underground Undergraduate Art & Literary Journal Fall 2014 Volume V, Issue I
Editor-in-Chief Raven Neely
Production Editor Rachel Pickett
Art Editor Becca Doane Staff Nadia Deljou, Katherine Teems, Erin Teal Waxelbaum
Poetry Editor Sydney Smith Staff Tayina Fenelus, Sarah Joy Richards Prose Editor Carla Bazemore Staff Kacee Cooper, Tamar Gould, Anna Theodore Media Advisor
Bryce McNeil, Ph.D.
Soul Paralysis, Alexandra Linne oil, acrylic, acrylic house paint
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 â&#x20AC;&#x153;first publication rightsâ&#x20AC;? 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.
Contents Letter from the Editor Along the Promenade Rachel Wahaus
Art Prose Poem
Lantern Becca Doane Passenger Yardley Jackson Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m Not Mad Rebekah Cooper Mad as a Mother Kenita Betts
77 78 81 91
On Not Hearing My Grandmother (until it was too late) Kenita Betts 2 Written in the Times Joy Johnson 14 Revelation Raven Schley 16 Summer Nights in the Old House India N. Davis 25 Lonely Drag Racer Yari J. Mena 29 Responsibility RandiElle 34 Him, He and You Diamond J. 35 You Paralyze Me Nadia Deljou 39 From June until the end of the world Kelly Barraza 41 Virus William Parks 48 Overachiever William Parks 49 u n d e r g r o u n d
Yesterday I Wept Parrish â&#x20AC;&#x153;Oak Morseâ&#x20AC;? Bush Independence Kelly Barraza 3. Molly Margaret Shotgun Emily Bowers Absolution J.S. Epps White Napkins and a Musky Voice Nadia Deljou Nona Savannah Powell I Was Never Good at Breakups Mikaila Mack Justice, Come. Caitlin Fogerty Love Like Yeah Kelly Barraza Summer Apology Kayla Stockton Notebook Nectar C. Marie Cashwell Privilege Kenita Betts Mirror mirror Najwa Hossain
c o n t e n t s
52 61 62 64 97 100 101 110 112 121 128 144 150 156
All the Way to Reno Ashley Graves 5 Broken China Rebekah Cooper 19 Whitewash Melissa Cruz 26 A Scientific Discovery Christopher Kimsey 32 A Dead Flower C. Marie Cashwell 37 Hidalgo de La Mancha Jessie Fernandez 44 Our Greatest Fear Tramanda Chavis 55 Kudzu Camille Balboa 57 To Fill in the Spaces C. Marie Cashwell 65 Someone Mikaila Mack 102 Infestation Darla Crabapple 106 Ill-Fated Eadgar T. L. Maurloch 114 The Sheep and Their Shepherd Taylor Montgomery 115 Stars Elizabeth Palmieri 123 Mirror, Mirror Typhanie Hall 124 Social Anxiety, A Stream of Consciousness Grant Richard MacNeil 130 How Far Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve Come Linda Tran 136 Where Upon Death Found Love Miranda L. Hawkins 146 The Solidarity of War Eadgar T. L. Maurloch 152 u n d e r g r o u n d
For the Feeling I Lost Today Nabila Masud Teeth T.J. Blackburn
Fringe Yardley Jackson 13 Bird Najwa Hossain 17 Brightwood Jessica St George 18 Study in Blue Kelly Barraza 24 Rainy Daze in the City Bijan Nasseri 30 eye to eye Jonathan Warren 31 Return to Origin Allyson Busch 40 Bliss Bijan Nasseri 43 The Four Stages of Grief: Acceptance Nadia Deljou 50 The Four Stages of Grief: Anger Nadia Deljou 51 Classroom Doodle in Anatomy Class Tiffany Huynh 60 Bucket of Spades, Chastity, Disco Minded Jonathan Warren 63 Fight Club Tiffany Huynh 96 Distinction Najwa Hossain 99 Coal Najwa Hossain 104 Woven Rachel Wahaus 105 vi
c o n t e n t s
Justice, Come. Caitlin Fogerty The Precipice Kelly Barraza Snow Angels Rachel Wahaus Rebel America Tiffany Huynh Delinquent Bridge, NYC Bijan Nasseri My Boyfriend Did It (But No one Will Believe me) ISSUE #1,“Laundry” Helen Souris a.k.a. HellyBoJelly Four Jessica St George Everyday Jewels Yari J. Mena Ondine Sarah Klingberg 1x4 Bijan Nasseri Selfie Game Proper Bijan Nasseri
113 122 126 127 134 135 149 154 155 157 158
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Letter from the Editor Raven Neely
