REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW iew T
V an e h lt Rev
V an e h lt Rev
The Vanderbilt Review is not operated by Vanderbilt University. The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Vanderbilt University or its official representatives. VanderbiltÂŽ and the Vanderbilt logos are registered trademarks of The Vanderbilt University. ÂŠ 2019 Vanderbilt University 1
EDITOR IN CHIEF JUSTINE KAEMMERLEN
MANAGING EDITOR CARTER JOHAN LAYOUT EDITORS REBECCA ARP EMILY KOPEC
ART EDITORS MADDIE AMEND JULIA LUBARSKY
PROSE EDITOR REBECCA BALDWIN
POETRY EDITOR BETHANY BOGGS 2
OUR STAFF LAYOUT STAFF GRACE BILLMAN KAI DAVIS KAITLIN JOSHUA
ART STAFF BRYAN HA KATHERINE RUNNELS CATHERINE SHEEHAN
PROSE STAFF NAUREEN AZEEZ ROMAN BACCHETTA ALLISON BOYCE DARIUS COWAN CAROLINE CRAWFORD ANDREW ELSAKR JI YOON HONG JOSEPH LOVINGER OLIVIA RASTATTER
POETRY STAFF ISABELLA BRUZZESE BRYAN HOLLIS DYLAN KISTLER KELLY MORGAN JASMIN NORFORD
PUBLICATION SUPPORT STAFF STAFF LISTED ON VANDERBILTREVIEW.COM 3
Letter from the Editor
When I was a child, my imagination carried me through
many experiences in my life. I could turn any dull situation into an exciting one by creating imaginary worlds with my friends, worlds where I could save the day, become the hero, and make a profound impact on the world at the drop of a hat. With an active imagination, the world is bright.
As we grow older, however, other priorities tend to
dampen the importance of imagination in our lives. Grades, bills, morning commutes â€“ you know the list. Yet, despite this (or perhaps because of it), the community of college students here at Vanderbilt has fostered an incredible ability to set aside those day-to-day duties for a bit and create. By writing poems, creating art, and crafting incredible works of prose, the students on this campus have given us a little window into the way they see the world, one often informed by a slice of the imagination they have consciously harbored throughout the years.
Whether we are creators or observers, I think that it is
vital to incorporate the arts into our routine lives to keep the spark of imagination alive in our souls â€“ it keeps us human. When I pick up this book, I feel the pages exuding a strong sense of the imagination we all possessed as children, and I sop up every ounce of that I can get. I hope that by reading it, you feel even a shimmer of that same energy. Justine Kaemmerlen
10 FATHER - BONNIE PANG 12 FATED - SYDNEY KAEMMERLAN 13 APPALACHIAN WINTER - KELLY MORGAN 14 DAYS WE REMEMBER - DYLAN KISTLER 16 DETERGENT - AIDEN LAYER 17 SUNRISE - LAUREN SOBOTA 18 ROOTS - MARIA LORAIZA BONILLA 24 TRADITION, 30296 - BRENT SZKLARUK-SALAZAR 26 I SAID INSTEAD - JEUNG EUN KIM 28 A DAREDEVIL ON DEVILâ€™S BRIDGE, SEDONA, ARIZONAMONICA GALLAGHER 29 VANDY VINTAGE JACKET - SYDNEY COREY 30 CLOSE ENOUGH - JASMIN NORFORD 33 BLUE WAVE - LAUREN SOBOTA 34 PRECIOUS THINGS - LAUREN FURMAN 45 ASCEND AT ASCEND - BRENT SZKLARUK-SALAZAR 46 KEEPING PACE - MAKENZIE ALSPAU 48 FOLLOWING THE SCENT - CLAIRE BARNETT 49 RAVEN KING - SYDNEY COREY 50 THE NIGHT CHURCH - DARIUS COWAN 60 CONTROL - MONICA GALLAGHER 62 GAEA - CAROLINE CRAWFORD 64 8/3/99 - CATHERINE SHEEHAN 65 ADAM - SARAH SAXTON STRASSBERG 66 BIND US2GTHR LORD WTH LUV LUCY DAVIES-KUMADIRO 68 153 MCGAVOCK - LAUREN SABOTA 71 LOVE. - NATASJA LESSIOHADI 72 GMA - NATASJA LESSIOHADI 74 SUNSET - SARAH SAXON STRASSBERG 77 CAUGHT - MONICA GALLAGHER 79 CONTROL - MONICA GALLAGHER
80 UNTITLED - ALEX LITHGOW 81 AN AFTERNOON COMMUTE - MATT MACKADO 82 EMERGENCE - ALEX LITHGOW 84 STOPPED CALLING - KYLE VANESCO 85 BEACH DAY - MATT MACKADO 86 MARTIAN LINENS - MOLLY KATHERINE HANCE 88 MAKING PURPLE - CLAIRE BARNETT 90 GUESS WORK - MOLLY KATHERINE HANCE 98 I AM TRYING TO EAT MY FIST - MAKENZIE ALSPAU 100 THE SNOWGLOBE - KATIE WARD 107 SYNCING SPIRALS - SYDNEY COREY 108 FISHING FROM CLARAâ€™S COVE - EVE MOLL 109 I SEE ONE! - CATHERINE SHEEHAN 110 HOPE PROFERRED - CATHERINE SHEEHAN 111 JUST A DREAM - STEFANO SCOTTI 112 DINNER FOR ONE - KYLE VANESCO 113 SIREN SONG - JULIANA HERNANDEZ 124 MODERN FRENCH - SARAH SAXTON STRASSBERG 125 AN OPEN LETTER TO A DANDELION SEEDALEX CAMAI
128 IMPACT - ALEX LITHGOW 129 SEX DREAMS ABOUT BARISTAS - ISABELLA BRUZZESE 130 FLOWER BOY - KYLE VANESCO 131 DRIVE THRU - ALLISON BOYCE 141 OHIO - CAROLINE CRAWFORD 142 SCALED AND ETNA - LAUREN SOBOTA 143 OUT TO PASTURE - CLAIRE BARNETT 144 MASTER - MONICA GALLAGHER
COVER ART- UNTITLED - ABBY MILLER COVER DESIGN - JUSTINE KAEMMERLEN, EMILY KOPEC, KAITLIN JOSHUA 7
ART Master by Monica Gallagher (2020) Judged by Mark Hosford, art professor and chair of the Art department at Vanderbilt University I was very drawn to this image, due to its subtle composition and vivid monochromatic color palette. The stenciled text, normally used for informative or instructive purposes, has a unique interaction with the figure, whose nondescript clothing and neutral expression gives the figure a certain amount of indistinction. The color blur within the image shifts us away from reality, as if in a memory or a dream state.
PROSE Siren Song by Julianna Hernandez (2020) Judged by Jen Doll, young adult author in NYC The piece that I can’t stop thinking about the most is “Siren Song”—the story of a couple in crisis that finds a distressed mermaid on an Atlantic City Beach, a story reflecting the broader, damaged world around us (environmentally and otherwise), as well as in ourselves. I thought that the writer did an incredible job at merging the realistic and the magical, and seriousness and humor, too. And I just love the idea of a mermaid living in a bathtub in a broken-down Atlantic City hotel, surviving on Cup Noodles ... until whatever fate has in store for her, and her rescuers, inevitably happens.
POETRY I Am Trying to Eat My Fist Today by Makenzie Alspaw (2019) Judged by Caroline Randall Williams, local poet and author of Lucy Negro Redux This poem is brave, strange, honest, and possessed of a rightness of perception and a quirky tone that is somehow almost violent and certainly whimsical, all at once.
father Bonnie Pang
I must understand, and I do, how it is to feel As if I should be someplace better. And my father is clever, a man of letters,
If only he had been born some other time. Somehow, without his telling me, I know that he regrets less the man I see
And more so the one he could have become. If he had tried to tell me this, It would have been a silent list,
Of accomplishments he wished I had achieved. Is he happy that I struck out on my own, Or dissapointed that I did not return what was owed?
Loose teeth, back pain, a head full of worries.
Sydney Kaemmerlen Fated Oil on canvas
Appalachian Winter Kelly Morgan It is nearing winter in Appalachia. The sycamores know: They are shedding the last of their laughing leaves into the river below, keeping only those skeletal branches, hardened for storm-weather. The moss hugs close; the ferns dip under what leaves and branches they can find. The rocks and ground have been left unattended. The trees, in their solitary clusters, pull away from the bark and sapwood, nestling into that aged heartwood inside. They have already undressed for the cold; They have begun communicating with their roots, not their branches. The animals — squirrel, mouse, cardinal — cast about for the discarded clothes of the trees, extra padding for their nests and burrows. What birdsong there may yet be is obscured by the churn of the river. All life has retreated within itself, as though it is the season for quiet meditation. If I sit here long enough, perhaps I, too, will morph into my winter self. Pale limbs stretched like the branches above me, moss growing where I once wore clothing, hair shaggy and tangled into the roots and branches of the world nearby, soul finding some inner place beyond cold. I will learn, perhaps, if those laconic spirits around me use the coldest months for singular contemplation, or if, instead, they all reach into secret meeting spaces deep under the ground — below such things as frost and thaw — and continue whatever palendric conversation they were having above. If I let my feet twine with the roots of this sycamore, maybe I too will share in a sentence of this conversation.
Days We Remembered Dylan Kistler Listening for Oceans We were seven when they took the sand. I always thought it was grand for a small town playground, but perhaps too often we got lost chasing waves when there had been no rain. There was always a drought - usually a water drought, or else money, adult words that stayed far from the playground. In the end, adventures and rolling about was most all it was good for. I remember: A girl burrows her feet in hot sand. She is overcome with worry that her nail polish is too blue, when he speeds about without a word – as any seven-year-old boy is wont do to after a few minutes of sustained listening. The quicksand takes her under, blushing, under to hide. Around her she hears splashing, and a crash. Our family trips to the coast seemed so silly then – four hours racing across the state when I already had sand between my toes (three times a day if I so indulged). The water I chased - somewhere beyond the sand on the playground was warmer than any ocean, and all the critters (we would learn to name them three years later in Bandon) happily awaited our discovery at high tide and low tide alike. Besides, just think of all the liability – letting fifty second-graders run into the waves unsupervised (the teachers didn’t seem to hear the waves, unless we told them). That and the question of “injustice”. It wasn’t fair that in all the town of Ashland, us kids should explore the South Pacific while the adults prayed for enough moisture from the sky to have a ski season again. It must have been one longing look (not their first) from a recess monitor that began the removal of our sand. 14
Lili said they took the sand – the big stretching expanse of it – Because of the sand bees. Still, there were hundreds of them, And only once do I remember a bee worked up the gumption To bite Ethan’s knee. Even then, I don’t think he would have traded The ocean. In the end, it must have been the sand itself that made them haul it off. We tracked enough of it inside to warrant a permanent sand bee colony on Ms. Smith’s rug. We didn’t worry about them putting those awful woodchips in the playground – After all, an ocean brings in the sand and not the other way around. They couldn’t take the ocean – couldn’t even smell it, hear it, as I said. Still – there was something to the golden sand and the warmth in our toes, and rubbing one’s fingers between one another to clean out the grit as we lined up after the bell. I always left a couple grains between my pinky and ring finger. I’m thankful I did - just as thankful as I am for the times I forced my parents to both play a board game in the months just before they separated, and I lost a second ocean. No one’s ever been to a funeral service for sand, (not like we did for our class bunny the year following) and I wouldn’t say that they ought to. Still, contrary to the science of it all, our ocean never brought the sand home.
Aiden Layer Detergent Digital Art 16
Sunrise Lauren Sobota Polaroid
roots We started our day incredibly early. We were there to learn, foreign students ready to study and immerse themselves in a culture that was not their own. I was a student too, immersed in a culture that didn’t feel like my own despite a birth certificate that said otherwise. After a week of learning how Colombians lived, we took a trip to hike in the small town of Choachi. I took my seat on the bus, anxiety growing in my chest until Elena sat down next to me, calming my nerves but stirring the butterflies in my stomach. The city was quiet – a rarity for a city of nearly 10 million people. Bogotá held a gray sky above us that morning, the city’s sleepiness contagious enough to evoke a drowsiness in all of us. A weight set over my eyelids as the bus followed the winding road out of the wet concrete jungle. The bus’s headlights guided our path through the fog, the driver unable to see more than ten feet of the road in front of us. About 45 minutes outside of the city, the modern asphalt surrendered to the overpowering countryside I should have been terrified of. There was a steep drop to our right, just five feet from the tires that carried us, as if nature had only been generous enough to give us a path twenty feet wide, the drop a threat not to ask for more. We were in the clouds, but I didn’t care one bit. My focus was on Elena and her stories of navigating life with 18
Maria Loraiza Bonilla
her Mexican-American identity. As the fog lifted, the valleys stopped hiding. I felt my heart swell with enormous pride to the point of bursting. I felt drawn to the secrets that lay in the barrios below me. They were small communities surrounded by mountains, a people accustomed to a poverty they didn’t know was poverty because it was the only life they’d ever known. This is where my great-grandfather lived. Cows, dew-soaked green grass, campesinos y campesinas. This is where my great-grandfather dug his hands in the soil, his knees on the ground, to feed his children’s ambition to leave their town of wood and dirt. I felt the weight of their dreams on my shoulders. Here I was, a symbol of both the grime that packed my great-grandfather’s fingernails in the 50s and my father’s own clean fingernails, which tap on a keyboard in a safe, air-conditioned office. The night before the hike, we’d gone for a drive around Bogotá in a chiva. The program’s coordinators had packed 30 students into this bus, creating a sea of bodies between Elena and me. Looking back, this would have pleased my great-grandmother. My great-grandmother was a staunch, devoted Catholic. 19
My mother and grandmother treated her memory as they would a saint’s. A beautiful saint who made sure her nine children never went hungry and prayed to their God every night, my great-grandmother left behind a legacy of that Hispanic fervor for an afterlife of sinless glory. And I, that saint’s namesake, had betrayed my own blood. I’d neglected my own salvation. I didn’t care. I’d moved far away almost 16 years before my return, my parents shoving me into the arms of Lady Liberty and the freedom she’d promised us when our feet walked onto American soil. How could I care about my past when my America taught me to go after what I wanted? Why would I revert to feeling the shame my Colombian foremothers felt about my rejection of a heterosexual future when my America told me it was okay to let my heart feel whatever it wanted to? I didn’t care. In that moment, I wanted to channel my inner Moses and carve a path through that sea of drunk teenager to get to where Elena was, to be near her again. Unsuccessful in doing so, I spent the whole night stealing glances in her direction instead, unable to focus on anything else. She was beautiful. The black crop top she had on made sure that her exposed abdomen crushed the hearts of everyone who looked her – myself included. The aching in my heart followed me off the bus as I walked away, refusing to release its grip on me until I was back in my room, alone with my thoughts. “You’re straight, right?” I knew she was, long before I texted her. I knew she was the second I laid eyes on her. But the hope that she wasn’t and the tequila in my system pushed my thumb to my phone screen and hit send. I closed my eyes, ignoring the vibration of my phone telling me she had started replying to my message, not opening them again out of fear of rejection.
