U N D E R G R O U N D Undergraduate Art & Literary Journal
Volume 4, Issue 2 Spring 2014 Georgia State University Atlanta
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Parker Hilley PRODUCTION EDITOR Rachel Pickett ASSISTANT EDITORS Raven Neely Rebecca Doane Sydney Smith STAFF Alexandra Ahmed, Lindsey Baker, Carla Bazemore-Colclough , Nadia Deljou, Tayina Fenelus, David Goins, Nicholas Goodly, Bruce Lampros, Katherine Teems, Teal Waxelbaum, MEDIA ADVISOR Bryce McNeil, Ph.D. COVER ART Untitled Still Life, Maggie Callahan black and white 4x5 film photography 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 A Note to Myself, in Case of Alzheimer’s – Taylor Garrett Pannell – 1 Cannibal Corruptors – Erin S. Murray – 3 In the Thought – Jordan Kadrie – 4 Winter, Spring – Grace Elena Bondy – 7 Taco Night – Patrick Snipes – 8 the cara – Chris Wilkins – 10 Burnt Coffee Beans – Karly Hussey – 12 lord of the flakes – Chris Wilkins – 15 Zebra Cakes – Amenah Arman – 17 The Fan – Nadia Deljou – 19 Pipe Tobacco and Leather – Max C. Vaillancourt– 20 Things We Borrowed After the Fire – Nicole Shantè White – 23 Euphoria – Tareq Alhonaiti – 24 Answer Me This – Nabila Masud – 25 Queer Theory for Those Who Told Me to Pick a Side – Nicole Shantè White – 36 Word Riots and Candy Horses – Weston Taylor – 37 No One Will Want My Organs When I Die – August Blair Pfizenmayer – 46 Communication – Ally Boyd – 47 Thoughts of the Depraved – J. S. Epps – 48 Aeriel – Madison South – 49 Stained Fragments of Desire – Nadia Deljou - 50 Eclipsed Egos – Nadia Deljou - 51 Their Eyes Were Watching – Madison South - 52 Tourist Attraction – CHR!S REEL - 53 Song of Myself at Dawn – Teal Waxelbaum - 54
Josh is Cool – Joshua Quillian - 55 Ghost in the Film – Madison South - 56 Jamaican Cotton Candy – Joshua Quillian - 57 Self Portrait– Maggie Callahan - 58 Fish Sauce – Joshua Quillian - 59 The Hammer – Madison South - 60 Burning Bridges – CHR!S REEL - 61 Emily Haines – Nadia Deljou - 62 Reflection Eternal – CHR!S REEL - 63 Amish Life – Maggie Callahan - 64 Euthanasia – Cory Zijian She – 65 Remembrance Day - Matthew Sherman Williams - 73 Dishwasher – Tom Maples – 74 Alabamer – Sydney Smith – 80 True to Your Roots – Jessica Drummond – 81 The Passing – Parrish “Oak Morse” Bush – 88 Bistro – Naci Kuloglu – 89 LOATHE YOU – Sydney Smith – 92
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR My Last Will and Testament
I, Parker Adams Hilley, being of sound mind and body, hereby
bequeath the gift of literature to all who wish to accept it. The years have been fun and I regret nothing (a few questionable hairstyle choices not withstanding). I hope that the next Editor of Underground puts as much work and love into the journal as I have in the past two years - “as much work” being the bare minimum amount I require, and of “as much love,” there should be no other option. I would like to thank everyone on the staff, everyone who submitted, everyone who helped with Underground, and everyone who has enjoyed Underground. Were it not for you, I would not have been able to take part in this wonderful experience. Thank you, and goodbye.
Sincerely, Parker Hilley Underground, Editor-in-Chief Spring 2014 vii
A NOTE TO MYSELF, IN CASE OF ALZHEIMER’S Taylor Garrett Pannell
Every footnote I’ve ever written is a fantastic code.*They are intentionally misleading.** In case someone should ever come across the books I’ve scribbled*** them in, at least I’ll know my research† will remain unsolved, forever a mystery to the reader†† and the world††† as a whole. * These footnotes excluded. ** They come across as vague and cryptic, a veiled code that only I can understand and thus break, if needed. These footnotes often portray the content of what’s being referenced in rather odd and obscure ways, the ideas don’t connect in any real sense of the word. They float along on thin strands of meaning and hardly ever end up getting back around to the subject of the footnote itself, if they get back around at all. They often result in pointless tangents. *** The word “scribbled” has an interesting etymology that, I think, lends itself well to thorough examination. The past tense form is, quite obviously, derived from the English word scribble, which itself is derived from the Latin word scribere (meaning to write; compose), which developed alongside the Medieval Latin word scribillare (meaning to write something quickly and in a way that makes it difficult to read), which is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root skribh-, which developed alongside the Proto-Indo-European root skrībh- (meaning to cut, separate, sift). Of course, this is all entirely relevant to the matter. † All too often, colleagues of mine will remark that I have brought forth no true research (or evidence of its existence, for that matter) for publication. I abhor such remarks, and refuse to respond to them. †† The reader, whoever it may be (A thief, more than likely. My home and its cavalcade of easily manipulated entry points and routes through which 1
to escape has been known to the burglar community for a good many years now.), though having successfully accessed my library, and thus, my wealth of knowledge, will be sorely disappointed to find such knowledge unavailable to them as a result of my crafty system of convoluted footnotes. This note, and the footnotes involved here, serve to remind you (me) of the footnote system itself, so that the research may still be acquired, should you (me) fall victim to a memory-snatching indisposition. The cipher can be found in the bookcase alongside your (my) copy of Howard’s End. I seem to have forgotten the combination to unlock it, but I’ll make sure to write it here __________________ once I’ve remembered it. ††† To Felix, my feline companion: you are welcome to my library and its hidden wealth of knowledge and understanding. To Edna, my doting wife: please keep out.
CANNIBAL CORRUPTORS Erin S. Murray Cannibal corruptors casting cutthroat, cave man shadows On the weak and meek and lonely and the sweet, unhardened child. Children giggle, cry, and laugh more than callous men who stopped defending Dreams back in the day when being average was okay. Lonely men and pretty girls go skating in the winter, Where she’ll notice his pores leaking trepidation perspiration. He is nervous. She’s a prude, and she’ll make him leave her room when later on He asks for favors of a naughty, sexy nature. Carefully contorting muscles, words, and pupil movements. Do any of these efforts ever lead to real improvement? Some may ask why we’re all ugly and the maker answers smugly that our flaws were all intended. Why is praying recommended? Sunsets suffocate the glaring joy in summer daylight. Now you’re eloquently prying, slicing through my undisclosed fright. In your probing you’ve discovered me. My red, soft, bloody parts exposed, So surgeon hands can navigate, And scoop out all my dreams and hopes.
IN THE THOUGHT Jordan Kadrie I wake up to the residual light streaming in through the bay window slowly, conscious of my eyes as they open and close. At some point I make the decision to start being awake. Meanwhile, the sunlight has traveled slowly from the foot of our bed up over our feet, up to our shins. I finally sit up. Dianna is already awake, breathing slowly enough to feign sleep. I look over at her as if she were a series of photographs being shown in a time lapse. She is beautiful. It’s affecting, rather like a slow-motion video, and I can’t help but feel like a balloon while seeing the small changes in her face as she wakes up. When she opens her eyes, my heart slows down (anyone’s would). Looking up, she smiles, and the camera starts again at normal speed. We exchange our familiar greetings and sit in bed together for a while. I finally get up and kiss her on her temple. The light covers the entirety of her lower half, her details hidden under the sheets. The walls start to shine a gold that evokes nostalgia, and I cherish our room and our house and our lives that we have shared, and I finally get up. The glass-top mahogany desk in front of our bed casts a bright rectangular reflection onto the wall. The bay window is still open; the light and breeze are coming through and with it the sounds of weekend children playing. I can see her eyes travelling back and forth from my back to the clock on the wall next to me from my place at the mirror next to the clock, closing at irregular times. The smell of dead foliage starts to waft in, and I realize that I’m cold from the window having been left open all night. Putting on a sweater, I go down to the kitchen, leaving her to wake on her own. It is situated directly below our bedroom, leaving the morning sunlight to affect the two rooms the same through their windows. Moving between the two rooms as the day goes by does not change my eye like it does going between our bedroom and the studio. I can continue to wake up in the kitchen for many more hours than I need to because of it. The tile picks up the sun and spreads it under the circular table that we sit at. I pretend that it is a casted rainbow. After starting the coffee, I pull out one of our pans for bacon and eggs. The fixings smell so warm, and the smell of the coffee poured in to 4
In the Thought
our mugs runs through my nose to my brain. As soon as I drop the bacon grease in to a jar, Dianna greets me with a kiss and a good morning and goes about her own business of waking up in the studio in the next room. My own process, including the now mechanized turning of chicken ovum in the same pan that I cooked the bacon in, is slow. It gives me that extra space to situate myself. Sometimes, I have trouble sleeping, and the only way that I can assure my own ability to keep up throughout the day is to keep on the same routine. Once the plates are full, I call out to my wife, and she arrives in time so that our plates still have tails of heat and maple climbing from them. We eat, and she walks over to our studio in the next room. Not every morning is like this. Often, I have engagements that pull me away from myself early in the day. Sometimes she has to visit her amnesiac mother early in the morning to go shopping with her. These are those mornings that I wish didnâ€™t fade in to the back of my memory, because they are the times to remember, when everything is so warm, familiar and safe. Her paintings are strange. They are of all the colors found in vomit: greens, yellows, shades of brown and such. But, they are beautiful: a hobo on a train car shines in the orange-purple sunset; a man lain upon his own pool of blood is resting his hand on his dog, or at least presumably his own; a woman smiling half-heartedly from her golden bed-spread looking up and to the right of the viewer. I sit at my computer to edit these photographs that I shot in the last week. I am in the process of building these images to show at a space in Firenze (Florence; in Italy). This is my first show outside of the states. I was asked by a larger gallery in France to show in their space, but I havenâ€™t been to either country and, at that moment, Italy seemed more exotic (and more terrifying). Both Dianna and I have a cursory knowledge of various Western European languages, but I know more Italian than she does French and, as such, I made my decision. So, I have a show in Italy. Our kitchen floor is white tile with blue grout. We have to call a man in to clean the grout sometimes. It turned brown within our first six months of living in the house. The kitchen feels much brighter and homelike when the tiles are sparkling. My neuroticism keeps the floors in check, really. I feel that Dianna sometimes appreciates that anxiety, if only because 5
it keeps our home shining. I digress. I cannot believe that all of those dreams and wishes of the life I wanted but never got came to fruition inside my imagination in the seconds it took my body to fall from my apartment window thirty stories up. I didnâ€™t even leave a goodbye note or a will. The air in this morning is the same that I imagine would have constantly surrounded us in my dream. I jumped, and I smelled the dead foliage and felt the cold air as I fell.
WINTER, SPRING Grace Elena Bondy i have seen stars falling from the hand of God and crash and burn into the barren wastelands known by men i watched as the tower of babel was erected and also as it fell i walked alongside cain as he gathered his crops and abel, as he herded his sheep i have witnessed the most beautiful life grow and blossom from the most unassuming of buds i have seen faithful men move mountains but i have yet to witness anything as extraordinary as the way you reach for me in your sleep.
TACO NIGHT Patrick Snipes I slowed down my bike when I noticed the beautiful sunset in front of me. I grabbed my phone so I could Instagram it. I added a filter and the caption: “Hope. #sunsets #cheesy.” Trent Reznor screamed into my ears. So close to home, but managing the bags containing ground beef, cheese, sour cream, rice, tortillas, and taco sauce had caused me to drag. I wished I had just gone to Taco Bell and ordered twenty or so tacos. It had been almost a month since our last taco night, but we jumped right back into the routine. When I walked in, Stanley was already preparing the salsa. I asked Carla to start browning the beef. “Me and Boo will be down in a bit,” I told them. “No cilantro, guys. She hates it.” I went upstairs to drop my book bag and take a shower. Boo sat on my bed playing Zelda on my Super Nintendo, her favorite. She paused the game so we could kiss, then she resumed her game. “I’m going to take a shower,” I said as I began to take my shirt off. “Okay, hon. When I finish this level, I’ll go downstairs and help.” I thought about our last taco night. Amelia had announced her acceptance into graduate school. I’d bought her a Hitchcock DVD collection, which had a nice velvet cover. She didn’t get to watch even one… “Lee! Lee!” Boo yelled to wake me. “You put the water on too hot again.” Boo helped me get dressed as she reminded me that no one would blame me for postponing. “Now or never,” I said. “Well, if you’ve had enough, just…pull your ear lobe down twice. I’ll kick everyone out for you.” When I got downstairs, the food was ready. The table was set. Stanley, Carla, Boo and I stood awkwardly at our places, looking at where Amelia would always sit. I put a tortilla on her plate. Boo put on some meat. Stanley threw cheese on it. “Stop!” I yelled at Carla. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” “What? She loved sour cream!” “She hated sour cream.” 8
The table had lost its silence. Everyone started arguing about Amelia’s taste for sour cream, which lead to arguing about whether or not she liked lettuce and tomato, and whether or not she liked salsa on the taco itself or on the side. I looked at Boo, who could see my face swelling. I could tell she was waiting for the signal. I took a spoon, got a dollop of sour cream, and swung it at Carla’s face. The table went quiet again. Carla wiped her face with her hand and threw it at my face. Boo giggled and threw a handful of cheese at me, which stuck to the sour cream. I took the jar of taco sauce and poured it on Boo’s head. Boo and I kissed as the sauce drizzled down our faces. I raised my tallboy can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and everyone else followed. “To Amelia!” I said. “To Amelia!”
