U N D E R G R O U N D Undergraduate Art & Literary Journal
Volume 4, Issue 1 Fall 2013 Georgia State University Atlanta
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Parker Hilley PRODUCTION EDITOR Ben Wertz ASSISTANT EDITORS Elizabeth Endara Raven Neely Rebecca Doane STAFF Rachel Pickett, Alexandra Ahmed, Lauren Cooper, Sydney Smith, Ty Fenelus, David Goins, Nicholas Goodly, Teal Waxelbaum, Nicole Haswell MEDIA ADVISOR Bryce McNeil, Ph.D. COVER ART Splash No. 2, Sydney Daniel mixed media on canvas Underground is funded by student activity fees. Issues are provided free to all Georgia State University students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests. All work located herein is the creation of Georgia State University undergraduate students. Underground retains “first publication rights” for submissions accepted by the journal. It is our understanding and intent that all rights for accepted submissions remain with Underground until the submissions are published, at which point all rights revert to the author. For more information, visit us online at www.undergroundjournal.org.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Letter From the Editor - vii Shadows – Sarah Klingberg – 1 Fish Story – Samuel Benedict – 2 I was in the shower – Blake Estep – 3 Black – Nia Dorandra Sims – 4 Haiku Written While Watching the Sun Rise Over the Grand Canyon – Ryan Peroni – 6 Poor House – Lucas Khan – 7 Sleepy Society – Mercedes Williams – 8 Milk n’ Sugar – Katie Elkins – 9 Folding Grape Leaves – Alexandra Ahmed – 10 Note from Amundsen – Stefan Andrew Stacy Vereen – 11 That Old Moaning Tree – Katherine Grace Teems – 12 Haiku 3 – Ryan Peroni – 13 Ignorance Is... – Teal Waxelbaum – 14 Retrospection – Taylor Garret Pannell – 15 Infinite – William Glenn Anderson – 16 Blu – Travis Clark – 17 Drapes – Nadia Deljou – 18 El Barrio – Christinia Romo – 19 Halycon – Sarah Klingberg – 20 Poisonous – Chris Reel – 21 Untitled 1 – Alexis Huckaby – 22 The Street – Taylor Cornelius – 23 Touching Higher Altitudes – Brandon Polack – 24 Strawberry Fields – Madison South – 25 Self Portrait – Sydney Daniel – 26 No Smoking – Brandon Polack – 27 iii
Hidden – Philip DiGioia – 28 Embracing – Melinda D. Childs – 29 Eiffel Tower – Melinda D. Childs – 30 Donald’s Lounge, 15 Days – Alexandra Troxell – 31 57 Chevy 41 – Frank Duncan – 32 As My Love Traveled Down Your Back – James L. Gibson – 33 Cordelia – Anna Theodore – 34 The Land and the Sea – Christina Romo – 36 Moving On – Mikaila Mack – 38 The Samurai and the Polar Bear – Lucas Khan – 40 Records – Rachel Pickett – 42 Death Knell in Paradise – Marcia Foshee-Duffy – 44 The Travelers – Valerie Deschamps-Goren – 46 Synecdoche, Monotony – Grace Elena Bondy – 47 The End of the Line – J.S. Epps – 50 Annoying Interruptions – Jinel Gray – 59 The Dusty Cup – Esther Jin Kin – 60 House of Suicides – Sam Schaefer – 61 Blossom Lane – Delun Attwooll – 65 No Evil Unknown, No Good Forgotten – Taylor Garret Pannell – 68
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR Well, it’s that time of year again. The time when the new Underground comes out and everyone fights for their copy so that they can all read their favorite part... THE LETTER FROM THE EDITOR. But this issue I decided that we should do things a little differently. Instead of me writing some sarcastic address to the reader, I thought I should give our Production Editor a stab at it! So here it is... LETTER FROM THE PRODUCTION EDITOR Ben Wertz I’ve folded words here, written red, and paintings that from artists bled, and saw I many shutters snap over the taker’s heart. So read with caution, not with haste, and know the feelings that you taste once danced upon the tongues of those whom you now hold a part. And though a messenger I be, give no attention unto me, for all my quick end serves to mark is another’s hopeful start.
Sincerely, Parker Hilley Underground Editor-in-Chief Fall 2013
Shadows Sarah Klingberg What is this that burns in my chest and troubles my musings? So ineffable it grasps me by the excesses of my clothing I stare it in the face to judge its intentions and exhale mightily to snuff it out like candle smoke But not even the smoke tells It dances and flickers to a tune that is not steady My eyes search hopefully for gathering shapes But they scatter before any sense can be made It is a secret kept greatly from me Shouldnâ€™t I be meant to know?
FISH STORY Samuel Benedict What can you say About a fish that died? (Not the delicious one ordered fried But the one netted and kept alive) About that one, the Molly, that survived, Whose gaze of hungry Intellect was shared Across aquarium glass, In a pinch and scatter Of fish-scale thin Tropical fish food flakes, Waters churned by this Chummed-up chum? About the flip-flop nature of a love, Whose up went down, Down gone up, Bloat with fuzz bloom, All thatâ€™s at home In this bulge of an eye With the dark pupil hole Connecting our soul.
I WAS IN THE SHOWER Blake Estep I was in the shower Looking down And saw my chest Had grown more hair. What else have I failed to observe?
BLACK Nia Dorandra Sims Black, The bearing pigment of the human origins, An ageless trend and universal shade. Fancy tuxedos that looks itâ€™s finest in only one color. It is the courage and confidence of that little dress and six inch heels, which makes a women feel her best. Black, A population equipped with brilliant hair, where every dreamt up hair style is possible. Hair with glorious volumes that are exotic and cannot be mimicked, which can transform from curly to straight, to afros to kinky, to rolls and twist. Black, the rich color of oil and the beauty in black diamonds. Black, unique, bold and original. Black, underestimated, unappreciated, unwanted, misunderstood and neglected. Whom is heavily perceived as mediocre, where even those gifted with this complexion despises the thought of being classified as black. Why? Why is it that we run from our nativity? Letting others feed us into their definition of who we are and what our destiny is. Shaming our ancestors not taking advantage of why they fought and put their lives on the line for us. Black, Fighting among ourselves instead of fighting for each other and building each other up. Hispanics born dark or light skin are still considered Hispanic, Indians born dark or light skin are still 4
considered Indians and nothing less. What have we arrived at? We should rise as one filling in the cracks of hatred with love and neglect with togetherness. The future is near. What are our dreams, actions, and beliefs? Black, the title that perseveres.
HAIKU WRITTEN WHILE WATCHING THE SUN RISE OVER THE GRAND CANYON the red sun rises and the chasm, too, appears out of the darkness.
POOR HOUSE Lucas Khan Our house is dead skin, A hollowed out tree That wonâ€™t ever grow again. We are bats hanging â€“ Dark, dry, and empty. My dad is on a trip. Last night there was a white Truck on the street corner, Now, no more water. My mother is cleaning She cleans and cleans and cleans. The carpet is still dirty She takes apart the vacuum To find no filter, and starts crying. Upstairs, the door to my room is locked And I pretend not to notice.
SLEEPY SOCIETY Mercedes Williams The soul is a speck in the walls of her room In the unwanted quiet and glow of the moon As she curls with her toes to the edge of the earth Where nothing but sleeps in its sorrow and mirth. The world is a noise as loud as temptation The soul a lone corner of no coloration. Sheâ€™s lost to a heaven of silence and sound Discontented enough to be lost and not found. The world is a creature that can swallow her whole, A bedlam of pleasure and bedlam of souls. And life is a shadow which taunts from behind, A society sleeping in the dark of her mind.
MILK N’ SUGAR Katie Elkins
In the early morning, before he’s taken his first sips of coffee, I pour my body backwards into his, Teaspoon by teaspoon, I try to measure out my sugar to perfectly tame his bitterness, It is in this tediousness, that I find a bitterness of my own. As my body softens into jagged hipbones and pillowy stomach, my mind stirs. I’m pressed into him, but The clanging of spoon against cup makes it impossible for me to plunge back into my own dreams. I lay awake for hours, some mornings, stirring. Pouring over how a girl who is so bold and strong, A girl who has never tasted quite sweet enough to any of her lovers, can wake up in the morning wanting nothing more from her love than a little less bitterness, and a little more milk and sugar.
