbvie’s executives She regularly receives rewards for her sales successes, but every few years, my mother receives a job offer to work elsewhere. “You don’t have to be a pharmaceutical salesperson anymore. You can work in Singapore. You can work in Chicago,” her boss says to her. She turns each offer down, because accepting those offers would mean leaving Chiang Mai, leaving her family. ***

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Thank you for molding me into the woman I am, for showing me what it means to be sincere, for teaching me to be patient with myself, for loving me your own way. *** My mother’s round face smiles back at me through the computer screen as we FaceTime. My father says she misses me a lot but will rarely admit it. My mother still repeats the same mantra when we end our calls – the one she would recite before my sister, Rachel, and I got out of the car every school day – “Remember where I came from. Do good, pay attention in class, and try your best.” *** You also tell me to drink water and eat fruits and vegetables everyday, which I try to do. You tell me you cried most nights when you were pregnant with me. The Thai economy was in the dumps then, so you had no choice but to stand on your feet all day in Boots Cosmetics. “Buy one, get one free!” you shouted as you stood in front of aisles of skincare products, toiletries, and over-the-counter medicine. You said you whispered to me every night, tears dripping down your enlarging belly, “I’m sorry. Can you hear me, luuk, child? I don’t want this life for us. I’m working really hard.” You also instructed me not to pop out until you walked into your last exam to complete your MBA degree. Daddy held your hand and shone a flashlight into your belly to engage my visual senses. Your water broke when you were in the middle of your last exam. I had obeyed, though, and hadn’t made any moves to come out until after you had walked into the exam room. You told me the ajarn, professor, didn’t know what to do. “Wantanee, please go.” He was a greying man in his 50s. You said he began to quiver with fear when you said to him, “No, ajarn, I can handle this. I studied so hard. I can do it.” Several minutes passed and the ajarn paced up and down the columns of test-taking students. “Wantanee, please go. I’ll finish the exam for you.” And he did. I was born a few hours later, surrounded by your friends from that last business course. You passed the exam with flying colors. Your red carpet era had begun, with me by your side.

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Purple Drip Pitcher and Glasses Hannah Albers 52


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Jagger Kyle Vanesko 54


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Topographic Katherine Hunsaker 56


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Pink

/panGk/ 58


KRISTEN ABRAM

Lye soap masks the March Mississippi air with the smell of clean as my hands scrub my babies’ Sunday socks across the washboard-in and out of the cloudy basin until all traces of

playin’andrunnin’andjumpin’ are gone

I’m real careful not to snag the thread of the embroidered magnolias, beautiful flowers that will never decay /paNGk/ like stretch marks

overlapping memories that inch across my belly

/paNGk/ like glistening gums

belonging to tiny mouths, wide open to let out their first holler

/paNGk/ like mosquito bites

tingling the skin of my swollen ankles

I rise to my calloused feet bearing the weight of both myself and my growing belly, pinning tiny sock onto the clothes line one by one­-

cotton magnolias moved by the breeze

Taken and cared for in heaven’s own way forever to bloom in the Master’s bouquet

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Homewrecker (left), McCarol (right) by Kyle Vanesko 60 60


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2018 Planner Rebecca Arp 62


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Porch Readings Catherine Sheehan 64


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Experience Times Square Brent Szklaruk-Salazar 67


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Untitled, Untitled Brent Szklaruk-Salazar 69 69 69

Kodak.kodak (left), Eye to Eye (right) Brent Szklaruk-Salazar


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William Emily Azzarito 71


Vinny Emily Azzarito 72


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Close Up Grace Runnels 75


Grandma’s Wallpaper Lily Henderson 76


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Nebula Mugs Hannah Albers 78


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Dissappearing Acts 3 (left), 4 (right) Lauren Ballejos

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WHAT I AM ISABELLA BRUZZESE

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I am the desert god’s bastard offspring, the warmth left in these red stucco walls after the sun sinks beneath the mountains. This is what I am, a mass of root-circuitry that runs beneath borrowed skin like lily stems under water. Or the root hair itself pointing hungrily into the soil. I am the pause before thunder after lightning threads the dark bruise of the sky. As the self-sufficient only child, I am meant forever to hold my own hair back when I vomit. At least twenty-six people died today. At least twenty-six people will die tomorrow. My hands have never touched a gun. There is a careful map on my body of where all color has fallen away, as the pigment on my knees and elbows saw the face of God and ran. I am afraid of where that leaves me. I am the old woman at the bottom of my teacup, and these dregs are far too bitter. I am as unknown as the beautiful spines of books standing upright, expectant in the deep underground chambers of the library. I am you, standing naked at the edge of the water asking, “Oh God, what am I?”

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n that it tempts and torments, instilling equal parts desire and fear in those who encounter it, the desert may be likened to the blank page. The most obvious point of comparison, however, is the one which bears the most truth: that they are both wide open. The resemblance between their appetites naturally follows: as does the page, the desert hungers for marks to distinguish its anonymous plane from all the others. Moreover, it is from the seed of this appetite that their mutual vulnerability stems. Among all things wide open it is the same. They must wait until they are seized—praying, in the meantime, that the hands which will seize them, mark them, are kind. The desert and the page are isolated spaces, and disorientation is not uncommon among those who navigate them. This is amplified by their singularity: there is little wisdom in the assumption that their laws are mirrored elsewhere. The voices that populate such spaces may well be erratic, but they are invariably autonomous—removed from all external points of reference. Encountered on their own, then, their narratives must be interpreted as the whole truth, because they cannot be critiqued or even qualified. They must be taken at face value, and herein lies the danger… Tyler cuts off and rolls his eyes, setting my journal down on the dash. “Be sober!” he declares mockingly. “Be vigilant!” “Fuck you,” I protest. “You’re one of the few people I let read my stuff.” “Oh, baloney.” He lifts a Styrofoam cup of Coke to his mouth and drinks. “It’s good.” “Good?” “Yeah, Libby, it’s fine.” “Fine.” “Oh, come on. At long last we’ve been freed from all that scholastic fuddy-duddiness, and you’re still writing like some old man in a cardigan. Give it a rest. Read some Tom Wolfe, maybe.” It’s 150 miles from Vegas to Rachel. The midday sun makes everything look wet, and that is how the asphalt stretches out from us, rolling through slow brass waves. The van’s shadow is peeled eastward, but only slightly. Rand McNally shows RACHEL printed next to a little black dot on the State Route, leading the average road-tripper to guess she might find a town there. Rather than a town, however, we discover that Rachel is more like a geographical coincidence—a gradual accumulation of trailers, gravel, and folding chairs that, by some accident or another, were planted in the same general vicinity. On the southwest side of the highway there’s a Shell station; across from it, a little pueblo house with an evidently hand-painted sign: THE MARTIAN CAFÉ. I’d rather eat a dozen wrenches than another bag of road peanuts, so Tyler pulls over. To our eyes, it’s the only restaurant in town Inside there’s a woman watching The Twilight Zone on an old set. It’s

Rachel, Nevada: 84


the episode where the power dies on Maple Street, and all the neighbors turn into little Joe McCarthy’s, pointing their fingers every which way. “Uh,” Tyler begins. “Hey there.” The woman looks up, unmoved. She’s got long, brown hair and a floral house dress and looks to be in her fifties, maybe. Her smile’s warm, unguarded. “Could we get something to eat?” Tyler’s reassured. Traveling with him is easy; he can charm just about anyone when he turns it on. The woman smooths her hands down the lap of her dress, pausing briefly, as though the question were unexpected. “You bet.” She crosses the room and returns with two oilcloth placemats, setting them on a red formica table. “I can do burgers or brats.” “Burger for me,” Tyler says. “Same.” “Cheese? We got American.” “That’ll be great.” I nod in agreement. “I’ll get those started for y’all. Might be a minute.” “We’re in no rush.” She disappears through a door at the back of the room, and I feel free to survey the place, unobserved. There are just two tables, dinette style, chairs from various sets. Windows across the front wall; cheap linen curtains, pink with black poodles, faded. The room itself very spacious. The things that fill it: a pair of sofas, one draped in a sunflower quilt, the other underneath a coarse blanket sewn in jagged symmetries—a Native American pattern of some kind; a pool table; a wall covered in record sleeves (upon closer inspection I notice they’re all Patsy Cline); a five-stringed guitar; shelves cluttered with rocks; alien-themed odds-and-ends. Hollow black eyes in ballooning green heads. Tyler swears he saw a flying saucer in the sky outside Alamo, but I’m skeptical. The woman returns with a pair of heaped plates. “Where y’all travelin’ from?” She pulls a chair from the other table and joins us. “I’m Jill, by the way.” “Tyler.” “Libby.” “We started in San Diego.” “Well. Daggone. Where the hell ya headed out this way?” Tyler looks at me and laughs. “Canada, we guess,” he says. “Ho ho! Canada. I’ll be.” “We just graduated college,” I explain. “Thought we’d come see the aliens and eskimos before we do the real world thing.”