To all who care to notice, In opening this journal, dedicated to and comprised of the literary and visual arts of the undergraduate students at Georgia State University, who slave away every semester for the fulfillment of their future careers and yet still find the time to create some kick-ass works of art, prose, and poetry, and to have those kick-ass works submitted to and critiqued by a staff of the kickers of ass, which gets shit done in the most amazing and ridiculous methods so as to decide the fates of those works stuffed in our mailbox, and publish them in a book to be picked up by you and other funnylooking kids like you—do you have any idea what you’ve just done? Even if you had the fortune of snagging a copy, or two, or an armful of this journal in the past, you only understood an inkling of what’s going on here; but allow me to illuminate those darker areas of ignorance. By picking up this journal, you have become the sponsor of dreams. We had an idea, a theory. Just like any other family lineage, we had to look back on where we came from in order to discover who we are. What does it mean to be underground? We realized we had to redefine an old meaning. Our intent is not to bury these works, but to help them emerge. Within these pages you’ll find a girl whose broken family holds secrets in their basement, a lost and lonely drag racer, a drawing depicting an artist’s newfound love and her challenge to pursue it, the many joys, qualms, and hardships of love, and so much more. These works were chosen for their ability to display the diversity of our campus, their innovation and originality in storytelling, and potential to cause a ripple in something much bigger than they are. These are the stories of Georgia State’s undergrad; they were written for you. These are your words, your shots, your strokes, your frustrations, fears, and fires. Respond however you like, but I dare you to shift these embers and keep the flame alive. Let the lantern light your way. Welcome to the Underground. viii
Along the Promenade, Rachel Wahaus digital photography
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On Not Hearing My Grandmother (until it was too late) Kenita Betts “Well, hey there fatty,” was always my grandmother’s “hello” The summer we went to visit I awoke as the car crunched up the gravel drive— bumpy as my tongue over her homemade grits. I clamored up the porch steps, down the the history-freckled hall— floorboards creaking steady as her decades-old sewing machine, walls the same once-was white, heard my mismatched patchwork of relatives cackling louder than the backyard chickens, my eight-year-old eyes peered around the corner, took in the cousins blanketing the den air warmer than the quilt that covered her. Dad’s palm found the center of my back, guided me into the room and towards her stallion sized rocking chair creaking the same steady beat as the floorboards. 2
She sat up slow as those last two ponies out back and whinnied her greeting. My eight-year-old self wanted to ask her, “How are you the one calling me fat? You’re near as wide as that rocking chair you almost never get up from. At least 3 of your 15 kids are always in the kitchen and I’m sure there’s at least 3 cakes, a pie, and 10 jars of jam in the dining room right now.” Instead, I let her ham hock hands pull me into her and reply in kind when her voice— worn as that old pink muumuu— croaks “I love you” Years later, after the croaks and creaks became yellowed recipe cards I realized what she’d been trying to say “This house is full of food— we grow we make we eat together u n d e r g r o u n d
No matter how long youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been away, here, you will always find more than you needâ&#x20AC;? My grandmother had 15 kids, more grandkids than I can count. She loved them all through her stomach At eight years old she wanted me to know, she had passed that stomach down to me.