FOLDING GRAPE LEAVES Alexandra Ahmed I used to watch her portrait on the wall. Kohl-rimmed eyes and a sharp jaw line, She had the austere face of paternal lineage. Now she watches me. She walks the halls with leaden heels. Uncertainty in every glance, She tries to whisper foreign words of communion. All they sound is harsh. Dolma, she mutters, the only word I can understand for sure. She stares at the jar of grape leaves, As if home is staring back. Entering the kitchen with intent, Her usual place of comfort, I pick up a leaf and inspect its webby spine. I catch her doing the same. In silence we start the process, Rolling the stuffing into the leaves, Folding them into intricate packages. Working until our hands turn to prunes, Together.
NOTE FROM AMUNDSEN Stefan Andrew Stacy Vereen To the explorer Go there, not like others before! To feel your change with the waves Hear them crash and fall Try and defy them, And line the seas with your steps
THAT OLD MOANING TREE Katherine Grace Teems
More than once I wondered how it would be To tie myself in an old moaning tree Where the dry leaves would shush And the birds wouldn’t sing Because they’d be too busy Picking the eyes out of me. More than once I wondered how it would be To fly off a bridge through terrain serene Where the wind would gush And my eyes would water Right before I hit the ground, Where I’d become Earth’s slaughter. Sometimes I’d wonder, But it’s of no worth Because soon enough We’ll all be deep in the Earth. Where our corpses will wither And nourish new trees So another can wonder how it would be To tie themselves in an old moaning tree.
HAIKU 3 Ryan Peroni
forgotten blonde strand inside of the pillow case nearly strangles me
IGNORANCE IS... Teal Waxelbaum Ignorance is climbing in fairy-infested trees, and crunching on leaves. Exploring the waterfalls, slipping and sliding over slick rocks. Taking on steep asphalt mountains, night and day and back again. Donning the gowns, stumbling in higher heels. Listing the future, with powers and elements doled out. Weaving through moguls, slipping down spirals. Braving the west, constructing with wood drifting. Reliance and trust, sure of the balance. Feet falling, hands holding, grip securing. Ground below and away, placement assured among branches. Knowledge is borrowed heels snapping, sole slipping, grip breaking; body and feet and mind again, hitting the grounding surface. No climbers, crunchers, collaborators as catchers.
RETROSPECTION Taylor Garret Pannell
And I wish I had known that when left alone, Death was the God youâ€™d believe in.
INFINITE William Glenn Anderson Imagine a rock the size of the earth. A hundred thousand miles–its girth. And every thousand years a bird, Comes and pecks; just once, (I’ve heard), That when that rock is a tiny crumb, Eternity—has just begun.
Blu, Travis Clark Photoshop 17
Drapes, Nadia Deljou Encaustics, acrylic, mixed-media on wood board
El Barrio, Christina Romo photography
Halycon, Sarah Klingberg watercolor and tea
Poisonous, Chris Reel c-print
Untitled 1, Alexis Huckaby film photography
The Street, Taylor Cornelius oil on canvas 23
Touching Higher Atmospheres, Brandon Polack photography/Photoshop 24
Strawberry Fields, Madison South acrylic on canvas
Self Portrait, Sydney Daniel mixed media
No Smoking, Brandon Polack photography/Photoshop 27
Hidden, Philip DiGioia mixed media 28
Embracing, Melinda D. Childs wire art 29
Eiffel Tower, Melinda D. Childs digital photography 30
Donaldâ€™s Lounge, 15 Days, Alexandra Troxell pinhole photograph
57 Chevy 41, Frank Duncan digital photography
AS MY LOVE TRAVELED DOWN YOUR BACK James L. Gibson
I smiled, As my love traveled down your back. As my hands massaged Every part of your spine And lips kissed you Reverently, Knowingly. We had just finished arguing Over who was going to pick up The kids When suddenly, You stormed out of the house Saying you’d do it yourself. But I knew better. Yes, you would go and pick up The kids. Yes, you would make The long drive To your lover’s house. You think I don’t know, But I do.
Now as I look upon your Beautiful pale back, I can’t help but feel sad for you My sweet. Sad because I know that our love Will soon come to an end, Sad because I see you for what you really are, And sad because once you’ve been dropped Out of my life, I will have to find another person To love. 33
CORDELIA Anna Theodore
To say I miss my father would be to submit, as a writer, to the thrall of cliché. On top of that, it’d be wrong. I don’t miss my father. You can’t miss someone who lost your phone number and acted like he didn’t know who to ask for the new one. You can’t miss someone whose hands you remember most vividly because they shoved and slapped you. He let himself fall between the cracks of state lines, and from what my mother says he slipped from there right down into the neck of a bottle. It’s not your job to miss someone like that, she said, and I knew she was right. For years now, though, the radio silence between us is one of those things I just happen to carry with me. It’s a weight as passive as summer clothes, with none of the bright colors or levity. I partake in its burden, I put my hands in it until the weight turns them to fists, and people with the authority of both love and licenses tell me I don’t have to think about him, but goddammit, I have to, I do. My father was a thin, ailing wisp when I last saw him in person, the big grinning teeth I loved so much as a kid framed by purpling gums, the skin under his eyes worn thin from bad circulation. He was smaller than I thought he’d be, and back then I was small too, about sixteen and nervous. He took us to Wendy’s, ordered for my sister and me the milkshakes that he constantly denied us in our youth. He smiled, and my sister stared stonily back at him from over the table; for my part I looked at his hands, which were alien in their nonviolence, and tried to keep the weight in my chest from tumbling loose. Kept the apologies packed in behind my teeth. It wasn’t my fault, that this silence had piled up so mountainous between us. It couldn’t have been. I was a kid. Supposedly your brain can work overtime to fight the feelings that would otherwise keep you captive, which is the only reason I can think of that I don’t remember that lunch too well. I put another guilty pin in the memory, and when I graduated high school he didn’t send a card. Some months back, just this past year, he ended up in the hospital. My mother said he was living with an aunt in Virginia, and that I should call their house if I wanted to check in on him. She gave me the phone number, and she didn’t say anything else, but in her silence I knew she 34
was saying what she was always good enough to say: It’s not your fault. It couldn’t have been. He’s an adult. I called the house and spoke to this aunt of mine, whose voice I didn’t recognize too well. I have stilted memories of visiting her home, the chairs with the woven backs and a cat I used to chase around; in between stutters I tried to imagine my dad there, and then transplanted from there to a hospital room. The image stuck fast in my mind, and brought with it a fresh burst of nerves. I bit out a promise to my aunt that I’d call back, that I’d speak to him. That I wanted to know how he was. Later my mother said she spoke with my aunt too, and that he’d be just fine. From there it’s anyone’s guess what I did with the sticky note upon which I had written his phone number, because I sure as hell don’t know where it went. I wasn’t lying when I said I wanted to know how he was, but there’s a dishonesty too, in letting these things be lost. I didn’t look for it too hard, and I didn’t call back. And I haven’t tried to call since, which makes it about five-odd years since we’ve spoken. I think about him often still. I think about how I don’t have the grace to soften the sting of not missing him, and likewise I don’t have the guts. The silence between my father and me carries within its corridors a sound of its own now, a glacier cracking from the bottom. Its purpose is righteous at every turn, justifiable from every mouth, but I don’t know how to let it be. I want to think about him, because the alternative culls a chill from my skin harsher than that cracking glacier. As if he could disappear if I don’t give him leave to linger. I give the memory of him space to breathe in, and little else. Sometimes guilt grips me like a panic attack, and I don’t know if it’s mine. When that happens, I sit and try to think about how sweet it is, being one person in seven billion. The statistical impossibility of being the sorriest person in the world, for this and every other wrong—it’s warm. It’s comfort enough to sleep and dream on.