THE CARA Chris Wilkins y el sol levantaba a nuestros cielos: el pintador quiso hallar algo se llama la cara de dios llamada en su mente así podría atraparlo he set out for mexico, for the biggest city that now stands on this hemisphere 22,000,000 must surely make up the face, he searched but alas, the wise one, told him it was always here donde está, entonces? por qué no lo he visto, no me ha venido? -porque, solo tú puedes encontrar que quieres encontrar dios está dentro de todas las cosa ya but i want to see it, so very badly, it is the only thing that i wish to paint, and nothing can stand in my way; the painter departed across the long winding hills, the shrubs and sands sketched exquisite patterns in the earth el borde pasó las estrellas poblaron el cielo entero durante el sol voló como un pájaro quemando a un otra lugar mas allá todos fueron silentes hasta monterrey y próximo, el d. f. but the lights were glorious. he laughed at the silly wise one that thought just one region could claim the face the tall ridges surrounded the believer of none los edificios, carros, personas lo tragaron también las tiniebla que existían antes la luz y la luz llegó a existir, próximo viene hombre y un otra vez le parece como todo estaba allí y no acá; el ateo grabar he recorded the face, walked on it, met it, scuffed it up with his oils and fancy shoes, spoke the spanish, passingly, but looked up and viewed that the glass towers lacked the same natural curve as the desierto 10
lo mismo paz y orden que es consentido al bosque en america o la acción primal de la jungla de mexico y un sistema mas complexa que alguna persona, aun ha imaginado en una estructura something in the fractal patterns it must have been, which make up the distribution of the leaves, the waves, even the human heartbeat; the brush strokes, mathematical in fine nature, so that so crisp a resolution is produced like photographs but in the course of one million years es la verdad, el pintador vio un a cara definidamente, pero fue la cara manchada de hombre, mirando al cielo solo para ver las estrellitas perfectas blocadas salvajemente por los salvajes que se deslizan todavía sobre la orilla de la calle; atop the skyscrapers, still trying to climb, not having learned their lesson from babel, and so he thought this as he left with quite the hefty payload of paintings filling up the back and the front, and made his last leg journey to the shore actual habia un puerto, cortado de la madera de la tierra solo hecho para las botas viajar brutamente por el agua y vio él, the wise man, su familia los que salió, y los hombres y mujeres que quisieron a ver ‘el loco’ the foot of man smashed on the accelerator and the camineta lurched forward forming a richer and fuller panorama of ocean pacific contra the peeking light of dawn and as the headlights were so close al agua where they could just look back at him, and the wood of the deck ya no estaba apoyando, todas las cosas abandonadas in pursuit of; de; la cara de dios; the face of god then car had left the pier, and the painter would drown with his stains but it came to his eyes, then, as the sun lo mismo was lifting up again things to both our heavens.
BURNT COFFEE BEANS Karly Hussey She expected a musty, musing smell from where she stood outside on the front step — but when she pulled the wooden, paned-glass door open, there was the expected bell that rang, but her nose felt slightly assaulted. She had been wandering all Sunday in this misting, lively city when she stumbled upon the bookstore. Somewhere between Greenwich Village, between Soho, between Chinatown, somewhere between having no idea where she was, or where she was going. The bookstore smelled a little like someone had wretched upon entrance, which caught her entirely off guard. This mixed with the aroma of burnt coffee beans had her pinching at the tip of her nose lightly with the inside of her right pointer and middle finger. Yet, it was full of so many people. Getting further inside the smell faded, and the coffee bar in the back of the store came into view, past the wooden columns, past the book carts floating amongst the book shelves, past the tables of internet browsers, book perusers, flirtations, and loners. Two wooden staircases blossomed from where the tables began and the shelving ended. Bookshelves lined the walls of the second floor, on either side, coming together so that this second level formed a ‘U.’ Small, wooden, leather cushioned chairs sat between every two rows of shelving, and in the crook of the ‘U’ there were three tables sitting in front of some windows, looking down to the slow-moving, cobbled street. Making her way upstairs, her fingers glided across the leather, paper, brittle, cracking spines. Stopping in the poetry section, she pulled several books from the shelf and brought them to one of the chairs. The best thing about used bookstores… well there were several really great things about used bookstores: there was the sweet-musty smell, there was the yellowed, dog eared, highlighted pages… showing how much words could mean to someone. But best of all, there were the gifter-notes in the front. Sometimes on the inside of a hardback, or on those first blank pages of the book. There were the typical notes people left: I hope this means as much to you as it did to me, I hope this helps with what you’re going through. This was mine and 12
Burnt Coffee Beans
your father’s favorite book. This book changed my life. This book should mean something to you because it means something to me. This gift I’m giving you is really about me. But sometimes, every once in a while you got more than those quick, one sentence gifter-notes. Sometimes there was a love letter, or a paragraph explaining thoughts and ideas, or little notes that no one except for the new owner of the book will understand. These, these types of personal ones were her favorite. “To, Linda Johnson. Love, Leslie Cooper.” Blank. “This was my favorite book at sixteen. Best, William Hal.” “Happy graduation. I read this when I was a freshman in college. Love, Aunt Catherine.” Blank. “With love, James.” Blank. And then, tiny, straight, legible script across the inside front cover, across that empty page — front and back, across the top of the title page… And then… “I need you to read this. I know that sounds a little over the top, but I’m serious. And I know you’re thinking… God, just leave me alone… why don’t you understand that I want to have nothing to do with you. But I need you to know this. I need you to understand, that I know I fucked up. I know I did. And I know that this seems like a ridiculous way to try and get your attention, and your forgiveness… can you even forgive me at this point? “I know what I did wasn’t fair to you. I know that. I know you deserved better then to have me pushing and pulling you. I know it’s my fault — I was being selfish. I know I’m selfish and I’m sorry. It wasn’t fair to you and I won’t make excuses for myself. I won’t. Just know, I know, I was wrong. “But, I think if you read this…. I think you might be able to understand why I did it, why I acted that way. I think you might read this and maybe some of the hurt I’ve caused you will dissipate. “All I want is for you to talk to me again. But I know I can’t ask it of you. I know I can’t. But I know I can be better. I know I miss you, more than anything. 13
“ ‘I will remember the kisses/ our lips raw with love/ and how you gave me/ everything you had/ and how I/ offered you what was left/ of me,/ and I will remember your small room/ the feel of you/ the light in the window/ your records/ your books/ our morning coffee/ our noons our nights/ our bodies spilled together/ sleeping/ the tiny flowing currents/ immediate and forever/ your leg my leg/ your arm my arm/ your smile and the warmth/ of you/ who made me laugh/ again.’ Charles Bukowski “I’m sorry Charlotte. - Adon” She closed the book. Her fingers traced the outside of the hardback cover and then her index finger began lightly tapping against the peak of the top right corner. Standing, she set down the other four books and made her way back down the twisting staircase, back down the front steps, back down the cobblestone street, and back into the fading, bustling city.
LORD OF THE FLAKES Chris Wilkins i saw a human sliding strangely against the white outside the column glass, aged and chilled to the bone the doorway invited one to be pelted by the crystalets, shards of the same that leaped from the mad sky burdened fingers, roads and tires, the city skeleton the answer is yes! god was up there or zeus or jupiter crafting his lightning and some botched project must have smashed under that pressure and the bits have come to rain on us hiking up the hill was where i saw myself impressing grey tracks, next to the ones that were already there its curious how a place so cold and void of sun could shine so bright burdened steps, roofs and chimneys, the soggy jacket i reached the toboggan they piled high just solidify and under the patter of the brave and the weary electrified their soles so that the strong would dine in the savage world i saw a wooly man atop the climb in the color crimson, against the whiteness, like blood and madness there was peace and jokes, however, and a small party joined us turns were took, the momentum then gained children, siblings and fools, the thrill-seekers, upon the holy hill 15
easy to spot; a rendezvous in the snow a motley horde arrived disturbing and scruffing the virgin snow the weak were plucked and fought for the black sled until dusk fell and the wooly man need not stand, his color filled the air thus continued a brawl cross, of the one never known to spawn itself so savage on, a day free of the snow as the lights of streetlamp orange darkened out the winter brights nights blurred a stream of the crimson, i saw, flowing â€˜cross the ice i trekked to thaw indoors by the time the twilight sky faded in black flecks it was sure that the thrillers had been stripped of all their flesh for they joined the city skeletons, frozen off a soul for the once rolling sleet had become pure ice under their soles so if one sees a human sliding strangely across the white heed the flakes that fall above just beyond oneâ€™s sight or just stay inside?
ZEBRA CAKES Amenah Arman I was riding a zebra that had a red balloon tied to its neck when I noticed the eyes from inside Highland Café glaring at me. I decided to tie my zebra to a fire hydrant so I could walk in quickly and buy a chocolate peanut butter brownie. When I opened the door to the café, a wall covered in eyeballs greeted me. The eyes didn’t say anything; I smiled in hopes that they would go away, but they didn’t. I looked up and down trying to escape their stare, but they persisted in following my every move. I walked to the right to admire the red velvet cupcakes, and to the left to take a look at the scones, the eyes followed. Where are you from? They asked in unison. Chicago, I responded. Where are your parents from? They replied. My parents are also from Chicago. I jumped up and down, ran back and forth to tire them out, but they continued to watch me as if I were one of the world’s greatest mysteries. What about your grandparents? The eyes asked. I know what they wanted to hear. They wanted me to say that I was from a foreign land far, far away, where camels are ridden as a form of transportation, and Aladdin continues to use his magic carpet. Not a whole new world, though, they wanted to hear about a world that gave birth to tents, oil, belly dancers, terrorists, arranged marriages, opium, Bedouins, and Jesus. We all know you did it, go ahead and admit to it, they said in unison. Did what? I asked, not knowing what they were insinuating. You were in charge of 9/11. No, I was not, I replied. Osama is your uncle, isn’t he! They said. I stared back at brown, blue, green, and hazel eyes as I screamed, fuck all of you, and walked out. The eyes chased me as I rode my zebra back home. Leave me alone, I screamed, looking back. We are forever present as part of your reality as the sun and the 17
moon, they replied. They followed me throughout the day as I played ring around the rosy in the park with my daughter; the eyes watched our every move. Don’t try to escape we are here to stay, companions ‘til the end, they said. They observed me on my grocery run, as I pushed my cart from aisle to aisle, looking for multi-grain cereal and selecting fresh produce. Do we make you uncomfortable? they asked. Yes you make me uncomfortable, I said as I frantically threw avocadoes at the eyes. Let’s try again then, where are you from? they asked without blinking. I already told you, I am from Chicago, I responded. That is not true, and you know it, your people were not made to withstand Chicago weather, your people are desert people. I ignored the eyes, thinking that if I ignored them long enough they would go away. Let’s try one more time, where are you from? they said in unison. Will you leave me alone if you can pin me to a certain region? I asked. We will think about it, they responded. I’m from everywhere! Everywhere, can you say the same? I am human; I bleed red, punch me, and I will cry; stab me, and I will most likely die; put music on, and I will dance to the melody; make a joke, and I might laugh; show me a line, and I will wait my turn patiently; give me a test, and I will take it, 1+1=2; put a movie on, and I will watch it; give me a guitar, and I will play it; give me jeans, and I will wear them. Red, white and blue; black, green, red and white—borders and nationalities were made to divide and conquer, so go ahead and ask me one more time, where are you from?
THE FAN Nadia Deljou Red waves of memory burn my skin, Leaving dark hues of remembrance etched in the pores of my once innocent arms. You lie there, face bloated like a fish out of water With nails untouched, just as they were when you sang me to sleep. It is only during the winter where we share the nightAs nostalgic waves crash at the bank of my longing, the knob turns and I sense the comfort of your ghostly past. Momentarily my face becomes overheated, as you begin to vanish once again, like particles of dust that hide underneath promises of another day. Until my toes curl and my nose turns white as the moon, I know I will see you again. When the snowflakes fall and lights go dim, I will see you then. 19
PIPE TOBACCO AND LEATHER Max C. Vaillancourt I’ll remember my grandfather’s stories more than anything else about him. More than the smell of pipe tobacco and leather that hung on him like cologne, more than the symphony of cracks and creaks that emanated from his joints and his chair as he’d rock away the evening hours, and even more than the Moscow charm created from blending his gravelly growl with the husky weight of his accent. No, more than anything else I’ll remember the stories. My grandfather lived enough to fill the lives of ten lesser men. Always a doer and never a sayer, he remains to this day one of the smartest men I’ve ever known; and that’s despite having little in the way of a formal education. He could always approach a problem from an angle all his own, and yet when he’d explain it to you, he made it seem embarrassingly obvious. This original perspective carried over into his stories, especially those from his time in the Red Army. Most men who served, regardless of branch or county, share a common experience: their best and worst memories were born from their service years. This fact remained true in the case of my grandfather as well, despite only serving a short time. He enlisted young, teenage young, puberty young, “lied about his age” young. The Army wasn’t at war during his time of enlistment (lucky him) unless you count the cold one. This timing enabled my grandfather to spend many years training, serving, and protecting his homeland where he was filled with pride and patriotism for Mother Russia and the CCCP. It also enabled him and his family food and money so that when the country’s belts were collectively tightened, theirs was a little less so. Luck runs out though, and the years of peace found at the start of his service did not last. During the final years of Grandfather’s time in the Red Army, he was sent to the front of what is now known as “The Russo-Afghan War” or, for those of you a little less educated on the subject, “Russia’s Korea.” It was during this war that he was ambushed and first experienced violent death. When I say my grandfather was ambushed, I don’t mean what you’re thinking. There was no glorious battle, no sudden chaos, and nothing like what the modern world now calls PTSD. No. Like I said, my grandfather was always a sharp man and very observant and in his youth 20
Pipe Tobacco and Leather
his sight was phenomenal. Combine these traits with a ropy frame (most of his girth was added later in life thanks to Grandmother’s cooking), which led to him being point man for his squadron’s patrols more often than any other. On the day of the ambush all my grandfather experienced of the fighting was seeing some movement in a drainage ditch west of the road. When he moved to investigate, he suffered a blow to the back of his skull that turned out his lights. His fight was done before a bullet was fired, but that meant he was alone to witness the aftermath. Grandfather always claimed to have woken up with a splitting headache, partially due to the crack to the back of the head and partially due to the rock he fell on when he hit the ground. He always said that rock both split his skull and saved his life; he guessed that all the blood from the two blows caused the Afghans to leave him for dead. He claimed that the first thing he noticed, before his eyes were open, was the smell; the air was thick with sulfur, iron, and sewage. Gunpowder, blood, and offal. He claimed to know exactly what had happened from those smells alone and scrambled to the top of the embankment purely on reflex. What he witnessed when he caught sight of the “battlefield” were the bodies of his comrades and his friends, still fresh. It was this vision that he, and I, will always remember most vividly. His men, his friends, lay in pieces. Some of them had lost their heads, their arms, their legs. Some had lost whole limbs, others just pieces and parts. It wasn’t the carnage that got to him though. It was the men themselves. They seemed at peace, despite the blood and the gore. Grandfather said that he envisioned his friends coming back to life. He imagined them sitting up, as if from a long sleep, and looking around them at their condition. He imagined how they would feel and react to the idea of having died, how they would feel about their wounds and the surroundings. He even thought of the single Afghani left behind by his comrades, dead amongst his mortal foes, and how sad he looked. How alone. I am sure this was just a way for him to cope with the trauma, and it seemed to work; he never seemed to suffer anything like PTSD or Battle Fatigue. Whether coping mechanism or delusion based concussion, I still feel that this perspective was both distinct to his character and key to his mental fortitude. Normally when someone dies, we think of them holding a dual position. In one way, we see our loved ones as living beings 21
who exists only in the past, filled with the memories of their lives. Yet in another, we see them as nothing more than a physical body, a shrine or representation of the one we loved, but not quite them in a complete sense. Grandfather, even if for just a moment, was able to bridge this gap. He was able to see the bodies that lay before him as the men they were, both in that moment and hours before. While he was not a religious man, he still gave a voice to the dead more complete than any preacher. He was able to understand that the soul and body, while different, are equally required for a person. To preserve the memory of one while discarding another is to do them an injustice. When my mother asked me to speak at this service, I didn’t know what to say. How does an atheist stand up at a religious ceremony and speak for the dead? Then I remembered my grandfather and his life. I remembered his stories and his lies, his personality and his beliefs. As I stand here today before all of you and looking at my grandfather, I cannot help but think how he feels. Not felt, not would feel, but feels about this all. I’m sure that if he were to sit up he’d want his pipe despite the cancer. If given a second chance, he’d still call the doctor a stupid сука who just wanted his money and reject her treatments. And more than anything else he’d tell you all to dry your eyes, grab a plate from the buffet and gather around his casket because this reminds him of a story. And that’s what you should take away from this service, and from my grandfather: the smell of pipe tobacco and leather, the symphony of cracks and creaks played by his joints, the husk of his gravelly growl, weighed down by his Moscow accent, and most of all, the stories.