I had been in Bogotá for a week, but the steep climb reminded me that the high altitude took more than just seven days to get used to. I was out of breath less than five minutes in. To make matters worse, our group had split into two: a slow group and a fast one. I wanted to take in as much as I possibly could, my body drifting towards the slower-paced group that promised me the chance to absorb every ounce of greatness my grandmother had hidden somewhere along the path for me to find. But Elena chose otherwise. 20
She wanted to be next to the body who wore his hat
backwards and exuded confidence with every “Bro!” that came out of his mouth. She wanted to be near her French-British roommate who had a crazy story to accompany every drink she took when we played Never Have I Ever. She wanted to be close to the people who were everything I wasn’t: funny, interesting, straight. Desperate for a chance to hear her laugh, I joined the fastpaced group too. Upon making my decision I felt a shift in my surroundings. The quiet drizzle that landed on my face no longer felt like simple rain, but the tears of my weeping predecessors and their unforgiving God. In their eyes, I’d made the wrong choice. I’d transformed the motherland I’d returned to into the tourist destination Elena’s friends saw. I’d given up the chance to be close to my roots for the chance to be close to a girl and her friends who didn’t fully understand the burden of carrying two passports. I gave up the chance to make my ancestors proud. I killed their God by lusting for a girl on their ancestral land. The roar of water crashing into rock alerted all of us that we had finally arrived. There I was, two thousand miles from the long-stretching arms of Lady Liberty, the tallest waterfall in Colombia in front of me, the girl of my dreams behind me. I’d made it. Overwhelmed but captivated by the sheer strength of the water, I felt small but powerful. I became the waterfall, the rock it crashed into, the miles of trees we’d hiked through to get there – my ancestors’ gifts for coming home. It was there that I grew roots. My roots spewed out from my whole being, tying me to the waterfall, rocks, trees, everything. My roots sunk themselves into the soil that held the remnants of my mother’s roots, and of her mother before her. I could feel my bloodline course through my blood lines, snaking its way down the veins and arteries that kept me alive. I kept the veins and arteries alive by breathing in the cold air that carved out my place in space and made me real. I was home. My eyes were closed, my mind taken over by my ancestors. I wanted to explain to Elena that I wasn’t thinking about her. I tried to tell someone, anyone, everyone that I didn’t want to leave. I tried to tell them that I was no longer one person but many. I wanted to say that I had given in to the reason why I had two passports, why I had four names, why I didn’t need to take 21
any pictures of the waterfall that we had hiked to. I wanted to say that my foremothers and their God forgave my sins. The weight of my great-grandfather’s ambition, my grandmother’s childhood, my father’s journey to America on my shoulders sunk my roots deeper and deeper into the ground. Eyes closed, body taken over by my ancestors. I was home. Elena ripped me out of my reverie. “Ready to go?” No. No I wasn’t. But the impossibility of staying any longer opened my eyes and I followed the group that had already started our hike back. The sweet, crisp air that had raised the hairs on my arms upon our arrival to Choachi turned into bitter, salty sweat on my skin. I took a moment to savor the final moments of making my family proud before I took my seat on the bus next to Elena and left. I remembered how beautiful she was. I knew I could only choose one. It was either my ancestors or her beauty. It was either my great-grandfather or Elena’s laugh, the way her hair fell and curved around her face, the way she grabbed my attention and held onto it until we arrived in Bogotá. I had to choose between giving in to the familial pressure to follow their rules or giving in to my pursuit of a girl my America told me was okay to love. I had to make sure she could see the same future first. I had to get over my hesitation to ask her again and my fear of an answer I did not want to hear. “So… You’re straight, right?” “Yeah…” I had no words to break the silence that followed. I felt small and inconsequential. I had no way of winning the war I’d been fighting from the moment I took my first breath in this world and settled into the life my four names had laid out of me. I had no way of keeping the fresh roots I had grown into the earth that morning without giving up the freedom to love the way I wanted to. Elena was supposed to fight my guilt about leaving my mother’s home to return to my America. She was supposed to win the war for me. She was supposed to love me back. What I felt towards Elena was more than just a childish crush. She was my fight against my past, my family, my religion, and I had thrown her onto a battlefield with all of it, alone, 22
against her wishes. It wasn’t her fight to win. She had no stakes in the war that had bloodied my hands too much for me to keep trying on my own. She couldn’t help me keep my past as alive as my future, to keep my Colombian passport living in harmony with my American one. She was supposed to help me. She was supposed to love me back. There was nothing left for me to do but surrender. Alone, I had no choice but to let my past control my future. My trip to Bogotá, my return to my birthplace, took away the freedom Lady Liberty had so graciously given me for reasons I didn’t understand. I loved my mother, my father, their mothers, their fathers. So why would they break my heart so soon after Elena did? Perhaps my ancestors were waiting to provide some explanation when I took on another form of being. Perhaps they were waiting until their roots were strong enough to take hold of my mortal body and bury me into the ground. I wasn’t sure if there was an answer at all. As the dirt road shifted back to its cold, gray counterpart, we pulled into the city with ease. The gray sky that had cast a shadow over Bogotá had cleared while we were gone, but the disappearance of the sun had given way to an even darker sky. The pitch-black covered the city like tar. I found solace in the stars that shone through that black, wondering if one day I’d join them too.
Tradition, 30296 Brent Szklaruk-Salazar Digital Photography 24
When did it start? Ross was naked with the ugly naked guy I was drunk and overconfident. Cups stack up when air falls down Cups overflow with giggles turn cold Perspiration gathers on pale plastic brow No cup was made to hold that much. A babble of sick and a vomit of words Iâ€™m so so so so sorry. You helped me up and then turned on the shower You started the wash as I shook in the water. Time is odd. Blankets and pillows and arms enveloped me While drunken words sloshed around in my body Lost and determined to slur their way out. What? Your eyes are very brown.
I said instead. Jeung Eun Kim.
A Daredevil on Devilâ€™s Bridge, Sedona, Arizona
Monica Gallagher Digital Photography
Vandy Vintage Jacket Sydney Corey Acrylic on Canvas
Close Enough Jasmin Norford I’ve studied you so hard I named the vein on your right forearm. “He,” the blue blood stream of a black skinned forest Black skin Brown eyes Coffee spoons against an ink coated countenance I want to give you a name too. As I breathe you in I draw you into my universe. In the most literal interpretation of the word, Yes, I draw you I etch you into my daily fabric Like a, Monday morning one drop too little of coffee one word too many from “Becky” did that clock hand just get louder...? eyes drooping, voices fade to echoes kind of doodle. Until my blurry, faded, memory disregards its illusion And I can see you. But not as I do now, catching a train west, when I’m headed east, left to my wistful thought that maybe, just maybe, you know about this secret rendezvous we have every morning. Or that maybe just maybe, you’re hoping that when you rub your neck I’ll get too caught up in the perfect blend of muscle, callous, and tribulation that is a black man’s hand to notice the yogurt stain on the corner of your blazer. 30
But don’t you worry my love. I couldn’t miss a single detail when it comes to you. Somehow, I find myself wearing a dress and heels on the subway, just in case you so happen to take the blue line at (7:22) But when we pass your usual stop and you don’t get on, I let myself become hyper aware of the strands of curly frizz at the edge of my hair and think to myself that somehow my lipstick got redder. Too Red Fire truck red Obese cardinal red Just about rotten strawberry red And I wonder why I let myself try when I don’t even know your name. But then I figure this is the dress I’ll wear when we throw our first cocktail party But not when I meet your parents Oh no, Not when I meet Mom and Pop. I don’t want to stray looks when I try to wear white on wedding day. Still, I can say In all honesty Our lover’s tale was always this sincere. Just guess what my first thought was when I saw you No. Not about your eyes Not even the way your hair curls like the mark at the edge of question And no, Not about what you might be packing.
It was more of a silent consideration about what kind of toothpaste a guy like you uses. A maybe not so silent day dream about your “I work at a dead-end job” kind of cuticles Your “why am I still wearing the shoes my ex bought me?” kind of exasperated eye Your “Just make it though today” kind of broken smile Still, the more I divulge and separate, probe and investigate your probabable insecurities I begin to see myself in your downcast eye. Who knows, Maybe one of these days I’ll turn around and ask about htis “temperamental weather” we’ve been having. Because that’s what adults talk about, Isn’t it? Or, I’ll see if you know any good coffee shops. If you’re into coffee that is. And maybe Just maybe, I’ll muster up the nerve to Just Say Hello But for now, I can honestly say I’m content with where we are. Well, Where you are And Where I am But that’s close enough, right? Isn’t that how life goes? 32
Blue Wave Lauren Sobota Polaroid
PRECIOUS THIN G S Lauren Furman
The city is alive. On quiet nights I can feel it breatheâ€”long slow breaths that take hours each, as if in a deep slumber. They wind through the French Quarter; drawn out sighs that move within a ribcage of wrought iron, filling brick lungs and pulsing through cobblestone veins. They diffuse outward through skeletal streets, rippling across busy financial districts and hulking industrial rows, between churches and cemeteries, weaving in and out of silent neighborhoods, invading pristine antebellum mansions and decaying, abandoned structures. They leak into the Mississippi and melt into the furthest corners of the bayou. I feel them as if they are my own, as if my life is indistinguishable from that which flows through the streets that raised me. We share a heartbeat, the city and I. My sister used to say it was the echo of our ancestors. That when our great, great grandmothers practiced voodoo and our great, great grandfathers invented jazz they gave their souls to the city. She believed that like the black magic practiced by those who came before us, something dark and inescapable flowed through our veins. That it bound us to the city in a way that could never be undone. This is our past, Josephine, she said, and our future. The city will live on, and we will add our heartbeats to it when we are done with them. These days I have no choice but to believe that she was right. I sometimes wonder if the tourists can feel it, if it is this rhythmic pulse of life that draws them to New Orleans. If it is perhaps what draws them to me. Can they sense it in my blood? Something ancient and powerful, and just a little bit dark? Or is the sensation mine alone; the conceited side effect of bad breeding and an upbringing in a place with too many legends and not enough truth. The consequence of a life lived recklessly in a city that rewards the mischievous and the superstitious, of which I am both. It is a dangerous combination. *** There is nothing quiet about tonight; though the city lives slowly, the people in it do not. Instead, laughter and voices and music drown out everything else. Bodies press against each other, thousands of them packed onto Bourbon Street alone, a million of them spread out across the Quarter. They come from all over the country, all over the world, eager to celebrate. Clad in elaborate costumes and wigs, necks heavy with beads of green, purple, and, gold, they paint their faces and put on their masks and pretend to 35
be things they are not. I move among them; like a black cat, I slide through the packed avenues on tip-toe, my eyes flickering beneath my mask. There is much to see, much to do, much to be. Mardi Gras has always been my favorite time of year. There is something beautiful about it, something preternatural in the way we let it consume us. Like a snake eating its own tail, we feed on our own destruction. We pump ourselves full of food, of alcohol, of lust. Drunk on liquor and tradition alike, we explore the way celebration and sin are woven together. We find that they are lovers, and we do our best to imitate them. These too are things my sister taught me to believe. Tonight I am more than just a woman; I am a shadow come to life. Everything about me is dark—from the thick curls that frame my face, to my velvet corset, down to my stockings and my black heels and up to my coffee bean eyes that hide behind a fantastical ebony mask adorned with horns and feathers in the likeness of a mythical creature. Tonight I am out for trouble. My attire achieves the desired effect. Everywhere I walk, men stare me down, their drunk eyes ravenous. I meet their gazes, offer them half smiles that suggest I am made of mischief. They love it, they eat it up, they want more. “What are you supposed to be, darling?” One of them catches my forearm, his fat fingers pressing into my skin. He smells of beer and entitlement. I press my hand against his chest, sliding it up to his collarbone, his neck, with sly fingers I turn his chin and lean in until my lips are almost touching his ear. “Dangerous,” I say. I pull back, removing my arm from his grasp. Before he can reply, I am out of his sight, retreated into the safety of the crowds around us. I smile, knowing he will feel the impression of my fingers on his face for the rest of the night, that he will imagine it before he goes to bed, and dream of it while he sleeps off his intoxication. I am certain of this, just as I am certain that he was so enamored with the one hand that he did not even notice the other as it slid into his back pocket and fished out his wallet. I leaf through it as I walk, pulling out what must be close to two hundred dollars in cash and tucking it into my cleavage. I toss the rest aside with barely a thought, my eyes already scouting for my next target. They never suspect the pretty face, these men, they never even stop to consider that I am not the damsel in distress, but the villain. I learned long 36
ago to use this to my advantage, to exploit it mercilessly. But tonight I do not find another man, because out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a figure that halts me, that sets my heart racing, that lifts the hairs on the back of my neck. And then I am pushing, shoving, hurrying through the throngs of bodies after what I think I have seen. Not fast enough, someone passes in front of me and I almost lose sight of who I am chasing. I turn a corner, then another, until I am certain I must have caught her, but when I come around the last bend I only find myself face to face with a brick wall. No one else here, I am alone and out of breath. I shake my head; of course there is no one here, you are too superstitious for your own good. But as I reorient myself and find my way back to the busy, festive streets, I cannot shake the chill tugging at my spine. The more I try to convince myself I imagined it, the more certain I become that I saw her. That I did not hallucinate the tall slender frame or the black curls. That just for an instant, I saw my sister. But this cannot be true and I know that, because the last time I saw her was in the city morgue, the day they pulled her body out of the Mississippi. *** We were built for thievery, my sister and I. Dominique and Josephine Laleu, French in name and Creole in everything else, much like New Orleans itself. We grew up poor and happy on the edge of the French Quarter, in a small apartment above our grandmother’s voodoo shop. Hers was not one for tourists, and those that did stumble upon it ever so often could not explain how they had ended up there. My grandmother, referred to by most as Mama Laleu, would tell them that something must have called them to her, that the city worked in mysterious ways, and then she would offer to read their palms or cards or knuckle bones for free. We were never allowed in the back room where the readings took place, my sister and I. When we asked my grandmother why, she would say, “Because you should be in no rush to meet the Baron,” and usher us outside, telling us not to come back without something to offer. So we roamed the city and learned to steal. We learned the alleys and memorized the names on the mausoleums, we admired the colorful home fronts and counted the flickering gaslights. On warm summer nights we followed ghost tours, 37
listening to stories and snatching watches from drunk patrons; on cold winter afternoons we browsed souvenir shops, pocketing lighters and Christmas ornaments. Wherever we went, people looked at us and wondered who was raising us so wrong. They must have thought us orphans, and though they were right in a sense—our parents were nowhere to be found—what they did not know is that the city had adopted us as its own. The architecture was our mother and the history our father. That was all we needed; that and Mama Laleu. She would greet whatever we brought home with pride and praise. “The Baron will like this,” she would say, placing our stolen goods at the small shrine near the entrance to the shop. At night Dominque and I would sneak downstairs and sit in front of it, nesting ourselves among the trinkets and beads and bottles spilling down from the precariously full table. We would light the ever-present candles and tilt our heads back in order to see the painting of Baron Samedi resting atop the mountain of acquired treasures. It depicted him in his characteristic top hat and suit, an elaborate cane clutched in his bony fingers. His skeletal face was contorted into a grin, and a snake was draped across his shoulder in the likeness of a scarf. In the flickering half-light he seemed to move, to sway and waver. His dark, gaping eyes seemed to stare back at us. “Does he ever scare you?” I asked Dominque on one such night. I looked over at her, wondering if she too sometimes got a chill when she thought of him. If she ever wondered what happened when you died, if it would hurt when he moved your soul from the land of the living to the land of the dead. If she ever dreamt of herself in a wide, empty room, dancing with him in slow spirals until she woke with sweat on her skin and words echoing in her head; hell is a ballroom at last dance, you and the devil are the only ones left. “No,” she said, “never.” *** I do not steal from anyone else tonight. For many hours I wander the streets without a sense of direction, thinking of Dominique. I feel a step removed from the world around me, as if I am one foot out door of reality. The people around me laugh and drink and interact, but it is all far away. I watch one girl as 38