THE LAND AND THE SEA Christina Romo They were mostly garter snakes at first, but after a couple weeks we started seeing bigger, brighter snakes around Patrica’s wrists. Jamie Lee insisted they weren’t real, and if they were, they were surely not alive. So she leaned over to touch them during math class and got bit on the face by a bright red one and she came to school the next day with a bandage wrapped around swollen cheeks. That was as close as anyone else got. We all learned our lesson after that. Her eyes were grey, which was nice enough, but she always looked like she was on the verge of tears. She wasn’t, of course, because Patrica never cried. She didn’t cry when she broke her arm during kickball in 6th grade or when her mama died last summer from that hush-hush disease that our parents told us not to ask about. Not once. At first we were confused by her bangles. “What makes them hiss like that?” I asked Jamie when we saw Patrica that first day of school last fall. “Maybe there’s beans in them. Maybe they are hollow.” But then we saw them slither during Sociology. Flip their smooth heads during History. Flick their forked tongues during French. And we knew. And we were mesmerized. She’d walk down the hall and we’d go quiet in awe. They were so beautiful, so terrifying, so very much unattainable for everyone. Everyone but her. But after a month or two, we forgot they were there. Teachers stopped freaking out and started telling her to “keep the hissing down.” She’d nod and we’d nod and then the snakes’ loud hum would turn into pinpricks of a murmur, barely distinguishable from the hum of the generators. Rumors emerged that Patrica was a witch, or just a freak with a bestiality preference. She’d come around the corners, books and snakes in hand, and we’d all shut up. She’d turn her watery eyes downward and it occurred to me that snakes or no snakes, Patrica was just like us. When she drowned, the coastguard searched and searched but they never found the body, even though the river didn’t flow that fast. We knew the casket was empty, but we still laid our hands on it lightly and shuffled down the aisle in our stiff, hard-soled black shoes that we had only worn 36
The Land and the Sea
for Christmas or Easter. And when we all bowed our heads to pray, I had the uneasy feeling that we were being watched from outside the stained glass windows. By the end of the week, the snakes were long gone. Not one left in a garden or even in a terrarium in a 2nd story house. Jamie swore up and down that she heard them hissing into the night as they blindly slithered into the depths of the Mississippi. People are saying theyâ€™ve joined their master in her watery grave. But if you ask me, I say that none of that is true.
MOVING ON Mikaila Mack
It’s bittersweet. At one point after you’ve moved on, you’ll look over at the person you had once been in pain over losing, and you’ll feel absolutely nothing. You’ll realize that all of the hurt and sadness is gone….It vanished as if it had never existed, and the two of you were never more than just friends. But then, you’ll also look over at that person and you’ll do something stupid. You’ll remember. All of a sudden, the memories will come rushing back and you’ll remember what the sun, moon, and stars looked like through love-clouded eyes. You’ll remember his smile or her blush and you’ll forget to blink because you’ll recall that taking even onetenth of a millisecond to close your eyes would be to miss out on the very moment the Earth stood still. You’ll know that his cry or her silence means more than words from feeble minds could fathom. But you’ll also know that a simple “I’m sorry” is all that is needed to open him or her up to be hurt again. You’ll remember that people are fragile and that they need to be fixed (even if the glue is only temporary). You’ll remember the sound of his footsteps or the smell of her hair and you’ll close your eyes as the nostalgia hits. You’ll recall the taste of his lips or the warmth of her skin and the rhythm of your heartbeat will speed. But it’ll be okay because the new rhythm fits you better than the old one ever did. You’ll look at your ex and the lifetimes of seconds you spent together will be condensed into one single moment. And in that moment, you’ll feel everything. Then you’ll recall why it all had to end, and you’ll remember that gravity exists. You’ll brace for the impact of hitting the ground and the pain that will soon come after…but it will never come. Because you’ll look over at that person once again and you’ll realize that you’re fine—absolutely fine. You’ll notice that the emptiness you were accustomed to is gone. Your chest won’t ache at the sight of your ex anymore and the mere thought of the word “ex” won’t make you wince. You’ll know that he or she once meant everything to you, but you’ll accept the fact that things have changed. You’ll see him or her as just a person, and not the one you can’t live without. You’ll know that time moves on and even if that person wanted you back, you won’t go back. You’ll know that you need better than a girl that steals pieces of you when she leaves, or 38
you’ll know that you’re worth more than the pause he takes before he says another girl’s name. And after a while, you’ll realize that the two words you had once been afraid of are so much more than just words because they are what gave you your life back. You’ll look forward to the future because even if one day, your life doesn’t taste as good as it used to, you’ll know it’s because moving on is bittersweet. And you’ll also know that you’ll find something sweeter.
THE SAMURAI AND THE POLAR BEAR Lucas Khan Shiro laid face up on his mat with his arms outstretched like a dead body floating down a river. His palms were numb and throbbing. Every vein in his body was swollen and pulsed with movement. Training so far only stimulated his physicality. He closed his eyes and listened to his heart beating. The thumping echoed in his brain¬¬––the last sound he heard before fleeing Japan. He was floating down the Kuma River again. His full name was Tamashi Shirokuma. The family received this name when Japan was still at war with China. Shiro’s parents told him that a samurai in feudal Kyushu had found their ancestor floating in the Kuma River. The story remained Shiro’s favorite. They said the samurai had tracked a small squad of Chinese soldiers that had been split from their group. They were the only ones to survive the last encounter and he had finally caught up to them. The samurai was ordered by the shogun to come back with their heads or face sepuku. The snow fell lightly against the bare trees and resembled ash. Smoke rose from a farmhouse a few hundred yards out. The samurai noticed hurried footprints in the snow and a few yards ahead, a man in the clearing. The samurai quickly hid behind a tree. He wondered if he had been seen. Was this man one of the lost Chinese soldiers? He waited a few moments. Nothing happened. He peeked from the tree and observed the man lying on the earth. The snow had begun to form a thin layer over his body. He approached cautiously, silently. Frozen trees cracked in the forest. The man in the clearing had been killed, stabbed from behind. He was Japanese, wearing old and simple clothing. The nameless samurai felt the dead Japanese man’s hands. They were calloused and worn. He could tell this man worked in the rice fields. His warmth had completely faded The sun had almost completely set and the river foamed behind the farmhouse. Black smoke rose from within like the anger of the samurai. When night claimed the earth the samurai made his move. He ignited the base of the hut. In minutes the fire roared and sent the Chinese soldiers running out. The samurai could have snuck in at night and killed these men in their sleep. He could have done it swiftly and easily, but now he 40
The Samurai and the Polar Bear
wanted to feel these men die. The Chinese noticed him immediately and drew swords. One at a time they ran at him. The samurai stood unmoving with both hands on his katana, eyes closed. The first Chinese soldier came wildly. These men did not know art. They did not know skill. In one motion the katana slid through the man’s forehead and the re-sheathed itself. His body continued to run a few steps then dropped. The second man was not so lucky. The samurai let go of the katana. One hand formed a muscular claw while the other remained an open palm. He clenched the china men’s kidney, paralyzing him, and sent his palm in the man’s exposed neck. The samurai rotated and sent the Chinamen to the ground. The remaining two Chinese halted in fear. The samurai waited, eyes still closed. The terrified men looked at each other and nodded. They inched their way closer, circling in on the samurai, hilts at their ears. The larger man attacked first. He lowered his sword with one hand towards his opponent’s waist, but hit nothing. The samurai forced the hilt of his katana downwards causing the sheath to dive into the man’s wrist, breaking it in several places. Without looking he sent a back-kick into the center of the smaller man’s chest. He then released his katana and cut off the larger man’s hand––as if to free him from the burden of the broken wrist. The final blow was thrust in the man’s stomach and ripped outwards causing his entrails to spill. The smaller of the two was on his back gasping for air. The samurai walked over to him, snow crunching underfoot. He opened his eyes, finally, taking in the Chinese man’s pain. The samurai watched as the man lied there choking on his own blood until at last his chest stopped convulsing. He walked to the Kuma River to rinse his hands in the water. It was cold. He drank from the heart of the river. A small basket rested on the water. Shiro’s parents told him that his ancestor slept inside. The baby was Chinese. The samurai saw this and thought about killing him, but he decided to let the baby live. They said something about the river had changed the samurai. He raised him as his own son and gave him the name Shirokuma, or polar bear, Kuma after the river, and Shiro since the boy was found in winter.