All the Way to Reno
White knuckling the steering wheel only got him so far before he veered over onto the shoulder of the desolate wasteland that was I-40 and screamed to his heart’s content, his forehead having the misfortune to meet the horn repeatedly. He hadn’t seen another car for the past fifty miles, give or take a dozen. Not even animals had the common decency to pay him visit that far west. Nothing existed on that desert other than wayward souls hoping for redemption at the hands of whomever would dare save them, or those truly lost in their ways, looking purely for a way out. He belonged to both categories. Stuck in a feedback loop with no hope of diverging from the cycle, he took to driving on the off chance it would change his way of thinking. It worked for the most part, albeit temporarily. Never effectual. Though, he had never taken it this far— peeling out of the parking garage in Eufaula, Oklahoma and belatedly watching the town pass in the rear view until nothing existed other than his own labored breathing and the roar of the engine. It was cathartic, being behind the wheel, having the whole world at his fingertips for just those brief moments, until he had to drag himself back to town and repeat the mundane, day in, day out. It hadn’t changed in the last three years—why would it now? Why would the world and heaven above even think to give him a reprieve, a second chance to atone for his sins? Somewhere around the Texas line, he gave up thinking there might be hope for him back where his family was long since buried, siblings uncaring if he returned or not. They were probably taking bets on how long it would take for him to crack—whoever got two months and seven days was in for a payday. u n d e r g r o u n d
To say work drove him to it would be only half of the answer. It was the threatening look of his peers every time they laid eyes on him, the leers of the populous just because he didn’t ‘belong’ there, the only family he had giving him the riot act every chance they got, that drove him to the proverbial cliff and left him wondering what it would be like to dive head first into the abyss. And even with that ideation in his head, he couldn’t force himself to go through it. Because even if the world had nothing left to give him, he still felt like he had some sort of purpose there. Whatever it was wasn’t showing itself fast enough. Composure was key—he had to be sane to keep driving. He didn’t need to blatantly run over someone in his fit of self-pity and have to go down that road. Instead of wallowing further, he gathered his faculties and pulled off the dusty curb, maintaining the speed limit for another five miles in absolute silence. Three hours without seeing another being in his front or rear view with nothing but the sounds of travel lulled him into a daze, the black figure on the nearing horizon barely breaking through the fog until he was within five hundred feet of it. The closer he got, the more it took shape—a person. An actual human. Back to the setting sun and thumb in the air, the figure waved twice and adjusted the pack over his shoulder. He slowed to the curb for the second time, cranking the side window down enough to see just who was flagging him down. He was… well, average, in terms of other men. Didn’t look much of the type to be standing out in the middle of God knows where, dressed in a ratty old suit and frayed tie, hair tousled in every direction manageable, all drenched in a fine layer of dust. Startlingly gray eyes stared back at him through the open window, dirtied fingers tapping the jamb. “Where’re you headin’?” the occupant asked the man through a drawl, one hand still on the window crank, the other on the steering wheel. “Flagstaff,” the haggard voice replied. “What about you?” “Wherever you’re goin’.” Because that wasn’t weird at all. Where else was he supposed to go? He had no intentions of 6
heading back to Oklahoma and doing so now would only make a bad impression on this new entity in his life. Maybe he could stop in Flagstaff and start over, or even go farther towards Los Angeles. The weather was nice, so he heard. He probably wouldn’t be able to afford it, but when did that ever matter? He thumbed towards the rear of the vehicle. “Y’can put your stuff in the trunk.” The stranger nodded his assent and, after popping the lid and tossing his belongings inside, joined him in the front bench seat. He threw the gearshift back into drive, pulling onto the highway without a word from either of them. Silence wafted heavy in the shared air before he spoke. “So y’got a name, Stranger?” “My name’s unimportant,” he offered flatly, eyes trained out the front windshield, watching whatever was forming on the horizon. More sand, more weird mountains, more bleak existence. In fact, were they even getting any closer to the rock formations? He gave a shrug, patting the wheel with one hand. “Well, I’m Roman, in case y’were wondering.” Stranger acknowledged his statement, but made no move to say anything more. “Where’re you from, anyway? It’s a long way to Flagstaff from here.” The car was stagnant with hesitation. “Not gonna tell me that either, are ya?” Stranger sighed. “I would rather not talk about my personal life.” “Yeah, I get that,” Roman conceded. But that didn’t stop him from talking; he needed to do something to take his mind off the wariness of having some outsider in his car and the pervasive silence that surrounded him. “I’m from Eufaula, but I lived in Gadsden, Alabama for a while. Moved back home a few years ago to be with family. Buncha good that did me. Probably still back there wonderin’ where I went.” “Is this something you do often?” Stranger queried, gesturing vaguely to the car. “Driving well out of your way to get away from them?” “Not… much.” It was only half a lie—he drove often enough, perfectly comfortable being alone in the confines of his GTO, but he’d never driven past the state line u n d e r g r o u n d