she wraps her arms around her friend, as they move apart but continue to grasp each others’ hands. I stare as they dance to a beat that I cannot seem to hear, their bodies moving in time with each other and nothing else. I see them, and on impulse I reach my own hand out with the sudden desire to feel someone else reach back and hold it. My fingers do not meet flesh, but instead end up pressed to a brick wall. I lean into it, draw support and a breath. Then I gather myself and walk on. Only when the sun begins to rise over Jackson Square and all but a few of the party-goers have long since left to find a few hours of rest do I return home. I take off my mask but nothing else, and collapse onto my bed. I fall asleep with my fingers on my phone, feeling like I should call someone but not knowing who. *** Dominque was four years older and much bolder than I, and as she grew so did her endeavors. “I want to steal things of value,” she said once on a slow, quiet night while we sat on the upstairs porch and listened to the city. On nights like this, she would bring out her most prized possession: a silver trumpet that she had stolen during a jazz festival a few years prior, and play for me and the moon. She was barely twenty-two, but she spoke as if she knew all there was to know about the world. I, nearly nineteen and still naive, did not understand what she meant. “We do steal things of value, Dom. Practically half our income comes from pawning,” I said. “I am not talking about watches and wallets, Josie,” she said, her fingers tracing circles on the shiny instrument in her lap, “I don’t care about money. I am talking about things of real value. I want to steal dreams, and songs, and stories. I want to steal hearts. I want to steal souls.” I laughed at her then, “Who are you, Baron Samedi? Don’t be dramatic, you’ve been spending too much time with Mama Laleu.” After a moment, she smiled, chuckled softly. “Maybe so.” She raised the trumpet to her lips and exhaled a long, slow blues tune into the darkness. *** 39
It is early afternoon when I wake, and the festival outside is in full swing. Somehow the people down there have slept, recovered, redecorated their faces and their bodies and refilled their drinks. It is a feat of resilience the way they persevere. I sit up and rub my temples, feeling hungover though I had nothing to drink. Last night seems far away, more like a dream than a memory, and I feel foolish for letting myself get caught up in a feverish obsession. At 4:30 I leave for work, taking the back alleys and quieter streets on my way to the tiny jazz club where I bartend. Christine is already there when I arrive. She has arranged the tables and lit the candles, and is beginning to set up the mics on the small stage in preparation for tonight’s band. “I swear to God, Josie, if you’re hungover right now I’m gonna fire you,” she says after taking one look at me. But I know she means it sarcastically, and that there is almost nothing I could do that would get me fired from this job. Christine and I were friends long before we were coworkers, and she just means I look like hell. Fitting—I feel like it too. “Can I ask you something?” I say, sliding behind the bar and putting on my apron. She must realize from my tone of voice that there is something bothering me, because she sets down the equipment and walks over, leaning on the barrier between us. “Sure, what’s up?” “Do you think…people can come back? After they die, I mean,” I lower my voice even though we are the only two people in the bar, “In a place like this, do you think that maybe Baron Samedi would bring someone back?” Her brow furrows in concern. “Love, I know you grew up believing it, but you’re talking as if any of that Voodoo nonsense is real. Do I believe Baron Samedi would bring someone back? I don’t even believe he exists.” Her eyes are on me, I can feel them, but I can’t bring myself to meet them. “Why do you ask, what happened?” I rub my eyes and my neck, then rest my head on my hands and finally look at her. “I thought I saw Dominque last night. I don’t know, it felt so real.” “Oh, Josie,” she says, “of course you did. It’s been one year now, hasn’t it? I mean, it was during Mardi last year, and the festival probably just brought a lot of memories back up. And we both know how your imagination can be.” She reaches out and touches my shoulder, gives me a soft smile, “Don’t go chas40
ing things that aren’t there.” I tell myself she’s right, and pretend that I believe it. I don’t have time to think about it more, the bar is opening and the customers are pouring in, eager to drink and party and be enchanted by the city. I ask one man what he wants. He stares at me with half-dead eyes,“Whatever the locals drink,” he slurs. He removes a string of gold beads from around his neck and reaches over the bar to drape them around mine, as if we are not strangers. As if we were sharing a secret, or at the very least living in the same world. *** At sixteen I hated the tourists that came and went. I hated the way they seemed to think the city was only as wide as the Quarter, I hated their carelessness and their misplaced wonder, they way they were captivated by charlatans and half-baked stories. I imagined New Orleans through their eyes and I hated them because it felt like I was losing something. They were stealing from me. Stealing the city, the truth, the past, all the things that were mine and parading them around like it was all some spectacular show put on just for them. Mama Laleu laughed when I told her this. “Do not be so greedy, child,” she said, “they are just as much a part of the city as we are. We give some, we take some, it all balances out.” She tucked my curls behind my hair with her bony fingers. She was always skinny, but her powerful presence commanded space effortlessly. I leaned into her touch, inhaling the smells of sage and cinnamon that lingered on her skin. Years later, when Mama Laleu died, I stood between Dominique and Christine as the funeral drew to a close. The three of us faced her grave side by side, looking at the freshly laid bricks in silence for a long time before Christine finally spoke. “Do you think you will ever leave New Orleans?” She asked, as if it were the most natural question in the world. Perhaps it was. “No,” I said. “Why not?” “Our family is here,” I said, my eyes fixed on the many names etched before us, “As long as I am here I will never be alone.” Without speaking, Dominique reached out and laced her fingers through mine. 41
*** I make drink after drink for the people that make their way into the bar. Some of them I know, they are locals enjoying the festivities. Others are tourists that have spilled off the main roads in all of the excitement and find themselves in something a bit more authentic. Lucky for them. My shift passes in a blur, and it is 2:00 AM before I realize it. I get ready to go home. I am halfway out the door when I hear it. And then suddenly my feet will not move and my head will not turn and everything about me is frozen solid except for my violent, angry heartbeat that threatens to crack my ribcage. The song that reaches my ears is sad and beautiful, and the last time I heard it was when Dominique played it for me on her stolen silver trumpet. It is a song she wrote. I turn around, walk over to the young man playing trumpet. “Where did you learn that song?” I ask, barely able to get the words out. “Pretty little lady taught it to me,” he says, showing me all his teeth in a wide grin. He leans a little closer, lowering his voice, “Told me it would only cost me my soul.” He winks and resumes his playing, as if it is all just a funny joke. As if it is just a little game, an entertaining mystery; as if I am not beginning to suspect I have lost my grip on reality. *** There was a change in Dominque after the night we talked on the balcony. It was subtle at first; she would disappear for a few hours or return to the shop with nothing to offer. By the time she was twenty-four she had stopped her petty theft all together, and I thought perhaps she had grown out of it. But every weekend she still accompanied me out; we would get done up and spend our nights seducing men, wrapping them around our fingers and then wringing them out. On good nights I came home with upwards of a thousand dollars. She came home with sly smiles and hickeys. What did you get? I would ask. She would smirk, kiss my cheek, move to the mirror. What matters. At night I could hear her turning in her bed. She would talk in her sleep, whispering words with a restless intent. I could 42
only ever make out two, soft and clear they would cut across the space separating us: Baron Samedi. It seemed she did dream of him after all. The only dead body I’ve ever seen is my sister’s. Even when Mama Laleu died, it was Dominique that identified the body, and all I ever saw was the casket. There was something surreal about it, about standing in the morgue looking down at her, at her grayish, rubbery skin and her blue lips, and thinking that she could not possibly be my sister. My sister knows how to swim, I told them, she would never drown. To myself I thought, my sister is a child of the Mississippi, it would never harm her. But she hadn’t drowned in the river, they told me, and that she had ended up at the bottom of it was circumstance. How did she die, then? The coroner swallowed hard, grimaced a little. She hadn’t drowned in the river, he told me, she had drowned in her own blood. When they did the autopsy they found a tiny, sliver-like puncture in the back of her ribcage. They ruled it a homicide. The case was open-and-shut; no trial, not even any suspects. Just a file somewhere with her name on it, shoved into a drawer labeled “unsolved”. I became angrier after she died, and more reckless. I had to, I was left alone with a hatred for a nameless, faceless man that I assumed had murdered my sister. I began to picture him as Baron Samedi, in a tall hat and a pinstripe suit, with a cane and a bottle of rum, and high-set cheekbones with cavernous shadows underneath. I had always know that the city was violent to its inhabitants, but it somehow felt like a betrayal to be on the receiving end. We had always been in cahoots, the city, my sister, and I, and now that it was just me and that city the balance was all wrong. One man at a time, I began to right it. *** The city feels bigger than ever before as I emerge into the night. My head is spinning, and the only thought I can truly focus on is perhaps my sister is back from the dead and stealing souls. It sounds crazy, certainly. But really, no more crazy than anything else this city was built on. There are stories of vampires and werewolves and witches and zombies, and if you go far enough back all of them are rooted in some sort of truth. Everything in New Orleans is part history, part myth. My family is no different, we are woven into the city just as it is woven into 43
us. I end up back on Bourbon Street, in a throng of bodies that quickly consumes me. The music is too loud and the space is too packed and I am too small. I think about going home, about moving out of town, about jumping into the Mississippi. And then the world around me seems to slow, as if I am the only person truly there and everything else around me is an illusion. In the corner of my eye I see it again: a swish of ebony hair, a dark, bony shoulder, a flash of bright, brown eyes. I turn to look, too late again, and my sister is not there. Instead, I lock eyes with a man across the sea of people. He is tall and lean, in a pinstripe suit, and his eyes glint from under the wide brim of his hat. His hands are dark but his cheekbones seem to gleam white. Maybe it’s face paint. Maybe not. He looks at me, tilts his head for a better view. I am trapped in his gaze, I cannot move, cannot even breathe. I taste blood in the back of my throat. Then he grins a wide grin and with a slow hand reaches up and tips the brim of his hat to me. He turns away and before I can even think about following him I have lost him in the crowd. “You alright, sugar?” A young man in a white t-shirt has his hand on my shoulder. I look down at it, then up at him. I exhale a long, metallic breath. Rhythmically, mechanically, as if driven my something other than my own body, I pull him close, pressing our bodies together. “Just great,” I say, and I begin to kiss him. He kisses me back, surprised at first, but then with an enthusiasm that tastes like a victory. I break away, pull him aside, off of the main street. We move to slower, quieter alley. I lean back against the bricks and he leans in on me. I can feel his wallet pressed against my leg, but I don’t reach for it. I don’t want it anymore. It is quiet enough here that I can hear the long, slow beginning of a sigh from the Quarter. We want something, else, the city and I. “Will you give me what I want?” I whisper in his ear. His lips are on my neck. “Yes,” he breathes, “yes, anything, just name it. What do you want?” I smile, pause, enjoy the flavor of his desire. “Your soul.” He chuckles, “Sure thing, sweetheart,” and goes back to my neck. He says this, and I swear I can feel the pulse of the city speed up, ever so slightly. It is so subtle that I think maybe I am imagining it. Maybe it is just my own pounding heart. I hold my breath, 44
Ascend at Ascend Brent Szklaruk-Salazar Digital Photography
One sock, a kiss on the cheek, one slip of the tongue I think I-, one clipped nail between my teeth, one earring, accidentally, lost in the carpet outside your bedroom door one flick of the lights on, and one back off, the shoulder of my left sleeve slipping counterintuitively down but not off, one hand under your shirt tugging with the lesser velocity but greater acceleration of your tugging me. you could always drink more than me without being drunk and your hair still grows faster than mine and without me one minute on top and one on bottom. one hand brushing the hair out of my eyes and then out of your eyes. one night, and then another. one week, and then nine more. and you ask me things like if we were shapes what shapes would we be as I lay my head on your chest to try and match your breathing.
pace one yawn. one more kiss on the cheek. one contact and then the other. one long, blurry look in your eyes. one short “Let’s go to sleep.” I think you’re beautiful and an isosceles triangle. one last look. a mumble into the bed sheets. one person-sized dent in the middle of your bed where one of us is liable to roll in the middle of the night and the other is liable to fall because of the increased mass and subsequent gravity until we’re a lump of too hot breath and sweaty skin like we’ve been running, not fast and not slow, but the same (I hope).
Following the Scent Claire Barnett Digital Photography
Raven King Sydney Corey Graphite and Charcoal on Paper 49
the night church darius cowan
The rules of the night church are simple, and everyone who goes knows them. Know what you want. Bring something you are willing to lose and expect to lose more. And after you come a third time, do not expect to leave. *** The people who attend the night church are myriad. Most are young. Most are girls. The fact that they are all willing to enter the church, alone, in the middle of the night under the full moon shows that they are all desperate. If they knew what they were getting into, truly, they would not come at all. Making it through the woods is not difficult. Neither is entering the church. All it takes is wanting something more than you fear it. And they should fear us. We watch them. I watch them. They come in the dark. None of them bring lights. All of them have the coppery taste of fear in their mouths. But they all want something. And the farther they move into the forest, the easier it is to imagine that the journey is worth it. Most of them come for love. And it’s selfish. The Lady can bend the hearts of all to her will and the will to any who want it, but the price is always higher than they can afford to pay. They don’t care. They pay for it. One girl came, skinny and shivering in the cold air of the sanctuary, and she asked the Lady to make a boy love her, someone who would make her feel beautiful. I almost pitied her. She should have wished to be beautiful. We could have done that very easily and would have asked for very little. We would have blanketed her in clouds, high and thin and ethereal, a blanket of a lie against the world, and she would have been shining and glorious within them, even after the sun rose and dawn banished the work. No. She wanted love. She wanted his heart. She wanted a lie, whispered to her in breathless sighs and throws of inspired passion. I am not sure, exactly, what we asked of her, but I knew it was too much, because when the Lady named her price, the girl’s face flickered like a candle in the wind. But she said yes. So the Lady sent me and my kin off to do our night work. 51
We are never seen, not even in the light of the moon, but we do what we must. We found him, sleeping in his bedroom, hands folded beneath his head, smiling in his sleep like a child. And we worked. Then we went elsewhere, prowling the streets until we found the car. And we worked beneath the streetlights until we were sure the price would be paid. When we returned, the girl was gone, and another was in her place, asking for some desperate wish. A man who wronged her. She wanted him gone, and she wanted it to hurt. Before she sent us off, the Lady waved a hand and the girl’s legs snapped like dry twigs. She sobbed as we whisked her away. Then a young man, wanting to sing like we did, wanting to sound like silver and air and wind and roses and thorns. This we granted gratefully, because wishes to be like us were always met with the highest of prices. He paid with his eyes. We unraveled the light from them like a loose thread, and he would be blind by sunrise. He left us stumbling down the aisle. And then there was another in his place, and another, and another. My kin and I, our sense of time is different from theirs. The nights beneath the moon were like decades for us, and every child was another in the procession of corpses marching forward towards the ruins in the moonlight. A line of empty people believing we could fill them when all we could offer were lies. Still, they came. Still, they paid. But Talia was different. Her own shade of foolishness. I knew we would have her when she passed across the mossy threshold of the abandoned church. She was different from the other girls. The way she carried herself, confident, with a cool, level gaze and a heart steeled against the cold, I knew she was not empty. Just curious. Which, in many ways when dealing with my kin, was more dangerous. To come to us with wonder was to hand us a knife and direct it towards your throat. She stood in the middle of the aisle, staring up at my Lady, not seeing any of us watching her from the shadows and the moonlight. “Is this the night church?” Her voice bounced strongly across the empty pews. My Lady tilted her head and smiled. “Indeed, my child,” she whispered as the wind blew. The girl nodded. “I’m Talia.” 52