RECORDS Rachel Pickett I can’t remember how long it’s been. You like to scavenge for survived CD stores. You have this itch like an archaeologist on ancient terrain. Your face lights up and we swerve quickly into the turning lane to make a U-turn. I smile, recognizing a natural reaction for someone who’s struck gold, and grab onto the dashboard for dear life. Was it five years or three? Damn, what year did I start high school? I discovered that I like school shopping with you because you don’t take things too seriously. No budget conscious talk, even though I know there are limits. I like that you don’t remind me of the right thing to do. So when you’re conjured by the aroma of pecans and caramel spilling out of Savannah Sweets, I kindly let you divert. You chew samples with your eyes closed and let out indistinct sounds as you exhale. It was definitely in winter. That year Mom helped me pick out your Christmas gift. Her head hung lower than usual, a symptomatic reaction to my excitement to spend Christmas with you. I’d never tell her this, but decorating cookies and watching Christmas specials is way better than raking Wal-Mart racks for bargain Christmas lights. What’s worse? Holding the slack in the numbing cold while she struggles to staple them to the roof. Don’t even get me started on the stale dinner conversations with replacement dad. I told myself to forget. For an early gift this year, I finally got a car. I tested the brakes on DeRenne Avenue with my best friend. “Dammit Shaun!” her voice arched in the wind as I whipped the car around. I spotted a record store in the corner of a strip mall and I pulled into the parking lot. “This is what you give me whiplash for? You still buy music?” “My dad does. You don’t understand. CD stores, besides Best Buy, that survived the torrent age without becoming extinct are rare gems. Lemme call him real quick.” I never told anyone before. I scrolled through my phone. Did I save him under Pops, I thought. 42
No. Maybe it was Daddy. Did I seriously save him under his real name? Lance. Lance. I couldn’t find you. “How can you not know your own Dad’s number by heart?” It’s not that I don’t care. When I came back home from your house in January, mom was acting strange. She slithered in my room when I wasn’t looking and talked without keeping eye contact. She wasn’t trying to figure me out for once. I was looking for that Maze CD you got me for Christmas and I didn’t want to be bothered. I knew she’d just come to discount my womanhood for the way I let my room unravel or ruin the last few days of Christmas break by shaking me into reality. My presumptions were terribly wrong. It’s easier this way. A pang of realization shot through me. Bringing me to tears and you know I don’t cry. My friend provided unmatched consolation in the form of apologies and questions. “I’m so sorry. How did it happen?” I held my own and after a while I didn’t mind it. “God, that sucks. Were you guys close?” I wasn’t hysterical, but my answers kept weaving in and out of my shaky exhales and my words fragmented into soft mutes. I could answer all, but one. “When did he die?” If I loved you, why didn’t I know? I felt stupid then and decided I’d start asking the questions. “Do you have any tissue?” I had to dodge the curiosity beckoning in her wide eyes. “Is there any in the glove box?” She handed me dismembered napkins and I put the car in gear after I blew. Sometimes I go to the mall and pick up a few caramel chews or linger in abandoned CD store lots, but I haven’t racked my brain for the answer to that question since. I’m too busy keeping the good records in rotation.
DEATH KNELL IN PARADISE Marcia Foshee-Duffy
Ceci was dead before what was left of her head hit the terrazzo floor. The front door and stucco walls were splattered with bits of brain matter and blood. Carlos considered the dark red stream meandering across the floor, moving like a magnet toward his designer clothes that spilled from underneath her body. The faint sound of sirens stirred him from his reverie. He slipped the gun into his pocket, ran to the bedroom closet, and reached for the green Tupperware container on the top shelf. Not touching anything, he stepped back to look up. “Empty! Bitch! Fucking bitch!” He heard the sirens screaming as the vehicles pulled into the front yard. Carlos exited out the back door and into the canal. The patrolmen tried to force the front door open. Unsuccessful, they went around back and found a door swinging open. Once inside, they gagged at the sight of Ceci, her remains perpendicular to the front door. Finding no weapon at the scene, they did recover a man’s diamond encrusted Rolex watch from her right wrist, as well as $50,000 in cash rolled into one of her pockets. They noted a microscopic trace of white powder clinging to the underside of her long, beautifully shaped, pinky nail. Ceci left in a black body bag. The service at St. Mary’s Conch of the Ocean Basilica lasted an hour. Her former in-laws paid for the closed casket. The women of the St. Mary Magdalene Star of the Sea Guild provided the refreshments in the parish hall afterwards – guava custard pie, queen of all pudding, and forgotten cookies. Grenadine punch provided color and quenched the thirst of friends, family, and the curious. In a far corner, a group of twelve gathered – former employees, like Ceci, of the Island Bell Telephone Company. Barbara whispered, “ She was always high at work. Couldn’t you tell?” Sylvia chimed in, “ Do you remember the Tupperware party that day at lunch? How we all got those miniature blue Tupperware bowls with the little seal-on lids? “Yes,” blurted Jamie. “The lid had a tab with a hole in it. I hung 44
mine on my key chain and kept aspirin in it.” “Well,” Sylvia said meaningfully, “that’s not what Ceci used hers for. It held exactly an ounce.” “An ounce of what?” inquired Evelyn, who was close to seventy. “What do you think?” Janet, the youngest of the group asked sarcastically. Katie, formerly their supervisor at the office, was barely audible. “Remember how she always went to Garcia’s Grocery on her breaks and at lunch? I was always having to write her up for being late.” “So do you think that was what she was doing on her breaks and lunch?” questioned Cindy. “CoÑo!” came Connie’s Puerto Rican-accented reply. “Don’t you remember that time she came back from lunch and locked herself in the bathroom stall? When Jay finally got her out, she was wild. And, she had that little bit of white residue on her nostrils. Remember?” “I knew for sure that Monday morning when she came in crying, saying she had lost her paycheck. I cashed her paycheck for her on Friday, before I closed out my cash drawer at the teller’s window. $483.50 in cash. Gone, like her.” Martha’s voice rang hollow. Jay, their former office manager, enlightened them. “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but it won’t matter now, now that she’s dead, and the office is closed. That last incident took a toll on the management team. The Company wanted to fire her. I convinced them to intervene with the Employee Assistance Program. EAP sent her to a rehab center on the mainland. She was released a month before our office closed for good.” “So where did she end up? After the office closed, I mean?” asked Steve. “Island Telecommunications hired her,” filled in Gary. “But she didn’t last long. They fired her within two months.” Gary, now working for Island Alarm Company, was the only one of the twelve who was still on the island. The rest had found various jobs on the mainland. “By that time she was living with Carlos. Doing drugs all the time. I heard he kicked her out a while ago. The last time I saw her, she was so strung out, she didn’t even know who I was. I barely recognized her.” A monotone voice concluded, “I guess Paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
THE TRAVELERS Valerie Deschamps-Goren After a long journey through time and space, the Indian comes through the brush onto a road winding through the woods. He marvels at its size, harsh smell and oily, brittle texture. It was huge, winding through the forest like a giant snake-skin. The Indian collapses in reverential wonder. A red truck rushes through the north Georgia wilderness. Jabbing at his stalled iPod, the driver doesnâ€™t notice the Indian in supplicant posture on the road before him. A dog pants in the front seat, inured to the blur of green foliage and the noontime heat. His head hangs out the window. The Indian starts to quake, feels a loosening of his bowels. One second. He thought, Who is this great beast of a god? Two seconds. A crash. A severed dogâ€™s head hangs from a branch. Its tongue lolls out, grinning at the grisly scene. Long beaded necklaces trail out like entrails from the still body of the Indian. The front of the truck crumples like a soda can against a leafy oak, squeezing life from the 21st century man in the front seat. The body leaks juicily, like a blood orange squeezed by hand. The Indian stands up unharmed, stares dumbly, and runs away from the scene and back to his own time.