1968 Emily Meffert

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“The real world thing. Well. I’ll be daggone.” Tyler nods. “Burger’s terrific.” “Where’d you get that accent?” “Oh,” she snorts. “Me and my husband are up here from Florida. Jack’s a geologist. They got him out here collectin’ samples, stuff like that.” Through the window we can see a folding chair tumble across the Shell parking lot and clatter into the road. A young boy in striped boxer shorts runs after it. “Damn. Wind’s pickin’ up. Anyhow. He’s up here nosin’ through rocks and here I am, flippin’ beef. Suits me fine.” She looks at each of us, smiles conclusively, reclaims our empty plates. Pausing in the doorframe, she hollers over her shoulder. “Three bucks and it got to be cash.” When she disappears we can hear her voice in the next room. “Y’all be good out there. They’re sayin’ storms last I heard.” By the time we get to Tyler’s van a savage wind has whipped the yard into a high brown cloud of dust. A man comes out the door we just closed and motions for us to stay. It’s Jack. “We really appreciate it,” Tyler says, stepping inside. “Can’t have y’all out in this. ‘At’ll run ya right off the highway,” Jack remarks, eyes fixed on the window. “Sorry it ain’t much privacy.” Jill scans the room, hands on hips. “Those sofas are good though. Anyhow we keep to the back room mostly. Won’t bother y’all none.” “She oughta be blown over by mornin.” I glance at Tyler, studying the shelves distractedly. “Jill told us you’re a geologist?” He says, turning toward Jack, who nods. “In other words, please be truuuuuuuuuuuue,” Tyler whines, walking the tips of his fingers up my calf. “Innnnn other words, I—” “Hush it, Frank.” I swat at his hand. “They’re going to hear you if you don’t shut up.” “Oh, heaven forbid!” We sleep on the floor. The carpet is tired and soft. Sleeping next to Tyler is a game: I never know if we’re playing Lovers or Strangers. Tonight it’s Lovers. Tonight Tyler’s the ladle and I’m the teaspoon. He kisses the mouth of my neck, the delta where it spreads into my shoulders, and I go shiverboned. His mouth is tender as memory. When he splits my knees I say Tyler, and he is hurt because I won’t, and he is hurt because I won’t tell him why I won’t.

Tyler’s sleeping and I’m awake, thinking about Tyler. How he’s so free. 86


I’m not so free as Tyler. I can’t think about anyone else. But there are no rules with us. When he touched Kaye Phillis he didn’t break anything. He will touch others and we will stay intact. It’s only my knowledge of these things that swallows my internal organs like a cheese grater. But these are the things he can’t know. And that is why he is hurt. Tyler’s sleeping and I’m awake and I’m thirsty. I’m silent slipping away, moving toward the door where Jill came out when she came out with our heaped plates. The wind has failed and there are no night sounds. Just inside the door’s frame, though, I can hear small voices. They aren’t close to me but the edges of their words are clean. To me, the voices are good as blind. They are Jack’s and Jill’s voices. I’m a fly on the wall, still as a storm’s eye, and as curious. “Do you know when they’ll arrive?” Jill says. “Neil is flying into Vegas on Tuesday and Aldrin on Thursday. The boys are going to pick them up then and bring them straight to Groom Lake. Stunt doubles have been on set for a week already. Kubrick’s itching to start shooting with the real team.” There’s a pause. “I don’t know. You think he’ll be able to pull it off?” “Helen, the man is a genius. He could have them land on Pluto if he wanted to and old Lady Bird wouldn’t doubt it for a minute.” Helen? “And your samples look realistic enough?” “Oh, sure. No one has ever been up there, Hel. Mr. and Mrs. John Doe, watching it on their living room set, won’t be able to tell a difference for the world. Could be the rocks from their own front yard up there and they’d be none the wiser.” Tyler’s sleeping and I come into the hollow of his body and we are unsplit. When I dream, I dream of the best days of my life: the ones when we’d drive up to Del Mar and get banana milkshakes after our last classes on Fridays, Tyler’s fingers metallic in the strings of his guitar, honey down the frets. The sun would be dripping westward and our shadows stretching east, and his eyes would catch mine and they wouldn’t move until it got full dark, his eyelids droopy, jaw slack and mouth partially open, utterly absorbed in the line. I’d slip through those pitches so slow that Kaye didn’t matter, and I’d love him hard enough to make the others disappear. Believing every note he played was easy because it kept us right there, right in that place. A faith too convenient to be vain. The mountains behind us going purple, the shining sea, the country’s western margin breaking in grainy amber waves. 87


Jumping Girl Rebecca Arp

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Untitled Untitled Monica MonicaGallagher Gallagher 90 90


91


REMODEL REBECCA BALDWIN

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I walk to work in the morning and pretend to look at the latest denim trends in the Bloomingdale’s window, but really I’m just looking at the indisputable flatness of my ass. It’s flatter than the bus driver’s seat cushion who eats a Quarter Pounder with Cheese every morning. I only ride the bus when it’s too hot or when it rains. I can’t show up to work sweaty or with wet hair. When it’s below seventy-five degrees outside with less than twenty percent humidity, I walk to work. I take long strides, lunges almost, to build the muscles in my glutes. The headless and handless mannequin wearing a denim scarf in the window tells me that it’s not working. Her smooth, plastic body is pitched toward me, telling me to buy some denim shapewear or stop blocking her window. I cross the street and a cab honks at me but I pretend it’s a two-toned wolf whistle. No one has cat-called me since Liam Tompkins in eighth grade when I tried to dress up as Mother Theresa for Halloween to impress my catechism teacher but accidentally bought a sexy nun costume instead. I work on the third floor of a converted six-floor walk-up apartment building. Sometimes, I stay in the staircase to do calf-raises on the landing. I don’t have time today. I am already late. The lights inside Remodel have three settings: glow, ephemeral, and glisten. One of my jobs is to assess the lighting every fifteen minutes and adjust the setting if necessary. When the fitters sashay past the welcome desk, they hiss at me to turn the brightness on my computer down. It illuminates my face too much. Since I started working at Remodel last year, the horizontal lines between my eyebrows have deepened and darkened, even when I’m not squinting. I need my hearing more than my eyesight, anyway. The best way to recognize someone fitted at Remodel is by the sound of their voice. Even the color and shape of the eyes can be altered. “Lauren.” High, nasal, and tired. A middle aged man resigned to being mistaken for a girl on the phone. Jeffrey. “Good morning, Jeffrey,” I say. “Is it?” “Not particularly.” “When is my first appointment?” I click my computer screen one level brighter. “Nine AM.” Behind Jeffrey’s head, a lip-shaped clock tells the time. Instead of teeth, there is a digital bar between the curves of red plastic. It is eight thirty-seven. “Stall her,” Jeffrey says. “I need to re-do my eyes.” As he whips his head away from me, the skin around his eyes quivers. They are shrinking back to their original size. Crepe-like creases zig-zag from the corners, disrupting the smooth plane of the rest of his face. 93


Ice blue dye swirls around his pupils like water around a rusty shower drain, revealing the dull brown underneath. He sails around the corner and I open my morning to-do list. Polish desk. The inside of the welcome desk never has to be polished, only the outside. I grab a brushed chrome spray bottle from under the desk. I haven’t replaced the rag in a few days and a fog of musty vinegar fills the air when I flick it out. I wrinkle my nose and then unwrinkle it immediately. I run my finger down the bridge of my nose, surveying the terrain for any permanent creases. The tip swells more than usual. I reach back toward my computer and add “buy pimple cream” to my to-do list. Eight-forty. I am behind schedule. The front desk is tiled with magazine covers that I polish every day. If I didn’t, the covers would be blemished with the smudged finger prints of people who come in and ask, “What do you have that looks like this one?” The faces on the covers are precise, geometric. Every nose a line with an unwavering slope. Each eye a flawless oval. Lips curve symmetrically and hair is sculpted instead of brushed. Even the model on the magazine with the headline “You, too, can rock an afro!” doesn’t show a sign of frizz. I finish wiping off the front and center magazine tile, a blonde with blue eyes and a face you could fold in half, as the first client of the day creeps in. I duck back behind the desk and stash the spray bottle and dirty rag. “Good morning,” I say. “Welcome to Remodel.” The woman nods in my general direction but does not make eye contact. Her gaze is already flitting from cover to cover on the desk display. She chews the cuticle of her right thumb, which is already raw. “First time in?” I say. She pulls her attention away from the pictures and approaches the desk, the fat on her upper arms jiggling with every step. “Yes,” she says. “I’m Marge. I’m here for Jeffrey.” She extends her arm and the glow of her appointment confirmation on my computer screen illuminates the bracelet of eczema that wraps around her wrist. I shake her hand. It is slick with sweat. “Jeffrey will be right with you.” There are no seats in the waiting area. Sitting for extended periods of time causes the new skin to wrinkle and, according to the owner, the more uncomfortable the customer feels, the more likely they are to ask about other treatments. As Marge turns in slow circles, searching for something she can focus on, I pull liability forms. Permanent Bodily Deformity/Abnormality Release (External), Permanent Bodily Deformity/Abnormality Release (Internal), Life-Threatening Allergic Reaction Release, Unforeseen Additional Expense Release. I slip them all into a silky folder and place them on the corner of the 94