And we were about her, then, utterly smitten with one so foolish as to introduce herself with her given name. We rejoiced. We clamored to smell her, to taste the heat from her skin, because by forfeiting her name she had offered herself fully. Had our Lady not hissed and banished us once more to the shadows, we would have ripped her soul from her body and devoured it there. But our Lady was crueler then. It was a slow night, and she wanted to play. So our flood was instead a shivering tide at the edges of the room, waiting, starving with a hunger she had awakened, Talia, the name dripping from our mouths and maws. The girl noticed none of this, of course. Her world was flooded with silver and ours was simply darkness. I watched as my Lady slunk down from her perch towards the girl, long dark hair flowing like a river as she surrounded her. “I assume you have something that you want. Talia.” Her name was panted, savored. “Kind of, yeah.” Talia put her hands in her pockets. “I just moved here a month ago. I had heard the rumors, I just--I wasn’t sure that this place was real. That you were real.” Our Lady stretched out a hand and brushed it down the side of Talia’s face, fingers trailing like cracks across ice. “Many things exist under the moonlight, sweet Talia, and only then, and only now, and, soon after, nevermore. What is your desire?” “I don’t really have one, I just came to see—” The Lady hissed and recoiled, swimming back to her perch and sitting with crossed legs upon the altar. “You must know the rules. You cannot enter this domain beneath the moonlight and ask nothing and give nothing.” “What if there’s nothing that I want though?” said Talia. “One who lives without wanting might as well not live at all,” the Lady replied, and I felt her stir me. We surged against the night. Any moment now, she would release us, and the girl would be ours for the taking. “What do I have to trade?” “That depends,” our Lady smiled, “on what you ask for.” The girl’s face cleared for a moment, her eyes looking at something distant and intangible, before she spoke again: “I want to be one of you.” The tide of us rippled and stiffened. This was unexpected, unprecedented. 53
“Excuse me?” asked our Lady, shocked from sitting to crouching on all fours, all limbs and midnight hair. “Why?” Talia shrugged. Here, in the shadows, we were screaming. Here, in the night church, this was blasphemy, to wish to be one of us. Unheard of. Foolishness. Hubris. They could wish for things. For our voices, our beauty, our hearts of stone and frost. But to be among us? To reign in shadows and silver, forest and moonlight? A mortal? “I guess I’m just wondering. What would I have to give for that?” Our Lady, mouth agape, trembling with anticipation. She was considering it. The thought was ridiculous. I was in disbelief. After seconds of eternity, she began to speak in a voice that called in the cold and the wind and wrapped night about the room. “Only for a night. For this night, you will walk among us. You will do night work. You will run and fly with us, and live deliciously for this night alone.” “Okay,” Talia said slowly. “What do I owe you for that?” “Nothing.” We hissed. The girl said, “What?” “Nothing.” She tilted her chin outward, looking towards the sky, and a smile broke across her face like a crescent moon at the bottom of the sky. Her hair spread around her and snaked across the altars, crackling with power and the work of the night. “With this, you have given us everything.” She looked at the girl, hungry. “Talia.” And then we understood. *** When she woke up, I was crouched on a beam above her. I, alone, was chosen as her guardian, her watcher. Talia. I was surprised when she looked me in my eyes and said, “Hello.” The Lady had done it. The girl was here, in the shadows with us, seeing us, touching the moonlight and not feeling it. I did not speak. She stood up and stretched and regarded me. “Well, aren’t you pretty,” she said. I tilted my head. I cared not much for my appearance, but I knew that I was beautiful, as were the rest of my kin. “Not much for talking, huh? I get that. I guess I can’t ask you questions then. Where are the others? I assume there are 54
more than just you and the lady back there.” We stood in silence for a moment. “Right. No talking. Strong silent type. Gotcha. Huh. I didn’t think I would get this far, so I’m not sure what we do now.” In response, I jumped down and ran into the night. Talia called after me, and I stopped briefly in the forest to see if she would follow. She was, her night body stumbling at first but quickly gaining speed. I wondered if she would learn to trust it, to feel the forest of shadows and silver and follow the glow to her night work. I waited until she had almost caught up with me, and then I kept going. After a while we reached the edge of the town, and I leapt to the top of a shop and sat there, waiting. I was pleased when Talia jumped up next to me without hesitation. She tripped a little as she landed, but once she had stabilized she looked at me, and then glanced around over the town. I knew she felt it then, the separation. She could see the cars and the streetlights, but she couldn’t feel any of it. There was nothing but a film of pale light filling a gap that we could not breach here. Without thinking, I touched her. I placed a hand on her arm. I whispered, “Talia.” “So he speaks after all. What is it?” And then I ran again, flying across the rooftops, and she was after me. We continued like that until she caught up, and then began to lead. This is what I wanted. I wanted to watch her work. She was following a pull inside of her, the compass leading her to where she didn’t know she wanted to go yet. We passed through the heart of the town, soared over the school without a word, and landed in the suburbs. The modest house was on a corner, and we crouched on a tree in front of it, peering through a window. There was a single light on over a desk, and a young man sat there with his head on the desk, his shoulders rising and falling as he slept. The screen in front of him had long ago gone dark. Tentatively, Talia reached for the window. Her fingers brushed it, and I felt a shudder in the air as she worked it, the glass sliding up and opening to us and us alone. She slipped through the window like the light did, softly, moving across the floor with grace. She rose to full height when she reached the boy. 55
While she stared, I could taste the tangy flavor of her vague interest. I slipped beneath the mask and stared at the strings of her heart. I pulled, gently, and when she gave no reaction, I worked in the ways that my Lady had instructed. She stared at him until I called her name as the sun rose. * * * The full moon rose and fell twice more before Talia returned. She looked the same, but there was a hollowness about her, an empty longing to her eyes. “You’ve returned,” whispered our Lady. “Yes I have,” said Talia. “And you already know what I want.” “Yes I do.” The Lady surged downward, moving around the girl like she had that first night. “Something is different about you, my Talia.” Talia shrugged. “Very well then. Let’s begin.” When Talia woke up, I was there, alone, again. She greeted me and then ripped off into the night forest with me following behind. I knew where we were going. This time, when we landed in the tree, the boy was in his bed. Talia pulled her chin up to her knees and we sat in silence. After a while she worked the window open and slipped inside. She sat on the side of his bed and stared at him. I slipped in the cracks and sat next to her. “His name is Anthony,” she said in a voice smaller than I thought she was capable of. She stood by him, hunger hanging around her shoulders like a black shawl. I thought of the Lady then, and what she had said, how everyone wanted something. Talia sat for a long time before speaking again. “He helped me find my classes on the first day of school. Didn’t have to, just did. He’s just…nice, I guess. I don’t know why.” She looked at me. “Why are people nice?” I blinked at her. “He wants something, right? He keeps talking to me, and I don’t know why. And people aren’t just nice for no reason, right? I wonder what’s wrong with him. There’s probably something wrong with him.” She sighs. “Why do I care? I keep 56
thinking about him. It’s stupid, I know. I hate feeling like this.” I watched as she rose to her feet and moved silently to the corner, where an acoustic guitar was propped against the wall. She picked it up, her fingers moving gently across the strings before replacing it and moving to his closet. Her fingers brushed his clothes as she walked towards his nightstand, and when she was out of reach, the door swung quietly shut. Her fingers closed around a framed picture on the nightstand, the boy and a girl, smiling, dancing. Her arms were draped across his shoulders, and he was holding her close to him, hands gripping her waist. Their eyes were locked firmly on one another’s, neither of them looking at the photographer. Talia stared and stared until a small crack dashed across the glass from one corner to the other. The boy shifted in his sleep and she froze, placing the picture back only when he was softly snoring. Her face was a mask of vicious contemplation, but even this hardness was angelic in the moonlight. And then she smiled, a crescent at the bottom of a starless sky. “Talia,” I said. She didn’t say anything, just walked towards me, and we were out the window and gone before the sun rose. * * * She entered the church again on the next full moon. This time she had a look of determination on her face when she asked, and the Lady had a look just short of ecstasy when she granted. Because now, truly, Talia wanted something. There was no greeting when she woke up. We were off immediately. When we reached the tree, I alighted while she slipped right through the window. “This won’t take long,” she called over her shoulder, and I watched from the outside as she leaned over and whispered in his ear. Her work was swiftly moving lips and a smile and a kiss on his cheek. The look on her face was one that I knew had never been on my face when I told lies to mortals in their sleep. It wasn’t a look I expected on her face at all. It was a quiet adoration that reminded me of the skinny girl and that lie she wanted. Very rarely did we see the results of our work, and even when we did, we did not care, but this work of mine tasted sour. I did not like it. I did not like the way it made her look weak and 57
fragile and shivering in the night wind that she had made her own. She took the picture from the nightstand and dashed it against the tree as we departed, and the shards of glass were falling stars beneath us. *** The rules of the night church are simple. There is always a price. On the next moon, when the doors of the church were open, my Lady called me before her. The instructions for the work were simple. There was a price to be paid. So I went off, alone this time. I followed the tug in my chest until I was crouching on a building, watching them. Talia, holding hands with the boy she had worked. They were walking down the sidewalk. I followed them for a while. They swung their hands together. He said something that made her laugh. They kissed and broke apart, then came together, still attached at the fingertips. When they reached the end of the sidewalk, they turned, paused, and then began to cross the street. I saw my kin poised in the shadows, on the rooftops, on the streetlights. Waiting, mouths dripping with anticipation, bodies braced against the wind and the cold night air, ears straining. And then, unbidden, a memory flashed before me, glittering like a chalice in the light of the moon. A young man, unhappy, heartbroken, hearing of the world in the shadows, wanting to dance in the moonlight where his heart would turn to stone and the pain that stained it would harden and crack like frost. A lady with dark raven hair that flowed like a river, warning him that the price of this world was one of pain and much too high to pay. That one day there would be a price. And a pang goes through him, but he ignores it, and says yes. The young man learns many things in his years in the moonlight. Glorious, awful things. How to move the world to his will. How everything gives way if you push hard enough. How, if you want a heart destroyed, you simply make it love another, and watch as it breaks itself. The memory fades into the pale light, and Talia and Anthony are still crossing, hands still together. Neither of them see nor hear the car, and I knew that the lights had been worked 58
into darkness. My kin wait for me, for my signal, for the price to be paid. â€œTalia,â€? I whispered across the wind, and she stopped, turning, her eyes slowly rising to where I sat. Anthony saw the car at last, began to say something, and then they were in the air, bodies rising like dolls and falling like fresh snow. Like a wave we descended, unseen by their glassy eyes, twinkling like silver in the moonlight.
Control Monica Gallagher Digital Photography 60
According to my mother, shit (in print) is more offensive than “shit” (spoken). According to my mother, you have to grip the car door when the driver brakes too hard in case the car crashes. According to my mother, flowers, birds, and the like make better friends than people ever could. According to my mother, partying is only a problem once dad finds out. She hugs me tightly as we stand beneath the heavy, gray dome. I turn away and feel drops on my face; I know she feels them on hers, too. And she says she’s not disappointed, but I see it in the memory of her eyelids and weighted skin, those shoulders. Slow down — all of you! . . . because my mother’s white knuckles can’t take it. She needs those precious, tender hands to pet the flower petals and the dog’s velvet ears, and to replenish the birds’ sanctuary. She worries enough already . . . My mother, Goddess mother, I think I will be wilder than you. The sunbeam dancing through the dewy forest greenery early on The Lord’s Day, and the breeze that cools your skin after it has gotten so dreadfully difficult to exist under the sun that you thought, just for a moment, about giving all of it up. This is my Mother. And the rain that falls the day after your worst day, reminding you to slow down, that better days will come, that Heaven can be here, too. This is my Mother, a perfect daughter, too.
She knows how to protect herself, something she has to teach me still. I think.
She is motherless this Mother’s Day, for the first time. I see it in her shoulders. It must be exhausting, holding yourself up like that. Fall down a little, Mama. Release the worry and shake your silver moonlit hair. 62
My My mother, mother, Goddess Goddess mother, mother, II think think II will will be be wilder wilder
than than you. you. 63
8/3/99 Catherine Sheehan Chalk Pastels
Adam Sarah Saxton Strassberg Graphite and Charcoal on Paper
Bind us2gthr Auntie makes a WhatsApp group for a wide collection of cousins adds Dad Havenâ€™t seen Dad since four Spoken to him since five Heard from him since six The first difficult word I ever learnt was estranged But now Iâ€™m in a family chat with lots of unknown cousins and Dad because Auntie knows no limits and never has and wants us to forgive him his sins for he knows not what he does
Lord wth luv Lucy Davies-Kumadiro Dad’s up in the chat asking one of the unknown cousins which Mrs. Khumola is this? Doesn’t say anything to his daughters. It’s Stella Khumola! hamuchatiziva ka brother she says it’s been a long time. I want to leave the WhatsApp group but I can’t because Haven’t seen Dad since four Spoken to him since five Heard from him since six
153 McGavock Lauren Sobota Polaroid
LO VE. Natasja Lessiohadi Acrylic on Canvas
Gma Natasja Lessiohadi Acrylic on Canvas
Sunset Sarah Saxton Strassberg Oil on Canvas
Caught Monica Gallagher Digital Photography
Control Monica Gallagher Digital Photography
Untitled Alex Lithgow Oil on Canvas
An Afternoon Commute Matt Machado 35 mm film 81
Emergence Alex Lithgow Oil on Canvas
Kyle Vanesco Digital Photography 84
Beach Day Matt Machado 35 mm film
Martian Linens Molly Katherine Hance Nobody calls the Earth mother, anymore. The post-postmodern Romantics don’t even call her lover, anymore. How long has it been since we wrote odes, unironically? I’m not even that far from home, they say, Like staying in-state for school in the olden days— I can still see her on a clear night. Most people don’t get that, they remind me, In some backwards sentence, Not something I was looking for. They don’t think it’s a privilege, anymore, To peek at your ancestral home And still see the first cause That my distant sisters have taken to calling the absent cause. Our maiden voyage decentralized the Sun And knocked perception off-kilter. It’s a little absurd, isn’t it? Calling planets mothers, anymore. If the Earth is mother, who is Mars? Are we red-dusted pioneers all orphans, or adopted? Abandoned on a cosmic doorstep, or passed into a new star-speckled bosom? If the Earth is lover, who is my ruddy husband? 86
Am I alienated from my soul mate, or my sixteenth-birthday boyfriend Or both? I didn’t settle for Mars, But did I run when Earth broke my heart, When fire licked up her sides, and mother stopped giving Lover stopped feeling; we don’t Personify our planets anymore. Red dust sticks to everything, And I know men wrote all our ancient science fiction, Because none of them wondered about evolutions in the washing machine. It’s the same, only lighter, for interstellar travel. We haven’t innovated indoors for a while now, We just come up with new ways to fling ourselves Farther, into the inky midnight, pricked with white Like lights in far-off windows, Only, no one waited up, And we keep throwing up the same houses On new world-crusts, Making life-size replicas of life on an Earth, We don’t call mother, anymore, Or even grandmother. I guess it’s easier to leave an infinitesimal point in space-time, Than it is to leave home. I fold laundry on Mars; My whites are all a little pink, But it takes just as long as it used to, And I can see Earth from my kitchen window, On a clear night.