SYNECDOCHE, MONOTONY Grace Elena Bondy Robert wakes at 6:00 AM every morning. He’s getting o¬lder and he can’t pretend he doesn’t wish he was a younger man. Age. Age has made him lose everything. Her, the boy, all he has ever loved. No. The war. Surely, it must be the war to blame. Robert stares at the mirror on the opposite wall. He can only see the top of his head. The dark hair slowly turning grey. The eyes slowly turning hollow. The clock strikes 6:09 and the alarm sounds. He turns it off, gets up, showers. The water isn’t quite warm enough, the coffee isn’t quite strong enough and he’s all out of bread. It’s Tuesday. He wears his Tuesday tie. The train station is two miles away. He walks. It’s drizzling slightly and the sky is dark. He didn’t forget his umbrella: He doesn’t own one. On Tuesdays, the train always comes late. He waits on the platform and thinks of the woman; of the boy. He wonders where she is living now. The boy has a boy of his own now. He tries to remember the child’s name. He can’t. When the train pulls in, it splashes him with water. He takes the train to the second to last stop. It only runs express so he must get off, get on the local, and go back three stops in the direction he came. He ascends the stairs into the bleak and grey of his world. For a second, he wishes there was some form of refuge to be found in the familiar streets, that there was some form of truth waiting for him, but there are only a few stragglers, rushing, late to work. He stops; thinks. Wishes he was still in the war. On distant sands where the sun actually shines and men stand together, but he reaches his building and must swipe his card for entrance. At work, there is no time to dwell on ancient things. No margin for error. For absurd thoughts and wishes. He arrives two minutes late. No one notices. He settles in. Powers up his ancient desktop. Boss comes to him; peers over the top of his cubicle. His cubicle. It’s pathetic. Robert is a war 47
hero (self-declared, but a war hero nonetheless) working in a cubicle. Boss isn’t yelling, but he’s angry. He tells Robert he’s slacking. His work isn’t what it used to be. Robert doesn’t care. Doesn’t say anything. Boss leaves and Robert gets the maps out. He studies them. Blue and red lines on white paper. He hates engineering and he hates architecture. He went into the army so he wouldn’t have to go to college. But then the war ended and he had to. He met the woman at university and several years later, they were married in silence by a justice of the peace. Later, they had the boy. The boy never liked him. Even as a baby. He would never let him hold him. “Are those the blueprints for the glass city?” Robert looks up. It’s Intern. Intern, the young, promising 20-something with a “bright future ahead of him.” Intern, the valedictorian of his small town high school who managed to get out and never looked back. Intern, who has never seen anything bad in his life. Intern, who said he worked to get where he was, but really, everything was handed to him. “No,” Robert says, shifting the papers just slightly. “These are the maps.” Intern is too young to appreciate a good map. To understand the distinction, the subtle differences. To Intern, everything is a blueprint. Robert’s glass city is not a blueprint. A map. It’s a map. There are no measurements, no angles. There are sketches of buildings, trees, children walking their dogs. It isn’t a blueprint because it isn’t going to be built. The idea of the glass city started, like all things, during the war. It is his everything. He’s spent years designing it; hours in his dark study, perfecting every detail of every inch on the paper. The faces of the people, the curve of the sidewalks. The way the sun shines off of the glass. He has never been more devoted to anything in his life. “This is wild, man.” Robert doesn’t appreciate being called “man” by someone who was still in diapers while he was hiding in rice paddies, being shot at. He looks at Intern. At the way the dark green and purple of his tie perfectly compliment the mint green of his long-sleeved oxford button up. The kid is so eager to learn, for the future. Robert can’t stand it. He can’t stand the slicked back hair, the cufflinks. Intern used to have a name, but Robert couldn’t stand that either, so he demoted him to just Intern. Boss used to have a name, too. But that was when Robert first joined the firm. 48
“Yeah. It all started back in Laos.” Intern waits, wide eyed, for Robert to continue. Whether the interest is feigned or not, Robert doesn’t really care. Intern lingers for a few seconds, nods, and moves on. Robert puts the maps away and there’s a picture on his desk. Of him, her, and the boy. No one here knows she left because no one’s bothered to ask, so he’s left the picture up because he’s afraid someone will notice if he takes it down. He’ll take it down one day. Just not one day soon. The day passes slowly, if it passes at all. Robert thinks about the war, about his glass city. He goes home on the local and sits and waits as the train stops at every stop. It’s still raining. He goes to the store, picks up some groceries for dinner, which he makes and eats by himself, remembering he forgot to buy bread. Again. He reads and is asleep long before 11:00. He dreams of his glass city, empty. He walks the streets. In his dream, the city is littered with paper and dirt. The collection of years of neglect. The buildings, made entirely of glass, stand tall; erect. They are beautiful in their own derelict way. The glass is still intact, but it’s dull, and the sun does not shine. He knows his way through the city by heart and it does not ever end. There are no haunted houses on the outskirts. No square in the middle. No First Street. No Twelfth Street. No Main Street. There is block after block of houses and buildings and restaurants that are designed to hold no secrets. Block after block of beautiful, beautiful impracticality. In his dream, Robert throws stones at the windows but they never shatter.
THE END OF THE LINE J.S. Epps The end of the world began on a sunny afternoon in a foreign country known by a thousand names. Wallace O’Malley walked along an expansive stretch of beach in the Gombe Peninsula, enjoying the quiet of a deserted location away from the honkings of angry cabbies and creditors who called at all hours of the day to harass him for everything he owned and to tell him how much of a screw-up your life really was. He glanced back at his beach chair and saw an assortment of empty Corona bottles, and for the first time noticed the appreciable buzz circulating through him. He felt a mosquito on his sweaty, pale forearm and slapped at it, winced at the red, welting pain that emanated from the spot. God, sunburn, he thought, and remembered that ever-important bottle of sunblock abandoned in the cabana. For a man of such simple pleasures, however, Wallace was in heaven. “…name our kids?” Vanessa, his fiancé, said, and finally Wallace was brought back to the land of vinegar and salt. To this striking haute couture Puerto Rican with auburn hair spilling just to her collarbones and a figure to illuminate any man’s day. To this woman who would indubitably leave him if knowledgeable of his financial situation. “I’m sorry? The scene is just so…” As beautiful as you, he had a notion to add, but really did he think so? Did he really love this shallow creature? Not as much as before he put a ring on her finger, that was for sure. Rings had a way of clearing a man’s consciousness of the shallowness of his concubine. “I was asking, my dear, what you would like to name our kids. I was thinking something Elizabethan. Something like Emma or Jude.” Lying below the surface of her cultivated sophistication, Wallace could hear the Hispanic accent she had so tirelessly attempted to eradicate. It was beautiful, that accent, the only part of her he was really still in love with, and even that fragile also. Emma or Jude? Yes, because what we really need, what we can really afford right now, is a child—hell, children, he thought with a sardonic smile. Being a statistic is nice. I would love to contribute to the poverty and filth that 50
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is American society. Hell, we could make it a family affair, just picture it now, baby: the three, four of us lined up together at the Welfare office like vagrants to a fire, waiting with our hands out for our little slice of Americana. I love being the snot someone wipes out of their nose and onto their shoe. Children are what we need. Debt is what I love. I already have enough of that from your expensive tastes, you sniveling— “Honey?” Wallace swallowed the words down, looked at her, forced himself to smile. “Ahh, boring,” he said with a roll of the eyes. “I was thinking something like Ishmael or Ahab and our boy—god, I hope it’s not a girl with a name like that—can go around kickin’ ass and fighting whales—” “I’m being serious, Wallace Scott O’Malley,” she said with petulance. “I’m fine with whatever you decide.” That was he, ole Mr. Complacency. What was that? You want a furlined coat and it’s July? Why, sure, I don’t have but a few hundred dollars to my name and all my credit cards are maxed out—hell, my credit is pretty much nil. But you want it and an unfortunate ass in a third-world country had to make it in order to make a lucky bozo in some office in Chicago a rich man and put a Rolls Royce in his driveway. Maybe we can live in that fur coat. “Oh, I hope we have a girl—” “Honey, you’re not even pregnant yet,” and regretting the words as soon as they resonated through his lips. “Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking!” she snapped. “I hope we have a girl, my little Emma. I want to hold her in my lap and sing to her and play with her. I bet she’ll be pretty like her mama. Of course she’ll have your eyes. Did you know Brad and Angelina adopted a baby not too far from here, came over here in their plane and signed all the papers and got him in a day? Named him Mason, too, just after some famous person. Do you think maybe we could go to an adoption agency somewhere and get us our little Emma? Of course it would take more than a day and…” His gun was back at the cabana, sitting in a drawer right next to the Gideon Bible that populated so many of the hostelries back in America. The bullets were shiny, gleamed in light. The gun, a .9 mm Beretta, was shiny too, and it worked. He cleaned it every day. It had an everlasting smell of gunsmoke and broken dreams. 51