desk. Marge paws at the contents of her purse and pulls out a meal replacement bar. She fumbles with the wrapper and I clear my throat. “Excuse me?” I say. She freezes. She blinks at me with the apologetic stare of a dog caught rummaging in a trash can. “We advise that you do not eat prior to your fitting. Tightening the body model requires a bit of pressure and any excess food could be expelled during the process.” Out with the old, on with the new. Marge puts the bar away and I allow myself a small smile. The first few times I’d had to give that speech I stuttered and winced the whole way through. The first time I assisted with a fitting, I, myself, had expelled my last meal. I made it to the bathroom before I did, of course. I knew more or less what to expect, unlike the clients who vomited on the fitting room floor. If not for the air scrubbers and incense diffusers disguised as chic décor in every room, the whole building would reek of rejected salad dressing and Lean Cuisine meals. Jeffrey glides around the corner and moves the folder of liability forms from the desk to Marge’s hand so effortlessly that she might even believe that she came in with them. The skin around Jeffrey’s eyes is like a pane of glass. He has restored the irises to his favorite clear blue. I start to count in my head how long he can go without blinking. “Hello, Marge,” Jeffrey says. He wraps a sinewy arm around her gelatinous shoulder and steers her towards the consultation area. The area is boxed in on one side with a tri-fold mirror and lined on the other with advertisements of the most popular body models. “What can I do for you today?” “I’m here for a full rental,” she says. I grab a clipboard to make note of her requests. “What’s the occasion?” “Thirtieth college reunion,” she says. She tucks her hair behind her ear, folding the gray strands behind the dull blond ones. We get a lot of college reunions. They’re high up there with ex-husband’s second marriage and first non-online dates. I check boxes as Marge contemplates what she wants. She wears black pants and a black shirt with a vertical white stripe. I check taller and thinner and pencil in five foot eight and size two in the notes column. “We can make you look like it’s your first college reunion,” Jeffrey says. He tilts his chin and Marge gazes at the manufactured precision of his jaw line. “Could you do something like this?” Marge says. Her voice rises in a 95


hopeful tremble. She points to a Swedish model in one of the advertisements. I erase size two and scribble size zero, skip over freckles, check beauty mark and circle blond. “We can do anything,” Jeffrey says. I smile at his optimism. “But it will be expensive.” She nods and puffs out her chest like she is about to stride into battle. Jeffrey points her to room one and tells her to undress. She disappears behind the door. “When is Clarissa coming in?” Jeffrey says. I click back to the appointment book. “Her first appointment isn’t until noon.” Jeffrey’s skin is still too tight to frown. He flings the folder of waiver forms onto the desk in a fit of frustration. “I can’t do a fourteen size reduction and a full facial sculpt alone.” Jeffrey says. He grabs a box of non-latex gloves from behind the desk. “Pull model S16 and meet me in room one.” I rummage in a desk drawer for the figurine of Aphrodite holding a “Ring for Assistance” sign that the owner’s daughter made at Color Me Mine. I drop the bell, a miniature metallic cast of a woman’s breast, next to the sign and hurry to the model vault. Jeffrey does not ask for help often. He is the owner’s favorite fitter, and it is rumored that he whispers in her ear about who to promote next while he stitches on her hair. I stop on the way to the vault to check in the mirror that my forehead is not too shiny. The vault is designed like the back room of a dry-cleaners, but with patented model bodies hanging on conveyer belts instead of tacky suit jackets. I punch S16 into the keypad. The engine in the back of the room whirs and limp sheets of flesh breeze past me, releasing a faint odor of nail polish remover and talcum powder. The conveyer belt clicks to a stop and I grab the hanger of the S16 model. I fold the model over my arm so that I don’t have to look at the face. Alterations to the lips and eyes happen after the initial fitting. The eye holes and gaping slash of a mouth haunted me for my first two months. I peek my head into the lobby on my way to room one. Aphrodite is still sprawled across the desk and no one is waiting to be helped. I ease my way into Marge’s fitting room. The dimmer switch is untouched and the lights are harsh and fluorescent. Marge wears a silk robe that clings to her round stomach and worms its way into every pockmark of cellulite and crease of over-stretched skin. Her hair is grayer in the light and coarse and frizzy like steel wool. I hang the model on the wall and stare down at the strip of white 96


that gleams on each of Jeffrey’s patent leather shoes. “We’ll start with primer,” Jeffrey says. “Smooth everything out before we shape it.” Jeffrey hands me a spreader and Marge slinks out of her robe, leaving it in a dejected puddle on the floor. Spreading the primer across her body is like icing a cake that stuck to the pan. After twenty minutes of spreading, she is encased in malleable white paste like a misshapen mannequin. Jeffrey fastens a bald cap over her hair and reaches for the model. I glance at the image of S16 on the display board in the corner of the room. The board is like an X-ray display, but illuminated from the front instead of from behind. “Why did you choose this one?” I say. Jeffrey ruffles the model’s plastic covering and glares at me. If people back out, they usually do it while the primer is tightening on their skin, when they realize it is getting harder to take a deep breath. Marge parts her lips. “Please don’t speak,” Jeffrey says. “It will crease the primer.” Marge brings her lips back together and stares straight ahead. Jeffrey steps between Marge and me and begins stuffing her limbs into the model until only a hole the size of a quarter is uncovered on the small of her back. I hurry to the wall on the far side of the room and grab the reduction tube. Jeffrey snatches the tube from my hands and twists it into the hole on Marge’s back. Once the tube is attached, black wires snake out of it, moving against the primer beneath the layer of new skin. The wires wrap around her waist, strangle the pocket of fat beneath her chin, slice across her swollen ankles and continue to spread until an elaborate spider web has formed beneath the suit. Marge’s eyes widen as they find their way to the pillows beneath her eyes and creep into the crevices where her cheekbones should be. Jeffrey keys S16 into a machine on the wall next to the reduction tube. “You may feel some pressure,” he says. He punches a button and a muted hum like a clogged vacuum fills the room. “I’ll be back in five minutes.” He is out of the room before I can do something to make him forget about my unprofessional interaction with Marge. I chew my nail in frustration, disgusted at myself for mimicking Marge’s revolting nervous tic. Jeffrey has to remember what it felt like to be new at Remodel. Every day I stare at the advertisement of F13. When I am promoted to fitter, I will choose that model. Brown hair, green eyes, olive skin, and an ass that would make the denim mannequin crumble with jealousy. The whistle of air draining from Marge’s lungs competes with the din of the reduction machine. Even as she gags and wheezes, her eyes remain fixed on her body in the mirror. As the wires constrict, she narrows and 97


lengthens. The quiet pop of her organs sliding past each other punctuates the stream of gasps that escape from the hole where her new lips will be attached. A stream of bile erupts from the hole as her waist shrinks. Her eyes grow wider and more pronounced as the pressure forces them out of the model’s eye holes. The wires vibrate, trying to push harder and create more definition. Jeffrey steps back into the room. He smiles and flicks off the reduction machine. “Unrecognizable,” he says. He circles around Marge, admiring the perfect symmetry of her new body. “Beautiful.” He grabs a towel and wipes the vomit off her mouth and chest. Marge wheezes. “Get the oxygen tank,” Jeffrey says. Marge’s eyelids flutter and her eyes roll back. I leap for the oxygen tank and deliver it into Jeffrey’s outstretched hands. He shoves its spouts into her nostrils. Her chest rises and falls in short jabs. “Try not to take deep breaths,” Jeffrey says. “Your lungs need to adjust to their new restrictions.” Jeffrey helps Marge shuffle onto a conveyor belt that will deliver her to the tattoo room for makeup application. He flips a switch and the floor beneath Marge lurches forward. She clutches her oxygen tank as she leaves the room. “I thought she’d pass out for sure,” Jeffrey says. He steps to my left side to check his teeth in the mirror. I nod. Marge’s eyes squeezing out of her face replay in my head as Jeffrey folds a strand of hair across his part. “Go get a wig,” Jeffrey says. He waves away my reflection in the mirror as he combs his fingers through his eyebrows. “W22, long and blond.” I pass the desk again. Someone had left a business card. A cosmetic dentist named George Gerald. I make a mental note to watch the security tapes. My guess is short, bald, doughy, and too timid to ring the bell. I bet he introduces himself as Dr. Gerald too, even when he’s not at work. I sidestep the desk and enter the wig room. Being in the wig room is like being a flea on a multicolored, perfectly groomed dog. Every wall is covered floor to ceiling in hair, which shifts under the control of the ceiling fans. The walls breathe in and out as the fans oscillate back and forth. Two of the four walls are devoted to long blond wigs. Some are like curtains, thick and strait. Others are wispier and curl into the wigs next to them like invasive plants. I grab W22, a wig of medium weight and volume with honey toned highlights that will complement Marge’s new complexion. I step back into the hallway and follow the electric buzz of the needle to the tattoo room. Marge lays stiff on the table and Jeffrey is hunched over her, etching in a stripe of eyeliner. He has already attached her lips, but they have not been tattooed 98


yet. “Do the hair,” Jeffrey says. He does not look up from Marge’s eyelids. Jeffrey has never let me do the hair before. I grab a needle and thread it with my back to Jeffrey so he can’t see how much my hands are shaking. The wig glistens on the table next to Marge’s bald head. I shape the wig over Marge’s scalp and crouch behind her. Jeffrey has moved onto her lips. She is beautiful, just like S16. She is beautiful, like I could be. Plunging the needle beneath the new layer of skin, I stitch the wig tighter and tighter to her scalp. I watch as her lips fill in and she becomes perfect. I pull the thread until it frays. If I stuck the needle deep enough, maybe I could puncture the plaster. Maybe I could draw blood or make her wince and then maybe Jeffrey’s hands would slip. Maybe an angry line the color of Temptation Red lipstick would slash across her face. Maybe— “Lauren,” Jeffrey says. I pause with my hands suspended over the crown of Marge’s head. “You’re pulling the wig too tight. You’ll make a wrinkle.” Marge’s lips are done. They are fuller than the bags under her eyes used to be and bloody red. I force air in and out of my nose. I massage the wig, gently loosening the stitches. Jeffrey stencils an eyebrow and I will him to look up, to look at me and tell me I haven’t ruined my chances at a promotion. I scan Marge’s hairline and forehead for wrinkles and can’t find one. “Tie it off,” Jeffrey says. “I’ll finish this.” I make a tiny, precise knot and clip the thread. Careful to avoid Jeffrey as he hovers over Marge’s body, I drop the needle in a sterilization bucket and slip out the door. I pace around the front desk, glancing in the triptych mirror after every few steps. My reflections all move in different directions, disappearing just as they are about to collide with each other. I slink closer to the mirror and all of the reflections converge into one in the center pane. I pull the arch of my eyebrow up with my thumb and let it fall back down. I open my eyes as wide as I can and rub at the wrinkles that crop up on my forehead. The door to the tattoo room springs open and Jeffrey leads Marge out, crossing the hall to the imaging room for a pre-release body scan. I check the appointment book and see that the two other fitters working today checked in their clients while I was helping Jeffrey. With no one else waiting in the lobby, I sit in my desk chair and open the body model catalog on our website. F13 is bookmarked. It has long muscles that are defined, but not bulky. Narrow shoulders and a narrower waist, a high hip line and long legs. A substantial chest, but not so substantial that I’d look like a slut in low cut shirts. It looks like Paola Andrea, my nanny when I was five, six, and seven. After my dad had an affair with her, my mom stopped hiring 99