THINGS WE BORROWED AFTER THE FIRE Nicole Shantè White These days, we introduce ourselves separately. We’ve stopped belonging to each other, stopped leasing our mouths in the name of love. There is no holiday to celebrate the friendship among exes, but if there were, we’d probably spend it smoking weed and bringing up old shit – inappropriate for any new beginning. She admits I wanted to cheat on you. I laugh with her, because this is what moving on looks like. Because her words are supposed to be feathers now. She lives on the first floor of my apartment building, and the second story of my skin. We borrow each other’s clothes and silences. We are conveniences. We are love where we have already loved. We are common interests and equally fucked up. It’s incredibly easy to forget why I lost the passion to continue arguing and compromising and believing. Last week we attended a forum on self-love: as friends – and she confessed her habit of melting into lovers she only knows how to love hard. Bolder than herself. She thinks love is: writing my name on her plight, stopping her world because I need to cry. We have different definitions of romantic. There is nothing beautiful about being the thing that keeps her from learning how to be alone. I was noise. I soon remember her twisted humor, quick wit, and autumn body looked an awful lot like confidence. All this time we weren’t belonging. We were distracting; helping shovel while the other took a break. We were supposed to give each other reasons to stay: her inside herself, me inside the world. We fell in love with borrowing each other’s breaths. These days, we settle for the exchange of high waist jeans and stories about next lovers we can’t help but pity. 23
EUPHORIA Tareq Alhonaiti And then there are the joys of a cheerful euphoria Like witnessing the approach of a nervous canary So curious but wary with feathers so crimson bright, Eyes dark as the coat of night. I hold the moment for what I might. Then, in a flash itâ€™s gone. Leaving me to reminisce On what I may have missed. Until another event presents An excitement much like it. Till then, memories exist.
ANSWER ME THIS Nabila Masud When the five of us were planning this trip, we dubbed the summer to be the best one ever. It was supposed to be two weeks together in a different town every day. It was supposed to be our last hurrah before we went off to college. It was supposed to be the best summer ever.
I felt a prodding at my side and its persistence made my eyes creep open. The room was dark, so that meant that it was still nighttime. I rolled over and pulled the blanket over my head, trying to fall back asleep as quickly as possible. “No, wake up. Wes, we can sleep later.” I recognized the voice immediately. The hushed tone made me want to listen to it as I drifted off, but before I could become dead weight, the blanket was snatched away from my body and locks of brown hair tickled my neck. “Up.” With a groan, I slowly sat up. “Do you have any idea what time it is?” She shrugged and she would. “It’s time for an adventure!” I looked at her like she was crazy. “Caroline,” I said, “you are crazy.” I tried to lie back down, but she wasn’t having it. Caroline grabbed my arm and tugged—well, yanked—until I was standing on the carpet. “You’re awfully persistent tonight.” “Only when I want something,” was what she replied with, forgoing whispering. Caroline threw me a pair of shoes. “Hurry up!” The shoes landed on the bed and I held back my annoyed glare. “You don’t have to be so pushy, and would ya keep it down? If you wake RJ up none of us will hear the end of it for the next ten days.” She rolled her eyes. “And if you don’t get your feet in those shoes in the next twenty seconds, you won’t hear the end of it from me for another ten years.” “Awful,” I mumbled to myself as I quickly slipped my feet into my shoes. With a glance at our three friends, Caroline and I quietly left the 25
motel room. I wanted to ask where we were going or what sparked this adventure, but knowing Caroline, she probably couldn’t sleep and got bored. I let her lead me even though I knew neither of us were familiar with this town and had a high possibility of getting lost, but I had faith that we’d find our way back. Twenty minutes and a mile and a half later, we stopped walking and the smile Caroline had on her face was one I hadn’t seen in a while. “This is perfect,” she said so softly that I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to hear it. She turned left and walked through the gate, and I followed her without a question. “What d’you think?” she asked me as she sat on the center swing. It took me a moment to realize we were at a park. I twisted to look around and wondered if there was anyone else wandering around the grounds in the middle of the night in pajamas. “I think you’re crazy.” I sat to her right and shook my head. “I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to be at a park after eleven.” “Your sense of adventure is weak, Wes.” She glanced up at the sky. “Look up.” And I did. “We couldn’t see all these stars from the room.” “Care, we’ve known each other for a solid decade and there has never been a day where you stopped looking up at the stars.” I was reminded of how so much time had passed and how so much has changed from the way we dressed to the way we took on the world, but our friendship was still the same (even though we had gained a few friends along the way). Caroline dropped her gaze to me, her hazel eyes searching for something. “Future astronomy major at your service.” “Are you gonna miss it?” The question kind of blurted out before I could think it through and I nearly took it back, but Caroline already started answering. “You mean miss the town where not a person is anyone and a house that doesn’t feel like home?” She shook her head. “Nope.” She stood up and took a few steps back before sitting back down and swinging. “And if you mean if I’ll miss nights like this, then yes.” I nodded, but didn’t say anything else. I just sat and stared up at the sky, wondering if it was as amazing as Caroline found it to be. She had always mentioned of how much she wanted to get away from our town and run away to college, so I could only imagine she was excited that we were 26
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set to head off in August. I didn’t know how long we sat there, but I knew I closed my eyes at some point. It was peaceful with the quiet hum of the night and the feel of the early morning air. “Wesley,” someone whispered in my ear, and I fought to keep my eyes squeezed shut. “Wesley,” someone repeated. “Wes, wake up.” “No.” “Wesley. Wesley, please.” This time, the voice sounded pained and desperate which made my heart fill with a weight that made me frown. I opened my eyes only to be met with hazel ones, but they were dull. A shiver went down my spine because something wasn’t right. I tried to reach out to touch her face, but I felt like I was stuck, and when I finally could move, I fell. “Shit,” I groaned into the carpet. Wait, wasn’t I at the park? From the commotion of the fall, Finn got up from his bed and walked over to me. “Shit. Wes, you alright there?” I lifted my head and took in the fact that I was in the motel room, not in a park. I could hear RJ snoring from a few feet away and the shower running in the bathroom, and I wasn’t even sure if there was a park. “I—” I paused, moving up to a sitting position. “Yeah, I’m fine. I dunno what happened.” Finn gave me a worried expression, and I wanted to roll my eyes. He was the sensible one in the group and always looked after us like a father goose or something. It came in handy from time to time, but mostly, it was annoying. “Are you sure?” “Yeah.” I got to my feet and did a spin. “See? Nothing wrong.” I stretched my back and looked around the room again. RJ was asleep on a cot, Finn and I were standing between the two beds, and I assumed Lexie was in the shower. “Care?” I called out, wondering where she was. “Did you hit your head,” Finn questioned, furrowing his brow. “No. Why?” He gave me a long, hard look before patting me on the shoulder. “Just be careful, yeah?” I fell back on my bed and I heard a quiet you’ll be all right. I lifted my head up to see if Finn or RJ had said something, but it didn’t look like they did. This wasn’t the first time I heard a voice because it had been happening since the first day of the trip, but it didn’t make me feel any less 27
weird about it.
Out of the kindness of my heart, I volunteered to go on a coffee run. I had no idea what city or state we were in, but that was what made the trip all the more exciting. There was no actual destination and whoever was driving would just stop at a random town and we went from there. When I got back to the room with a tray of coffees in hand, I instantly felt some sort of tension in the room like I just walked into an argument. “What’s going on?” I asked as I let the door to the room shut behind me. This room wasn’t one of the nicer ones we have stayed at in the past week, but what could we expect when we didn’t have a lot of money? “Coffee, yes!” Caroline cheered. RJ took the baseball cap off of his head, smoothed down his dark hair, and placed it back on. “You got us coffee.” “Yeah,” I said slowly. “Five coffees for five people. We’ve been doing this every morning since the first day of the trip.” “Thanks.” Finn reached for the one closest to him and took a sip. Behind him, RJ and Lexie exchanged a look and I raised my brow at them. Finn cleared his throat and they dropped the look. I set the tray down on one of the bedside tables. “Seriously, what is it? You guys are looking at me like I grew a third arm or something.” There was a little part of me that thought that I had done something wrong, but that thought was quickly shot down. Lexie shook her head, blonde hair falling out of her ponytail. “Nothing, Wes. Just. Thank you.” She took a coffee for herself and after a moment of thought, she picked up another one. RJ clapped his hands together, drawing all attention to him. “I dunno about you fuckers, but I’m in the mood to do touristy things.” Finn nodded in agreement. “That sounds like a plan. Lex?” “I’m in. Wes?” “Hell yeah,” I replied. I was about to ask Caroline, but she already was moving around the room, getting ready to go. As we were piling into the car, an everything will be okay came from somewhere. I looked around to see if any of my friends had said anything, but they were in the middle of a fight for shotgun. I sat back in my seat 28
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wondering if I had truly lost my mind.
“Yes, Mom, we are all fine and alive.” I tried my best not to sound like I was annoyed with this conversation, but it was difficult because I was very annoyed. My mother insisted on calling every day—sometimes twice a day—just to ask the same question, which was annoying. After I assured her for the upteenth time that everything was fine, grand even, I told her I had to go and ended the call. I stayed outside for an extra minute and just sat in silence. We were still in the same town as the day before because we were all too tired to drive last night. And in the past twenty four hours, I had come to enjoy this place. When I got back to the room, I heard everyone talking which was normal, but they were talking about me which was not normal. The sense that I did something wrong from the day before came back into my thoughts, and it made my skin crawl in the worst possible way. I didn’t stoop so low as to place my ear by the door, but I did stand close enough to hear every word. “ . . . but he bought five coffees yesterday,” RJ said. Someone sighed and I assumed it was Finn. “I really don’t think he’s telling us everything. Like when he fell off his bed last week, he asked for C—” “Maybe he was just out of it?” RJ suggested, cutting Finn off. “Or maybe this is his way of dealing with it,” Lexie chimed in. “Maybe he’s better now and maybe he’s coping by pretending that everything is how it used to be.” “That’s not healthy, though,” Finn said. With every word said, I got angrier because I could not believe my friends’ topic of discussion was about me. They were acting like I was someone who needed to be watched over and babied. It had been obvious the entire trip that they were not telling me something and I didn’t understand why. Not even caring to make some kind of noise to let them know that I was there, I unlocked the door and marched right in. “What’re you guys talking about?” Lexie’s mouth was open like she was about to say something before I walked in. “Shit,” she mumbled. “Wes! How’s your mom?” 29
“Really? Trying to change the subject?” I raised my brow. “Why don’t you continue with the conversation you were having?” Finn took a cautious step towards me. “Wes, I dunno what you heard, but we weren’t—” “What? You weren’t talking about me behind my back?” I scoffed. “If you didn’t want me on this trip, you could’ve said something before we left. I would have happily stayed back.” “It’s not like that, man,” RJ said. “Yeah, of course we want you on this trip,” Lexie added in. I shook my head. “It doesn’t feel like it. Just . . . whatever.” I walked past them and began stuffing my suitcase with my things. If this was how they wanted to be, then fine. Caroline gave me a sad look. “Wes.” I ignored her and everyone else. If they wanted to keep things from me, then there was nothing I could do about it. I just had to stick it out for another few days, then we’d be on our way home and none of this would matter anymore. Just hang in there and I ignored that, too.