Making Purple Claire Barnett Digital Photography 89
She shuffled the papers, straightened them, and paused again. He didn’t turn around; he picked at the pink-iced cookies lying out on the buffet. She shuffled again, and he tensed, and she gave a heavy, final sigh. “Well?” He turned, and her face gave nothing away. She smiled. “It’s… Well, it’s wonderful. You write so well, so strongly, really, and I couldn’t put it down, even with you standing there waiting for me to, and your characters were so, well, complex, is the word, and it’s wonderful, really, truly.” She straightened the papers again. “It’s just…” “Just?” He bristled and hated himself for it. She looked at him pitifully. “Well, is that really where it ends? He just,” she waved her hands like she was grabbing for words, “marries her?” “I thought you liked stories that ended with weddings.” His voice was sharper than he intended. He paced behind her, looking at the pages over her shoulder. “I do, I just, well, you said it was a love story.” “It is a love story.” “Then why does she marry someone so wicked?” “He isn’t wicked.” He was appalled; he took the pages from her hands, and she turned around, sitting on her knees to look at him over the chair back. “He is so, and you know it. He’s harsh and hateful and unforgiving and cruel, and, well, just wicked.” “He’s preoccupied, Jeanie. He isn’t wicked.” “Well, then he doesn’t love her.” “He does love her.” She exasperated him. “Look, he says it a dozen times.” “Says it,” she repeated. “Fine then. He’s wicked, and he doesn’t love her—” “He’s wicked, or he doesn’t love her—“ He cut his eyes at her. “You tell me I should write a love story, then you tell me it’s not a love story. Jeanie, you could just say you don’t like it, that you don’t understand it.” She reached for the pages, and he jerked them away. She recoiled. “Oh, Eli.” Her voice softened; she was done arguing. She stood up and touched the outsides of his hands. “I did like it, honest, didn’t I say I did? Your characters are so smart, and your stories get me all caught up; you know they do.” She wrenched the
Molly Katherine Hance
papers free and set them on the end table, taking his hands in hers. “I’m a good woman to you, aren’t I?” He looked down at her. She wore apology as well as she wore blue and lace. “Do I have to be a good literary critic too? When May comes, and I wear white, are you going to make me promise God that I’ll keep your house, love you always, and know what to say about your plots?” “Jeanie…” She smiled because she’d won. “Don’t stay mad at me. You’re supposed to come have dinner tonight, and my father does not like you when you’re cross.” “I’m not mad at you.” “You were.” “Some two years ago before I realized I couldn’t stand it.” She laughed, and he pulled away from her, collecting the papers. “I’ll see you tonight.” “Please bring your coat and some grace for a girl who’s gonna be your wife.” “Of course, of course.” He made for the door, and she followed him, resting her hip against the frame. “I’m sorry I said the wrong thing. You know I love you and everything you do. I just need to read it again, that’s all. Sometimes it takes me twice.” She meant it, and that made it worse. “You didn’t say the wrong thing. I wrote the wrong thing,” he said, just to make her brow furrow and her shoulders slump and her next apology start. He kissed her cheek. “I’ll see you tonight,” and he closed the door before she could say sorry again. ~~~ He came for dinner and brought all his grace. When he talked with Jeanie, he held her hand and did not mention the story. When he talked with her father, he talked about the publishing house and did not mention the unsteady work of writing. As often as possible, he disavowed the Northern winters, an implicit promise not to take Jeanie any above the MasonDixon line. They had a pleasant dinner, and they ate lemon cake on the porch in the cool, early spring night. Jeanie brought out a pitcher of tea, and Jeanie’s mother feigned a yawn and pulled her father inside. Jeanie filled the glasses, then sat down beside Elias, her hand on his arm rest. He took it, and her grip pulsed back. “I figured it out.” “How to survive the winters?” “No, enough of that. I figured out your story.” 91
“You don’t think he’s wicked anymore?” “No, he’s probably still wicked, but I figured out why it’s a love story.” “And why’s that?” He wasn’t as sharp this time. “She’s gone love-blind. Women do it all the time.” He didn’t speak, and Jeanie leaned back in her chair. She’d tell him, but she had spent all day figuring out what to say, and she was going to get it right. In her matter-of-fact, curt, generalizing way. Jeanie would probably make a decent author, he thought, if she cared for it. “You’ve seen it a hundred times, haven’t you? Sweet girls, real sweet, good girls, trailing after men who hardly pay them any mind— wicked men, or men who don’t love them. See, Eli— Elias, listen— they’ve gone absolutely love-blind. They forgive without apology because they assume implicit apology because they see good in their men.” She sighed in relief. “Your story isn’t about how he loves her; I get it now. It’s about how she loves him, how she’s gone love-blind.” He smiled wryly. “And what about you, Jeanie?” He smiled and picked a thread on his coat. “Have you gone love-blind?” “Oh, absolutely not. I’m too clever and rational; I see all your wickedness.” He looked at her. “Do you?” “Of course,” she leaned over the arm of her chair and grinned, “You value my literary opinion too much; you think too much of me.” “Right,” he said, turning his eyes towards the road. She frowned at him and waited for him to speak, but he settled into silence. She sat back in her rocking chair, setting her hand out on the armrest for him to take, and tried to settle into silence with him. But, he had not chosen a companionable, thoughtful silence, the kind in which they would sit for long stretches, content in separate but parallel thoughts; rather, he had chosen a sullen silence, in which he twitched irately every time she drew breath too deeply or fidgeted too prominently in her thoughts, or reminded him that she was there. She sat by him until her silence sharpened too, then she stood. “It’s getting late.” It wasn’t. “And I’m tired.” She never was. “I’m going to go in.” She swept up the pitcher and glasses in clean, curt motions, took her time wiping the side tables for water rings. He just murmured his assent, but he knew he had stung her. She blew out the porch lamp with a huff. He knew he should 92
apologize, but to properly apologize, he would have to ask her to stay, and he wanted her to go. “Goodnight, Eli.” She touched his shoulder, and he didn’t touch her hand, just mur mured again some two out of the four syllables of Goodnight, Jeanie. She swept inside, still cross, hovering in the doorway to let him make nice, but he didn’t, and she didn’t make him. She just closed the door and pulled the curtains. He sat on her porch in a long silence, until it didn’t seem like silence because he could hear the trees and the cicadas and the quiet voices in other houses. He finally stood and pulled his coat tight around himself, starting down the steps and away from her house. ~~~ The work of editing was lonely, frustrating work. He had never liked it, but he hated it specially tonight, tonight, with the cold still leeching out of his hands and the wicked still reverberating around in his ears. He had read through the manuscript three more times, each with an increasingly critical eye, and he could not see what she meant. Wicked. Wicked, she had said. Unequivocally, unapologetically. And cruel and cold and unfeeling and— He turned back to the front page. He was preoccupied, that was all. Selfish, maybe, sometimes, but not wicked, never wicked. And did that mean he didn’t love her? No, it just meant he wasn’t perfect at it. And then there was this talk about love-blindness. What was that about? That the woman could love so purely it could make love where there was none in the man? It was silliness, tragic romanticism of the most heinous expression. He flipped through the pages without reading, watched the words blur and flicker like far-off lamps. It was a short story. He hadn’t even liked it that well— the happy ending felt trite and forced—but he had hoped Jeanie would. He stood, pacing, pages in hand. And why couldn’t Jeanie be serious for half a moment? When he asked her about the love-blindness, why did she have to tease? You think too much of me, she had said. Well, he didn’t. He knew her wickednesses, all of them, without any rose-colored softening. She was vain, for one, couldn’t walk past a mirror, and she cheated at cards, in clever, little ways that you wouldn’t notice unless she confessed them to you, in a whisper equal parts proud and ashamed. She held grudges too, tightly and neatly and coldy. She was 93
curt when angry, fearful of bickering, quick to be hurt but slow to admit it, dishonest whenever honesty would hurt. He knew Jeanie’s wickedness. All of Jeanie’s wickedness. So why did she have to joke about things? It made his heart stop, for her to say it. I see your wickedness, without flinching. He couldn’t breathe when she talked like that. Then, she went and joked about it. Well, did she? Did she know his wickedness? Could she tell that he always knew when he had hurt her, that he did it sometimes just to get his way? Did Jeanie know how wicked he was? The pages creased and crinkled in his grip. It made his stomach turn to think that she did, that she could be there, in that big warm, house of hers, with that ring on her fourth finger, knowing and knowing and knowing all the dark, sly thoughts and barbs he let linger around him. That Jeanie, who loved him, could know all the things he didn’t want her to know. Still, that wasn’t the worst of it. Love-blind, he thought. Could it be possible that she didn’t know? Could it be true that she didn’t catch the sharpness of his silences, the quick bruising of his ego and his quick efforts to bruise hers in return? Say she didn’t know, that she couldn’t know how wicked he was. What would she do when she found out? “Confound it.” He threw the papers aside and made for the door. All this for a story, a stupid story, the love story she asked him to write. Well, he’d written a love story, and she’d said he didn’t know how. Wicked. Love-blind. Oh, confound it. He stormed down the stairs with no purpose but a sense of it, strode through the streets with anxious vigor. He wasn’t wicked. He was preoccupied, and maybe selfish. Maybe hateful, sometimes, or cold, but he wasn’t wicked. Then he doesn’t love her. And what was he supposed to do about that? What was he supposed to do if he didn’t, if he couldn’t write a love story, if he was so stupid about love that he’d given a ring and a promise to a woman he didn’t love? He made a right because it didn’t matter if he made a right or a left. There was no right way when you were getting nowhere. She knew his wickedness. Jeanie didn’t know anything. Jeanie knew he was a writer and a good talker and he made promises well when he made up his mind to. Jeanie knew that 94
she had lost her head the second she saw him, or so she said, that she had known by the look of him that he was the kind of man who could appreciate an evening of good conversation. She had said yes before he could ask the question. She had said yes before he had thought of the question. He kept walking because there was no use in stopping and reached the train station without meaning to and looked at the tracks without seeing them. So maybe he was wicked. Well, she would never know. She would love him and love him and love him until his wickedness or her love suffocated him, either one. Or maybe he didn’t love her, and he wouldn’t love her, and she wouldn’t know, but he would. The night whined with a far-off train whistle. Maybe he should run off, just disappear tonight. He would be gone, and he’d hurt her once and then never again, and she would know just how wrong she was about the kind of man she’d said yes to marrying. The ground rumbled with the coming of the train, with the barreling engine and the aching wheels and the scream of the closeness of the massive, metallic weight. He should just throw himself on the tracks, that was it. Then he’d be gone, and he wouldn’t marry her, and she wouldn’t be married to him, and he’d be too dead to speak ill of, so she could go on in her love-blindness forever. The air vibrated against his skin with the intensity of the coals sparking in the furnace and driving the train and edging it closer and closer and closer until there was no more silence, only noise that split the night and barreled on and on and on. ~~~ The engagement ambled on through May—Elias said he ought to be published first, to have a steady line of work. It meandered through summer and autumn, and she felt it wandering aimlessly by winter. She asked him if he meant to marry her. He asked her if she thought it felt forced, fake happy, to marry just because they had said they would. She didn’t think so, but she said she did because now it would. He went home, then, for Christmas. He took four suitcases and did not come back in January. ~~~ Jeanie was a promised woman. Again. Most days, she tried not 95
to dwell too much on the irony of being promised, again, and people had been nice about it. When she was around, at least, they beamed at her and asked to see the ring like it was the first time she’d worn one, and they did not even skirt around the edges of mentioning Elias. When she wasn’t around, she knew what they said-- “Well, what did she think would happen? Rushing to be wed to a Northern man and a creative type...” -- but she supposed she couldn’t help that. She couldn’t even blame them, really. It was a story worth telling, over and over. She sat in the whitewashed rocking chair on her father’s front porch, alone, save the tangible presence of the humidity in the honeysuckle-perfumed night. If her father came out and asked her what she was reading, she had an answer ready--“One of Daniel’s speeches, for the Ladies’ Club”--and he would smile and tell her he was happy she found a man with roots. “After all,” he’d say, rocking back on his heels, “a man who works in local politics has to stay local.” The pads of her fingers were inky, black as midnight. She’d worried over the pages so much that they’d gotten smudged and blurry and beyond comprehension; now, she was the only one who could read them. She had showed the story to one of Elias’s friends, from the publishing house, just after Elias left town. Frankly, she just wanted to know if it was any good. After all, if the ring had cost more than the story could make, that could very well be a strong argument for wishing it had never been written. “What I don’t understand,” the publisher took a long drink of his tea and a long look at Jeanie, trying to set her in her place by contemplating whether or not she could possibly understand his literary revelation, “is why he’d force a happy ending on to such a sad story?” Jeanie laughed. “Well, sir, it’s ‘cause I asked him to. I suppose it’s kinda the same reason he left. It’s because he loved me, even if he wasn’t any good at it.” “No, I meant as an author--” “Or, it could be because he didn’t love me but tried real hard to be good to me anyway.” The publisher looked steadily at her. “Oh, I’m sorry, I just meant to ask for your professional opinion.” “That’s alright.” “I suppose I just can’t untangle the two.” “Well, that’s the ending he should have written.” 96
“Pardon?” She blushed at her throat, and the publisher chuckled. “It’s not my place, it’s just…” “Just?” “Well, you, you’re just writing his ending.” She just barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. She should’ve known better than to look for straight answers in writers. “I thank you for your time.” But, the words still rung around in her head. It was late summer and late evening and two weeks from her wedding and a year ago to the day Eli had written the stupid story, the paper said so. And she had been right all along; it was not supposed to end with a wedding. She didn’t know how it ended, actually. He hadn’t had the decency to finish it, and she didn’t like the idea of doing his work for him. She gripped onto the old grudge she’d made to hold against him and set the papers on the side table, folding her hands over her lap. She understood the story now; there was no love to blind her. And she would not finish it. He spent pages--and she noticed with some exasperation that she was tearful now--pages and pages asking a question over and over: was he a good man who didn’t love her or a wicked man who did? And she would not answer. She would not finish the story.
If my mouth is busy eating my fist, it can’t call you horrible names and if my fist is busy being eaten, it can’t punch you in the jaw. And besides, if I succeed in eating my fist, there will be less of me to touch and less to not touch, less to hold onto and less for you to not hold.
I’m eating my fist because the groceries have gone stale and the tomatoes in the pot on the sill by the sink have rotted and the takeout Chinese place two blocks over has stopped taking my calls. I’m starving, you see. And I know. I know a fist is just a hand that won’t give up on itself. I know that fists are not much good at holding onto anything except anger— my therapist says these things, she’s quite clever— but in my tight sweaty little palm I can keep Bob Dylan, red curry, wool socks, the park bench where you first touched my breast, and the last exit in the state of Nebraska. I can eat these too. I’m taking my time eating my fist, I’m rather attached, you see. I like the look of it curled like a rosebud or a seashell or maybe a roll of bread. 98
So really, I’m eating my fist for you, and me. Honey, I’m eating my fist for us.
I Am Trying To Eat My Fist Today
I am trying to eat my fist today. I have a reason, I swear.
At this rate, I’ll be eating most of the day. With any luck I’ll eat so much I stop existing by mid May or maybe, finally, feel well fed. I am trying to eat my fist today, tomorrow it might be my foot, if I can stoop my neck low enough, or maybe an ear, if I can turn my head far enough. I already tried eating my hair, I ate it off all the way up to my chin because you loved it long and I hate you and I would have finished but shampoo doesn’t taste as good as it smells, so today I’m eating my fist. Today I’m biting and I’m chewing, nails digging, flesh tearing, and I’m screaming, knuckles snapping, stomach crying, still screaming, but you can’t hear it so I’m still eating and I’m starving and I’m trying and I am never, not ever enough.
The Snow Globe // Katie Ward
acob was seeing things. On Thursday night, he was just three drinks in when he thought he saw his ex-girlfriend Erika across the bar. It wasn’t in passing either; he studied her, the way her hair fell between her shoulder blades, the curve of her nose, upward at the end. It was even the way she stood, one hip out with her head cocked slightly to the side, like she was always asking a question. She had moved across the country for school, and he hadn’t seen her since graduation, but he knew. He had been so sure of it that he left his friends, and walked up behind her, placed a hand on the small of her back, which he would never do to a stranger. But then she turned around and raised an eyebrow and it wasn’t Erika, not even close. This wasn’t the first time. He thought he saw an old math teacher from middle school in the condom aisle of the drug store, and hid behind a display of toothbrushes for twenty minutes before he realized he was mistaken. Walking to class, Jacob looked up and was convinced for a moment that the dark-haired woman walking past him was his father’s girlfriend Esmeralda. This didn’t make sense, because they had broken up months ago, and she had moved back to Mexico. In every crowd, he saw a few faces he thought he knew, enough to stop him in the middle of the sidewalk to take a second glance. The worst was when he had seen his friend Ethan, standing at the counter of a coffee shop, and ran in to find that the man was taller, with darker hair, and definitely could walk. On Friday, Jacob woke before dawn with a headache. Fridays were his days to visit Ethan. He had stayed in town after high school, took classes the state school with a satellite campus near the exit to the highway, though he had gotten in to several places. His apartment was a ten-minute drive from his mom’s house, and Ethan’s was only three streets away. He never scheduled classes for Friday mornings, but he told his roommates he had a lab off campus that got him up so early. They never asked questions, and he was relieved, though it wasn’t really a secret. This morning, he stood by the window, and knew just by looking outside that it was cold. The pavement had a chalky coating to it, and patches of ice crystallized in the lawn in front of his apartment complex like little clusters of rock. The sun had begun to rise, stretching fingers of weak light across the sky, which promised to be gray all day long. The van pulled up five minutes early, and sat on the street in 100