Colombians. All of my nannies after that were Eastern European and didn’t wax their eyebrows. I print a copy of F13 in colored ink on shiny photo paper and glide to the mirror. Folding the picture into the top right corner of the frame, I stand back to compare and contrast. If F13 and I were a Venn Diagram, we would be two separate circles. I wouldn’t even be a circle. I would be a lopsided oval. Jeffrey hurries out of the imaging room and returns with another oxygen tank. F13 is smiling in the picture. I smile at my reflection. I lean in closer and study the yellow gradient of my teeth. Ripping the picture out of the corner of the mirror frame, I stare at F13’s teeth. I pace back to the desk and pull a blank sheet of paper out of the printer. A scream erupts from the imaging room. I hold the blank paper up to F13’s teeth and they match. Pure white. We don’t fix teeth, only lips. I grab the list of supplementary services that we keep behind the desk for all of the things we don’t fix. Dentists, orthodontists, therapists, manicurists. I consider calling George Gerald to see if he whitens teeth, but decide to call Hollywood Smiles instead because it’s on Park Avenue. An ambulance careens across the parking lot and breaks my concentration as I dial the Hollywood Smiles number. Two EMTs barge through the front door with a stretcher and Jeffrey emerges from the imaging room, motioning them inside. Moments later, the EMTs roll Marge out. I glare at the safety straps. They are too tight and the skin is already wrinkling. Jeffrey strides alongside the stretcher as the EMTs haul her across the lobby. “Based on the scan, it appears that her bladder was winched up into her abdomen and pierced by her left bottom rib.” One of the EMTs speaks into a radio attached to his shoulder, telling someone at the hospital to ready a drain for a leaking bladder and reserve an operating room. “A drain?” Marge says. Her words come out with a whistle, like she is struggling to control the air escaping her lips. “Will it be big? Will you be able to see it?” The EMT ignores her and holds a stethoscope to her chest. He reaches for his radio again. “Left lung is also showing signs of collapse. We will intubate en route.” The other EMT, who looks like he is only in his twenties but is already balding, grabs Marge’s hand and shows her blue fingernails to his partner. He reaches into Marge’s mouth and tears the unblemished model skin off her face. Jeffrey gasps and my knees buckle. The skin beneath the body 100


model is blotchy and blue. Marge’s eyes roll back in her head and her sides heave like a dying fish. The first EMT curses and yanks a bag from under the stretcher. He procures a plastic tube with a pointed end as the other EMT continues to tear the body model to shreds. Marge’s flesh oozes out like biscuit dough. Once the section of model just below her heart is destroyed, the EMT punctures Marge’s chest with the breathing tube. Air streams in and out. The EMT throws the bag back under the stretcher and Marge regains consciousness as they wheel her toward the door. She looks down at her body and the jagged bits of the model dangling from the stretcher and screams. Air whistles out of the breathing tube like a steaming tea pot. I can hear her desperate sobs even after the EMTs close the ambulance doors. Jeffrey circles back behind the desk and grabs an oxycodone tablet from the fitters’ supply. I sit down and redial the number for Hollywood Smiles.

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A Seat at the Table Keerthana Velappan 22 years from eating Raisin Bran, the raisins picked out meticulously by my doting Aaya, laid out on a Tamil newspaper, donned in a dirt-stained uniform, as I wipe away the occasional tear, asking when will I reunite with Amma and Appa? and my first day at the Y,  in this land of opportunity, where I knew neither English, nor what it meant to be American; Amma watched from outside, tears overflowing, until she realized that play is a universal language?  to keeping things from Amma and Appa: the innocuous crushes in grade school, the unwanted touch  of a family member, the lust for someone  who looked like me; what they do not know  will not hurt them? 

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and viewing wanderlust as a means of freedom, to escape the boxed home for the spherical world: taking on Ocracoke Islands and the nation’s capital, conquering Ann Arbor and the heart of Southeast Asia; all I had to do was get out of my own way?   this is only a fraction of what I bring  to the table when I take  a seat  22 years and counting

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Sneak Monica Gallagher 104


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Poverty Yawns

John Newton

In 2017, poverty yawns across shadeless streets of browning lawnsentertainment is in a drought autotune reigns over doubt artificial heartbeat goes boom-bap as the suburbs give in to trap no man’s voice breaks the malaise of e-cigs and deodorant sprays young girls yearn to be famous young women learn to be nameless young men with the pimpled chin cursing who they could’ve been new square houses built to fall same old dreams geared to stall sex is supply, but love is demand a scarcity of gentle hand food stamps are to suburbs as nitrate is to meat shame is in the milk that spoils in defeat Narcan and the Fray say “How to Save a Life” the purest form of pain tares husband from wife on freshly-paved funerals, today buries tomorrow amongst the bagel bites and Pop-tarts, someone injected sorrow

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107


Nobody’s Home Nicole Gillis 108


Lady Liberty Megan L. Jordan 109


OK PHARAOH original story by ‘Unknown Scribe’ (trans./adapt. by Mary Armstrong, Ph.D.) by Andrew Elsakr

(Translator’s Epigraph/s): (c. 450 B.C.) - - - - - - Herodotus - - - - - “Egypt is the gift of the Nile.” [inconclusive] - - - - - Old Pharaoh - - - - “And the Nile is the gift of Pharaoh.”

(Slab I:) Old Pharaoh dies so his son takes his place. His son’s name is Young Pharaoh. Every afternoon Young Pharaoh comes on over the loudspeakers decreeing his gibberish. Chaos descends in a matter of days. I start stealing bread from the marketplace. I also steal a television. Meanwhile, Young Pharaoh’s mother wakes him up each morning in his pharaoh-sized bed. After shooing away all his harlots, his mother asks if he’s kept his stars. I’ve seen advertisements for them on the television I stole. They’re called Special Underwear. When Young Pharaoh wets himself in the middle of the night, the stars fade from his Special Underwear, and in the morning there is shame. But when the boy-king succeeds in not-wetting himself—when his mother wakes him to find his stars still there, still shining bright on his Special Underwear—she sings a song called, “You Kept Your Stars,” and we hear it in the city over the loudspeakers. Young Pharaoh grows up while we take care of ourselves. Down here all of us are criminals. Some of us prefer to call us hunters/gatherers. It doesn’t matter to me. The food we steal’s all carbohydrates. I take about a shit a week. I sometimes steal packets of buffalo sauce from McDonald’s to lick while watching my television. The channels we have are mostly news stations on which Anchor Ladies tell stories of Young Pharaoh’s virtue, which is said to resemble Old Pharaoh’s. We did indeed appreciate Old Pharaoh’s virtue, in spite of the disappearances, the unanswered questions, shortages 110


of food, jobs, electricity and other kinds of power. [Old Pharaoh: what you wildest of Western readers might call a ‘textbook-expert’ of a (crowd-/self-)salesman. He had that you’re-lucky-I’myour-dictator attitude, which was quite similar in effect to a you’re-luckyyou’re-my-son mentality, which really was no different from you-should-feellucky-just-being-alive.] Nowadays, on all the news stations, photographic fragments of Young Pharaoh’s face form together to fill the background whereas Old Pharaoh was OK with letting them use a graphic of the Nile or skyline instead. The skyline that now is nothing but concrete, no longer glass or moons or crosses. Nothing but concrete and billboards that advertise the Pyramids or Pharaoh World, our newest tourist attraction. As Young Pharaoh enters adolescence, he starts asking random samples of us, via loudspeaker, what we think of him. And whoever he asks will invariably reply with the warm “You are enough” our parents invented to pacify Old Pharaoh. And gradually, over the years, we hear less of Young Pharaoh, who retreats into private life, contacting us only through his invisible hand: the changes we see in the streets. Like Old Pharaoh, he has learned to avoid the risk of pestering us—learned to have faith in the fact that we want to be an easygoing people and will only rouse ourselves from submission if we can convince ourselves of necessity. Young Pharaoh’s mother’s character is harder to describe. The rumors we pass around are dubious, retold to exhaustion and rendered all-too-evidently artificial. Rumors like Killing Old Pharaoh, which I first hear from a Tomato Salesman whose tomatoes I know to be aphid-free guaranteed; my record’s a dozen in one go. Another rumor is Oedipus Complex, which I first hear somewhere along the cyclothymic course of Young Pharaoh’s Tweens—his Awkward Phase, unavoidable even by the holy: golden braces, blackheads, and voice-cracks. One standard summer night—the summer in which we celebrate Young Pharaoh’s first signs of facial hair (shaving foam in the streets)—my family has a debate over the level of criminality we each believe to be most moral. My older brother, A., argues that we should be able to steal only from those whose wealth is adequately superfluous. “Adequately my ass,” my uncle says, half-standing to do his skinny-ass-smack. We look over at A. to see how he will respond. I catch my uncle looking behind A. at the crookedlyhanging black-and-white portrait of his baba (my giddo) blown-up in the center of the wall’s concrete surface, engulfed in the midst of rivers of cracks cracking and diverging in a single massive delta-branching mess. On the opposite wall, behind my uncle, a portrait of my dead grandmother stares across the room at her portrait-husband. 111