The bell above the door jangled as he came in. He looked around the shop, hoped he saw no one he knew. The black-and-white floor tile clicked with each step he took toward the front counter, measured the rhythm of his nervous heart. Compared to the patrons in their camo jumpsuits and bundled up hats which cast upon their heads a dirty shadow, his button-down Polo and creased khaki pants felt out of place. The guns in the display counter beckoned like silvery secrets of sin. It was all so odd to him, this language of violence and harrying. He felt a gun in his well-manicured hands would be a violation to the order of mankind, a walking anachronism. He became aware of a presence in front of him, and took his eyes away from his demise. The shop’s proprietor was a hulking fellow with a gut that overspilled the belt of his pants, his dirtied T-shirt bulging forth like a bull’s-eye. The fur that lined his cheekbones looked to have been cut around the last Ice Age. “What can I do ya for, Bub?” the man said, his voice rich and slurry. Wallace glanced up at him like a supplicant worshipper, noticed a mounted buck’s head on the wall above the proprietor. That simple object with its shiny, glazed eyes, its antlers angled to each side like compass points, sent a chill through him, and he wanted to snatch a gun from the display counter and shoot it between the eyes, end its life doubly. It looked like an idolatrous god, sneaky and suspicious. “Hey, bud. Need you to hurry it up,” the proprietor said. Wallace shook his head. “I need something that shoots.” The proprietor spread his arms wide as if inviting Wallace into his circle of death. “Wail, ever’thang here shoots. We got bows, shotguns, pistols, a few muskets.” He lowered his voice and leaned over the counter. “I even got a assault rifle in the back, if yer price be right.” Wallace felt all eyes on him, hidden smiles and smirks behind their façade of shopping. All at once the guns in the display counter seemed more menacing than ever, grew gaping maws and sharp teeth that only wanted to bite. “I’ll take that one,” he said, pointing at the least threatening of the guns. The proprietor placed Wallace’s choice on the counter, sat down a box of bullets beside it. “Good choice. Not tryna wack anybody, are ye?” 52
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“Hush li’l baby, don’t you cry.” The bullets sat in his lap like a collection of coins, shiny in their malevolence, illuminated just right by the moon. “Daddy’s gonna buy you a mockin’ bird.” His voice was thick with restrained tears and the cheap whiskey whose smell permeated the cabin of the car. The bottle sat beside him like an old friend. “And if that mockin bird don’t sing, Daddy’s gonna blow its fuckin head to smithereens!” His mouth tasted bad, as acidic as leftover Sprite. He wanted something to eradicate that taste, and the bottle of Jack Daniel’s did just that as the whiskey slid smoothly down his throat. His good friend Jack. He tossed its empty carcass out the window. Time was as thin as water, and Wallace became aware of that when he opened his eyes two hours later. The sky was the bluish-black of approaching dawn, his car a silent sentry in the midst of a brightening forest. A pounding in his head resonated as a screaming hangover, and Wallace jammed his hands against his temples, tried to push out the pain. He looked down at his lap, saw coins, rubbed his eyes, saw bullets. They looked rusty and dull, every lusty allure they held last night gone. Wallace ejected the magazine from the bottom of the Beretta, and as a father would his children at bedtime he put each bullet in place. The light-dark of the forest became the blinding glare of the sun. Wallace glanced down at his flip-flopped feet, saw the tide starting to lap closer to shore like a loyal dog. The Atlantic Ocean looked refreshing right now; a cool dip, a smooth baptism, would soothe him, he knew, cleanse him of this fugue he was in. “I’ve always wanted to live right on the ocean, honey,” Vanessa said, and her eyes sparkled as shiny as the sun with want. “Wake up in the morning, start my day off with a little yoga, hit the shower, and sip my mocha espresso. Can’t you just picture the ocean coming in in the morning, the sun rising over the lip of the horizon?” I can picture the hit my checkbook is gonna take, he thought but did not say. God, why am I with this materialistic woman? But then he examined her in her bikini, and he knew why. “That would be the perfect starter home for our family, honey. Emma could get her own little wing, looking right out to the sea, and the nanny could let her roam free, let her get some sense of responsibility. Of 53
course I want to enroll her in a private school and get her violin and piano lessons…” Better start playing the lotto, hon. Wallace learned why they called it the “hot seat” as he waited in his boss’s office. His shirt stuck to his back, and the coat hugged against his shoulders and chest like a leech. The smallness of the seat itself did not help, either. He felt like an oversized child sitting in a desk made for peers half his size. A knock at the door announced itself as Banes, and Wallace halfrose from his oppressive chair to greet him. “No, no, please sit,” his boss said. “How have you been?” “I’ve just been living life, you know,” Wallace said with what he hoped was a humorous grin. To him the grin was one of a man suffering from painful constipation. He prayed his nervousness didn’t show. Banes adjusted the bifocals on his face, glanced down the severe line of his nose at some papers on his desk. His equally-severe slash of a mouth wrinkled in displeasure. “As you know,” he began, “we have a commitment to excellence here at Banes and Wilder. We handle the accounts of some of the world’s most influential people. We never lose those accounts. Those accounts are the breath that gives this company life, and without them we sink.” Wallace looked at Banes levelly, tried to not be intimidated by his harsh eyes. Those eyes said accounts were to him the very oxygen he breathed, and if forced to decide between losing an account or his child, Daddy loves you James but there’s this account we need and— “Your performance as of late has been extremely unsatisfactory. You show up to meetings late or not at all, your appearance is unkempt, your efficiency is declining, and to top it all off—and this is the cat that rocks the cradle—you lost the Hussein account.” “I can explain—” “You lost an account! This business did not—I repeat, did not!—get to the level it is by losing the accounts of clients we have had for close to twenty years. I have worked too hard to see my company be driven to the ground by sniveling young punks like you.” “I can explain, sir.” “Well, please do, because I want a good goddamn reason for your 54
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insolence.” “I-I was having car trouble, and I couldn’t make it.” Not to mention that shot of blow had me riding the lightning for a long time. Ever rode the lightning, boss? “Car trouble? Son, I don’t think you understand the importance of the man whose account you lost. When I say Kemal Hussein, what comes to mind? Let me tell you since you appear to have gone soft in the head: he just so happens to be a Turkish ambassador, and our company just so happens to be in charge of his finances. Or we were, until last week when you failed to show up to the meeting to secure his account. That’s over 36 million Lira we’re talking, son, a-whole-lotta U.S. dollars you just lost. Now I don’t wanna hear about ‘car trouble.’ You had better called on God Almighty himself to get you there, boy. Car trouble isn’t good enough for pieces of shit like you. I should have fired you a long time ago.” “Sir, just—” “I’m not going to just anything. You’re fired! Get the hell out of my office.” Grandfather’s shadow moved back and forth in the firelight, his shape hulking like a hideous gargoyle. His rocking chair creaked in a furious motion like a jockey beating his horse to the finish line. He glanced into the fiery chimney as if trying to ascertain his past, examine every error and effort. “‘Jes’ low down the chariot right easy,’” he sang. “‘Right easy, right easy, jes’ low down the chariot right easy, an’ bring God’s servant home.’” He spat into the fire. “Niggers and their songs.” Wallace wanted to see his grandfather’s face; he didn’t want to see his grandfather’s face. It was this see-not-see indecision that tore at him. He felt it was important to see such a sacred face, but he knew to do so would make him scream. That face was as ugly and gargoyle-like as his shadow. “Wallace, come here a pinch, lad,” the old man whispered, and his furious, ejaculatory rocking stopped. Wallace peeked from around his grandfather’s chair, glanced up at him. He saw that face, that hideous, hellish face. He closed his eyes. Oh please don’t make me look again. He can’t see me. A lumpy hand patted Wallace’s curly hair. That hand, lumpy as his face. Wallace closed his eyes tighter, knowing with childish glee that closed 55
eyes meant he was invisible. You can’t see me, you can’t see me, you can’t— He felt his feet lose contact with the floor and smelled the pungent, antiseptic aroma of rubbing alcohol. Beneath that was the vilest stench Wallace had ever encountered in his young life, but he could not place a name to it. He guessed you called it whatever was on his grandfather’s face. “Moy, how handsome y’are.” The old man’s voice sounded husky, tired, as if he had breathed every morsel of energy into that fire. “Just as handsome as yer daddy, ye be.” Wallace sat on his grandfather’s lap, but it didn’t feel right. Beneath his bottom he felt something hard and lumpy. He didn’t want to know what it was. He looked up at his grandfather, wished he could look away but was transfixed. “Papa O’Malley, what is wrong with your face?” the child asked. Grandfather chuckled. “Wanna see something, lad?” Wallace groaned low in his throat, but Papa O’Malley reached under the blanket across his lap and pulled out an object that had a long, thin head with a handle at the bottom. He held it near his head, and the light caught against its glassy-smooth surface and onto his face, illuminating its many pockets and divots, illuminating its very swollenness. He wore a macabre mask of horror, his face lumpy as if stung by many bees. “This here is a Colt revolver.” His voice spoke of it with great pride and admiration, as affectionately as a father on his child’s graduation day. “Samuel Colt is the greatest inventor in hist’ry, lad. This sumbitch here killed ten thousand wetbacks in the war. Good riddance, ye ask me. Peacemaker—arr, that’s what this li’l whore do.” This was a new concept to Wallace: a gun, a peacemaker. He wondered what it did. It didn’t look very nice. He wanted to touch it; he didn’t want to touch it. Like his grandpa’s face. He closed his eyes. It’s gone. I can’t see it. He felt a heavy weight in his hand, and it was smooth. He couldn’t see it because it wasn’t there, but he felt it nonetheless. He opened his eyes. It was there, and it was long and ugly and black like a snake. He wanted rid of it. “Like it, lad?” No, he did not like it, he hated it in fact, it was the worst thing he 56