before. They were bordering on New Mexico; the sun was threatening to sink past the horizon line. Dark would be all encompassing soon; he didn’t know if he could deal with that alone. Maybe he needed to stop for the night, or to turn around and give up his self-righteous tirade. Home was safe—this was disaster. “I just needed to get out for a while, y’know?” “Understandable.” The man turned to look out the side window, hands neatly folded in his lap, cuticles flaying in areas where he had picked at them in the past. “But that begs the question—why travel so far?” “I was actually thinkin’ about stopping over in Santa Rosa. My dad had a house up at the lake, burnt down a few years ago. It’d be nice to see the land again.” It hadn’t been the first thought on his mind, but saying it aloud, it sounded better than his original intentions. He was already headed in that direction, maybe a few hours away at best. They could reach it by nightfall. “You don’t mind taggin’ along?” Stranger shrugged, his eyes distant; was he really there at all? “What of your family?” Roman huffed. “What about them?” “You’ve been gone an awfully long while. Don’t you think they’ll be looking for you?” Stranger continued his vigil over the unchanging landscape, the descending sunlight giving gray eyes an uncanny glow about them. “Doubt it.” Tightening his grip on the steering wheel, he let out a sharp breath through his nose. “Only one that’d care is my youngest sister, and she hasn’t really talked to me in weeks.” “Was she the cause of the rift between you and your family?” Now where did he learn that? He hadn’t spoken to anyone, not even his closest coworkers, about the happenings within his home. Debate over the authenticity of his grandfather’s will, his father’s overwhelming need to control everything within his grasp even after his death, the overall toxicity confined within those four walls – none of it had escaped his lips. No one needed to get involved. And yet this nobody was asking him about something so secretive? “It wasn’t her.” It was never her. 8
“Perhaps your father, if I’m mistaken—” “Man, where do you get off, tellin’ me about my family?” He had half the mind to stop the car and kick the guy out; his foot never ventured towards the brake pedal. “Last I checked, you don’t even know them.” “I’m aware of more than I let on.” Stranger turned away from the window, arms folded across his chest. “Despite your grievances after your parents’ passing, your remaining family still cares for you. They wouldn’t approve of your running away from your problems.” Even if it were true, he couldn’t bring himself to believe it. The entirety of his life had been spent trying to get out from under that roof and the remorseless influences within; he took the first flight he could after graduating high school to Alabama, hoping to put as much distance he could between himself and the barren Oklahoma landscape his entire family line had called home. He saw nothing but monotony and pain there, destined to drive them all down. For five years he lived in peace; his brother’s call negated everything he built for himself. His parents passed within hours of each other three years later, leaving Roman alone to sort out the final expenses and just where they were to be buried with no help from the four others that should have been by his side. “They can bite me for all I care.” Stranger didn’t press him to go any further, the two opting to watch the monuments in the distance gradually creep closer for what felt like the first time in hours. In the time they drove, he had yet to see any sign of life or a car pass by in the opposite lane, or even lights in the rearview. Streetlights began their nightly ritual as they crossed the New Mexico line, the ever-present blues and whites of the afternoon sky shifting to golds and purples, landmarks shadowing the vermillion scenery from view. Down the dusty turnoff of Highway 91, they drove miles in the looming darkness, headlights illuminating the intermittent brush on either side of the two-lane. His passenger never spoke a word, continuing his watch out of the front window. Above their heads, the moon entered its highest point, the lack of street lamps allowing the display u n d e r g r o u n d