Nobody here knows how we got here. When the sisters and wives and grandmothers died, our ability to reminisce went with them. And every ‘where’ in our apartment came to bear visual confirmation of what we’d lost: not shine, but at least a germless smell. How it had been with women: cleaner, no filthy dark caking your heel post-barefoot-step. Now we have only my mother and uncle’s daughters. The Vitality Quartet, they clean and cook and keep the place alive while A., my uncle, and I go out to scavenge the streets. Mother cleans the kitchen, and my cousins clean the bedroom where all of us sleep on a mattress on the floor. My view on the whole moral question of how to be a good criminal is simply an echo of the way I view everything else in the world: in need of some balancing. My childhood was at its heart a game of moral experimentation, conducting empirical tests with the goal of identifying the most efficient shortcut or reliable loophole by which to bypass my conscience’s over-encumbering rule-of-law: the solution I finally settled on, after however-many months of progress-less perfectionism, is simply to cancel out my crimes by committing a proportionate number of anti-criminal acts, which, to name a few, typically include/d: (a) answering A.’s fatherly questions honestly—and, when the crime is more serious, (b) lending my mother and cousins a hand with the female work. (a): Like a good father, A. has a list of questions he likes to go through with me from time to time. We’ll be on our way to rob a street-vendor and A. will look at me with authority and ask if I’ve ever masturbated, smoked a cigarette, seen a woman’s breasts, etc. When I say yes, he says, “Shame on you.” When I say no, he calls me a pussy, and then we’ll go to steal some chips. A. is the one who comes up with the plans, and I have to carry them out. I am the one who steals the chips, but A. lays claim to half the bag. Sometime between Young Pharaoh’s thirteenth and fourteenth birthdays, A. is attacked by a herd of passersby who witnessed him stealing a melon. Crowd-justiced, he comes home with torn-up clothes, a cluster of bruises across his torso, and a gash from his cheekbone to his upper lip that I sterilize and have to hold together with a napkin for an hour till the flaps of torn-up face finally fuse back together. Its scar will stay for years but start to fade in Young Pharaoh’s late teens, nearing the age when he’ll find his ruling rhythm, pick a direction to take the country (a direction for us to push him in).

(c): Like a good son, I not only obey my mother, but will offer 112


assistance without her asking. (Asking: her least-favorite chore.) With the women I wash what the men (myself included) have dirtied. Dishes, clothing, living areas. Some of the messes we find are enigmatic, Stonehenge-esque: concentric rings of blood on sleeves, urine in a Pepsi bottle, a pasty handprint waving from the surface of a plastic plate marred by lines of prior cutting. My uncle has three daughters each a year apart. Their mother’s elsewhere, where my father’s been since back before this place got dirty. While we clean, the girls tell stories they’ve been passing around for years, hearing from one, repeating to another, then forgetting for future pleasure: to hear again for the first time. While the oldest squeezes muddy liquid from a rag, she recounts a story about a Young Prince who once fell in love with a girl who spent all her days squeezing muddy liquid from a rag. We all sigh smilingly at Happy Ending and continue working waiting for someone else to tell a story that we haven’t heard before. My mother never talks while we clean, says she’s only a listener of stories. Sometimes I find myself disturbed by how easy it is to forget she’s there. Then her smiling sigh reminds me. Then I sigh, smilingly, squeezing liquid from a rag.

(Slab II:) As Young Pharaoh’s Days of Puberty begin to exist farther and farther in the past, so too does the memory of his immaturity, and we decide he is OK Pharaoh. OK Pharaoh is OK for a number of reasons: prices don’t go up anymore, our military has never been stronger, and at long last, there seem to be some decent jobs. I’m talking everybody working, people who’ve never worked in their lives. Even my uncle, who puts ‘former scholar’ on his resume, gets a job as a tour-guide with a company called Tut’s Tours taking tourists to the Pyramids and saying whatever Wikipedia says. Uncle’s daughters marry men who all have jobs. The oldest marries a man who sharpens knives street-by-street; the middle gets luckier and marries a man with a farm outside the city. The youngest marries a man who does this-and-that for OK Pharaoh, our new brother-in-law who helps A. get a job doing this-and-that too. This-and-that, unfortunately, means I only get to see A. once a month now, if I’m lucky. His home becomes the Palace, but when he returns he comes with cash. With all this income I no longer have to steal. I wallow awhile in aimlessness. While looking for a job of my own, I help my mother with the 113


housework I enjoy increasingly each day. I have a wisdom, my mother tells me, when it comes to scrubbing with a sponge. I do not search too vigorously for a job. I do not want to leave old mother alone to die alone. A widow since back when Old Pharaoh ruled, while washing the dishes one day she drowns. I find her semi-standing, half-collapsed in the sink. A voice in my head speaks advice I once heard, reminding me to have the funeral sooner than later, before the body starts to rot. But with such a short heads-up, A. is denied permission to be absent from work and is absent instead through the grief. I clean the kitchen and bedroom alone each night and, in the event of an eventful evening, get to fix the computer for Uncle. It’s just the two of us living here/there when A. calls with news of what might save me from domestic life: “I’ve found a job for you,” he says, “as a Man-Maid here in the Palace. You’ll be working for OK Pharaoh. OK?” I am housed on the Palace grounds in a shack by the wall. I’m only allowed to leave the compound Friday mornings to visit my uncle and bring back money. He says he misses me but knows how to be alone. The Palace becomes a homelike place—(a place I find myself finding my self)—where I ponder nothing really doing nothing really. I’m a fairly rapid faller into habits, so it doesn’t surprise me to find myself settling quite easily into the rhythm of menial labor. Sweep. Mop. Wash. Hum. The other Man-Maids and Regular Maids are kept busy and apart from me so I learn to occupy myself with sounds I make. Sweep. Mop. Wash. Hum. At noon they feed us bread. Cheese. Yum. Towards the end of my second or third month as a Man-Maid, OK Pharaoh stumbles upon me in the electric torchlight of a dungeon that I’m not supposed to clean. Caught exploring. Strange place. Fortunately for me, he catches me humming the national anthem, and after I’ve finally detected his presence and reacted with a startled cower, he allays my terror with a smile. “Stand up straight,” he says. “Have dignity.” I do my best to obey. Standing face-to-face for the first time with OK Pharaoh, I see how young he is, looking more like the Young Pharaoh he used to be. What a wrinkly youth at his eyes’ edges, boyish bashfulness in his gaze, wandering so un-pharaoh-like. What white-toothed teeth. Such sunfresh skin. Sensing my enduring anxiety, he plants a puny hand on my shoulder and says, “It’s OK.” Water dripping, a mosquito floats past. Gets zapped in my peripheral vision. The night sky through a window where the ceiling meets the wall: cloudless starlessness. Big moon. OK Pharaoh watches me closely while I go through the step-by-step 114


demonstration of my cleaning routine. I’m only a few years older but closer to his age than the majority of the Man-Maids. Perhaps this is why the next night, OK Pharaoh returns to watch me clean. And then every night after that. I eventually overcome the stage fright. Sweep. Mop. Wash. Before long, OK Pharaoh opens up, going too-deep into detailed depictions of what I soon realize to be his dreams—gaze unsteady as he talks, maybe fishing for a more comforting interpretation than the one he’s got worked-out. He describes a recurring dream he’s had again about a giant chicken eating him. I tell him he should stop eating chicken. He tells me a nightmare he had about Old Pharaoh threatening to freeze OK Pharaoh for centuries to ensure his dynasty’s survival. “It was like he thought I had to be frozen,” he says, “as though there’s no other hope for me.” My interpretation of this one is something vaguely along the lines of: You are enough. I get promoted from Man-Maid to Personal Servant. Now I get to see A. more often, but he’s not allowed to talk on-theclock—and, as a bodyguard, he’s never not-on-the-clock. And for that matter, neither am I. [passage untranslatable] OK Pharaoh has a Holy Room that only I’m allowed to clean. I clean it with holy water. Don’t ask how he gets it holy; I’ve only been told if I drink it I’ll die. The Holy Room is where OK Pharaoh asks me about his “People.” Although I haven’t seen much of them since starting this job, I tell him, “They love you dearly, Pharaoh.” He asks me this question about once every week. My response is always the same. He only asks this in the Holy Room. He never responds to my response. [slab-damage/partial rendering of unreadability] A little over a year later, he finally asks me a different question. He says, “Who was better? Me or my father?” I say something along the lines of: You are enough. I get a raise. An extra loaf of bread at lunch. A toenail clipper, too. One night when I return to my bunk, I find a note under my pillow from A. It says: ‘Someday soon, OK Pharaoh will try this-or-that. Let him do what he wants. He will not do them both. He just wants to see how you will react. Let him do what he wants. This-or-that: this is how you rise up.’ Someday soon, OK Pharaoh tries this-or-that. I let him do what he wants. He only does this-and-not-that: “See?”—he just wants to see how I will react. I don’t react. This-or-that: this is how I rise up. I am promoted from Personal Servant to Well-Paid Slave.