After two weeks on the road and exploring various towns in a handful of states, we were finally on our way back to our hometown. It was nice to get away from the place that I knew like the back of my hand, but nothing beats sleeping in my own bed. And I knew we haven’t been at home for a little while, but I was sure that this was not the way there. Finn was our navigation guy, and he was driving like he knew exactly where he was going. I turned around in the passenger’s seat and saw that neither RJ nor Lexie were in the car with us. Caroline leaned forward, so her head was between the two front seats. “Hey, I haven’t been down this way in a long time.” “Why would y—” I cut myself off. “Where are we going?” I asked Finn. “And where did RJ and Lexie go?” I could have sworn we all got into the car together before we left. They had insisted that I sit in the front and everything. Finn jumped a bit in his seat when I spoke because I haven’t said 30
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much in the past few days. I might have overreacted when I overheard them talking because they might have been more concerned than anything, but they were still keeping things from me. “Everything will make sense soon,” he promised. That didn’t answer my questions, though. “That doesn’t answer my question.” He needs time, the mystery voice told me in response. I tapped my fingers on my lap and tried to not ask any more questions, but I couldn’t help it. I needed to know what was going on and I needed to know now. “Finn, honestly, what’s up?” Usually, Finn was straight-forward with me, but he didn’t reply, and he just kept driving. In fact, Finn did not say anything until ten minutes later when he parked the car and told me to get out. “What’re we doing here?” Once I got out of the car, I saw that we were parked in front of a hospital. The atmosphere gave me a bad feeling and all I wanted to do was turn around and run away. “For answers.” Finn started walking towards the hospital and even though I didn’t want to, I followed him. He was walking with determination, and with every step, I was more confused. Why were we in a hospital? What was going on? Where were RJ and Lexie? Now to think of it, where did Caroline go? Finn did not stop walking until we were in the basement. “Oh, fuck no. I’m not going in there.” He was standing outside the morgue and this whole thing was morbid if you asked me. “Wes,” was all Finn said before walking through the door. I hated him in that moment, but I followed him anyway. This was for answers, right? The room was cold and dim, and I asked, “Do we really have to be here?” “Listen to me carefully, alright?” Finn said and I nodded. “Life is weird and complicated, but at the same time, it is beautiful. We always try to plan the way our lives go, but in reality, we have no choice. Life takes us wherever it wants us to go and we just have to adapt and go with it because we have to remember that everything happens for a reason.” “Okay,” I said slowly, drawing out each syllable. “But what does that have to do with anything right now, and why are we having this conversation in a morgue? Are we even allowed to be in here?” “It has to do with everything!” Finn looked like he was about to pull 31
his hair out and in the four years that I had known him, I had never seen him this way. He took a breath before asking, “Are you happy with where your life is right now?” “Yeah,” I answered. “Of course I am, and everything’s fine. Despite whatever the hell happened a few days ago, I love spending time with you guys, and I love the fact that we were able to go on this trip together.” “What else do you love?” he asked and I hesitated. “Don’t hold back. Just say it.” I sighed. “I . . .” This was something I never voiced to anyone. This was something I have always kept to myself. This was something that would change everything. I could feel Finn’s burning gaze on me and I figured that he knew. He had to know and there was no avoiding it. “I love Caroline, okay?” I finally said with absolutely no confidence. Finn did not look fazed. “Are you happy with that?” “Caroline makes me happy, yes. Where are you getting at, Finn?” “Focus Wes,” he ordered. “Would you still be happy if everything changed?” I was annoyed after that question. “Why the hell do you keep asking me questions? Would you just get to the point already? You’re not making any sense and I’m sick of this. I’m sick of all of you tiptoeing around me!” “I understand your frustration, but just answer one more question for me.” I didn’t respond, so Finn kept talking. “What month and year is it?” That had to be the dumbest question yet. “It’s July 2012,” I answered easily. Finn looked at me, his expression changing from sadness to concern to something I didn’t even know. “No,” he said, “it’s not. It’s May 2013.” “What?” I furrowed my brow. “That doesn’t make sense.” It was impossible because that was ten months that I had no memory of. There was no way that could happen unless I was either crazy or in a coma. Then again, I had been hearing voices. “Look, a couple of days ago, you got into a brutal accident on your way home from college,” Finn explained. “You were rushed to the emergency room and underwent a mess of surgeries that I can’t even pronounce. Your injuries are all over the place, including your head. And now. . .” 32
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“And now what? I’m dead?” I paused. “Shit, I am dead, aren’t I? Fuck.” “You’re not,” Finn said before I could process another thought. “And it’s up to you. Right now, you are not in Heaven or Hell. You chose to come back to last summer because you deemed it acceptable for your brain to heal. This place is an alternate reality of some sort that you’ve created based on your memories.” I decided in that moment that this was all bullshit, and Finn and everyone else was playing a joke on me. “No,” I shook my head. “Fuck this.” I made it one step before Finn grabbed my arm and spun me around. “This isn’t a joke, Wes!” He shouted in my face. “You can’t run away from it! You have to deal with it right now. You need to decide where you’re going. You can’t hold off any longer, okay?” “No, not okay! Let go of my arm!” “I can’t do that.” “Why not?” “Because,” Finn stressed, “your life isn’t the only one in danger.” Wait, no. “Caroline was in the accident with you and both of you got hurt pretty bad. So, let me ask you again, are you happy with how your life is?” I pulled my arm out of his grip. “This is all a sick joke!” He turned his body and pointed the wall behind him. “It’s not. This is serious.” Finn continued explaining how in this universe, none of them but me could see Caroline because she was in her own alternate universe to heal. The voices I heard were Finn’s and RJ’s and Lexie’s whenever they came and spoke to me while I was unconscious within the past two days. He explained that if I didn’t make a decision soon, life would make one for me. I recognized the wall from the movies—it was a wall filled with drawers that were big enough to fit bodies in. My eyes followed to where Finn was pointing, and I felt my heart sink down to my stomach. On one of the drawers, it had my name printed on it and right next to it, it had Caroline’s. “You need to decide now,” Finn urged. “You can’t wait any longer.” I didn’t know what to do because in this universe, everything was going great and I was happy. But in reality, what if I told Caroline how I felt and ruined our ten year friendship? What if she didn’t feel the same? “Finn, I can’t. What if I decide the wrong thing? What if I mess 33
everything up?” “You won’t know if you don’t try,” he replied. “Wes, stop being a girl and decide. You already have an answer. Just tell me what it is.” I opened my mouth, but my words got stuck in my throat. Finn was right, I did have an answer, but I couldn’t get it out. My throat felt like I swallowed my tongue and like I was choking. I tried to speak, but it was incoherent, and then, Finn was gone. I searched all around the room and ran out into the hallway, but Finn was nowhere to be seen. I rushed back inside the morgue, hoping that Finn came back, but I had no luck. My throat stopped hurting and my legs took me straight to the drawers. I looked at Caroline’s name, but I didn’t dare open the drawer because I was scared of what I would find. I didn’t want this for us. I didn’t want this for her. Caroline had always been one of those people who deserved the world, and she would never get it if she died. I could never help her get it if I was dead. “Finn?” I called out, but I got no response. “Finn, I want to go back!” I decided. “I don’t want to be here!” The room was silent. I stood by the drawers, desperately hoping that Finn would reappear and tell me what to do next, but he never came back. Nothing happened and I realized that I was too late. “This can’t be happening,” I said as my knees went weak and I fell to the floor. “This can’t be happening,” I repeated, wrapping my arms around my knees and rocking back and forth. “Wes?” “This can’t be happening. This can’t be—” A loud buzzing rang in my ears, making me stop midsentence. I stopped moving and squeezed my eyes shut. I assumed I was dying in that moment and I was just waiting for the pain. But. But it never came. The buzzing was replaced with a constant beeping noise and I was taken aback. Slowly, I opened my eyes only to be met with blurry vision. I blinked a few times to clear it and when my eyes focused, I found myself in a hospital room. My throat burned and my limbs felt heavy and my head hurt like a bitch, but I was alive. “Wes?” I turned my head and saw Caroline at my bedside. She was sitting in a wheelchair and was wearing a hospital gown. There was a cast on her arm with hundreds of stars drawn on it and a bandage on her cheek, but 34
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she still looked as beautiful as ever. “Go out on a date with me?” I croaked out. She chuckled. “It’s about damn time.” Caroline smiled and I smiled back at her, and I realized that I was wrong when I said the summer before was the best because I had a feeling that the one coming up would steal the title.
QUEER THEORY FOR THOSE WHO TOLD ME TO PICK A SIDE Nicole Shantè White
I know the definition of QUEER goes against everything you’ve been taught since: pink or blue Hot Wheels or Barbie doll but say it: QUEER hold it on the back of your tongue. I know it will feel too much like gray, not enough like black and white. But let the word exit your mouth as casually as you’ve allowed your ignorant demand to crawl into a camouflaged laughter. You will never know love like I know it. I wish you knew how it felt to engulf a spirit, not a body. To jetè in the mouth of a soul not a gender. There is something so pure about giving your love to another without your woman or your black or your God all over it. Say it: QUEER Say it. Say until it feels like yellow. like the swing of purple locs on a Saturday night. like a drag queen’s strut and snap and split. Say it until it feels like your grandmother’s house: the only place without judgment in the baseboards. Say it: QUEER Say it again.
WORD RIOTS AND CANDY HORSES Weston Taylor There is a feeling of cheating some long established system attached to online dating, some haunted notion of fooling fate, manipulating destiny. You try not to think about it. You don’t tell your friends about it. You browse and you prowl for potential mates, all the while treating it like a troubled secret. You’re embarrassed by the process’s subtle artifice, by the fact that you can’t find love the old fashioned way, face-to-face. But then you think about how people before the existence of the internet had to meet in person. Maybe rumors romanced their ears beforehand, but they never saw each other, heard each other’s words, grasped the language of each other’s gestures, until they’d met in the flesh. Things are certainly different now. I keep reminding myself of that. If past generations would have had access to the countless conveniences of the internet, they would have used them too. Thinking of it that way makes it all feel a little less like cheating. It’s still some branch of fate. And nothing has seemed so like fate to me as my date with Fionna. Fionna, whose Facebook was nothing but normal—a profile picture of her cradling some cute kitten, a cover photo of her and a group of her girlfriends standing with their elbows out, their fists on their hips, making little triangles at either side, their smiles crafted and practiced carefully, so void of chance or beauty. There was nothing outstanding or unique in any of her Facebook photos, tweets, Vines or Instagrams. She was simply my most attractive OKCupid match at the time. I asked her on a date through a Facebook message. Now, it should be known that I was not some slimy freak or fat failure of a man. I was—still am—quite attractive. The only reason I started looking for love online was because of the disastrous end to a four year relationship with this girl, Hailey. Not even a month after the breakup she was with some wannabe actor who was still a senior at NYU. I felt terrible, and there were all these pretty pictures of them floating like jellyfish through my feed, stinging me, all their comments and likes—the whole phony business. I wanted a new girl of my own, and fast. That’s why I registered with eHarmony and OKCupid and a few other awkward dating sites. Anyway, Fionna said yes! 37
I said Great! Where would you like to go? Anywhere, she said. Cole’s Cabin and Pub? 47th and Broadway? Sure! When? I’m always free. Tomorrow at seven? See you there! So I stood waiting for her in the sunset soaked street, all those fiery glimmers burning and bouncing from the glass of scrapers to passing taxi windshields and eventually my eyes. I put my hand in salute to shade my view. All I knew about her from her pictures online was that she had night black hair and brown eyes, and that her skin was a kind of Spanishy color. A girl fitting such a description made a start for the pub’s entrance. “Fionna?” I asked her. “No?” she asked back. “You don’t know what your date looks like?” “Um, they call it a blind date,” I said, feeling foolish. I thought I was at least a little funny but the woman just grimaced and shrugged her way inside the pub door. “David?” some nearby voice called. There was an altogether different looking woman rushing out of a curbside cab, struggling to loop her purse over her shoulder. The driver was barking profanities at her. It seemed as though she hadn’t paid her fare. She began racing towards me. The driver locked his taxi, leapt ungracefully over the hood and began to chase after her. “David!?” this frantic woman asked again. “Fionna?” “Yes! Yes! Hurry! Come with me!” This woman, or, eh, Fionna, grabbed my hand and pulled me into an alleyway to the right of the pub. “Run as fast as you can!” she shouted. I let go of her hand and began to sprint like I hadn’t since my high school soccer days in Long Island. Both of us were dashing like that, side by side, the taxi driver’s violent hollers ricocheting off the alley walls, creeping closer but still noticeably behind us. We broke through to the street at the other side, joined a river of sidewalk strangers. We jumped into the first storefront we could find. Only once we were inside did we notice that it was a Cold Stone Creamery. The people in there looked at us a little confused because we were bent over, 38