front of his apartment, idling, a tendril of steam rising from the exhaust. It was a Honda Odyssey, and it looked like any other from a distance, but when you got closer you could see that the sliding door on the right side was unusually large and there were no seats in the back. When it opened, an automatic ramp would descend to the curb, and Ethan’s chair would click into place on the passenger side. “Pretty nice ride, when you think about it,” Ethan had joked weakly when they bought it. “World’s lamest chauffeur.” On Fridays, Ethan’s mom never got out when she picked Jacob up, even when he slept past the alarm and did not stumble outside until twenty minutes past the hour. He guessed she knew that he would always come, late or early, and there was no point in knocking. This morning, Jacob wrapped his coat tight around his ribcage and hurried out the door, dodging patches of clear ice on the concrete. “How was the week?” She asked without looking at him, responding to a text on her phone. Ethan’s mom had always been a thin woman, attractive even, Jacob used to think. Now she looked older. She wore no makeup, and one of Ethan’s brother’s old parkas, which swallowed her whole. “Alright. How’s he doing?” “Oh, about the same. He’s got a positive attitude about this new treatment. The physical therapist said he was making progress with his hands, so we’re optimistic.” Her phone buzzed again, and she stared down at it. The car behind honked when the light turned and she did not look up. “Good. I’m glad to hear it.” Jacob looked out the window, and thought that the man at the wheel of the snowplow beside him looked just like his great uncle, who died three years ago of lymphoma. He wondered if he should see a psychiatrist. Ethan’s new house was only two blocks from the old. The town was small enough that only a few neighborhoods existed, and it was unusual to move from one to another. The house was all one floor, spread out like the foundation of some greater building that had been left unfinished, or pressed into the ground. They still owned the three-story colonial Ethan grew up in. Ethan’s younger brother sometimes threw parties there, in the half-empty basement, where his father stored unused workout equipment. Jacob had been to one his senior year, and could see the allure of 101
it: the leftover furniture was mismatched and covered, the rooms stripped to their bare bones. It was familiar and illicit, haunting somehow, and Jacob left after an hour, sobering up in the cold evening air. Now, at the new house, the Christmas wreaths were still in the front windows, and a silver mesh reindeer stood alone in the yard, a little off kilter. As they walked up the driveway, Ethan’s mom always apologized in advance for something she knew Jacob wouldn’t notice, and Jacob assured her that he did not mind at all, not to worry. “You’ll have to forgive us, the dining room is just a mess. We’re in the process ofpacking up the Christmas things. You know how that goes.” “Of course.” “Ethan’s room is clean,” she said, continuing as if he hadn’t replied, “He’s working on a new one today.” “I can’t wait to see it.” Inside, the house was immaculate. In the front hall, five pairs of shoes sat with their heels to the wall, as if Ethan’s mom had lined the whole family up and made them stand there to take them off. A pair of Ethan’s shoes, chunky orthopedic sneakers, sat at the end of the row, though Ethan’s mom had to tie them in his room before he moved from his bed to the chair. Down the hall in the living room, Jacob could hear cartoons on the television, the click of a recliner sliding into place. The hallways were wide, and the house had no doorways or corners, each room melting into the next. Accessible, Ethan’s mom had described it proudly, though Ethan hardly left his room. There was nowhere he could not go. His room was big; the master bedroom of the house, with a fully equipped handicapped bathroom, a mini fridge by the bed and a fifty-five inch flat screen mounted on the wall across from the window. Ethan’s mom had done all she could to make it look like a normal nineteen year old’s. The walls were painted navy and decorated with sports jerseys and flags, posters of bands she thought he liked. There was even a cutout from Sports Illustrated of a dark-haired woman in a bikini, splayed out on a beach, watching seductively from beside the bookshelf. She had concealed the sterile plastic rails of his bed with stickers, and the chair in the corner was sleek and black, motorized, and looked almost like furniture if you weren’t paying attention. Since the accident, Ethan had always had the latest technology. When they were twelve, Jacob had watched Ethan in their driveway, riding in circles on a motorized chair, which lurched forward when he blew into a plastic tube. 102
“It’s like a robot,” Jacob marveled. “No, cooler than that. Like a transformer!” Ethan had taken off toward the street, stopping short only when he reached the mailbox. From fifty yards away, Jacob could tell that he was smiling. Ethan’s mom had done careful work to keep his injury out of sight, but it wasn’t necessary; Ethan’s room was enough of a distraction. The space was full of snow globes. It glistened with them, all different sizes, daylight catching on the sides of spheres. Jacob could not remember a time when Ethan had not had any, and his collection had amassed through the years, filled shelves and covered every open surface. Ethan had always been fascinated. He remembers when they were boys, sitting on the floor of Ethan’s old room, watching little porcelain snow fall on the Empire State Building. Snow, falling on a cottage surrounded by pines. Snow, catching on the thin red wires of the Golden Gate Bridge. Jacob never understood why, but Ethan could stare at them for hours. The glass and the little frozen scenes inside made Jacob claustrophobic. Since Ethan’s injury, he had begun to make them himself. It was a long process: he ordered small figurines off the Internet, in little velvet bags like monopoly pieces, and painted them intricately. At first they had been sloppy, his hands shook or he lost his grip on the brush, and a tree would become a brown smudge. Once, Ethan had streaked the roof of a building with red paint. “Fuck!” He shouted, loud enough that Jacob jumped and Ethan’s mom ran in from the living room. “It’s alright, bud,” his mom took the brush from his hand. Jacob watched as she painted over the red with black until there was no trace of the mistake, as Ethan laid his head on the pillow with resignation, and avoided his gaze. That day, there was something in his expression that Jacob knew but could not name, something beyond wanting. After he finished painting, Ethan poured chips of something bone-colored and sharp into the orbs for the snow, and his mom carefully filled them with water. Jacob always wondered how she got it so full that no air bubbles rose to the top of the glass, so full that the water never looked like it was moving. It made his chest feel tight. Ethan’s finished products were displayed on a shelf above his bed, which had grown too crowded, and looked precarious. Now, there was a table over Ethan’s lap, cluttered with snow pellets and glass, a new project. “Hey, man. Good to see you.” Jacob reached out, and Ethan touched his knuckles to his outstretched palm as a greeting. Ethan’s mom slipped out with a wink and the door shut behind 103
her. “Thanks for coming,” Ethan said, not looking up from his work. He held a thin paintbrush between two bent knuckles, and a piece of plastic in the palm of his other hand. It had taken him years to regain function, and still he moved slowly, like a child learning how to use his limbs. It took intense concentration to drag the brush in straight lines, along the curves of a figurine or landscape. “What’s this one supposed to be?” “Rio, man. Can’t you tell?” As Jacob got closer he could see gold-speckled sand, little buildings with dark globs of paint for windows. His work had gotten better in the last year, and now his figures were becoming identifiable. On the table, the dome sat upside down like a fishbowl. Ethan’s snow globes were often ironic: flecks of white fell on beaches and in rainforests, piled atop the carved surface of the ocean. “I want to go there sometime.” “It’s a tourist trap. Too many people.” “I don’t think I would mind.” Ethan had been on a tour of Brazil the Christmas before last. Ethan’s mom had decided firmly that the accident would not keep him from family vacations, and so with plenty of planning, he went along. Jacob could not believe how often they went, every time there was a break from school or a holiday. Atop the mantle in the living room, there were framed pictures. Ethan sitting outdoors at a café in Paris, the Eiffel Tower looming in the background. Ethan beside the pool at a resort in Mexico, everything around him bright blue. Ethan in Piazza del Duomo in Florence, Ethan in front of the Grand Canyon. With his chair, he looked almost like he had been photo shopped into the pictures, like something that didn’t belong. Jacob had never left their town, except for one college visit to North Carolina. “Not while I’m paying for your education,” his mom would say, which Jacob knew to mean not ever. “There’s a game on I think.” Ethan gestured to the remote. When he was working, they barely talked. Ethan was focused, and Jacob brought a schoolbook or watched TV. “Snow in Rio. Who thinks of that?” he said, more to himself than Ethan. They never did much on Fridays anymore. When Ethan first came home from the hospital, things were normal for a time, they were as they always had been; Jacob slept over once a week, they watched action movies and Ethan’s mom ordered pizza, and even 104
after months the chair seemed temporary. They didn’t talk about it much in the early days, both believing that somehow, nothing had changed. Nothing was lost. Then, for Jacob, there was high school, a girl who liked him, tryouts for the lacrosse team. Ethan took classes online and finished early. When Jacob was applying for college, Ethan was beginning to control the movement of his arms, relearning the tug of each muscle. As Jacob drank his first beer at a house party, Ethan lay in bed across town, marveling at the careful twitch of a finger. They weren’t boys anymore: Ethan grew broad-shouldered, patches of facial hair appearing around his chin. He was always freshly-shaven when Jacob visited now, and he did not like to picture it: Ethan’s mom, hunched over his bed with a bowl of soapy water and a razor. Jacob had always been smaller, until the summer after junior year, when he shot up four inches. He didn’t know how tall Ethan was, or how they would measure his height when he was sitting down. And though they would never acknowledge it, there was little to talk about. There were still Friday visits, but now they were spent in comfortable silence. Ethan painted snow globes and Jacob stayed for an hour or two, long enough to feel alright leaving. Sometimes, he dreaded the visits, then felt bad for dreading them, then felt angry for a while about the whole state of things. But on Fridays, he was always there. This time, Ethan worked intently, and Jacob flipped through channels for an hour and a half. “Next week?” Ethan asked, as he was leaving. “Until then, man.” On the walk home, Jacob passed a man with his dog, who at first glance looked like his grandfather. Ethan’s mom had offered to drive, but he liked the way the streets looked in the bitter cold, how quiet the neighborhood was in winter. He liked to walk by the places he knew that looked the same as always. He passed his mother’s house, and rounded the block, peered down the dead end street where the quarry had been, years ago. It was a pool, where rocks collected water from the river and held it there, where children used to play in the summer. After Ethan’s accident, they had cleared it out, removed the little dam and allowed the stream to narrow. He couldn’t see the river from down the street, and he could imagine for a moment a different world, where the rocks were still in place and the surface of the water was colored with sun. Where Ethan stood at the counters of coffee shops, and Jacob hadn’t known him for years. Snow globes, forgotten, boxed up in the attic. As he walked, Jacob thought of packing a car and driving, all day and night until he got to a place where there was 105
no one who knew him, nothing to be forgiven for. More than a decade later, that day was clear in his mind. When it happened, it was hot, a suffocating July, broken only by pool days and walks to the quarry. It was early afternoon, and they were alone. Jacob knew as soon as Ethan jumped from a large rock to the water below that something was wrong: the rocks were wet from rain in the morning. Ethan had wanted to bike into town for sodas at the gas station, but the sun came out and Jacob was drawn to the river, the water clear and enticingly cold. As Ethan flailed in the air, Jacob knew somehow that he was changed. In a bright moment, everything around him fell to the ground and rebuilt itself, somehow new and unfamiliar. The sky seemed to close in, pale blue and glassy, and Ethan hit a rock just below the surface. Jacob felt suddenly that everything--the trees, the dappled sunlight, the sound of a car horn far away--was pressing in on him, holding him there, stuck in place. Ethan landed with a soft thud like the sound of a heavy footstep and slid into the water, frozen, with a look of mild bewilderment on his face. And Jacob stood above him, watching Ethan float, his body frozen too.
Sinking Spirals Sydney Corey oil on canvas
FIshing from Claraâ€™s Cove Eve Moll oil on canvas
I See One! Catherine Sheehan oil on canvas
Hope Proffered Catherine Sheehan oil on canvas
Just a dream
She told me she had a dream last night that made her angry at me but couldn’t remember what I did. While they slept that night I was at a gay bar on the floor reeling, sweating steam rising off my body, filling the room until I couldn’t see anyone’s face, only thick white clouds like I had drifted into an overcast sky and I felt someone swimming toward me a lazy breastroke their face moving closer, searching hungrily and I turned away, their lips dusting my cheek with a question and they were gone.
Dinner for One Kyle Vanesko photography
Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song: Siren Song:
Julianna Hernandez 113
Atlantic City was old, fading, worn out. The city hugged the Atlantic Ocean, its resorts and once-famous boardwalk nestled between the New Jersey marshlands and islands. The boardwalk ran parallel to the gray sand. Screws jutted out from the wood in a few places, and the faded planks creaked and sighed under the weight of its visitors. Dotted throughout the boardwalk were hotels and casinos, the cha-ching, cha-ching, ping! of their slot machines drifting past the glass doors and into the brisk evening. The casinos were tall, proud structures that added half-hearted splatters of color to the muted gray sky. The Trump Taj Mahal was a sorry replica of its counterpart, its iconic white dome covered with bird poop. The lights on the guitar sign that marked the House of Blues flickered on and off. The Steel Pier extended perpendicular to the shoreline, a neon symphony of carnival games and amusement park rides that trembled each time they were forced to host a rider. John and Natalie walked along the wet sand towards the Steel Pier, the waves kissing their feet as they wandered closer to the water. Their hands swung back and forth in the empty space between them. Natalie smoked a cigarette as she padded through the sand; her pink lipstick stained the orange filter. Their figures were silhouetted against the setting sun, and the sky was an unfinished painting of pinks, purples, and oranges. It was late fall—almost winter. The air was crisp, the beach empty of other tourists and locals. “What should we do about the hotel?” John said. Natalie shrugged and took a pull of her cigarette. “What do you want to do?” John looked behind him. The Atlantic City Palace Suites was a small, blue hotel that sat at the base of the Showboat, a resort modeled to echo a sail. The Showboat towered over John and Natalie’s tiny hotel, and during midday it cast a shadow over the building. Polished, golden letters hung above the entrance to the Palace Suites to welcome its few guests inside. “I could keep it,” John said. “If you’re okay with that.” “Oh.” Natalie kicked at the ocean. “Sure. Keep it. You’ve always loved that hotel. We can add it to the paperwork.” She released a cloud of smoke into the air. The butt of her cigarette glowed softly like a firefly. “I’ll call my lawyer later.” John frowned. He rubbed his right thumb over his bare left index finger. “Where will you go?” he asked. “Once everything is 114
finalized. Where will you go?” Natalie flicked ash onto the sand. “California.” “That far?” “I don’t know,” Natalie said. “I want to go somewhere new. I haven’t been anywhere new since we married, you know.” “What about our honeymoon?” “To Lake George?” Natalie dragged her foot through the sand. “Five hours away?” “It was a great place.” John crossed his arms over his chest. “So what if it’s five hours away? It was beautiful. We were together. It was nice.” Natalie turned her gaze to the ocean. “Sure. Yeah. I was just thinking…well. I’ve never been to California. That’s all.” John stared at the casinos as they passed. They arrived at the base of the Steel Pier. Large wooden columns hoisted the pier above the ocean, elevating the theme park’s rides toward the sunset. The Ferris wheel turned slowly, its carts swaying in the wind. Music from the merry-go-round blasted through the speakers. The smell of funnel cake and popcorn wafted toward the shoreline to mingle with the salty ocean breeze. John and Natalie came to a stop and watched the waves crash against the pier’s supporting columns. Suddenly, the tide retreated. Beneath the wave was a large, scaly fin. It was exposed for no longer than a breath before another wave rushed in, hiding the creature from view. John squinted. “Do you see that?” “I thought I was imagining it,” Natalie said. “Probably just a beached fish. We should help it.” She jogged closer to the pier, the footprints behind her disappearing as another wave rolled into the shore. When the tide pulled back again, John and Natalie got a clear view of the beached creature. Its bottom half was facing them as they approached. The tail was curled to form a hook, the tip of it extending towards its upper body on the sand. Silver blue scales ran down the tail, the neon lights from the pier waltzing across the surface. Another wave rolled in just as John and Natalie reached the creature. When the ocean retreated once more, they froze. Natalie’s cigarette fell from her mouth into the sand. “Holy shit,” John said. The creature was not a fish—the scales ended where a human’s 115