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Job Description of Well-Paid Slave: Pharaoh to me: “Do X.” me to Pharaoh: “OK, Pharaoh.”

X could vary widely. Could be anything really. Take, for instance, off the top of my head: (a) Homicide (standard)— (b) Canicide (also standard)—and OK Pharaoh’s favorite(/my most-hated) X: (c) Censorship (mind-fuckery missions: bewildered-me, his favorite me). (a): OK Pharaoh starts asking me to do tasks that are above my pay grade. For instance, one day while I am vacuuming under the balustrades, he sneaks up behind me and says, “Come with me.” I follow him down to a place in the basement where A. and another soldier stand, assault rifles in hand, a blindfolded man on his knees between them. OK Pharaoh gives me a knife and asks me to slit the man’s throat. I say, “OK, Pharaoh,” and the next day he takes me to Pharaoh World as a reward. We ride the Luxor Loop-de-Loop, and OK Pharaoh buys me our mid-ride photo souvenir from the gift shop. The picture is taken upside down: it shows me screaming waving hands in passing air while Pharaoh smiles too-calmly at me, turned as far in his seat as the safety restraints would let him so that he could watch me all through the ride. (b): A week after my promotion from Man-Maid to Well-Paid-Slave, OK Pharaoh instigates measures to solve our institutional inefficiency and, miraculously, succeeds, allowing the country to progress at last to the Fourth Year of our most recent Five-Year plan, which was put in place by Old Pharaoh way back when he himself had been Young Pharaoh. To celebrate his government’s restituted potency, OK Pharaoh kicks off Year Four with a fun new campaign he calls: “Exterminate Stray Dogs”— which, in light of the recent rabies outbreak (lot of biting, lot of dying), the people can’t stop praising. So we begin our extermination. Whoever kills the most gets to spend a day-off with Young Pharaoh at Pharaoh World. Whoever kills the fewest gets killed. I kill the most “again-n-again-n-again,” chirps OK Pharaoh looking ever-Younger. The two of us share a cotton candy and ride the Ferris Wheel. He presses {Pause} when we reach the top, and the Ferris Wheel comes to a halt. He gestures his dusty-concrete kingdom-desert and says, “What do 116


you think?” “It’s enough,” I say. We sit there for thirty silent minutes till he presses {Play}. (c) OK Pharaoh’s next mission is: Eliminate All Porn. I am sent out into the Internet armed with a little brown hammer. I smash all the porn down into unrecyclable waste. “Now my people are free from temptation,” OK Pharaoh says, on a hot-streak legislatively this week, especially taking into account Monday’s passage of the bifold ban on both irreligiousness and radical religiousness: the fulfillment of an unforgotten promise originally made by OK Pharaoh’s Great-Great-Grandfather who, for those interested, continues to hold the dynastic record of Greatest Pharaoh. Satisfied with my smashing, OK Pharaoh takes me back to Pharaoh World. We sit on a bench and talk about childhood. I: opaque as always. He: transparent, boy of mannish desire making up principles as he goes along whenever the need for them arises. We share an ice cream cone.

(Slab III:) OK Pharaoh’s favorite motto: “A watched people never revolt.” OK Pharaoh’s second-favorite motto: “A little rebellion now and then helps keep the nation free.” So OK Pharaoh tolerates dissent ostensibly. What most of you don’t know is that the protestors you see on TV and online are in reality OK Pharaoh’s employees. After all my excellent work as Well-Paid Slave, I am made Assistant to the Head of Opposition. This means I have to take care of the protestors/employees. Tell them where to protest, when, keep them wellfed so they don’t actually protest. A month after becoming Assistant to the Head of Opposition, the Head of Opposition cheats a whole clan of fake protestors out of their wages. Real opposition emerges. At a speech: an assassination attempt. A. takes the bullet. Dies. Gunblood pours out his mouth; something like unblood out of mine. A. gets a military funeral, but whoever’s in charge doesn’t plan it soon enough. His body rots. Fungus on his face. Open-casket closed pretty quick. Bullets shot at a cloudless shadeless sky. In honor of A.’s valor, OK Pharaoh promotes me to Head of 117


Opposition. The former Head of Opposition loses his head, which OK Pharaoh puts in a jar of pickle juice and gives me gift-wrapped as a gift. [passage untranslatable] On his thirtieth birthday, the time comes for OK Pharaoh to select a queen. My colleague in the Dept. of Propaganda has a great idea—(so great that he becomes Head of Propaganda and the Old Head’s head gets offed, put in a gift-wrapped pickle jar): “Why don’t we make it a reality show?” And so Who Wants to Be Queen? tops the charts. Let’s call it (a) for future reference. Next up, a civil war in a neighboring country spawns a refugee crisis. Stepping up as a world leader, OK Pharaoh gives the refugees an island in the Red Sea where they are given the tools to construct a city and community from scratch. (This is the point at which, to the outside world, OK Pharaoh becomes Good Pharaoh. But in Egypt we still starve, so, for us, he stays OK.) Head of Propaganda has another great idea: “Why don’t we make it a reality show?” And so RefugeeLand tops the charts. Let’s call it (b) for future reference. Then, foreign invaders pour into Sinai. OK Pharaoh drops a nuke, a small one with a label that reads: “Sinai Belongs to Egypt.” Most of the invaders die. So does most everyone else in Sinai. It doesn’t matter. We win the war. It doesn’t matter. We put a curfew over Cairo. OK Pharaoh’s mother makes a song called, “Go Home, Stay Home.” It tops the charts. Everyone listens to it at home. Eventually we have our own civil war. I haven’t been doing too well at my job. OK Pharaoh asks me how this happened. I blame it on Someone Else, whose head I find on my nightstand, pickled. To keep people out of the streets while we war, Head of Propaganda launches a reality show. And so CivilWar tops the charts—(c) for (C)ivil. (a) After Nefertiti’s fight with Isis on the red-carpeted steps leading up to the Palace, they become the two most popular contenders. For the finale they each sing seductively to OK Pharaoh, who sits cross-legged, and everyone votes by text message. I have problems picking my favorite. On the one hand, Nefertiti is very beautiful, but on the other hand, so is Isis. Without decision, I decide to abstain from voting. In the end, there is a draw, so OK Pharaoh marries them both.

(b) [passage untranslatable]

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(c) During CivilWar, Jittery Pharaoh takes me with him to Pharaoh World to wait out the violence. The amusement park is adequately fortified and grants us freedom from as much jittering. The trees are treelike, food is foodlike, fun is funlike, etc. During the day, OK Pharaoh likes to take long bubble baths with extra bubbles, extra bath salts. In the evening he likes to drive sober-me drunk out into the desert in his chariot/jeep. He likes to stop in the lightless darkness and proclaim: “Behold. No life!” He likes to point up to his stars and shout: “No life!” Then some silence. Then we return lesshot to Pharaoh World, where we snuggle at night on a couch in the castle at the park’s epicenter, eating popcorn and watching CivilWar, stressed from suspense. Together we admire the visuals, the special effects of blood-andbombs. The chanting that’s almost discernible. Almost a language we speak every day. The show proves ambitious in terms of length, stretching far enough into the future for CivilWar to become the usual companion. From some first-person cameraman—(from some eye-like I)—we are granted the experience of watching OK Pharaoh grow; watch him make love to Nefertiti/ Isis/many-other-added-wives, who all give birth to many sons. OK Pharaoh growing older, growing up, becoming Old. We eat popcorn and we watch. We look at the screen and watch. In the end: Old Pharaoh dies so his son takes his place. His son’s name is Young Pharaoh. Every afternoon Young Pharaoh comes on over the loudspeakers decreeing his gibberish. Chaos descends in a matter of days. I start stealing bread from the marketplace. I also steal a television.