of the thousands of stars over their heads. A chill took up outside the vehicle, filtering in through the doors after they parked. Stranger walked ahead as Roman shut off the engine. Under the light of the full moon, he saw something that shouldn’t have existed. Blocking the reflective surface of the low-lying lake before them stood a two-story cabin, faint wisps of white smoke emanating from the brick chimney at the side. A single lamp was lit in one of the top bedrooms, the one that he had always stayed in. His siblings took the other rooms on the far end, their parents slept downstairs near the kitchen. No cars were parked out front, no shadows moved behind the blinds; no one was home. This is wrong, he thought, bewildered. This shouldn’t be real. Yet he found himself walking to the front door, Stranger following him, hands shoved deep in his pockets, face stoic still. Inside, the furniture was arranged in the manner he last left it; a couch and four rocking chairs sat in front of the fireplace in the living area, the dining table draped in white lace, chairs tucked underneath, all covered in a fine sheen of dust. The kitchen was stocked, pots left unattended on the stove, the cat’s food bowl sitting by the island. Upstairs, the beds were made, bathrooms left tidy, blinds drawn over every window except his own, overlooking the reflection of the lake and the sandy dunes that extended beyond it. Downstairs, Stranger was waiting for him, hands folded at his front, lips drawn in a thin line. “I’m dead, aren’t I?” Roman asked, weary. That was the only explanation. Wildfires gutted the entire community twenty years prior; their cabin was the only one not rebuilt. They sold the land and used it to pay off the mortgage in Eufaula. They hadn’t visited since. “I’m afraid so.” Stranger walked to the fireplace, the steady flame dying down to a wisp with just a glance. “A driver blindsided you as you left your office today. They’re currently transporting your body to the morgue in Eufaula. Your family has been notified, but your youngest sister is the only one that answered the call.” “No, no.” Roman repeated the word in disbelief, 10
clutching at the roots of his hair. “… I mean, I wanted to get outta everyone’s way, but I didn’t want to die!” He grabbed Stranger by the shoulders, the man narrowing his eyes at him. “I just wanted to drive! You … you gotta take me back, you can do that, right? You gotta fix this! Take me back to this morning—I’ll do whatever you want, just don’t let me die today!” “That’s beyond my capabilities.” Stranger brushed him off with a pale hand and treaded the hardwood to the open window, Oxfords clicking along the way. “My only job is to take you to your destination. Nothing more, nothing less.” “You—How could you let this happen?” He crossed the room to stand behind the man, urging him to face him. He didn’t comply. “I was supposed to do something with my life, and you just—you took that from me!” “I’m not Fate, Roman. Your time was destined, nothing could have changed that.” His shoulders slumped minutely. “If it’s any consolation, your sister loved you, and she’ll grieve you until her dying day.” “What, and that’s supposed to make me feel better?” His eyes met his reflections in the windowpane, an air of acceptance visible there. So this was how it was supposed to be; death by auto accident at twenty-eight, an entire lifetime of memories never to be made. All because he wanted to get away for a few hours. “… This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.” “Your circumstances are unfortunate, as are they all.” Stranger offered his hand in a gesture of solidarity, Roman opting to stare at it. “You can stay here in unrest, or follow me. This is your decision.” There were still too many questions being left unanswered —what would happen to his body? Who would attend the funeral? What was going to happen to everything he worked for, would anyone mourn? How would his sister handle it? She was the closest thing he had to a friend all his life, even after his brother stole her away to Wichita and refused to let her contact him. How did they even reach her? “You’ll … watch over her, right?” “Of course,” Stranger nodded. “Her passing isn’t scheduled for another two decades.” u n d e r g r o u n d
That was less comforting than it should have been, but knowing that she would be taken care of set him at ease. “She’s … She’s the only thing I had. Stuck by me through all the crap I went through, never once tried to throw me under the bus. She’d always call when I was in ‘Bama, sometimes she’d take the bus just to see me for the weekend. Loved it when I moved back home, too. And when our parents died, everything went to hell.” Pinching the bridge of his nose, he let out a shuddering breath. “I don’t want her to suffer, y’hear me?” Stranger bowed his head in compliance. Roman took his hand, feeling the chill of his skin against his fingers, cold as porcelain, never warming. “What’s your name, anyway?” “Adriel.” He led Roman towards the open lakefront door, stepping out into the brisk autumn night. The moon was brighter than normal, he noticed, the long-since familiar shape now devoid of its familiar grayed features. So this was it. Fingers slipped from his grasp as the man—Adriel— crossed the sandy earth, water lapping at the soles of his shoes. “Are you coming, Roman?” “Just …” He turned his eyes to the earth beneath him before setting his attentions to the starry night sky. The last he would ever see of it, for certain. It was a nice memory— at least he could see it again, a vision of innocence before reality dawned around him. He would remember it fondly. “… Yeah.”