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had ever laid eyes on or touched, but all he could manage was a low groan in his throat. His mouth felt as heavy as the peacemaker. “The Russians have this game they play. Good things those Russians come up with, brilliant lot of people. You like games, don’t ye?” Papa O’Malley used his lumpy, withered hand to flick open the side of the revolver. Inside Wallace could see something small and pea-shaped. He wondered about that too. “It’s called Russian Roulette. Let me show ye how to play.” He snapped closed the side. That was a new word to Wallace: roo-let. The word sounded as round and full as the side of the gun. He wondered who was letting Roo do what. He tried to say it, try it on like he tried on his big-boy britches: “Roooo—” The room became simultaneously loud and silent, and the fire whooshed. Wallace wondered what had happened. He tried to look up at his grandfather, but Papa O’Malley’s head was turned to the side and oozing something red. In the firelight it looked like the juice that dribbled down a large lollypop. Wallace looked down at his lap. There was red there too. Papa O’Malley’s peacemaker was on the floor beside the rocking chair. His hand fell in Wallace’s lap. The hand was rouged as if someone had messed up while trying to paint his nails. Wallace closed his eyes. He couldn’t see. The sun hit him in the eyes, blinded him. He felt choked by the heat, stifled by it. A drink of water—hell, rum, on this exotic beach rum had to be in huge quantity—would be nice. He looked at Vanessa, continuing her spiel about the finer things in life she wanted but they couldn’t afford. Her white bikini top reminded him of that hand falling, that goddamn lumpy cancer riddled—with red dripping down the— “You!” he screamed, and for once her incessant chatter stopped. “You get away from me!” He backed away, felt his calf bump into the back of a beach chair. He looked out to sea, thought the sun glistening off the water played tricks with him. The waves had risen to an incredible, unbelievable height like a platter for which to carry the sun, and it seemed as if the whole, monolithic ocean would crash onto this lonely, desolate beach, carrying death upon 57
its back. Black, blurry shapes jumped on top of the wave, each shape amorphous and different from the rest like snowflakes. “Honey—” He ran like a man possessed, ran from the past and all its oppressive memories—ran as if he could erase the past by the simple act of running. He felt that towering height of wave behind him with its minions. The sand did not hinder his sprint, but actually helped him as he nearly glided by with incredulous eyes following him. He glanced back one last time. The wave had swallowed Vanessa. The gun is back at the cabana. The hand, falling. Peacemaker—arr, that’s what this li’l whore do. You’re fired! Wallace found himself back at the cabana, and he slammed the door. He ran to where he placed his very own peacemaker, threw aside the atrocious Gideon Bible, watched his gun gleam in the light. He heard a banging on his door of the past, but he mustn’t let the minions get to him. And here the scene fades out, because one must always be alone in their darkest hour. However, the world did end that day, in a concussive explosion of fire, and the hand did fall, just like that fated day once ago, and just as Wallace was fired, so did the Beretta. It did its job; Wallace didn’t do his. The world ended in fire. Robert Frost was right.
ANNOYING INTERRUPTIONS Jinel Gray
People were slowly starting to trickle in from the front door adjacent to the wall sheâ€™d been occupying for the last hour. Sounds of awkward small talk and boisterous laughter filled the air. Random mixtures of dub step, classical and house music played quietly and served as evidence to the beginning of a house party and a unprepared DJ. She was an average looking girl. She has received compliments before but no one ever really laughed at her jokes. She believed that the ability to command the attention of an audience was a superpower. She wished to communicate through telepathy but not the crazy superhero type that many comic book enthusiast aspire to. She yearned for a specific type of sensitivity. She wished to be sensitive to the feelings, fears, and concerns of others. She wanted to hear the things people tried to hide. She wished to hear their vulnerability. Their vulnerability was honest and unbeguiled. She sought distraction from her own conceit. She was of low self-esteem and a terrible actor. And therefore she sucked at life because life is a stage and everyone is a performer. Everyone can fake fine or contentment but her. She offered her name, sincere interest and a smile. The gesture was returned. Anxiety came upon her. She realized the conversation she began required more than what she wanted to give at the time. Anxiety was heard. It screamed loudly. It interrupted her melodious intensions. The conversation ended. Mission aborted. She left the party.
THE DUSTY CUP Esther Jin Kim
There’s an empty cup that sits alone in the room next door. It once held a half-full glass of water until the sun sucked it dry and empty through the window, replacing it with the dusts of time. There’s a faded lipstick stain on that cup, reminding me of how small your lips were and the gentle kisses they held. Those lips were the gates to your wise thoughts and the filter for any angry words you held against me. I’d like to imagine that the fingerprints of your hand are still marked upon that cup; the marks of the hand that baked pies and cakes, fixed the buttons on my shirt, planted love in the garden, turned the pages of our children’s books, and held my hand as we walked through life together. Naturally, time makes one forget even the face of their true love. But that lipstick stain and those fingerprints marked on that glass hold something greater; they are the soul imprints of my memories of you. And so. That cup continues to sit alone by that window sill, collecting the dusts of time.
HOUSE OF SUICIDES Sam Schaefer
Mr. Smith, is that you? Yes, he said. He had two open wounds in his chest. Elliot? Yes, he repeated. Plath is currently in the kitchen. Not again? I was concerned. No no no my boy, her face isn’t in the oven this time. What’s she doing? I think she’s thirsty. Why did you tell me then that she was in the kitchen? Thought you’d be the type of person who’d like to have a conversation with her. Oh, thanks. Yeah. I liked Needle in the Hay. Thanks. He continued reading his book. I went through the doorway as to not bother him anymore. It wasn’t until I saw the backs of someone’s teeth that I knew I was looking at Hemingway. Cat in the Rain. Are only suicides allowed here? Yes, only people who’ve lived are allowed here, he told me. A door opened and a woman walked through with a glass of water. No ice. Living is suicide. I knew now this is all the man meant. Virginia Woolf was smoking a cigarette outside, along with numerous other people, including Kennedy. Outside on the house, there was a plaque, but to be honest, it was more of a title. The house looked much smaller from the outside, but I knew there were more rooms inside than what would seem true. The house was titled House of Suicides. HoS I saw Mister Rogers. He knew I was looking at him because he didn’t kill himself. So what do you think? I’m confused. I can see that, but at which bit of information? I think he put on a cockney accent just to fuck with me. 61
This place isn’t for suicides is it? It is. It’s for all those who lived. That’s not it either though is it? Go on. It’s a place for all those who didn’t like to. That’s right, but it’s also a place for those who did. Why? I don’t know why. This is here. Why can’t I see everyone else? We’re all sorted in groups; members of the same group can see and interact with one another. Is this.. afterlife? It’s prison. How do we die? We don’t know. We haven’t found out yet. Does the feeling go away? No. There was silence. There was disappointment. There was grief. There was melancholy, but no melons. There was lonely. There is lonely. There is melancholy. There is saddness. Do you still do the puppets? I asked. No. I wouldn’t try to create life anymore. Why not? It would just suffer. The feeling really doesn’t dissipate? No. But we’re still fading aren’t we? Of course. His eyes were tired No, he said, my eyes are gloomed. I hope this ice breaks and shatters all over me mimicking its distant relative, glass. The sting won’t last too long. Of course, I only imagined my left arm. Lighting is kind of an incandescent blue influence when the lights are off. Windows are still around. White tiled floor. Red Stems. I was in the woods before. Other than that, I have no recognition of these places. I know the what, not the who. I knew someone of astounding wonder once. The floor now had fully flowered. What the make was I 62
The House of Suicides
do not know. Maybe it was the great red willow. Sallow. Or maybe it was scattered crimson cirrus crisps. Whatever design of nature you imagined, that was the one. Mine... mine was the great red willow. Or maybe a red dandelion, before the seeds were blown. When my train stopped at tulips, I only thought of purple, no red, therefore I couldn’t use it. I thought of a sunflower. I thought of others with five petals. Yellow. But this time red. Bright scarlet tint. Sweat drips down. Eyebrows sink. Mouth ungrinned. Eyes unflinching. Eyes not flexed, but look it. I’m angry. Ireful. Wroth. I feel the piercing look on my face. It hurts. I get a little sad. Sad enough to realize I’m wrathful, so my eyebrows go not so sinked, but I know once I get a little too relaxed, it’s still easy for me to enter the scornful bitterness. Scornful. S. Saddness. It reminds me of my name, Sapling. Sanchester. Soup. Salad. Sand. Ships. Sailing. Blue water, blue Asian splash Caucasian water, pacific. Shoes. Soups. Warm soups. Tomato soups. England chowder soups. Cheesy vegetable soups. Dark soups. Thick soups. Thikc soups. Light soups. Vegetabells. Asian soups. Fancy soups. The way the tone of the sentence was when “soups” was being used. Yeah, there are variables for that. I know this next bit is off topic, but it hurts, I didn’t get finished last time. The pain isn’t entirely, or rather, primarily definition of physical—isn’t the primary definition of physical. It hurts because I feel it, not that there is actually any pain going on. But because I feel it, it hurts. … Recognition … 1)
How do we die?