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Serpentine Dr. S Nicole Gillis

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Happiest

The

Place

ON EARTH

by Mitchell Pollock

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The man behind the ice-cream cart was a Walt Disney drawing come to life – Ellen was sure of it. He wore a wide, obviously put-on smile over a pair of red apple cheeks, and his large, doughy hands snapped together with satisfaction whenever the next person came up in line – which, now, was Ellen. “First time at the park?” he said as she approached the cart. “You can tell that?” she said. She stood a foot from the cart, watching him slowly force her blossoming scoop of ice-cream into a waffle cone. She took note of his pink namebadge: Andy. “Didn’t mean anything by it, ma’am.” said Andy. “It’s most people’s first time.” As he shaped her cone, she said, “It is my first time, but I know pretty much all there is to know about this place.” “Ah, are you one of those super-planners?” “My mother was a bit of a Disney fanatic. She was the real expert.” This was already the most Ellen had talked all day. “Did she tell you about the secret tunnels underneath Magic Kingdom?” Ellen’s mother had mentioned them several times; nevertheless, she shook her head. “There’s a whole network of tunnels as big as the park, so all the characters can get from place to place easily. Kinda spooky, I think.” Andy handed her the cone and a Mickey Mouse ice-cream bar. His smile hadn’t shifted an inch as far as Ellen could tell. “Enjoy your visit!” As she walked away she heard his hands clap at the next in line, a woman with two small sons. Ellen’s teenage daughters were waiting for her on a bench outside the Space Mountain gift shop. She saw Stephanie first. Leather-panted legs crossed, thumbs on a phone that was inches from her nose, earbuds in place, and a large wad of chewing gum sucking the enamel from her molars. Her black bangs shrouded her face and touched the top of the phone. The pose was the perfect encapsulation of Stephanie, Ellen thought. Ellen’s 13-year-old daughter Mia was draped on Stephanie’s shoulder, her wide eyes obscured by reflections of the phone screen. They both could have been cast in bronze, as neither looked up when Ellen approached. “Did you guys not want to look around the gift shop?” said Ellen. “Steph didn’t want to,” said Mia, not looking up. She was just old enough to have a trace of acne at the corners of her mouth – nothing close to the Stephanie’s red forest that she covered with layers of makeup each morning. She was a miniature Stephanie in countless other ways, too: her preference for high ponytails, her shade of purple eyeshadow, and a case of early onset teenage apathy. Only Mickey Mouse bars could detach Mia from Stephanie for any meaningful length of time. Ellen began to wave the one in her hand in front of Mia’s face until she grabbed it. I’m stooping to 123


bribery now, she thought. At least I’m not as bad as Ross. Two weekends ago, Stephanie had stepped out of her ex-husband’s Cadillac with a new gold bracelet, and Mia with an expensive brown fringe purse. “What’d you think of Space Mountain?” she asked. Ellen’s motion sickness had caused her to skip the ride. When Steph didn’t respond, Ellen yanked the white cords hanging beside her daughter’s face. “What?” said Steph. Her gum-chewing intensified. “Did you have those on the whole ride?” “No.” She stood up and blew a large green bubble and let it pop across her acned cheeks. “I’m surprised you didn’t swallow that gum on the ride. I got you ice-cream.” But Steph was already walking away with Mia in tow, the two disappearing behind a large family with five small children. The children had sticky cotton-candy faces and matching Mickey Mouse hats. When they saw the neon Space Mountain sign, they collided with each other in a frenzied huddle while their parents apologized to the passing visitors. The embarrassed parents corralled the kids through the threshold, where they joined the long line of eager visitors. There, they finally settled down, accepting the wait and preoccupying themselves with the velvet ropes that enclosed the line and the star-and-planet carpet led into the ride. It was then that Ellen wondered why she’d followed them. She was still holding the icecream, now half-melted over her fist. When she went outside, her daughters were gone. She took one taste of her melting cone and tossed it in a nearby trash can, disgusted by the sweetness. Then she headed off towards the park entrance. Knowing Stephanie, Ellen would find her daughters waiting there, waiting to be set free. Their family vacation was merely a pleasant casing for a funeral. Six months prior, Ellen’s mother Alice had died and been turned to ash; her chosen resting place was Walt Disney World, Florida. Stay-at-home mothers need hobbies, as Alice understood it, and hers was vacation planning, specifically Disney vacations. Ellen could remember dozens of specific dinner conversations about the place. A stack of Disney guidebooks held a permanent seat on the family toilet, which Alice would pore over with Ellen on her lap, both tracing their fingers along the paths of the cartoon maps. They’d never gone – it was far beyond the family means – but the Disney mania never went away. For Ellen’s Halloweens, Alice spent hours making huge papier-mache heads of Disney Characters: Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy. Once, they’d held a party on Walt Disney’s birthday. Alice had spent years saving for a trip, a twilight tour of the magic kingdom with her daughter 124


and granddaughters. But she got sick, the girls grew up. Finally, after her mother’s death, Ellen had brought them to the promise land. It was the last place Ellen wanted to be. The girls had once been excited about the possibility of a trip like this. They used to sit patiently in Alice’s couch while she read from the guidebooks and weaved made up tales of Mickey and Minnie, all while Ellen rolled her eyes in the kitchen. But that was years ago. Ellen saw the way her girls shuffled past every souvenir cart and costumed character without breaking stride. They didn’t want to be there, either; it was in Stephanie’s earbuds, and Mia’s fist clinging to Stephanie’s jacket like a dog leash. On their second day at Magic Kingdom, the girls’ boredom had zombified them. On the edge of a fountain in Fantasyland, Ellen stared at her lethargic children and tried to conjure some magical Disney motivation. “How about the teacups?” Ellen said. That was a losing battle; her daughters almost certainly didn’t want to sit in a teacup-car and spin around in circles. Ellen had been speaking with so much energy on the trip that her voice was already hoarse. The extra pep burned her throat. Stephanie rolled her eyes and returned to her mysterious cell phone activities. Mia, picking up the signal, shrugged and sat down on the pavement to tie her shoes. Ellen closed her eyes and imagined marching her daughters into a cup and strapping them in by force, watching them twist in circles for a minute. Maybe she’d make them go again, four or six or a dozen times, and then she could walk them through the park while their smiling heads spun deliriously all day. The she thought about doing that herself: make herself sick spinning, until all the candied colors of this place blended into an indecipherable soup, like melted sherbet. But instead she went back to the one Disney World activity that fit Ellen’s sensibilities: people-watching. Under the flourish of the Teacup Ride’s gazebo, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell were entertaining a pair of kid brothers in overalls. They were both too old for their roles; Peter was in his 30s, Tinkerbell older than Ellen. She could see a brush of gray hair under her cap from where she sat. Tink’s cheeks were like Andy the ice-cream man’s: bright, sagging apples – although hers were painted green. Her stout legs danced nimbly around the boys while Peter performed a magic trick, ending the show with a sprinkle of confetti on their heads. The boys wriggled and ran to their mother, a slim redhead behind a stroller, who picked the silver flakes out of their hair. Watching the dutiful mother gave Ellen a second wind. “So, we hit Tomorrowland, Fantasyland… are there any other lands we’ve missed?” she said. “Frontierland,” said Mia with a surprising amount of authority. Stephanie looked up from her phone for just a moment. “What is 125


that, like cowboys? Pass.” How did she even hear that through the buds? Ellen had tried several times to listen to Stephanie’s music. After a combined family dinner, Ross had told her it was something called “ska-punk,” which was different from “hardcore punk.” How the man with the Eagles disc collection in his glove compartment knew about punk subgenres was a mystery that angered and confused her. Once this summer, when Stephanie was asleep, Ellen snuck into her room and popped in her earbuds. A blast of guitars and flaring horns bombarded her eardrums. She tore the cords from her ears and slunk out of the room. Only briefly deterred, she then spent her lunch break researching the band she remembered seeing. She liked it, to tell the truth, when her ears could handle it. But her lungs turned to stone every time she tried to talk music with Stephanie over breakfast. Last week, she’d given up and gone back to listening to Sheryl Crow. Ellen sighed and stood up. “Well, we should head to Hollywood Studios, then. We have lunch reservations.” The 50’s Prime Time Café on the top of Alice’s dream Disney itinerary. The restaurant was a time machine made of formica and linoleum. Blackand-white checkers on the floor extended up the papered walls, and every table was the family table: a mini-tube TV showing the flickering faces of Lucille Ball and Andy Griffith, an array of kitchen kitsch on wooden shelves, all of it framing a small blue tabletop and four little chairs. Ellen and her daughters arrived early for their reservation, and followed heavy-set waitress named Debbie with towering honeycomb hair that leaned forward over her face to a central table. “Well aren’t you cute,” Debbie cooed to Mia before pivoting sharply to Stephanie. “Stand up straight, young lady,” she said, yanking at Steph’s earbud cords. Ellen felt a sudden and pleasant shock through her body. Stephanie stuffed herself into the corner seat. Before taking orders, Debbie gave them all 50’s nicknames: Ellen was “Queenie,” Mia was “Princess,” and Stephanie was dubbed “Precious,” which elicited a bang of her forehead on the table. Next were the rules of the kitchen: no elbows on the table, no chewing with your mouth full, no dessert without a clean plate. After Debbie had left, the table was silent. Ellen leaned over the blue surface with a tiny smile. “You guys probably don’t remember this, but this was how Grandma ran her kitchen. Remember when she used to make you kids lick your plates clean before bringing out the brownies? She even sang a song while you were held prisoner. I wish I could remember it now – gosh, that was so long ago. I could never carry a tune anyway –” “We remember.” Stephanie’s face was pale and wide-eyed, and she picked at the plastic edge of the table and tried not to make eye contact with 126