hip would have been. The upper half of its body resembled a woman. More silver blue scales were peppered throughout her outer arms and the sides of her face. Her hair was long and silver; it spread around her figure like a halo. She wore a bandeau woven out of ropes and fishnets. A seashell necklace hung from her neck. A pool of thick silver liquid was gathering behind her, trailing toward the currents. She appeared to be unconscious— her eyes were closed, her pink lips slightly parted. “Holy shit,” John repeated. Water slapped against the shore, white sea foam bubbling on the sand as the ocean inhaled. “A mermaid,” John said. He crouched next to the creature and moved a strand of hair from her face. “That’s what it is, isn’t it? A mermaid.” “I don’t…” Natalie trailed off. She rubbed her eyes and blinked when she saw the mermaid still remained in front of her. “What?” Before John could respond, the mermaid sat up with a gasp. Her eyes were wide and icy blue, her chest heaving to match her staccato breaths. She clawed at her throat as she looked up at John and Natalie. Her tail flicked back and forth on the sand like a crazed pendulum. John jumped back and stumbled into Natalie. “Jesus Christ!” Natalie’s mouth was open as she stared at the mermaid. “This is a dream, isn’t it?” The mermaid drummed her tail against the sand and shook her head. The seashells around her neck plunked together. She hiccupped and brandished her tail at the waves rushing toward her. “Can she talk?” John said. He stuck his hand out in greeting. “Hey, it’s okay. My name is John.” The mermaid swiped her tail through the water again, dousing the front of John’s khakis. Natalie inched toward the creature, her hands outstretched. “Is she alright?” The mermaid cowered from her touch and dragged itself further toward the ocean. Natalie let her arms drop. “Look. She’s bleeding.” John nodded toward the sand, where the trail of silver liquid had followed the mermaid’s scramble toward the water. There was an open gash on the mermaid’s back, close to its left side. A rounded, green piece of glass stuck out from the wound. Bits of a beer label was printed on the glass—Heineken. “Is that a piece of a beer bottle in her back?” Natalie snorted. “Typical.” 116
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Natalie gestured to the cigarette butts and fast food wrappers half-buried in the dry sand behind them. “Look at this place. Are you really surprised there’s trash in the ocean?” John drew his eyebrows together. “That’s a bit unfair.” The mermaid hiccupped. “We should call the police,” Natalie said. The mermaid pounded her tail against the sand once more. Ocean water and sand flew around her. She squeezed her eyes shut and tugged at her hair, then let lose a high-pitched screech. John and Natalie covered their ears simultaneously. More silver blood spilled from the mermaid’s wounds and splattered onto the sand. “What is wrong with her?” Natalie shouted through the noise. As abruptly as the screeching began, it ended. The mermaid’s eyes rolled back into her head and she flopped against the sand, unconscious. “I don’t think she wants us to call anyone,” John mused. “Well, what do we do now?” Natalie demanded. John looked up at the sky. The sun was still sinking below the horizon, the approaching nighttime darkening the edges of the sky like a vignette. He turned his gaze to the mermaid once more. Her scales twinkled and shimmered in the dying sunlight, a lone, chromatic streak in the dull composition of Atlantic City. “Help me pick her up,” John said. “What?” Natalie’s eyes widened. “Are you insane?” “She could freak out and scream again—or whatever that sound was.” John pushed the sleeves of his jacket up to his elbows. “We can’t just leave her here, either.” “Well, where do you want to put her, then?” Natalie said. John’s eyes roamed over the mermaid’s figure. “I think she’ll fit in the bathtub.” Natalie snorted. “You can’t be serious.” John hooked his arms under the mermaid’s armpits and hoisted her half out of the ocean. “Well?” he said. “Come on.” Natalie stared. John raised an eyebrow. “Damn it,” Natalie said. “I hate you sometimes, you know that?” John sighed. “I know.” *** The mermaid barely fit in their bathtub. John and Natalie took the service entrance at the back of the ho117
tel. John supported the mermaid’s upper half while Natalie wrapped her arms around the tail as they carried the creature to their suite. Together, John and Natalie hoisted the mermaid into the bathtub and filled it with water. The end of the mermaid’s tail stuck out from the tub and its head rested at an awkward angle on the edge, but otherwise their new guest was fully submerged. Natalie extracted the piece of glass from the mermaid’s back and cleaned the wound. After they arranged the mermaid as best as they could, they changed into clean clothes. John returned to the bathroom and sat on the edge of the sink. He watched the mermaid breathe as the sun faded from the horizon. Natalie entered the bathroom a few moments later, a cigarette dangling in one hand and a first-aid kit in the other. She sat on the tiles next to the tub. “What’s that for?” John nodded to the kit in her hand. Natalie held her cigarette between her teeth as she opened the kit. “I need to stitch the wound in her side,” she said. “Are you sure you can do that?” Natalie glared. “I’m a nurse, John.” “I know, but—” The mermaid woke with a gasp and immediately shot upright. Water and silver liquid sloshed out of the porcelain white tub and spilled onto the tiled floor. Her face contorted in pain and she reached behind her, fingers brushing against the cut in her back. A low grunt escaped past the mermaid’s lips as she fell back against the edge of the tub. John moved closer to the bath. “Hey, it’s okay. You’re safe.” The mermaid sank deeper into the water. Natalie returned her attention to unpacking the first-aid supplies. In the tub, the mermaid remained silent, her blue eyes wide and piercing as she watched Natalie prepare the needle and thread. “I’m just going to stitch that wound in your side,” Natalie said. “It won’t take long.” The mermaid did not say anything and swished her tail back and forth. Her eyes ran up and down Natalie’s figure like she was sizing her up. “I’m not sure if she understands—” John began. The mermaid turned, exposing her wound. A small, crescent-shaped cut was on the left side of her lower back. Silver liquid oozed out of it and into the water. 118
“Thank you,” Natalie said. She put her cigarette out on the bathroom floor and moved the mermaid’s hair away from the wound. The mermaid didn’t flinch when Natalie’s fingers brushed against her skin, but she let loose a low moan when Natalie completed the first stitch. “Hush,” Natalie soothed. “Don’t be afraid. I’ll be done soon.” The mermaid whimpered, but she remained still. John grimaced and rubbed his ears. He turned away and walked into the living room. He sat down on the couch and switched on the television, increasing the volume to drown out the mermaid’s pain-filled groans. He tossed the remote on the glass coffee table in front of him, his gaze drifting outside the living room window. It was a young night now, the moon filling the space where the sun once was. The neon lights of Atlantic City stared back at him through the glass. Natalie emerged from the bathroom half an hour later, wiping the silver from her hands onto a towel. She glanced at the television and settled her eyes on John sitting on the couch. “Thanks for the help,” she said. “What?” John frowned. “You were taking care of her.” Natalie took a seat on the opposite end of the couch and lit a cigarette. “She passed out,” she said. “I stitched her up, though.” “Alright.” They watched the commercials playing on the television screen. “Maybe we should call someone now that she’s settled,” Natalie said. “About the mermaid.” John rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “Who? The police?” “I don’t know. Maybe.” “Natalie, they’d think we’re insane. Hell, I still feel like I’m dreaming or something.” John shook his head. “What will they do, anyway? We should just bring her back to the ocean, once she’s well enough to go back. It’ll be like she was never here.” Natalie’s eyes drifted down the hallway toward the bathroom. She rolled her cigarette between her fingers. “That’s it? Just leave her in the bathtub?” “Well, where else do you want to put her? The sink?” 119
Natalie glared. “Somewhere more comfortable.” John picked at the fraying armrest of the couch. “She’s already passed out.” “When she wakes, then.” “Alright. Sure.” Natalie nodded. She stood from the couch and moved toward the kitchen. She rummaged through the refrigerator and pulled a frying pan from the cabinet. Three clicks followed by a soft whoosh sounded through the suite as Natalie turned the stove on. John did not move from the couch, the lights from the television illuminating different shadows on his face as the scenes changed. When Natalie rejoined him in the living room, she had her cigarette between her teeth and a plate of sunny-side up eggs and toast in each hand. She handed one to John took her original spot on the couch. “Eggs?” John said, raising an eyebrow. “The mermaid was heavy. I’m hungry.” Natalie balanced a plate in her lap. “She’s asleep, anyway. I’ll check on her afterwards.” John smiled as he picked up his fork. “I just can’t remember the last time you cooked.” “I cook,” Natalie said. When John rolled his eyes, she said, “I cook sometimes.” John scoffed. “Okay,” Natalie laughed. “You’re the better cook. But I think I’ve improved in these last ten years, don’t you?” John broke a yolk with the tip of his fork. “Yes,” he said. “It’s been a great ten years.” Natalie’s smile melted. She brought he cigarette to her lips. “Is there anything—” John cleared his throat. “I have to ask. Can we talk about it?” Natalie breathed out. A puff of smoke wafted into the air. “Is there anything at all that I can say to change your mind?” John asked. Natalie did not say anything. “I don’t care about the—well, you know. We can try again. Or we can adopt, or something. We still have everything in the spare bedroom.” Natalie looked away. She reached down to put her cigarette out at the edge of her plate, but she missed and instead put 120
it out in the yolk of her sunny-side up egg. She placed her plate on the coffee table and moved to the far wall to face the window. “I’ve told you a thousand times that we want different things now,” she said. John let his fork fall onto his plate. “I just don’t understand. We talked about it in college. I thought you wanted—” “People change their minds,” Natalie said. John stared at the cigarette in Natalie’s egg. A golden yellow river flowed onto the rest of her uneaten meal. The yolk crawled to the half-burnt toast and then started to ooze its way around the circumference of the plate. Cigarette ash floated in the broken yolk like small flakes of pepper. Natalie’s cigarette remained half-submerged in her egg, a weak line of gray smoke still trailing from the end. “What made you change your mind?” John asked. Natalie looked up at the ceiling. “Stop asking me that question.” John tugged his hand through his hair. “I know—I know it’s been hard. But you’re the one that wants to leave, and you owe me an explanation why.” Natalie trailed a finger along the windowsill. “I don’t owe you shit, John.” “Do ten years of marriage mean nothing to you?” Natalie spun away from the window. She opened her mouth and took a breath to respond, but instead released a long exhale. The casino lights flickered through the window behind her. John gripped the armrest of the couch, his chin raised as he locked eyes with Natalie. “I’m going to check on the mermaid,” she said finally. “Natalie—” “If you don’t stop talking right now,” Natalie said, “I’ll scream.” John snapped his mouth shut. Natalie stalked to the bathroom, her head high. She did not look back. The bathroom door shut behind her with a soft click. John remained in the living room until midnight, but still Natalie did not emerge. He went to check on her before heading to bed, the bathroom door creaking as he opened it slowly. Natalie sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the tub. Her back was facing him, quiet snores filling the silence of the bathroom. Her arms rested on the edge of the tub, her head pillowed near 121
the crook of her elbow. The mermaid was still asleep in the bath. Pale moonlight trickled through the window and reflected off her scales, creating a baby blue kaleidoscope pattern on the ceiling. Her silver hair floated around her in the water. John went to the master bedroom and took the spare blanket from the bed. He returned to the bathroom and draped it over Natalieâ€™s shoulders. She did not stir. In the bedroom, John climbed into the left side of the bed. He brushed his hand over the pillows and empty space next to him before turning away to face the wall. He fell asleep staring at the painting of the Atlantic City boardwalk hung up in the bedroom. The outside lights from the Steel Pierâ€™s carnival rides stretched through the window to illuminate the painting in a faded neon pink. Continued on http://vanderbiltreview.com/sirensong/
Modern French Sarah Saxton Strassberg Oil on canvas
Alex Camai 124
You are dead already. Do not let this fact scare you. Embrace it. Soon, summer will sweep you away, and you will be at the mercy of the wind. You will float along highways, maybe across a car or two, and delight in how they can never seem to hit you. You will skim ponds, buildings without windows, buildings with too many windows. You will meet children who tromp just under you, laughing and screaming. You will meet people who sit on porches with bottles of Budweiser, following you with only their eyes. Be wary of those who promise you water, the deepest, darkest, muskiest soil, if they could just hold you for five minutes. Do, however, rest on the roofs of houses, in the branches of trees, away from their eyes. When you find yourself sinking, land quietly. Bury yourself just deep enough in the soil to disappear. Melt into the dirt and cut your glossy white hair. The strands twirl to the soil. Sleep, or count raindrops hitting the dirt. It will overtake you before you register it happening. First, moisture seeps through your skin. A chilly fullness grips your body. Something presses against your chest, bursting outwards. You stretch limbs you never knew you had. Before long, it will happen again. What was pinched shut now strains towards the sun. It’s loose and breathless, the way you have turned yourself inside-out to the world, how you sway drunkenly back and forth. You wonder how many more layers you have left. Your beauty will attract many a creature. Be a gracious host, and welcome each with open arms. Beware the insects who tip their heads at the door but are the last to leave. Hold your breath on hot days. Enjoy the cool ones. Count each day you spend untouched. One day, you count your sepals in a panic as they crumple and tumble to the ground. Remember how not long ago you fell from the sky. Something shuffles inside your stem. It’s the bugs—they’ve finally gotten to you. Frantically recount each one that came, and each one that left. Do bugs lay eggs? You’re not sure. Days later you hear voices, like your own. At first it seems like you’re talking to yourself. The voices are little tongues, flicking back and forth, at each other, against the walls of your flower. You feel the white hair you lost so long ago floating 125
above you. The seedlings atop your head murmur and hush each other as you unfurl the last layer you have left to give. It hurts. You imagine it was this way before you left. One by one, release your paper-thin grip on each seed as the wind picks up, and remember how not long ago you took to the sky. Send each one away with a smile. Wonder where they’ll land. If they’ll be as lucky as you. The first one spirals, and veers left. Its top is uneven, torn from a scuffle inside the flower. Without thinking you reach your leaves up to him, to catch him before he falls. The seedling flails, swerves right, then down. Far out of your grasp. He disappears into the pond. The cold, empty spots on your head make your skin crawl. Winter, summer, winter, summer. Sprinkle your petals on the earth like pennies, knowing new ones will replace them. Keep an open line with the others that came here with you. One day, they may bobble and smile from across the lawn. The next, there may be only a stump. Each year the sight of your children flying away becomes cloudier and cloudier. One day you may cling to the last seed before he departs. Let me fly with you, you say. He’ll give you a forlorn look and tug himself free with a coming draft. Perhaps he won’t land at all. Perhaps he’ll just keep flying, up and up into space. You resign yourself to spreading your leaves and feeling them parachute against the breeze. Spring, autumn, spring, autumn. You have watched yourself and those around you lay to rest beneath the snow time and time again, secretly hoping one year after the other that some of them will not wake up. But they do. And your lives crawl on. The memory of that first seedling hasn’t left you. Release wave after wave of seeds. Decide life isn’t so bad after all. Winter, fall, winter, fall. Another day, you may try to walk like the animals do. You struggle until something beneath you pops and come to the frosty realization that maybe you are stuck here forever. You slept while you sank lower and lower into the ground, until what has kept you alive becomes what’s killing you from the ground up. When the sun finally picks through the slate clouds, someone comes splashing through the swimming grass. They 126
crouch by your side, a strand of hair like a crack on their waxy face, whispering to themselves, and in that moment, you feel beautiful, more than you ever have. Then they pinch your throat shut and pull. Spend the next months in agony, trying in vain to grow back what you’ve lost. More people walk by. They scoff at the headless weed on the lawn. They don’t bother uprooting you. Count raindrops. You will write a poem in the mud. The rain drowns my blood, yet I can always tell which is which. You stretch new buds to the drizzle, but it doesn’t feel quite the same as it did. The fascination has melted away with the snow. You overhear someone wish to be a flower, to become young every spring. You crane your neck as far as it will let you, but you can’t see them, can only hear their footsteps in the mulchy grass. One day in ten feels like your birthday, but honestly, you’ve lost count. More seedlings will drown in thunderstorms. A spring freeze will claim your leaves. Yet, whether you want to or not, you will grow them back, offering them up to the sky to destroy again like a chlorophyll insult. Imagine where you children are growing. There’s a trace of you in each of them. In each of their own children. The thought makes you shudder. Someone will pick you up. But not in the way they might have when you were just a seed. They will grip you around the waist. They will tear your delicate stems, your leaves, your roots from the ground with a crackle, and you will be free. If you fight, they will use a weeding fork. Perhaps they will drizzle something sweet over you. It tastes like sunlight, and the next thing you know, your head bows and the world swells. Then, with your broken body in their hands, they will lay you to rest in a green bin, hazy with the smell of decay, and close the lid. They will dump you on the shoulder somewhere along a highway. You will sink, molecule by molecule, into the earth. You are dead already. Soon, summer will sweep your ashes away, and the wind and the world will at last be at your mercy.
Alex Lithgow Impact Oil on canvas
Sex Dreams About Baristas Isabella Bruzzese In the violent mouth of the afternoon, I can hardly tell the difference between a dream & drinking something hot. The milk is thick here, sour at the edges & the apron he wears says his name but doesnâ€™t say how last night he entered my brain, pulling the entire room behind him. Faded red tiles & velvet curtains, mismatched chairs & floor lamps, the dark smell of his wooly hair as he drew me aside & I gave myself without asking.
His face was the trunk of an elephant,
curling & uncurling in the dim light
of the doorway &
he could hardly stand the feel of me.
It didnâ€™t last long-
my legs flung open like a window
to my childhood:
I knelt in a museum, praying
to the mounted head of a buffalo
as if I knew, then, 129
that it was sacred.