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hands on our knees, swinging loose and panting. “Let’s look for him,” Fionna said when her breath had returned. She pressed her face to the glass—literally right up against it like a child, too close for social or sanitary comfort. Sure enough, the furious cab driver was out there standing on the tips of his toes, trying to spot his foes amidst the masses. “Stand back or he’ll see you,” Fionna said to me when I attempted to get a better view. But still she stood with her nose propped up against the window, the snowy ghosts of her breath inflating and deflating on the glass. We watched the driver for another two minutes or so until he finally gave up and sulked back to his cab through the alleyway. “Whew!” Fionna exhaled, stepping away from the window at last. “What was all of that about?” I asked her. “You’ll never believe it! That man wanted me to give him American money in exchange for a ride! A ride! American money! He was mad off his swivel chair!” “What?” was all I could say. “Now, I don’t know about you, but all that galloping back there left me famished. Absolutely famished! What do you say we get a mouthful somewhere?” “Well, sure,” I said. “Back at the bar, like we planned?” “Plans are for numb numbs.” We stepped out of the Cold Stone. “What are you in the mood for then?” I asked her out there in the human hustle. “I’m thinking candy horses. I’ve been craving them for eons.” “Candy horses?” She looked at me like I was insane. “Why, yes. What about them?” “I’ve never heard of such a thing. What are they?” “This place!” she suddenly shouted. It was a Tapas bar called Noche with teeny bistro tables outside. The steel chairs looked steaming hot in the stains of the summer sun. “Have you been here before?” Fionna asked me innocently. “I haven’t,” I said, though in truth I had, and thought it much too expensive for my flaky financial stance. “Well I say we give it a scoop!” she said. We were alone out there. A waitress in the window looked sad to 39
see us. We were probably the first customers of the night. “Alright.” I said. “Let’s take a seat.” “What?” “You don’t want to sit here? You wanna go inside?” “Sit here? What do you mean? Why sit instead of stand?” I really didn’t know what to say. So I laughed. “I really like your sense of humor, Fionna. You’re funny,” I said. “Maybe,” she replied. I pulled out her chair for her like some proper gent of days long gone. “I suppose I’ll sit if you insist.” So there she was. Not the Fionna I expected. No moonless, night black hair. No Spanish colored skin. But she was strictly beautiful, with blonde hair the goldish white of Grecian lightning, painted fingernails layered and patterned like flowers in the new heat of springtime, eyeshadow over irises the eerie green of north Californian forests. I’ll admit, she wasn’t the kind of girl I usually go for. I’d acquired a taste for the perfectly artificial girl—that sweet American blend of nature gone askew. Hailey had been like that. Fionna had appeared to be like that on OKCupid and Facebook. But this girl in front of me—she was too pretty, too real for me. And, beyond that, she was the oddest person I’d ever met. “Welcome to Noche! My name is Brittany...” “Oh! Hi there! Do you think we could start with a few candy horses. Actually, never mind my mood has changed now that I’m here. I’d think I’d rather have a few mountain crackers please. Just one bedspoon, if you will.” Brittany stood there just as bewildered as I was. She opened her mouth and visibly tried to say a few words. None of them emerged complete. I still had the notion at that point that all of Fionna’s obscurity was some sort of prank or practical joke, so I passed it off and took the liberty of ordering us something real. “Two Yuenglings, actually.” “Oh no, not Yuengliiiiiings,” Fionna whined. “You don’t like them?” I asked her. “No, I mean, they’re fine, it’s just—it’s such a long story really. Basically, when I was a kid, my mom always used Yuengling in the batter of our night cakes, and I could always, every single time, taste it. So, needless 40
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to say, I got so sick of it. I don’t dislike it necessarily. I’m just tired of it. I’m fine with it if you really wanna get em.” She concluded this little story with a monstrous belch. The length and bass of it startled Brittany and me. “We’ll have two Buds,” I told Brittany. “Never had those before,” Fionna added. Brittany handed us our menus and went into the restaurant, probably excited to tell her coworkers about the strange customers outside. “What shall we do with these?” Fionna said, staring at her menu. “I’m thinking we get—” “I don’t see a single thing on here that makes any sense to me,” she interrupted. “What kind of place is this? What kind of food?” “Uh, I think it’s, I don’t know. American food I guess.” “Let’s not eat. I’m not hungry anymore. Let’s just have those Buddys, or whatever you called them.” “Wait, you’re not hungry?” “Not in the slightest. At least, not if there aren’t any candy horses or mountain crackers. Sorry. It must be annoying—me changing my mind so quickly and whatnot.” “It’s fine. Where are you from, Fionna?” I asked her after a little silence. At this point I was so confused that I stopped treating it all as a date, stopped worrying about my appearance or the things I said. My questions came out of genuine curiosity. “Well, if you saw my Facebook, it would say that I was from here.” “Yeah, I did see that. Not to be a creeper or anything. It’s always strange to meet people who actually grew up here. Everyone seems to be shuttled in from elsewhere.” “No. I’m not from here. It’s a lie, what my Facebook says. I only wrote that to seem sophisticated to strangers. I’m really from Mosquito, Arizona. This is my first time in the First City.” “Mosquito? I’ve never heard of it before. Is it a small town?” “Not so much,” she said with a look of skepticism. “And this is your very first time being in Manhattan?” “Yes,” she said plainly. “Guess they don’t have cabs down in Mosquito, Arizona huh?” “They do have cabs. They aren’t yellow though. And they don’t ask for American money. They simply give rides out of the kindness of their hearts.” 41
Brittany appeared with our Budweisers. “Thanks, we’ll actually take a check—this is all we’re having.” She took our menus and backed off into the restaurant, annoyed. Fionna took a swig of her beer and swished it around her mouth like Listerine. “Not so bad,” she said after swallowing. “It’s rather odd that I’ve never had this before. Is it one of those underground, indie hipster types of brew?” “I don’t think so,” I said. “Fionna, tell me more about yourself.” “Okay. Well, I mean, really—hmmm. I don’t know what to say. I’m at a weird intersection in my life right now.” “How so?” She tossed her eyes back into her head and gathered her thoughts. “First of all, I’m not completely sure how I got here.” “To New York?” “Yes, to the First City. I mean, I’ve always dreamt of living here, ever since I was a girl. It has such romantic flair, doesn’t it?” “Surely, it does.” I couldn’t recall ever hearing New York called that before. “But I didn’t expect to be here right now, and I’m trying to piece it together.” “Did you fly in?” “No. Um—David—have you ever been in a word riot?” “Can’t say I have.” “Oh. Well, that’s the last thing I remember. I was in a word riot with my little sister Susanne, and we were doing oh so well when that old rotten Henry Benson showed up with his mighty vocabulary and I, I ran off to the desert to cry, and—that’s the last thing I remember. Next thing I knew, I was here.” “Oh.” “Honestly I think it has something to do with all the science headlines last week.” “Science headlines?” “Come on, David. As if you didn’t seem them.” “Perhaps I did. About the fracking in North Dakota?” “Fracking!? What are you talking about? Do you live under a rock?” I smiled nervously. 42
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“I’m talking about the whole multiverse jabber jigger thingy they discovered, all the little universes like marbles on a hardwood floor.” “I didn’t hear about that, I don’t think.” “I can’t see how. But, anyways, I know that they were doing something about it out there in the desert near Mosquito, and I can’t help thinking it’s part of how I ended up here in the First City. Maybe it’s fate. Maybe not. But it’s certainly nice to see you here.” Brittany brought out our tab. I retrieved a few crumpled dollars from my wallet. “Oh no, let me!” Fionna exclaimed. She pulled out some coins from her purse and placed them on the table. They were huge coins, double the size of quarters, branded by the face of some elegant elderly woman. I’d never seen them anywhere before. “What are those?” I asked. “Don’t be silly,” was all Fionna said. She stood up, chugged the rest of her beer, and made her way towards the street. I placed my American money over her foreign coins when she wasn’t looking and joined her side. The sun was low, probably dipping into the ocean. “Well, what should we do?” said Fionna. “You’ve never been here before, you get to choose. I’ll be happy to escort you anywhere you like.” “I say we go to Middle Park.” “You mean Central Park?” “Sure. The big park in the middle of the city. I’d love to see it.” “You got it.” And off we went. It was about a thirty minute walk, and Fionna was silent the whole way through. I watched her gaze at everyone and everything, her eyes pawing the city with such youthful curiosity. I was absolutely taken by her—not romantically, but just taken. Being with her was like visiting a foreign country. The same old world ceased to be the same, seemed instead endlessly new, infinitely virgin, like there would always remain some piece of it left to conquer. I remembered just how many people there were and just how different they could be. The towers were blinking in the night by the time we made it to the park. “This is it, Central Park. It’s a wonderful place.” “So pretty,” Fionna remarked. 43
She stepped from the concrete to the grass and smiled. But that smile quickly vanished. “Something’s not right,” she said. And she took off running through the park. I followed. She stopped suddenly in the middle of a field and collapsed. I rushed to her body. “Fionna?” I asked her there. She sat up. She sighed. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?” “I don’t get it.” “Get what?” “All my life I’ve dreamt of coming to the First City and coming to Middle Park at night to see the umbrella parade. And here we are. But there are no umbrellas.” “It’s not raining.” “Why do you act like you don’t know what I’m talking about? You make me feel stupid. I’m talking about the umbrella parades in Middle Park. Every night. There’s no way you wouldn’t know, living here like you say you do.” “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to make you feel stupid at all. Of course I know the parade. I was just trying to be funny,” I lied. I still didn’t have the faintest clue as to what she was talking about. “So where are they?” she asked. “The umbrellas?” “Yes!” “I don’t know. I guess maybe this is one of the parade’s um, nights off.” “Nights off! How could that be? The parade is famous for never taking a night off in upwards of a century! Not even on September 23rd! Are you telling me that I’ve come to the First City on the only night in one hundred years that there is no umbrella parade in Middle Park!?” “Yes, Fionna. I am.” She didn’t really say anything after that. She looked down—the darkness kept me from telling if there were tears in her eyes—at the grass, played with it, looped it around her fingers and ripped it from the earth like a little girl might. She gradually stood up, wiped the grass off the back of her dress and began walking towards the glittery city. 44
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“Well, what’s next?” I asked her once we’d made it to the street. “I think I’ll try to find my way home,” she said. “Oh. Okay.” I was disappointed to hear it. “I had a lovely time with you though, David.” “I did too.” Fionna leaned in to kiss me on the cheek. I don’t know what I felt for her. I just know I felt it and that it was different. I couldn’t let her go without at least trying for her again. “Can I have your number?” I called after she’d stepped a few feet away from me. She turned back and smiled. “Why of course. Four!” And off she went forever. I came into my apartment and sat on my bed. I didn’t bother to turn on any lights. My head was rolling mad with Fionna—her bizarre beauty—and all the elses she spoke. I tried to distract myself by taking out my phone. There was a new Facebook message. It was from Fionna. I opened it up in hurried excitement. First of all, David, FUCK YOU. How dare you stand me up on a first date. FUCK YOUUUUUUUU!!!!! And fuck all the men like you! You think because you found me online that I have no feelings? You think I’m not real? Well listen up, FUCK YOU A MILLION TIMES, YOU FUCKING DICK WAD. I stood there at Cole’s for two hours, just waiting on the chance that you might actually have the nerve to show. I’m sick of this shit. Good luck with love, you fucking prick. Fionna Looking at her pictures again on Facebook confirmed my suspicion. The Fionna of my night had been an altogether different person from the one I was supposed to meet. Sorry, I messaged back. There was a misunderstanding. I stepped over to my window, looked out at the yellow city in the night. I began to wonder.
NO ONE WILL WANT MY ORGANS WHEN I DIE August Blair Pfizenmayer
I try not to think about splitting my head open and letting All the pressure out. When my parents ask my doctor If they need to hide all the sharp objects in the house, she says No, that if I really want to hurt myself, I will find a way. Dr. Deidre, each maggot that takes refuge in my brain, I devote to you. This glass that I am stuck behind— I lean against it now; we are friends. “You have to eat,” my parents say. They pull my eyelids back, Tap their feet, and pray. I cannot remember when Bathing and eating and speaking were ever as exhausting As they are now. There is a wart steadily growing on my pinky. It is the only progress I am making. I scratch And re-scratch the fat scab on my back off, Hoping for Staph infection. My eyes bruise when light falls through the window shades. The sun cannot save me anymore.
COMMUNICATION Ally Boyd Today, my best friend became a frog. It was a bit disconcerting to both of us as she is now small enough to fit into my purse. She assures me that, although the transition left her shaky, there was no great harm. She still has a great sense of humor â€“ sheâ€™s always liked the color green. Her memories are becoming a little hazy now. As she becomes more amphibious, her concerns for her past seem to hold less importance for her. Although she is vaguely aware that she is mother to a grown child, she is now more interested in finding a safe muddy spot to drop her little eggs, soon to be tadpoles. We talk, but the conversation leaves us both confused. She cannot tell me exactly what it is like being a frog, and I cannot communicate the essence of being human to her. Some things never change; we still cannot know each other completely. She might as well be a bat!
THOUGHTS OF THE DEPRAVED J. S. Epps Phantasmagoric shadows play across my brow, streams of yellows and reds, roiling in a kaleidoscopic effect, my stomach heaving as I relinquish my energy, making that empty feeling inside deeper, a well in which I can’t climb, a pit in which is a fiery torment, in which is fomented ideas of hate – toward myself, toward others, toward society, for this beast that Nature hath wrought, for making me an image in which I do not agree, for she turning her back on I – or is it her turning her back on me? I no longer can tell, driven so insane by these wishes and desires, wishing so much for happenstance to throw a shard of luck thisaway – or maybe my way; as my depravity deepens the colours change, the yellow a burning acidic sun as bright as a thousand stars and the red so sullen – so wishing just for a sliver of something, a sliver of anything, just to cut and rip and tear through the cloth of reality to another time and dimension, when she had not been such a damsel, such a witch of rejection, and behind my eyelids burns the liquid molten metal of emotion, telling me just to rest and lie – and so I close my eyes.