We don’t know. We haven’t found out yet. 2) Does the feeling ever go away? We don’t know. We haven’t found out yet. 3)
The feeling really doesn’t dissipate?
We don’t know. We haven’t found out yet. 63
But we’re still fading aren’t we?
… 1) They haven’t found a way that works yet. Experimenting has been done. 2) It hasn’t gone away yet. They don’t know. They hope it goes away, but it doesn’t and they don’t have any hope in them. 3) He’s finding it difficult to hide himself in this place. He’s finding it difficult to protect himself from himself. There’s an attack going on. 4)
The feeling doesn’t go away until we do.
BLOSSOM LANE Delun Attwooll
It was early spring when I first saw Him. The Blossom Lane bowling alley was always chockfull Friday nights, full of the same faces. But He was different; He was new. I sat somewhere between lane six and ten wearing Peter’s old, itchy Letterman jacket, pretending to be interested in his story about how he beat up Lance Fisher for keying his brother’s car. I had heard the story six times. Peter’s voice trailed off as soon as I saw Him; like we were suddenly far apart. He entered under the bright neon lights of the buzzing ‘Bud Light’ sign. People do not often look angelic or pure or whatever the word is around Blossom Lane but somehow, He did. He was sipping slowly on some expensive bottled beer by the bar with Joey. I had never met Joey. I heard he was good in bed, but I didn’t care. Joey was unleashing his goofy hyena-like laughter, so obviously, He was funny. It was always that moment. The moment you see a boy and his eyes appear gentle and full. They see everything, but you. The ones you want never seem to come to you. It was always the girl’s burden to act first. And it could be damn scary sometimes, like I was an ugly moth, enticed by the glow of the boy under the neon lights. After He finished his classy drink, He casually made his way to lane three, and drew a large black ball from the bag slung around his shoulder. Peter grasped at my knee feebly to regain my attention. His lips had protruded into a smug smirk. “And basically Lance Fisher is a little punk. One hit, and it was over!” No one cares Peter. My friend Kathy said only sluts give their numbers to guys who don’t ask. Kathy had only had sex once so her moral code was not one I exactly longed to adapt. While Peter was in the bathroom, I scribbled my number onto a napkin and headed towards lane three. The rush was invigorating; my clammy hands dampened the napkin I tightly grasped in my pocket. Hopefully it would still be legible. Joey was saying something, but He did not appear to be listening. Instead He turned from the lane and commotion, as if to watch my slow, meager approach. Peter had once told me I looked sexy when I smiled without showing teeth. So I did that. I slowly removed the sweat stained napkin from my pocket and firmly placed it into His. He said nothing; I was not 65
the only one who appreciated the beauty of silence. They almost always say something, but maybe this new face would follow a new script. Change was long overdue. He did not call that night. Peter drove me home in his mom’s old Lexus, and begged to come in. He always wanted to come in. Peter was one of those who expect you to open your legs just for buying you a cheap hot dog and an American beer; like it was some rule. I did it anyways. It meant he would leave faster. It had been a little over a week before I saw Him again. Kathy had a thing for the drummer of The Musky Rats whom apparently had a free show at Blossom Lane. I thought they redefined ‘god awful’ but I had little else planned. Besides, it would be mildly entertaining to see that drummer get Kathy into the back of his van only to watch her have one of her anxiety attacks. I slipped into one of my mom’s short summer dresses. She had once been gorgeous, stunning really. Time changes everything. Before you realize, you look in the mirror and all you can see is the scars. The good never lasts. She used to say stuff like that; after she had a few bourbons. No matter. At least, right now, I looked good tonight. Kathy was wearing jeans despite the searing heat of the night. She was a little too excited. It was rather annoying. We had just arrived when I saw Him again. Or He saw me; whatever. He walked forward from the bar towards me with a certain confidence, unprecedented among most men I had met at the alleys. This time he spoke, “I don’t call girls I don’t know.” He handed me my dank napkin back, “How about I buy you a beer before I decide to take that?” I left Kathy by the cigarette machine when her back was turned. He guided me gently, barely holding my hand, as if merely to show me the way, not force me along. I asked questions. He didn’t mind. Usually they don’t like questions. By the end of the night he removed the napkin from my pocket. “I’m going to need this,” He said with a grin. It was perfect. Even the new single from the Musky Rats could not spoil it. It had been no more than a day before He called. He picked me up in his Blue Mustang. It had white flames on the side. I thought they looked tacky but He told me they were cool. I decided He’d know better than me. I let him come in that night, this time not out of some social obligation or unjust rule, but because I wanted him to. 66
We frequented Blossom Lane a great deal throughout the beginning of the summer. He was an amazing bowler and wanted to go pro. Calmly, He would always give me a small kiss on the cheek before withdrawing the large black ball from his bag, and sending it gracefully down the dead center of the alley. There were rarely pins left standing. It was always that moment. The moment when you feel the tingle in your throat, and lose the ability to wipe the ignorant grin from your face. The moment you think you have found your anchor to prevent the sail further through a sea of regrets. The moment they leave you. A bowling tournament in Santa Fe. It is his big shot, he says. He was sick of wearing down the same alley and knocking down the same damn pins, he says. And you can’t ask him to stay. You open your legs, your heart, yet it’s always the lips that won’t part to reason with him; to beg him to stay. I watched the whit flames speed away from behind the window as mom mixed us matching Jim Bean and cokes. What more is love than an act of waiting to see who was faking the most? Later, I sat somewhere between lane six and ten pondering this, as Kathy sung along to some obscure trash and Peter told a story about kicking Mr. Leger’s dog when it growled at him. No one cares Peter. My eyes shot to the doors as a boy entered. I had never seen him before, but somehow under the neon signs, he looked enticing, maybe even angelic.
NO EVIL UNKOWN, NO GOOD FORGOTTEN Taylor Garret Pannell My grandfather once told me that he remembered every person he’d ever met. Hundreds of them, thousands. Every name burned a place inside his mind, every face an ember. Tens of thousands. He would take my hand and introduce me to Tom at the ice cream parlor, Yvonne who ran the hardware store, Isaac the bank teller. I tried to remember them, but I was not my grandfather. He would enter and I could see them changing, their eyes lighting up like glinting stones, their smiles quickly dawning. They delighted in being remembered. I spent hours listening to my grandfather’s stories; there were so many names, places, and dates, the details of which all swirled into a violent void that I quickly lost track of. Every country is worth knowing, he’d say. Every being is worth remembrance. In the final years, my grandfather and I spent more time together. I would take his hand and lead him around. Hunchbacked and bentkneed, his cheery calls to confused employees echoed through the stores and I could see them changing, their eyes widening like curious children, their smiles quickly faltering. My face projected apologies and mirrored their sympathy, but the reality wasn’t what mattered. All of the names he’d known still burned their holes, the faces still smoldered. In the end, all the family gathered. I sat beside my grandfather’s bed as he looked at each of us and whispered our names, continuing past the huddled group of tearstreaked faces, and off into empty space. “They’re all here,” he whispered, and I was the only one that understood.
Underground is the undergraduate Art and Literary Journal at Georgia State University. Every semester Underground prints a professional journal that includes all the best artwork that GSU has to offer. Including; • Poetry • Prose • Screenplays • Translations • Paintings • Sculptures • Photographs • and numerous other creative mediums If you are interested in submitting, or would like to know more about Underground, please visit us online at: undergroundjournal.org
Issue IV, Volume I