Flower Boy Kyle Vanesko digital photography
Drive-Thru // Allison Boyce
rin found out that Quinn was working at Starbucks during the first party of the summer. It wasn’t a party, exactly, more of an awkward gathering of everyone in her grade from high school spread out in little groups in Owen Clark’s basement. Music played from a laptop in the corner while they sipped on warm beer. She was wearing a tight blue tube top that she could already tell was leaving deep red indentations across her back. Earlier that night, Julia had shot down her attempt to wear a concert t-shirt with jeans. “You want to show people you’re still hot without looking like that’s what you’re trying to do,” Julia said. “Everyone’s going to be wondering who gained the freshman fifteen, who had a breakdown, who’s on the verge of transferring.” She’d said transferring like it was a curse word. But Erin resented how right she had been, even as she itched to rip off the square of fabric. She didn’t want people to think she had let herself go after only one year in Colorado. She wanted them to see that she’d made it, she had passed the test. “You look great, Erin,” Owen told her. They were locked in a corner next to the vibrating laptop, and he leaned in slightly too close to her as he told her about the Harry Potter fan club he had started at Oregon State. “I thought it would be cool to have a club dedicated to nerding out about the series with other superfans and like-minded people, you know?” Erin smiled and said, “Yeah, that sounds really original,” even though there was an identical club at her school. She’d gone to one meeting before deciding it was a waste of time. “Right?” he said. “Also, guess who I ran into at the Starbucks drive-thru the other day.” Later, Erin would think about how easily he might have forgotten to tell her this information, how little it meant to him. “Who?” she said. “Quinn Shay. You were friends with her, right?” he said. “It’s weird, even though she goes to OSU I never saw her around campus this year.” “Which Starbucks?” “What?” He leaned in even closer, his breath stale and hot from his beer while the music blasted into their ears. “Which Starbucks is she working at?” “I think it was the one in the Kmart parking lot, but I can’t remember. Anyway, how was your freshman year?” Even though it had only been a week since she’d come home, she’d been asked this question constantly. By her parents, neighbors, Julia’s 131
mother, anyone from high school who she bumped into. How had it been? It was just fine. The roommate she’d matched with on Facebook was a quiet, normal girl majoring in computer science, and they were rooming together next year. She hadn’t kissed anyone at a fraternity party, and she hadn’t done drugs and gone streaking across the main quad, which was something of a rite of passage at Colorado. Her freshman year had been fine, and yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had done it wrong somehow, that she had missed some hidden opportunity that she could never regain. “It was alright,” she said to Owen. “How was yours?” Before he could answer, she prompted, “Did you see a lot of people from high school around campus? You mentioned you never ran into Quinn…I wonder why that is.” “I heard that she was commuting from home this year or something like that, I don’t know,” Owen said, shrugging. He told her about how Mason and Daniel were in his statistics class, but Erin was already searching the room so that she could give Julia the signal, ready to escape after a valiant hourand-a-half effort. At Julia’s house, they sprawled across her bed in their pajamas and watched a Captain America movie on DVD, trying to ride out their slight buzz. “Owen seemed pretty friendly with you tonight. He kept touching your shoulder and staring at you,” Julia said over the roar of a detonating bomb. “Yeah, I guess.” “You guys were back there for a really long time. Did he extend an invite to another party next weekend?” For a moment, Erin considered not sharing the information Owen had disclosed to her about Quinn, their ex-best friend. But she realized she wanted to tell Julia, wanted someone else to share the burden of this knowledge with her. Julia and Erin had been friends since the sixth grade. They had weathered nightmarish middle school dances, B Cup bras, group sleepovers and coed birthday parties all side by side, and that kind of bond could never be broken. They had spent so much time together that their friendship had become a fixture more than anything else, an unbreakable pattern on which Erin could rely. Hanging out with Julia was kind of like doing nothing, almost as if she was alone – after seven years, she had perfected the art of responding to just about anything Julia said without having to think at all. She paused only for a moment before saying, “Well, he told me that Quinn has a job at the Starbucks drive-thru.” 132
“You didn’t just ask him about her, right? That would be so weird.” “Of course not, he was the one who brought it up. He also said she’s living at home this year, commuting to OSU. Didn’t say why.” “Are you serious?” Julia shook her head. “That’s crazy.” They sat in silence for a few minutes. Erin kept her eyes fixed on the television. “Do you think she, like, has friends and everything?” “I don’t know. I mean, it’s freshman year, a brand-new chapter. I’m sure she does.” “Yeah, but hardly anyone commutes from home.” Living with your parents, skipping out on the weekend parties, sitting with classmates in the dining halls, getting drunk with your new friends in your dorm room – it was the worst thing you could possibly do. The surest way of being miserable in college. Why had Quinn chosen that? Julia popped a few kernels of popcorn into her mouth and chewed slowly. “Well, that’s her problem. She had the chance to start over, same as everyone else. It’s not our fault if she didn’t take it.” “I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s that simple.” Erin’s breath came out shaky as she exhaled, and she hoped Julia didn’t hear it. She felt warm. “Erin, stop it. We don’t even go to OSU. This has nothing to do with us, and anyway, it’s been a year since all that happened.” A year since the incident, was what Julia wasn’t saying. This was the closest they had ever come to discussing it since it had happened. When they told Quinn during their senior year that they didn’t want to be friends with her anymore, and to leave them alone for good. A year since Quinn had not taken the news well and became the recluse of their grade, now reduced to nothing more than a half-remembered name at a party that she was not invited to. “It’s not that simple.” It came out as a whisper, even though Erin hadn’t meant for her voice to go hoarse and quiet. “I still feel really bad about everything.” She knew she was pushing it now, but Julia was the only other person who had been there, too. The only person who would understand. She had to talk about it with someone. “We never did anything wrong,” Julia said. She looked fiercely ahead at the television as if to defend them from some unseen aggressor. And Erin could almost believe her, her voice was as firm and sure as a principal’s. Julia continued, “Look, I really don’t want to talk about this anymore. It’s over now. We all just need to move on.” “I get it. I’m sorry,” Erin said. Julia stayed turned towards the television, and the light from the screen made shadows across her face in the darkness, hard angles and creases smoothed into softness. The sound of 133
rapid machine-gun fire from the movie felt far away, and Erin believed she could fall asleep now if she tried. “It’s over.” ~ They met Quinn during freshman year. She had moved from California over the summer, the only new student out of the one hundred in their class. Thanks to an assigned seating chart, she sat at the same table as Erin in English. On the first day of school, Quinn turned to her and said, “Hey, I love your top. Would you mind showing me where the cafeteria is? I’m new, in case you hadn’t heard from everyone in every class today.” Erin laughed with her, but she had seen how a moment before Quinn asked, a look of blind fear had crossed her face at the sound of the lunch bell before she smoothed it into determination. She wished she hadn’t seen that. They walked to the lunchroom, and when they reached the table where Julia was already waiting, Erin extended an invitation to sit with them. And that was how she invaded, set up camp with them permanently. For so long, it had been the two of them, Erin-and-Julia, and at first it was just nice to hang out with someone else for a change. Quinn wore beanies and witty graphic tees without looking stupid, drank herbal tea from a thermos and wanted to be a filmmaker. She didn’t wear any makeup but had smooth, bronze skin and deep-set eyes. Erin felt exponentially more interesting the longer she hung out with her. Every lunch period, they listened to Quinn write responses to her thousands of followers on Tumblr, laughing when she laughed, not changing the subject until she did. She was the funniest person Erin had ever met, and she had a kind of cruel power that only teenage girls and world dictators are capable of, that would slowly pit Erin and Julia against each other, ruin everything. Quinn also had no father. She was an only child and had no idea who her father was, didn’t even know his name. This was exotic to them, fascinating. She rarely brought the subject up, but that only made it more interesting. Disappointingly, Erin had two full working parents and no exciting family drama at all, not even an estranged half-brother to throw in the mix. Julia’s mother had remarried, but that was it. Even so, Erin knew it must be strange to know that you had a father, but he was utterly uninterested in ever meeting you, his child. It must have been the only instance in Quinn’s life where she hadn’t felt wanted. ~ It was terrible, what she was doing. Erin knew this, and yet she planned two stoplights ahead so that she could make the tricky left-hand turn into the Kmart 134
parking lot. She just wanted to see her one time, was all. She would just pass by the drive-thru, order a latte, maybe say hey, man, it’s really good to see you. Keep it super casual. I had no idea you worked here, this is a really nice surprise. I just wanted to say I’m so sorry about everything, and I hope you’re doing well. Maybe not say doing well, that sounded a bit stiff. Then she would wait for her latte, leave a big tip, and keep on driving. As she approached the drive-thru lane, her heart began to race. It was three o’clock and the place was packed with five cars ahead of her. A large woman was blocking her view through the window to the cash register inside the store. Was Quinn really here, at this moment? She considered reversing and abandoning everything, realizing too late that this actually was a terrible idea, but then a car from behind locked her in. She had no choice but to proceed. “Welcome to Starbucks, how may I help you?” A man’s voice crackled out from the speaker. “Um, could I just get a small – I mean grande – latte?” “Grande is our medium size, ma’am.” “Oh, um, that’s fine, too. I’ll take a medium.” “That will be four seventy-five.” “Oh…” Five dollars for a latte? She knew there were only two bucks in her purse. “I’ll make it a small then.” After a few minutes, it was her turn to roll up to the pick-up window. She saw a boy’s curly cropped brown hair through the glass, and her heart began to slow at last. She paid for her over-sugared brown milk, put the car in drive and began the slow commute back home, wondering why she had felt such painful, acute relief when the whole reason she had come was to see the girl who was not there. ~ Quinn had blocked Julia and Erin from all of her social media accounts promptly following the incident. All that appeared when Erin typed her username, quinn_cidence16, into Instagram was her thumb-sized profile picture – a grainy image of her smiling on a beach – and her brief bio statement. Her bio, Erin had discovered, changed frequently. It currently read: me, myself, and i: my three best friends. A few months ago, it had been: you know what they say: guess i didn’t peak in high school. Sometimes, it said nothing at all, and Erin would stare at the page as if she could somehow gather more information from the lock icon and the little message that said, “This account is private.” But it was an impenetrable fortress. 135
During the first months of freshman year, the frenzied period when everyone was frantic to make as many friends as possible, she had regularly checked Quinn’s account to watch how many followers she gained – only fifteen – and now, at the end of the year, the number remained stagnant. Did she have a new set of friends now? Was she fully settled in at OSU? Was she happier, finally, than she was at the end of high school, after what they did? There was no way to know. ~ They only started watching the Marvel movies because of Quinn. She was a Marvel super fan, and as a consequence, over the course of four years Erin and Julia educated themselves on every film in the franchise: Avengers, Iron Man, the man with the long blonde hair and the big hammer. Erin had never liked the movies, had always thought they were unrealistic and contrived, and Julia never paid much attention to them before. But Quinn liked them, and Quinn had become more popular in two months than either of them combined, so watch them they did. Once, when they were at the movie theater on a Saturday night choosing which showing to watch, the new Spiderman or the latest Avengers movie they’d seen twice already, Erin mentioned a musical that was receiving great reviews. A real romance, not a single gun or explosion spotted in the trailer. “We always watch superhero movies,” she said. “What if we saw Stardust this time? It’s only in theaters for one more week and I know for a fact that Spiderman will be out for the whole month.” “Why would we do that? We came here to see Spiderman, obviously, we’ve been looking forward to this for weeks,” Julia responded. “Stardust looks stupid, anyway.” Erin stared at her, trying to force her to look at her. Only two days before, when Erin had mentioned the movie to her, Julia said she couldn’t wait to see it and they would tell Quinn they’d see Spiderman some other time. “Yeah, I don’t think Stardust is really what I’m in the mood for tonight,” Quinn said, laughing. “My mom said it sucked.” They watched Spiderman, and they saw it again the next weekend, too. Erin never tried to choose the movie after that. It was incredible, really, the things Quinn could do. It was almost a gift, the way she was able to direct Erin’s fury onto Julia every time, her longest friend, when she was the one who had been wrong. Four years of that, the never-ending ass-kissing and heated silences and resentful admiration, and it was enough to drive anyone mad, push someone to the very edge, explosion. ~ After the first time, she began driving to the Kmart parking lot about 136
three times a week. She had a summer job at California Pizza Kitchen and she often pulled through the drive-thru before or after a shift. It wasn’t every day or anything, and only when she had the time. She had never liked coffee much, but she enjoyed experimenting with different drinks on the menu. By late June, she had worked her way through the entire line of refreshers and frappuccinos, and she was beginning to narrow down her favorite espresso beverage – an iced café americano. The same two or three teenage boys were always stationed at the window, but they never gave anything away. Then again, it wasn’t like she would be able to find some evidence of Quinn’s presence just by staring at their faces. Ridiculous. Her heart had almost completely stopped throbbing every time she pulled up to the window, and sometimes she even forgot the reason she kept going there. If she really wanted to catch Quinn on a shift, she knew she would need to start varying the times she came – maybe Quinn only worked the early morning shift – but she didn’t. It was too exquisite, that muted, distant feeling of overwhelming relief that still washed over her after she paid for her overpriced sugar juice. She wasn’t ready. She didn’t tell Julia about any of it, of course. Julia would react poorly. She would say it was a terrible idea to reach out to Quinn and Erin would just make things worse. On top of that, Julia had established an unspoken Voldemort-like ban on Quinn’s name after the incident which Erin was always careful to uphold. So, she said nothing. They spent most of their time on Julia’s bed watching Marvel movies or attending organized group activities like bowling and mini golf with everyone in their grade from high school. The outings got old after a while, everyone discussing the small pool of topics they still had in common over and over again, but they were all bored and there wasn’t much else to do in town over the summer. It was strange to Erin how she and Julia continued to watch the Marvel movies relentlessly, without discussing it. But it would feel wrong, at this point, to do anything else. She still didn’t like the movies, but she enjoyed the experience of watching them, the familiar excitement they felt when they entered into the sacred space of each film, though Quinn was the one who had forged that space. And of course, it maddened Erin that even when Quinn wasn’t there, she still had some hold on them, had left a permanent trace. But more than that, Erin simply wished that she could mention Quinn in reference to a scene or an old inside joke without only summoning memories of the incident and its fallout. She wished she could say her name without feeling any pain. She wondered if such a thing would ever be possible. 137
~ Quinn had gone too far this time. ~ She had chosen Erin to be her partner for the AP English presentation, even though Julia had asked her weeks in advance if they could work together. She had invited Julia to go shopping over the weekend but excluded Erin. She chose their group costume for Halloween – the three-headed Hulk or something equally idiotic – and purchased the outfits even though Erin and Julia already said they wanted to be Avengers. Every week, there was something new to add to the list, which was now a staggering sum of four years’ infractions. There was only one semester left in senior year, and yet that amount of time spent submitting to Quinn’s whims, desperately contending for her attention while simultaneously resenting her with the force of a thousand exploding suns, was simply too exhausting to endure any longer. Something had to be done. Erin and Julia had been friends since sixth grade, through every pimple, every godforsaken moment of puberty, every crush. That kind of bond could never be broken, would take priority every time, even if it purely stemmed from self-preservation alone. They formed a plan, which would later be referred to as the incident, in which they asked Quinn to join them for coffee after school one day to “go over some things.” Erin was ready, excited even, to finally put Quinn in her place. They had been friends before she ever came along, and they would be friends long after she was gone. They told her in calm, rational terms while sitting in a corner booth at PJ’s that she was driving a wedge between their friendship and they would tolerate it no longer. “You’re the one always calling the shots on everything we do,” Julia explained as she sipped her latte, dabbing at her mouth with a napkin to remove the foam. “You decide where we eat, what movie we watch, when we hang out, hell, even when we should all go to the bathroom sometimes.” She giggled a little, and Erin had the strange urge to burst out laughing as well, but she swallowed it quickly. Julia continued, “This whole friendship has never been balanced, and we just think it’s best if we do our own thing. Take time and space away from each other.” “Yeah,” Erin said, feeling like she should say something. “We need space.” Quinn’s face, normally so tan and sun-kissed, was white as a moon now. Her muffin and iced coffee sat untouched in front of her. “So, you’re saying you don’t want to be friends with me anymore?” 138
“Well,” Julia said, shifting in her seat, “yes, but it’s not like we can’t all still talk at school. Say hi during passing period and everything. You understand, don’t you? I really think this will be the right thing for all of us.” “Yeah, okay,” Quinn said, looking down at the table. Then they began talking about the biology assignment due that week until the waiter came with their check. Quinn never ate any of her food. Erin considered asking her if she could take her muffin if she wasn’t going to eat it, but decided that might be awkward. Then Julia offered to drop Quinn off because Quinn’s mother was at work and she’d thought they were going to Julia’s house afterwards. The next day, Erin walked into the cafeteria to find Quinn sitting at a back table by herself, staring at her food tray with her head down. The table looked embarrassingly, painfully large with her being the only one sitting there, and as Erin and Julia took their regular spots at the table they normally split with the racquetball girls, Erin kept looking over to see if anyone came up to Quinn, if she ever left to join someone else. But she never did. It made Erin furious. There she was, sitting at an empty lunch table like an actress out of some low-budget film about the dangers of bullying. As if Erin and Julia were the bullies, the villains who dumped milk in her hair and shoved her up against lockers. They hadn’t done anything wrong. And besides, Quinn had loads of other friends in their grade, she had always been more popular than either of them. Erin had expected her to seamlessly join Jessie Martin’s group but still chat with her and Julia in the hallways, exchange smiles. Part of her had expected, even hoped that Quinn would approach them later in the week with a sheepish expression and say she guessed she was sorry, she would start being less annoying, could they all just get over themselves and go back to normal. They would have made her beg for a few minutes before accepting her back into the trio. But Erin had never once planned for this. As more and more days passed since the incident, Quinn became more silent, more invisible, and no one even seemed to notice except for her and Julia. She sat alone at lunch and became the person who always had to pair up with the teacher during partner exercises in Spanish. She started walking through the hallways with her headphones in, head down, never stopping to talk to anyone. She disappeared until she was nothing but a forgotten name on their class roster, the silent girl who sat in the back of the room, an outlier. Erin and Julia employed a variety of methods to reverse the damage 139
they had caused, waving to her in the hallway or approaching her before class to talk, but she turned away from them every time. On social media, Erin tried to check if Quinn was hanging out with anyone after school, doing fun things on the weekends, any sort of indication that she was happy and moving on. But Quinn blocked them on Snapchat, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, even Spotify. They knew nothing. During those final weeks before graduation, Erin made sure to claim a seat with her back facing Quinn in the cafeteria. It was sort of like a hit-and-run accident – her guilt was so powerful, so beyond words that she couldn’t bear to look back. It was on a Tuesday in early July that Erin set her alarm for five forty-five in the morning. She told her mother that she was going to meet Julia for a run and drove to the Kmart parking lot. The roads were deserted and electric with silence at that time in the morning. Yet the Starbucks parking lot was already half-way full as adults waited for their caffeine fix on their way to work. She pulled up slowly to the drive-thru lane as usual. As a male voice squawked out through the speaker, “Welcome to Starbucks, how may I help you,” Erin finally saw her. She was inside, standing behind the cash register. Her soft brown hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, a few loose strands falling into her eyes, and she was wearing the standard black t-shirt and green apron. She had gotten a nose ring, a delicate flash of silver that made her look older somehow, and this small change in her appearance hit Erin like a blow. She was speaking to a customer, leaning slightly forward, and then she smiled. Erin should never have come. Now she realized this with absolute certainty. It was wrong, so wrong for her to think that she could fix everything, somehow make up for what they had done by saying a few pleasantries. What was done was done, irreversible, and there would be no more closure. She could not go in there now and mess with this girl’s life more than she already had. She had been wrong to try. “Ma’am, is there something you wanted to order?” The sudden burst of noise from the speaker made Erin jump in her seat. “No, I changed my mind. I don’t want anything,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
Ohio Caroline Crawford digital photography 141
Etna Lauren Sobota polaroids 142
Out to Pasture Claire Barnett digital photography 143
Master Monica Gallagher digital photography 144
The 2018/2019 school year edition of The Vanderbilt Review