Aeriel, Madison South chalk pastel on canvas
Stained Fragments of Desire, Nadia Deljou black and white digital photography
Eclipsed Egos, Nadia Deljou mixed media, encaustics
Their Eyes Were Watching, Madison South black and white film photography
Tourist Attraction, CHR!S REEL digital photography
Song of Myself at Dawn, Teal Waxelbaum silver gelatin print, embroidery thread
Josh is Cool, Joshua Quillian water color and ink on parchment paper
Ghost in the Film, Madison South back and white film photography
Jamaican Cotton Candy, Joshua Quillian water color and ink on parchment paper
Self Portrait, Maggie Callahan black and white 120 film photography
Fish Sauce, Joshua Quillian pastel on newsprint
The Hammer, Madison South digital photography
Burning Bridges, CHR!S REEL silver gelatin print
Emily Haines, Nadia Deljou Pop art gridded portrait, acrylic on canvas
Reflection Eternal, CHR!S REEL silver gelatin print
Amish Life, Maggie Callahan digital photography
EUTHANASIA Cory Zijian She “Good morning, Ms. Grady.” Young woman with long blonde hair, looks up from painting. “Oh, good morning, Doctor. Come in, come in. Pardon the mess; I haven’t had time to tidy up.” Surreptitious glance. Stark bare room, save for blindingly white walls and paint easel in middle. “It’s fine.” Slight adjustment of his glasses. “I was just dropping by.” “Of course, of course. I’d offer you a seat but,” a shrug of delicate shoulders followed by almost sheepish smile. “I said it’s fine,” brusque cut off. “You’ve been painting again?” “Oh yes, yes, I have.” Wipes hands on her hospital gown. “I’ve been working on this piece for quite some time. Which reminds me, since you’re here, could I trouble you for another can of acrylic alabaster?” The doctor raises an eyebrow. “Another? That’s your fourth can this week.” A Mona Lisa smile appears. “What can I say, Doctor? I enjoy the color; something about it puts me at ease.” Meanders back to easel and picks up paint brush. “Do you have a color that soothes you, Doctor?” Brisk shake of head. “No.” She continues, despite the cold answer. “That is a shame. For me, the color is very relaxing. Of course, symbolically, white is a positive color in western cultures. Here it symbolizes innocence, purity. It’s a blank slate, unblemished and untouched by the world. Very uplifting.” A dab here, a stroke there, the artist continues her work. “However, that’s only our view. Different cultures have different meanings. For example, do you know what the color symbolizes in Asian culture, Doctor?” Minimal shrug of his shoulder. “Can’t say.” That smile again. “Death, doctor. Over there, the color is death. Actually no,” brush stops, a finger taps a delicate chin thoughtfully. “That’s not entirely accurate. It should actually mean the end.” His curiosity is piqued, despite his attempt at indifference. “An end to what?” She shrugs. “Oh you know, an end to the story, an end to a union.” 65
Dab, stroke. “An end to happiness, an end to life.” Sharp grey eyes, almost white, turn to regard him. “An end to suffering.” *** “Charity and Grace? Oh of course, the Grady twins! Those delightful students! Did you know that on the first day of school, their mother had them dressed up in matching outfits? Blue dresses with little bows on their heads, oh, absolutely adorable! I think their mother must’ve been a little old fashioned; nowadays it’s hard enough for sisters, let alone twins, to be found in the same room together, and heaven forbid, the same dress! But Grace and Charity, oh, those two were as close as peas in a pod, delightful! I have a picture if you’d like to see…” “How were they in school? Oh, absolute dolls! Charity was the older, more outgoing of the two, while Grace was always a little behind her. You’d think that Grace would be an easy target for a bully, but that never happened. Charity always looked after her. Between the two of them they practically made friends with everyone in the class on the first day. I do believe most of my boys were smitten with the two by the time school was over. I think you would’ve been too! Those two just had a way of charming themselves into your heart.” “I can’t quite recall… Oh, yes! Charity loved reading; always the first to volunteer to read a passage out loud. And Grace was particularly good with a brush. She was only a child at the time, but she had such talent! Both of them in fact. Almost makes you forget what happened afterwards. Ah such a heartbreaking shame. The two were never quite the same after the accident. But oh, poor, poor Charity. She still had so much life to live. If only she were still here with us. I guess it just goes to show that bad things can happen even to the most loving families.” *** It’s been another long day, so when the father comes back from work he’s slightly annoyed to find that his lover has gone out. He decides that the leftovers in the fridge aren’t worth it and instead settles on popping open a beer. A decision he later regrets after his fourth one, because instead of a nice buzz, all he has is a slight throbbing behind his eyes and a pit of anxiety in his 66
stomach. Thankfully, his lover returns before long. As he gets up to greet her, he quashes the worry in his stomach and bites back the accusing question on his tongue. Instead he embraces her, listens to her excuse, and tries to ignore the distinct smell of cologne drifting off her neck. *** “I was never very good at mathematics, Doctor. Neither was my sister, but, oh you probably already knew that. Or maybe not. Either way, it’s a rather moot point now.” She’s painting again, and the doctor observes her with an indifferent manner. A graceful stroke of the brush, a pondering pause. She tucks an errant strand of blonde behind her ear. “My classmates were always surprised when they came to me to ask about a question regarding numbers, only to find out that I had no clue how to help. They assumed that since my sister and I were so good in all other subjects that naturally we’d be just as good in mathematics. It wasn’t hard, per se, but the concepts just eluded me, particularly percentages. Our teacher used to joke that we could be anything when we grew up, just not accountants.” Pause, then a shift. “Speaking of percentages, do you know what I found silly? This idea of 100%. It’s such an outlandish concept. How can anything be a 100%? Of course, it’s simple if we accept it for what it is. 100% is perfection; no flaws or mistakes. It is such a cold absolute. “And yet, it seems so ridiculous to me. Nothing in life is absolute or perfect. Because if you look carefully enough, you can see all the little cracks that make up that lie.” *** “I don’t exactly enjoy talking about my time as Grace’s art tutor mainly because it was an absolutely horrible experience. If you must know, I started just after the accident, so Grace was still able to walk around unassisted. Half a year later, and she was using a cane. Another half year, and she was stuck in a wheelchair. It was so… disconcerting, how rapidly she fell apart. 67
“I started to hate going because their mother never told me if Grace had gotten worse. Her thinking must’ve been, ‘There’s only an elephant in the room if you make it out to be one.’ Personally, I think their mother was just trying to ignore that this crippled… thing was her daughter now. “Their father? Never saw him once. Heard from their neighbor that he left a little after the twins were born. Guess he couldn’t handle fatherhood. Last I heard from the neighbor was that he started anew with his lover somewhere. Their mother never talked about it, and I never bothered asking. “Grace looked like her sister, Charity, obviously, but she just looked… wrong. Like this imperfect mirror image, that at first glance, nothing seems wrong. But then you the notice those small differences like the paler skin, or the sunken eyes. “Her mother warned me that ever since the accident, Grace suffered from violent mood swings due to brain damage. A more correct term would be mood seizures. You didn’t see it, but when those seizures came, she turned absolutely rabid, screaming and frothing and gnawing on everything in sight. Then they’d go away and she’d be this polite young girl again. That scared me more than her acting crazy. It just wasn’t normal. She wasn’t normal. Not anymore. “Do you know why I quit? We had been painting something from a book, and Grace was getting frustrated. She kept saying that, ‘These clouds were the wrong shade.’ I was getting annoyed, because the clouds looked perfectly fine to me, so I left to go to the bathroom so that she could calm down a bit. When I came back, she had her back turned to me but as soon as I closed the door she turned around. And then I saw her hands. Somehow she had gotten her hands on my box cutter that I kept in my purse and she was… “You know how to peel an apple, right? That’s what she was doing to her fingers, fingernails. I couldn’t tell, the blood was covering it all up. Peeling them like an apple. “And then she looked at me and smiled and said, ‘This the right shade.’” ***
They’ve argued before but this one is definitely the biggest. Harsh words and slurs they will later regret are shot like bullets. But now is not the time for regrets. Now is the time to cause the most hurt and spite. The father can’t even remember what they were arguing about. He can’t even remember what he said. All he can remember is his lover’s angry, tear-stricken face yelling at him. Then a slam of the door as she leaves. Alone again, with only his regrets to keep him company. *** “Doctor, come quick!” She grabs his arm in a surprising display of familiarity. Inwardly, the doctor shudders at the contact. She drags him over to the paint easel. “I finally finished my picture. It just needs a few touch-ups, but the majority of it is done!” The doctor is staring at a white canvas with a single black dot in the middle. “Maybe you could add a smidge of context too,” remarks the doctor. Her smile remains in place despite the sarcasm. “Oh, Doctor, I thought that was obvious. This is me.” A finger hovers above the black dot. “Then why are you alone?” asks the doctor. “I’m not alone.” Her finger taps the edges and suddenly the doctor sees the real painting. If he looks closely enough, he can see that the picture is littered with hundreds of black dots in varying sizes. They’ve just been painted over with the alabaster paint. “Everyone else is just hiding.” “From what?” And the smile never changes. “From who they really are.” *** “I ain’t got shit to tell ya. You think answers just gone magically appear just because she’s my granddaughter? Well, fuck you and the high horse you rode in on. “Grace Grady died in that car crash. That thing that came out of it was not my granddaughter. Oh, she looked fine, sure. But at home, it was a screaming madhouse. Like a goddamn fun house of mirrors. You go in and 69
each time it’s different. And not a funny haha, different. “I bloody hated that thing that was my granddaughter. I’d come in and there’d she be, just slouching down in her wheel chair, bloodshot eyes and drooling on herself like a fucking retard. Or another time, she’d be screaming and wailing all over the place, cutting her fingers to bloody meat pieces. My daughter didn’t say it, but I knew. We weren’t looking after a person anymore. We were looking after a burden, one that cut shit up and made a bloody mess. “You wanna know what was the tipping point for all of us? The day Charity got her that stupid rabbit. Cute little Benjamin Bunny, fur like snow. As soon as she sets it down, Grace starts wailing like it’s a ghost or some shit. So I force down a few sleeping pills down her throat to get her to calm down and leave. Big bloody mistake, leaving, because I’m gone just for a little while. That is until I hear my daughter shriek. I book it back into Grace’s room and when I get there… “First thing that hits me is this crunching sound, like when you chew cartilage on a bone. Then I get to see what Grace’s done and I… Let’s just say that the Benjamin Bunny was going to be hard of hearing for a while. “That was the last straw. We shipped her off to the loony bin after that. My daughter made a big show with the waterworks and all, but I knew on the inside that she was relieved. Me, I didn’t want anything do with that disgusting disgrace. But damn, if I don’t regret it now; maybe if I had gone, Charity would still be… “Charity, God rest her soul, was the only one who visited her. Charity was the only one to never lose her temper with her. Maybe if I’d gone just once, I could’ve stopped… Before it was too late… Ah hell. “You wanna know something? You can ask all the questions you want, but you won’t get answers or closure. You can’t understand because you weren’t fucking there. Hell, you were never there.” *** The father thought about buying a gun, but he deemed that method too impersonal. So instead, he settles on an old fashioned rope and noose. The fibers feel so rough and coarse beneath his fingertips. In the end, he has nothing to speak of but his failures and regrets. But tonight, that’ll all change. Tonight, he’s going to correct his failures. Tonight it ends with him. 70
*** She continues on with her painting, even when the doctor comes in without knocking. “Hello, Doctor. How are you today?” He cuts in without preamble. “Stop calling me that. You know I’m not a doctor.” Eyes never leave the canvas. “Well, you’ll have to forgive me because that was the impression I was under. After all, who else but a doctor checks in randomly just to ask nosy questions?” “I ask questions because I’m your goddamn father, Charity!” And now she finally looks at him in the eye and smiles at him. “Ah, so the prodigal son returns,” she remarks with a rare sardonic tone. “Or should I say father?” His response is to take out the rope and noose from and lay it on the floor. She guesses his intent at once. “Really, Father, a hangman? We aren’t exactly living in the 17th century anymore. I believe a few ground up pills slipped into my dinner would be less messy.” He ignores her and instead just asks his question. “Why?” “Why what, Father? Why is the sky blue, the earth round, the world unfair?” “Why did you kill Grace?” Silence greets him and because of that the father is pressed into talking. “Taking care of Grace was a burden wasn’t it? You couldn’t handle dealing with her or her madness. Grace drove you over the edge, didn’t she?” He flinches when the paint pallet narrowly misses his head. “Talked to the Mrs. Henson, didn’t you? Or was it Granpapa?” Her eyes flash viciously, a total contrast to her usual demeanor. “All of you think the same. You all think that Grace drove me mad, but I’m not. Why can’t you just understand that it was all my fault?!” “Charity, I just need to know.” A scoff. “You wouldn’t know. How could you? You were never there after all. You weren’t there after the accident. You weren’t there when Granpapa became an alcoholic. You weren’t there when Mother killed 71
herself.” “Then help me understand. Just, why? Didn’t… didn’t you love her?” Now a sigh. “Father, I loved Grace. I loved her to tiny little bits. I loved her even when she changed. But…Grace was so different after the accident. It scared me and I hated that a piece of me was scared. That’s why I couldn’t accept that little part of me that resented her for getting hurt like this, for becoming this… this… drooling moron. I hated that ugly part in me that couldn’t accept her.” Silence. All he can hear is his own pounding heart. She’s staring at her painting, and when she speaks her voice is distant. “My own little black spot. My sister, my twin. I loved her. But that black spot wouldn’t go away. It stayed there, never growing, but always there as a reminder. Like looking in a mirror. I hated seeing that. I hated it. I wanted… I needed to get rid of it. Such an ugly blemish.” She’s rambling, and he seizes on the chance. “Then why did you…?” “Suffocate her with a pillow?” A light chuckle escapes her lips. “Can’t you see, Father? It’s the same reason why you left. Same reason mother left. We all couldn’t stand that little black spot.” Clarity rushes over him in cold waves as he falls to his knees. “100%,” he mutters. The fury in her is gone. Now, she is the picture of serenity. “Exactly.” That serenity infuriates him. He realizes that foundations are crumbling but he rallies himself for one last desperate attack. “How can you be so- so…! You’ll never be free from it! Not after what you’ve done!” An almost nonchalant shrug of her shoulders. “Maybe but,” she gestures around the room. “In truth…I’ve never felt more liberated than I have now.” The whiteness of the walls pounds down around them.
REMEMBRANCE DAY Matthew Sherman Williams “As I lay on the grassy hill speckled with red poppies, the sky filled with lions, bears, and elephants, far away from war.”