Ellen. Silence. Finally, Ellen said, “It just made me remember that, is all.” “Where did she want those ashes spread, anyways?” Stephanie had reassumed her downcast, slumping pose. “She wants to be left at Epcot. That’ll be tomorrow.” “And then we go home?” “No, we’re here ‘till the end of the week.” Mia clenched her fists around her silverware, and Stephanie slouched and banged her head again, this time against the TV. Her daughters’ disappointment was so obvious, Ellen held her stomach to keep from laughing. Yet she had a suspicion that laughing now would lead to tears. “Where in Epcot, anyway?” said Mia. “Like, what country?” “No country.” Ellen hesitated. “At the Ball.” “The Ball?” Stephanie sat up. “Like, the big Epcot ball?” She burst into laughter. “Did she even know the name of it?” Alice had always admired the architectural simplicity of Epcot’s signature attraction: a big silver ball, one hundred feet tall: Spaceship Earth. “She wasn’t all there at the end, or she would have remembered,” said Ellen. “Your grandma was a Disney expert. Have you seen those guidebooks, I got them from –”. “The Ball.” She leaned back and put her feet on the chair next to her. “Jesus Christ.” Fate had chosen that moment for Debbie to return. “You should watch your tongue, Precious,” Debbie said over the tray of milkshakes in her hand. She held the tray at arms-length from Stephanie with her beefy arm, her other arm cocked at her hip and waiting for some form of apology. The dining room froze; even those at other tables crept to the edge of their chairs. The standoff was straight from television, a freeze frame of a 50’s sitcom. Then Stephanie rose and took her strawberry milkshake from the tray. “Sorry,” she said. She took two fingers and scooped a large glob of pink slush from the glass and onto her tongue. “So fucking sorry.” Then she dropped the glass on the table, where some of the shake spilled over the counter and onto Ellen’s lap. Ellen barely had time to wipe the spill on her lap before her daughter was gone. That night, Ellen watched the firework show alone, on the boardwalk outside their resort. There had been an argument – a bright, brief explosion in their hotel room – and now there were fireworks. There was a type of movie magic in that symmetry, Ellen thought, allowing herself a rebellious smile. The fight started with a save-the-vacation pitch, the type of 127


enthusiastic rally-to-arms that, for her cheerleader mother, would have been effortless. It was an act that was only half-finished before Stephanie tore her earbuds out and cornered Ellen against the mirror, asking questions dabbed with spit. Why was she trying so hard to enjoy this? Why was she forcing that on the girls? Questions Ellen couldn’t answer. A crowd lined the boardwalk railing, looking above the lagoon at the fiery spectacle. Their faces glowed in shifting colors like beads in a kaleidoscope: mothers with their children, young honeymooners, old lovebirds huddling for warmth. Ellen waited to watch the smoky residue creep along the surface and curl itself under and through the wooden walkway. It was still hot when it reached her ankles. She was last to leave. When she returned, the room was dark, her daughters sprawled across each other in their bed. She wiped Mia’s face with her shirt and took Stephanie’s earbuds carefully out of her ears and placed them gently on the side table. As she fell asleep she could still hear the fireworks, rattling out of her head and through the room, like some syncopated drum riff on one of Stephanie’s songs. The following day was designed as a quick operation: get in, get out. She’d sneak the ashes through the gate in tiny Ziplocs. The urn wouldn’t make it through the gate, and she could only fit the small Ziploc variety on her person: in her socks, in the back of her waistband, and in her shirtsleeves. Six bags in total. A quick goodbye, a toss in the wind, and then the rest of the vacation would be spent in their rooms, Ellen reading Vogue along with the old Disney guides, Stephanie on her laptop, Mia looking on. This was the deal they agreed to over breakfast; Stephanie had explained that they would watch her do the deed from a distance, then leave the park. Mia had nodded slowly while munching corn flakes. At midday, Ellen stood in the shadow of the Ball, or Spaceship Earth, for the sake of correctness. Did Walt Disney really think this was what would take us to the cosmos? That a fat gray ball would lift us miles off the ground? A nearby Disney worker with a vest full of shiny pins and an aggressive smile could probably shed some light, but Ellen didn’t care enough to ask him. Under the Ball, several families waited in line, while others waited for pictures with Mickey and friends. She weaved her way through a small sea of costumed characters, reflexively annoyed by their big heads and dopey stitched smiles. The bags of ash under her clothes were making her sweat but she didn’t dare take them out too early. When she was ready, she walked to the edge of the hedge that wrapped around the back of the attraction. She thought of the postcards she’d seen at the resort earlier – Wish You Were Here – and how she’d considered writing one and leaving it with the ashes. What would she say? What role would she play for her mother while writing 128


the card. For a week, she’d played the best Alice she could; she’d put in far more effort in that performance than she ever had playing the enthusiastic daughter. Ellen took the first two bags out of her sleeves and dumped them into the bush. Her mother must have expected this vacation to be cashed in sooner, when the girls were young, and Ross and Ellen were happy. She wouldn’t have expected this disaster. Ellen remembered the visits to the hospital, first full of words and shared school stories from the girls. The absurdity of the place: the cheesy nurse jokes with their colorful outfits, balloons on every door, the slipper-socks and half-robes they gave every patient. After months of visits, the squeaks of shoes and chairs on the tile floor were sometimes all that filled the room. Ellen took a bag out of her waistband and let the brown ash fall between her fingers, dirtying her nails. Sorry, Mom, she thought. Couldn’t keep it all together. Then she looked up and locked eyes with Pluto, pointing at her with his big yellow paw. She slid the other damp pouch from her waist and let the ash fly into the air as Pluto rounded the hedge. His cartoonish yellow paws were waving above his head, which got the attention of the extravagantly-pinned worker. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said as Ellen fumbled with her sock, “what’s going on here?” “Nothing,” she said, but the bag was in her hand, and he took it from her and held it to the light. Busted. “What is this? You brought this in in your sock?” he asked. Trying to process things as quickly as he could, he opened the bag, stuck his nose in it, and gave it a big sniff. Blood rushed to Ellen’s head. “Those are my mother’s ashes, and I’m done with four out of the six bags. Uh…” Nearly everyone in line had turned to bear witness. A few held cameras. “If I could just –” She reached for the bag but it eluded her grasp. “I have a right to that!” She looked around for help, but all she saw were sandaled tourists and big-headed cartoon animals, a crew that was sure to side with Pluto. She stood on her tiptoes, looking for her daughters through the crowd, and when the park worker stepped towards her again she pushed his chest with surprising strength. Before Ellen could make a fight-or-flight decision, Pluto stepped between her and the fallen worker. He was in her face and his felt paws landed on her shoulders to steady her. She stared at his wide, stupid white eyes, his floppy foam tongue that swayed back and forth, taunting her. She pushed him in the chest. To Ellen’s shock, Pluto pushed back. Then they were on the concrete, rolling under the shadow of the Ball as Pluto’s costumed friends cleared the children from the area. He 129


took a swat at her with a paw-glove, which she ripped off. The concrete was gritty against her cheek; it tasted like sand with a trace of sugar. A surge of adrenaline from a week’s worth of suppressed rage and hurt propelled her upwards, and then she was on top of Pluto. She had her knees in his chest and she gripped his dangling ears, two large loops that hung like earphone cords down to his neck. She pulled and let the head fly backwards behind her back. Pluto was a boy, no more than nineteen. His face was peppered with orange dots and adorned with a filmy, Walt Disney-esqe blonde mustache. His eyes were blue, like Ellen’s, and held open by pure terror. “Please, ma’am,” he said. “It’s my first day.” Her knees loosened, and she backed off him. She could feel a sudden surge of heat that caused her head to spin and her limbs to melt into her body. Two men pulled her to her feet, and she finally her daughters through the crowd, standing beyond the shadow of the Ball. She couldn’t read their faces, but they followed her as the men dragged her to the front gate, then through it and out of Disney World parks for good. Halfway home from Orlando, they stopped at a motel for the night. From their second-floor balcony, Stephanie and Ellen could see the pool that Mia was dipping her feet in. The steely blue water was the same color as the pavement, which was the same as the balcony and the window shades and the wallpaper. The sun was setting, and the pool fence cast dark spikes across the surface. For the first time on their trip, there was no one else around. “I’m sorry,” said Ellen. Saying it made Ellen feel even heavier, like she could break through the iron balcony and fall to the pool chairs below. She held her breath and waited. Stephanie’s cheeks filled with air. She burst with laughter. “Hey, Mom, at least we’ve got a story to tell now. The day my mom got us kicked out of Disney World.” “I really fucked up. I mean, I – ” Ellen was having a hard time breathing. “I really fucked this up.” “Yeah, but, you fucked it up in the most spectacular way!” Stephanie stood up and gripped the railing, leaning over it to lock eyes with Ellen. “The look on that poor kid’s face was worth all of it.” They observed Mia throw pebbles from the pool’s edge. They rippled in the water, clanged off the diving board, and made miniscule dents in the aluminum towel rack. “There was a place like this by Grandma’s house,” said Ellen. “Remember? Small little shitty motel, but with a nice pool in back. Your grandma charmed the security guard like only she could, and scored a pool 130


pass. And she’d take us all down there at about this time of night, walking through the woods between her house and the pool with our flip flops and towels. You guys used to love swimming. Your dad and I would even join you for cannonball contests off the high dive. He always won, of course; even then he was fat.” Ellen noticed Mia looking up, and then she heard Stephanie crying. She was leaning over the balcony, bent at a right angle at her hips. Her long dark hair looked like a flag hanging over the edge. Ellen pulled her from the railing and into a deck chair with her, clearing the hair from her face and wrapping her arms around her waist and legs. “It’s okay,” she said, patting her head and leaving light kisses above her brow. “I miss her, too.” They stayed there a while, until the spiked pool shadows disappeared and the red sky went completely dark. Mia came up from the pool and put her head on Ellen’s shoulder, next to Stephanie’s. They sat together in the glow of the buzzing green motel sign that in that moment marked the happiest place on Earth.

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Thank you


Profile for The Vanderbilt Review

The Vanderbilt Review XXXII (2017/2018 School Year)  

The 2017/2018 school year edition of The Vanderbilt Review

The Vanderbilt Review XXXII (2017/2018 School Year)  

The 2017/2018 school year edition of The Vanderbilt Review

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