DISHWASHER Tom Maples I always thought of myself as a little different. Although, growing up I always wanted to fit in and be liked by everyone. All my buddies liked to hunt, fish and work on car engines. And of course that was always what they talked about. How many birds they got at the bird shoot on Saturday. Or how many fish they caught on the Flint River. Cars! Always talking about cars, engines, transmissions, gear ratios, and car racing. Oh yes, girls. Finally, something I was interested in and could relate. In the 1960s I lived in a small rural town in South Georgia. Some would say we lived in Middle Georgia, but that seemed like splitting hairs to me. Georgia has a gnat line that runs from Columbus to Macon and over to Augusta. Above that line, no gnats. Below that line, gnats cover your face in the hot July and August heat so bad you can’t swat them away fast enough. The hotter and dryer, the more gnats; they liked to swarm around your face. And our family had no air conditioning in our house. Fans, lots of fans. Window fans, floor fans and fans on those long adjustable poles. There was a window fan in every room and floor fans in the living room. The adjustable fans were moved around by whoever got to them first and you would sit right in front with the blower on the highest setting. Even with all that air circulating, it was still hot in our house. Most of my buddies lived in homes that had air conditioning. Most of the guys lived on farms and worked the farm with their fathers. They learned to drive a tractor very early in their teen years. And they learned a lot about engines from working on farm equipment. Most of my buddies had cars. Either their parents’ old car or a used car their parents would buy for them. A very few had new cars their rich parents bought for them. Every guy in my high school class, except my best friend Randy and me, took shop as one of their subjects. The shop teacher was very lax and let most of the guys work on their cars during his class time. I did not have a car. It’s hard to work on a car you don’t own. I did own a shotgun that my grandfather gave me. I would go dove hunting with my buddies but I really did not enjoy it. And fishing was just too slow and boring. I would go fishing mainly to be part of the group and drink beer. The legal drinking age was 21 but we always found a way to get 74
some beer. Some of the guys had older brothers that would buy us a sixpack or two. Sometimes we would buy beer from an old man that owned a small country store. He knew we were not old enough but he played the game. “You boys are old enough to buy liquor aren’t you?” “Sure, Mr. Adams.” “Ok you boys be careful and let’s don’t let anyone know about this.” For his service he would add an extra dollar per six-pack. So we would go down to the Flint River, find a secluded cove and fish and drink beer and smoke cigarettes or cheap, smelly cigars. Most of my buddies smoked. Not me; never got the hang of inhaling. Most of them smoked menthol cigarettes or Swisher Sweets cigars. Instead of shop, I was a member of my high school debate team, one-act play ensemble and the men’s quartet. I was also on the high school annual staff. And I loved to read. Instead of reading magazines about cars, guns or fishing, I read books. I’m sure I was the only person in my entire high school that was a member of the “Book of the Month Club.” They would send me a book free every month. If I wanted to keep it, I paid the enclosed invoice. If I did not want to read it, I could send it back free in their prepaid return box. I don’t remember sending many back. My first book was In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. A true story about two men that murdered a Kansas family in their home late one night. To this day, it is still one of the best books written. A few years after reading the book, a movie version was released by the same name. It was shot in black and white for dramatic effect and to make the point of good vs. evil in the story. And just a few years ago, there were two movies about Capote’s obsession with writing this story. Interesting when the storyteller becomes the subject of the story. I also liked movies. I would go to a movie almost every week. We would discuss the movie we had seen over the weekend in our English class on Mondays. Our English teacher had usually seen the same movie, and she would talk with us about it. She helped me to see and appreciate movies as an art form. She was also our one-act play and debate coach. She expected a lot from us. She made learning fun. She was an incredible teacher and to this day the best teacher I ever had. She was not lax like the shop teacher. My high school grades were not good enough grades to get into a 75
major university, so I attended a small Junior College. And I did not make good enough grades to stay in college. After only a year, I flunked out. I was at a crossroads in my life. I could stay in the small South Georgia town or make a major change in my life. On a fall-like September morning, I loaded my car with all the clothes I owned in the back seat. I had exactly $5.00 in my pocket and had spent $3.00 on gas and drove to Atlanta. I did not know what I would do or where I would stay. With $2.00 left in my wallet I drove into downtown Atlanta and stopped at a diner. I bought a coke and a newspaper. That left $1.75. I pulled out the want ads and began looking for some type of job I thought would hire me that day. There were pages of help wanted for restaurant help. I drove to a couple of them, filled out an application and was told, “We will call you.” I did not have a local number, so I knew those were a dead end. The third place said they would hire me. Their dishwasher had not shown up for work that morning; would I start the next day? I asked the manager if I could start right now. He looked a bit surprised but quickly said yes. So began my career as a dishwasher in one the nicest restaurants in Atlanta. I worked most of that day and was relieved by the night dishwasher. Remember, I only had $1.75 and needed more money. I asked the manager if he would pay me on a daily basis. He said he would not but if I showed up tomorrow, he would advance me part of a week’s salary. At $1.20 per hour, my weekly salary working six days before taxes would be $72. He said he would give me $20 in cash as long as I showed up tomorrow. I learned later that dishwashers did not last long in this business. A day or two for most and maybe a week for a very few. So I now had a job but nowhere to sleep and no money. The manager had told me that I could stay at the YMCA for $25/week. I drove to the Y and spoke with the night manager at the check-in desk. He listened and was sympathetic but said I had to pay either daily or weekly in advance. As almost an afterthought as I was walking out, he said I could take a shower for $.50. That would include a hot shower, soap, shaving cream, razor and towel. So my first night in Atlanta I slept in the back seat of my car parked directly in front of the YMCA. The manager said he would wake me at 4:00am so I could take a shower and get to work by 5:00am. The cook was also my boss and was a mean bastard. He would cuss at everyone in the kitchen. He had been in the Navy and been assigned as cook on a ship and learned the trade and made it his career. He was a 76
good cook but a horrible boss. He treated all of us like we were in the Navy, and he was in charge. This attitude led to many verbal confrontations and sometimes objects thrown in the kitchen. His name was Max, and he kept an unlit cigar in his mouth all day. He really enjoyed harassing everyone in the kitchen, and I think it was his management style of keeping all of us in line. The dishwashing machine and sink were in the very back of the kitchen and slightly out of direct view of the kitchen area where Max worked most of the time. As long as he did not see you, you were usually spared his wrath. On my first afternoon, he did not say a word to me. When I arrived that second day at 5:00am, he opened the kitchen and said, “Surprised to see you came back, kid. Figured you were too soft for this kind of work.” I was not expecting that, so I smiled and said, “Well, I’m here and ready to work.” Max turned toward the dishwashing area and said, “The night bastards left you a stack to wash, git to it.” “Yes sir,” I said. About an hour later, he hollered for me to come and see him. He had cooked me a plate of scrambled eggs and a fried pork chop. I sat down and began to eat like it was my last meal. Max asked me questions about who I was, where I came from, what kind of work I had done back in my small town. Max was not friendly but matter-of-fact in his quizzing me. I knew he was sizing me up, and I answered him directly, not adding any more information than he was asking. In a few minutes, he picked up the plate, handed it to me, and in his matter-of-fact tone said to “Git back to washing.” He never spoke to me in the way he talked to everyone else, never cussed me and never raised his voice to me. I did not talk to anyone else on the kitchen staff. Most of the employees knew each other and would talk among themselves until Max shouted for them to “shut up and git to work, you lazy bastards.” Bastard was his favorite cuss word. The manager came to the kitchen around 10:00am and said he was glad to see I had come back. He gave me a check for $20. I asked if he could give me cash and he said no, as they had to have a record of paying me. He told me to go to the bank and cash it if I needed cash. So after I left the restaurant I drove to the bank and cashed it. I still did not have enough to rent a room at the Y. The weekly rate was $25 in 77
advance or $5 a day. The weekly rate included 7 days so you got a break over paying daily. This was Tuesday and I did have enough of weekly and would run out of a daily room by Friday. So I slept in my car for the rest of the week and paid for a shower each morning. After standing on my feet most of the day, I want to sit and relax. I could eat all I wanted while I was at the restaurant but Max had a rule about taking food from the restaurant. So during that first week, I ate most of my dinner meals at the Krystal around the corner from the Y to save my cash. Every so often, I eat a couple of Krystals to remind me of that time. I remember them tasting different and somehow better. I know for sure the Cokes are different. I got my first paycheck on that following Monday, less the $20 dollar advance. I paid for my weekly room at the Y and moved into a room on the seventh floor with a window that had a northern view. I could barely see Kennesaw Mountain and a lot of Atlanta’s tall buildings. After I paid my room rent, I bought a bar of Dial soap. My morning showers included a small hotel size bar of soap. You got a new one every morning with your towel. I hated the small bars, as they would wash away to nothing before you could finish your shower. I wanted a full size bar of soap. The next morning I’m in shower heaven with my full bar of Dial soap. None of the rooms had a private bath so each floor had its own shower room. I had just finished with my shower when another guy walks in and seeing the Dial soap picked it and begin to shower with it. The shock and anger on my face told him it was not a community bar of soap. He smiled a bit of a mischievous grin and said, “Is this your soap?” “Yes,” I stated emphatically. “Oh, I didn’t know,” he said as he put it back on the soap dish. I walked out and without looking back at him said, ‘You can keep it.” I bought another bar of Dial soap that afternoon after work. Believe me, it’s the small things when you are trying to make it own your own. The YMCA has long been torn down and a new one built on another site. I stayed at the Y for three months and finally had enough money to rent an apartment with another guy to split the rent. I worked at that restaurant for six months and found a better paying job. I told Max I had another job and I would work out my two weeks’ notice. He never looked up at me and said, “Never mind, leave now, we’ll get another dishwasher.” I started to tell Max I would stay, but he walked 78
away before I could say anything. I walked out and went to my new job. I never saw Max again. Years later I read Maxâ€™s obituary in the paper. It stated he worked as a chef at one of Atlantaâ€™s finest restaurants for over 30 years before it closed. It stated Max had served in the Navy. It listed his survivors and his church and civic affiliations. The last sentence said Max was never without an unlit cigar.
ALABAMER Sydney Smith Deep in the woods of Alabamer Earl governed corn-fed glamour, A bald eagle on a rocking throne, A man made of blubber, not one single bone, With cracked lips covering cheddar cheese teeth That offset his three charming chins beneath, And I thought, now why is that man wet? Merely a week’s worth of saved up sweat. On his porch he rocked all day, He’d tell you it’s the Old South way. I asked him once of his collection, He spoke of his guns with such affection, With pride his chest and nostrils flared, “A real southern man is always prepared.” He gripped the gun like it was gold And shivered like his sweat was cold. I asked him why he always sat With a shotgun in his lap. Summoning, “Come’eer,” he sized me up, Spit dirt dip in a measuring cup, Said, “Fixin’ to cure me some fatback, son,” So I asked how one cured while holding a gun, And as the sight rose to his eye I retreated pending his reply: “Now, feller, did I stammer?” A real southern gent from Alabamer.
TRUE TO YOUR ROOTS Jessica Drummond I looked into my mirror and saw the ghastly realization of a bad hair day. It stood up every which way in thick, curly black clumps. Ever since we moved here this Florida heat has been unbearable, including moments of intense sweating. In the ten minutes it took me to walk from my home to the bus stop, my hair became frizzy, so thick I couldn’t even pull my comb through it. I wanted to run back home and grab my flatiron to fix the bird’s nest on top of my head but I caught a glimpse of that rolling, yellow purgatory. As it approached me I started to sweat. My brother John had already made friends with the boys down the street. They drove him to school. Here I am forced to sit on the bus with those prissy white girls tossing their naturally straight, flaxen hair in my face. As I walked down the aisle of the bus and the girls turned to each other and I could hear them whispering, insults peppered with giggles at my expense. “Hey, Marie!” I turned around to see Jenny Peterson, my own personal bully. Last week, I accidently bumped into her, and she spilled her latté on her uniform. She pointed her finger at me, “Your nigga-naps insult my eyes.” She threw her head back and cackled with her blonde hair gleaming in the Florida sun. The bus erupted with laughter from my peers. I thought we were past this middle school bullshit. I found an empty seat near the back and pulled out my journal. I imagine that I had said some clever anecdote to put Jenny in her place. Over the years, relaxers have given me the ability to blend in unnoticed, but those years have ruined my hair. It’s become flat, lack-luster. It used to smell like coconuts. Now it emits a permanent chemical odor. I had always received praise for my hair, but now it just sticks outward, avoiding my face. After school I ran home to lock myself in my room and write sad poetry all night, but waiting for me on the bed were some magazines courtesy of mother. I laid on the bed and leafed through the pages of a Cosmo. Suddenly I stumbled upon an ad for a hair care product called “Roots.” There were several pictures of a light-skinned woman with long, spiraling dreadlocks that reached her thighs. They hung around her shoulders and fanned out when she jumped. She was captivatingly 81
beautiful. I think it was her smile; she looked free. “Marie Elise! Gurl, whatcha doin’? Come downstairs.” Mother always summoned me at the most inopportune moments. It was almost dinner time and the smell of plantains and curry goat filled the house. As I walked downstairs into the kitchen, I could hear the sizzle in the pans on the stove. Near the counter, next to the stove, mother was diligently chopping onions. In the sink, two pieces of raw snapper with their heads still attached rested in a bowl of ice water; their blank, black eyes looked up at me. When mother noticed my presence she addressed me: “Wha ‘appen, miss ting? Ya kyan cook wid yuh mudda? Somtin wrong wid yuh?” She sucked her teeth. She never took her eyes off the onions. “In Jamaica, wen one woman in a de ki-chen, all de woman muss ‘elp ‘er. ‘Ow else yuh lern?” Mother turned around, and pointed at me with her knife. “Wen I was young like you, I cook ev’ry day.” She motioned for me to come closer. “Aftah school, I had to clean de fish dem, cook de rice an plantains. An aftah dat, house wan clean, clothes wan wash.” She looked in my eyes. “Responsibilities, Marie.” Then she returned to her onions, her gold bracelets jingling with each slice. “Come. Mash up de potato dem.” She pointed to the bowl. “An stan up straight.” I grabbed the sour cream, butter, and milk and poured them into the potatoes. “I work all day. I come home an I wan spend time wid my children. Ya hole up ina ya room and ya bruddah out wit de skateboard. Wha ‘appen ta ya hair? Why it stan up suh? “Well…actually, Mummy, I’ve been thinking…about my hair?” “Mhm?” she grunted. “I was thinking about…getting dreads. It’s just getting really hard to manage, you know, and I want a more permanent solution.” “Oh no. Not my daughta. You will not be no dutty, natty dread girl.” “Aw what? Your sister has dreads! And your niece has dreads. And how can you say that? You’re Jamaican. It’s your cultu –” “No.” She said sharply. “I cannot allow dat. Iz not fuh you. Yes, I am from Jamaica, but it is diff ’rent ‘ere.” “Mom, you don’t understand. The girls at that hellhole are bitches, and they’re making fun of me because of my hair.” I wiped the sweat off of 82
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my forehead, even when inside I could not escape the heat. “Watch ya mout.” Mother put her warm hands on my face, and they smelled like curry. “Dat is absurd, Marie. You are more blessed with beau-ty than dem girls deh – ya muss see dat.” “You’ve never had this problem. You have the good hair in the family, and you always cut it short!” “Stop right chere, missus. We will go to a salon de dis week-end fi mek it straight a-gain. Ever’y ting will be fine.” She gave a look that said “end of discussion” and focused on her fish. “I al-ways know what’s best fi ya.” Mother looked up and pointed at me with her knife. “‘Membah dat.” Mother had postponed her college career in order to stay home and raise my siblings and me. Daddy was never much help. Mother was so high-strung, Daddy used to call her “spicy.” When they split Mother, said that one day he realized she was too spicy for him. My siblings and I visit him in Boston during the holidays. After dinner, I went back up to my bedroom and pulled out my journal. The writing keeps me sane, gives me clarity. That weekend, mother dragged me to a salon. I followed her inside, carrying my baby sister in my arms. The receptionist looked us up and down. “Can I help you?” She twirled her blonde, Disney princess hair around her finger. “Yes.” She spoke slowly. “My daughta here need de straightenin’ treat-ment. Maybe some colah too, please.” “Do you, like, have an appointment?” “Yes, at 12:30 P.M., de name iz unda Merlene Jones.” The blonde Barbie never looked up from her phone. “Kay, I guess I’ll go get Brittany. Just go and sit in that chair.” She smacked her gum. “Kay?” My mother nodded politely. When the receptionist left, mother turned to me. “HIGH! Miss ting, she cyan come offa de phone fi one secon fi ‘ave a convasation?” She shook her head. “Iz not ‘ar fault, you know. Ya muss blame de mudda fi dat rudeness. Chuh.” The salon was empty; mother found out that they have a special relaxer to guard against the heat. Brittany had emerged from the back of the salon, and she attempted to run her manicured fingernails through my thick curly Q’s. 83
“Have you had this type of relaxer before?” “Nope, never. I’ve had other relaxers though.” “Okay well essentially the product will act as a straightening sealant for your hair, and it should be immune to light rain, and humidity. Um… how do you, like, normally, do your hair? Do you use, like, a curling iron?” “I usually blowdry it and flat-iron it.” Just like you. “But my hair is just not used to this heat.” Brittany had never styled nigga-naps before, and she was out of her comfort zone. “Okay… I’ll just wash it twice I guess, to soften it up. And you said you’d like some color?” “No that’s not real –” “Yes!” Mother interjected. “She need sum red an light brown highlights.” “But, Mom, I want to keep my natural color.” “Marie, wen a woman wan change up somtin, she change de hair colah. It will look good. Nah more a dis dread foolishness.” Mother always had a way of getting what she wanted. Three hours later, Brittany wheeled the chair around so that I could see my new reflection in the mirror. My newly straight hair sat flat on my face and stuck to it like wet leaves. It smelled like chemicals, and it looked so perfect, almost wig-like. Maybe if I pulled hard enough it would fall off to reveal what lay underneath. I thought of the porcelain starlets on TV. I tossed my hair. “Yes, it look good pon ‘er. Exactly what I wanted. She love it.” Brittany nodded. “Yeah, now she’s got really good hair.” Mother got up to pay Brittany and she handed the baby to me. “Feed ‘er fuh me?” “Why?” A few drops of moisture ran down my neck. “You will ‘ave child-ren some day, ya muss learn ‘ow to do these tings.” I put the bottle to her mouth, but she resisted me, shaking her head violently, making sounds like a piglet. “Chuh Marie! Do me a beg ya, ‘old ‘er arms. Tight” “Mom, I don’t wanna hurt her.” “Ya talk too much. ‘Old ‘ar nuh!” I held my sister’s arms tighter and forced the bottle in her mouth. Sometimes it’s just easier to do what she says and stay below her radar. For a moment I looked into her almond 84
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eyes. Don’t worry…it’ll be okay. One day everything will be okay. A few days later I helped put the baby down for bed, and I went to hibernate in my room. I noticed John was gone, probably skateboarding with his friends again. He’ll be late for dinner as usual. When I was his age I could never be out that late. Mother said it was because I should be at home helping with dinner. “Iz diff ’rent fi de boys dem” she said. As I stared at the ad with the dreadlocked woman, I ran my fingers through my hair. From upstairs I could smell the oxtail mother was cooking. “Come nuh, gurl! Wha happen, ya ‘fraid a de kit-chen? Ya muss learn!” I took my time coming down the stairs. “Don drag ya feet, Marie, iz not lady-like. Send John down ‘ere, I muss know why de trash iz still in de kit-chen” “He’s not here.” Mother threw up her hands. “Where ya bruddah deh?” I shrugged. “Him suppose ta walk de dags dem, dash way de trash. Chuh why I muss de do ev’ry ting?” While she was distracted by John’s negligence, I decided to be productive and sauté the vegetables When mother is on the warpath it’s best to stay out of her way. “Come, gurl. I will tell you how fi cook propa oxtail. You mix watah and chicken stock into de crockpot. Den season wid salt an peppa, garlic, onion, and de jerk spice fi a lickle kick. The flavuh really comes from de bones and de marrow inside. Den you muss slow cook it fi two hours. Look inside, ya see it’s boiling now, iz almost finished.” “Was grandma this adamant that you learn to cook?” “No, it was my grandmudda dat taught me when I was your age.” “Why didn’t your mom teach you?” “Truthfully she did own a restaurant an she could cook. I remembuh she was always gon over dere suh. Gone in a de mornin’ when I woke up an home at night after me fall asleep. Afta school ya greatgrandmudda an I spent evr’y evening in de kit-chen together. Even afta I lef Mummy’s house, I still went back to cook fi ‘her.” I noticed mother smiling as she spoke. “She would always tell me if me food was bad. When I was lickle I used to cry cuz I tought she was mean. She used to say ta me, ‘Peppa bun hot, but it good fi curry. ‘Membah dat.’ Ya undastan? Sometimes ‘arsh advice can ‘elp oneself. Now gwan now and wash ya ‘ands.” I started upstairs when John walked through the door. He was 85
wearing a purple tank top with a matching beanie that hung off of his afro and skinny khaki pants so low you could see his plaid boxers. He did not know how to play this game – he attracted too much negative attention. “Lawd of his mercy.” Mother clutched her chest. “All de belt dem I buy fi ya an ya wan hang ya pants like sum fool in a de ghetto. Ya muss consida de people de who look ‘pon ya. I raise ya betta.” “God, Mom, I’m not even that late, chill. It’s Sunday. I went to the park to skate.” John went to the fridge and grabbed the carton of orange juice and drank from it – big mistake. Mother snatched it from him. “Yes, son, but ya know what? Ya know ya ‘ave de chores dem fi do an ya chose to gwan an skate wid dem hooligans.” She pointed her finger at him. “Ya too ol’, you muss learn ya ‘ave responsibilities. Mek like ya sistah deh.” “Oh my God, Mom, yes, I get it.” John started up the stairs. “Where ya goin’? Dinner soon ready.” “Mom, I already ate some McDonald’s on the way here, I’m not hungry.” Mother put her hand over her mouth. “I cook dinner evr’y day an I expect you and ya sistas ‘ere for it. It is the one thing we do evr’y day as a fam-ily. Ya will come an sit down now, boy.” John came back towards the kitchen. He stood inches away from mother’s face. “I said I’m not hungry. I’m not going to eat it! It would be a waste of food to feed me! I’m going upstairs now, Mommy Dearest.” John turned to leave when mother grabbed his arm and swung him around. Her long nails dug into his skin. John tried to pry himself free. “Mom, for God’s sake you’re hurting me!” “Boy, ya cyan hold ya tongue like ya sistah? Ya muss ansah back?” “You want me to be like her? Marie just obeys you because you don’t give her any other choice!” Mother flashed her eyes at me, and I looked down to try to disappear as beads of sweat fell to the floor. Mother took off her belt. “Come mek a beat you.” She grabbed John by his sagging pants and whipped him across his bare buttocks. With the first lash John’s knees buckled and he fell to the ground. She whipped him another four times, hard. Mother secured her belt around her jeans and whispered, “Listen to your mother.” He lay there on the ground for a moment. Mother had returned to the stove. “Gwan upstairs and change ya clothes. ’An put on a belt, boy.” I went to help John up off the ground and 86
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upstairs to his room. “You don’t have to always do what she says. You have to be your own person.” John said to me. “So you’re saying I disobey her and talk back? I don’t want my ass burning like yours.” “It’s worth it to just act like myself. If you would just stop hiding and show yourself – you’ll feel better.” “I should go…Mom told me to wash my hands and help with dinner. You better change your clothes. Dinner will be ready soon.” I walked across John’s room to our bathroom. I washed my hands thoroughly before looking in the mirror. My hair sat frozen and lifeless on my face. It barely moved when I walked. On the counter I noticed John’s pair of hair clippers – he tended his afro like a bonsai tree. I grabbed the clippers and turned them on; they hummed like the cicadas outside, a siren song drawing me nearer. With one swift motion I glided the clippers across my head and as the first piece of my hair fell to the ground, I knew I couldn’t turn back. Little by little the bathroom floor was scattered with hair. I turned off the clippers, and the door swung open. John stood in the doorway with a surprised smile. “Your hair…it’s gone!” He ran his hands over my smooth head. “It wasn’t really mine. Besides, now it can grow back.” I took a deep breath, and smiled. Everything felt lighter.
THE PASSING Parrish “Oak Morse” Bush You don’t need a tattoo, for your dad to always be with you
BISTRO Naci Kuloglu “Okay, you can open your eyes now.” She lowered her hands as I raised the diamond closer to her body. It glistened with the shine of a hundred mirrors. Only ran me 45 bucks too. “I love it, Rhett.” She pulls the box out of my hands and quickly rips the ring from its cushion, slapping it on to her finger. “I was thinking…” I got down off my chair slowly on one knee. The sweat from my fat folds pressed against my shirt, blotting spots of urea all over. “Janet, you have made me one happy guy over the years, and I was just thinking…” My knee started to cramp as that whirling wind in my stomach began to pick up force. A storm was approaching and there was no time to batten down the hatches. “I don’t know where my life would be without you. You are my inspiration, my muse, and for too long, just my lover. I want you to be more than that. I want to spend every waking moment alongside you and build a world of love the likes of which has never been seen before.” My heart fluttered with anticipation. The crowd at the restaurant froze to watch as a young couple began a life a new with each other. The pressure was on me to pull the trigger and rejoice over a decision I have muddled on and off again for 3 years. “Will you…” Her eyes grew larger as that second in time froze. The minutes began to drag on, weighed down by chains, clinking and clanking loudly in my brain. Her nose was fluttering slowly, up and down like butterfly wings trapped in wind; the hairs inside swaying along a breeze of breath in a harmony of motion. Her imperfections were ones most men could gloss over, yet here in this moment, every feature is accented; her protruding ears, the lips that fold up at the top like a perpetual sneer. Her eyes were always in a glaze. Many days I wake up wishing I could scrub them with a brush. “Will you…” I began to stutter. My mouth was locking up and filling with sand. I looked down to catch my breath only to see the unsightly big toe she stubbed and deformed at the last Christmas party while drunkenly stumbling up the stairs. The nail, shattered from the base, cracking down to the tip, splintered in two and grossly hid pieces of lint 89
tucked away in the crevices. Her ankle was swollen. Why? When during our dinner did she hurt herself? How could she have? Her hips looked just as swollen too. Was she always this large? Maybe it’s the horizontal striping of her dress, but the curves that protrude under her ironic belly belt proved different. I quickly moved my eyes up to her breasts as not to be obvious. She thinks I’m staring at her boobs. “Will I what, Rhett?” she said. “Will you…” Janet’s cheeks were mushy and gobbed in multicolored paint making her look like a clown whore. Those eyebrows grew exponentially, like a caterpillar crawling between the bridge of her nose. Even her normally deep-set green eyes looked like vomit crammed into a swimming pool. The pressure to create this moment for the crowd and my future fiancé escalated to a tipping point as my head swelled with blood, filling every chamber of my brain with a numb sensation of death. Just do it. Just do it. “Will you… marry me, Janet?” I burst out in an orgasm of relief. A million angels chirped their trumpets in heavenly song. I was born again. Free from constraint and face-to-face with what was once again the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Her blemishes faded, her eyes flowed like jade streams in a temple pond. Her ankles shrank to the size of pencils, repairing in some magical way the hideous, disgusting toe that has haunted me forever. I had done the impossible. I proposed to my girlfriend. She looked at me, puzzled about the sudden outburst of words after silence for 7 and a half minutes. The fiddling of the ring between her fingers could only mean one thing, a yes! “Tell me, my love. Tell me, will you marry me?” “Oh, Rhett… Yes… I would… but, I don’t think we are ready just yet.” “Come again?” My heart fluttered down to a blip on sonar. “We are still so young. We have so much to explore still. I don’t think now is the right time. I’m sorry.” She took the ring off and placed in back into the box. She gently laid it on the table and picked her fork back up to finish her salad. I could see the ring shine my reflection back my direction. I looked down at her feet. The toe nail was broken again and her ankle inflated like a trauma patient’s face. The crowd died down with sickening sadness on their faces; deprived of a story to squander on social media. 90
I picked myself up back to my chair. The steak in front of me was bleeding raw, like my heart. I glanced over to her again, her unibrowed face emotionless. I picked my knife up and stabbed the center of the steak, the squish louder than the surrounding bistro. God sheâ€™s hideous.
LOATHE YOU Sydney Smith
Can’t stand you, mid-slumber snatcher of shudder-block covers, your morning breath fecund so putrid it smothers. Hate you, skuzzy sleaze befriender of bars and tattooed suburbs, love shared more for strange scum than those deserved. Detest you, my politeness is beat, respect trodden with time, I’ll no longer linger to vent your far lesser crimes, Fucking loathe you, punk rock pretender of rebellion and destruction, your tantrums more capable of seismic eruption, built to surge and fodder your mind’s empathy obstruction, a twisted tongue to bend lies and wind hate to craft play, to force lovers and those who last to obey. You’re lost without fabrications and partner’s dejections. If your mouth isn’t defecating on other’s affections you’re alone with yourself and forget who you are, the learned behaviors and habits merely sketched scars, like the ink on your skin meant to illustrate a face, an endearing identity complete with a cute troubled case. Someday the faux skin you stitched will unravel. You’re lost without me, for your personalities can’t travel, you’re fixed in the skin you pretend is your own, and exist yourself true only when you’re alone.
LOATHE YOU I wish to neglect you, selfish swine, you have seldom loved what is mine. You do not warrant my adoration and won’t grasp this arcane emotion. A doting mother’s sincere warmth, a brother’s bliss forgotten and rotted. Should we love into the dark where this feeling stings as something new? A bloodline wedged, knotted. One-sided tenderness turns raw. You scoff sneer mock jeer. Belittle our care. We’ll let you, While strangers get you with your open fucking ears. Why should we eagerly volunteer to be spit on? You deserve to know. Hate yourself a little. Leave and breathe lonely. Let your insignia show. Until you die you’ll always want to, but you’ll never change. Your gut will begin to gurgle again with stacks of shit and odium. Stop. Talking. Stop. Please. Don’t. Don’t. Say. Another. Cutting. Word. Not your lover, evidently ever. I stay just a girl just a fool just a friend, for darlings don’t aim to make you detest yourself at every day’s end.
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