Fringe, Yardley Jackson watercolor, acrylic, gouache
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Written in the Times
Joy Johnson like
looks an When life insurmountable mountain; I recall seventeen years of walking with my own feet on the solid ground. Alone and together with my soul The wind only whistles a song as it rushes past with brisk strides between the natural boundaries of land: Soil resting on the diverse curvatures of our Earthâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s layers, susceptible to changes in the weather; Sharp edges of Rock and Sediment that define travel as a constant look towards the clouds; Caverns that diminish lightâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s travels; Edges that offer a false sense of adventure; And the peaks of mountains that rise above the clouds, a beautiful view of forests sprinkled with snow along the highest branches and leaves.
looks like an
I think of a God reminding me of the perfection in the stars alignment amidst our human flaws of creative destruction and disorder. The mountains above echo motivational chants that turn out to be my own thoughts in the wind. After taking very difficult steps forward with no chance of an easy and forgetful retreat, I like to sometimes greet animals with indifference before I hear the strength in their calls and cries for food.
When life looks like an insurmountable mountain, These man-made and land-made barriers are steps towards the sun in the middle of a day. Not once did I come across another traveler who was identical to me, but often times have I seen identical footprints. When crevices are close enough for me to slip into and out, my strength shows itself at unexpected moments as I memorize the gripping touch of realityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s mottos. Trees as strange friends, Soil as passing dust, Crevices as bad situations, Peaks as accomplishments, Animals as living beings, Caverns as the elephant in the room, And light as a humble cure to ignorance A landscape carrying illusions of altitude and direction projected in tunnels of tightly closed-in spaces.
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Revelation Raven Schley What beauties life brings I think I must have forgotten I was trekking through the mud Angry for being dirty I barely noticed how nice the wet dirt felt Under my feet The sensation of being grounded In the ever changing Earth The soil was my teacher Even in its wet sloppiness It was providing nutrients to An organism that would become beautiful The mud has been kind to me When I rinse myself of it I too will be beautiful Taking the lessons it grew in me as I go
Bird, Najwa Hossain colored pencil, pen, digital photography
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Brightwood, Jessica St George digital photography
It was the last week of third grade. My teacher gave us an assignment to draw a picture of our houses for show and tell. One boy talked about how he had this huge backyard and big dogs that he taught how to fetch and play dead. Another boy talked about how he made forts out of the fabric in his mother’s sewing room. A girl talked about the tennis court where she practiced every day with her friends, and ate oranges that her mother had sliced. I talked about riding down our staircase on top of cardboard boxes with my brothers. This activity could only take place when my mother went to run errands. After each student finished presenting, everyone erupted in cheering, stomping, and clapping, for the sake of making noise, everyone except for Riley O’Connor. I watched her solemn, pensive expression as she observed the organized chaos around her. Once the class finally grew quiet, Mrs. Plumer made it a point to inform each child that their presentation had been “just so sweet and wonderful.” Apparently she “could not have been any prouder” of every single kid who had gotten up thus far. And then Mrs. Plumer turned to Riley’s desk and asked,“Riley? What do you have today for the class?” Riley O’Connor was seated in her desk, but I got this feeling that she was not actually there. She was not clapping or laughing or cheering that day. She was sitting very still, very straight. I knew she was in my grade, but sometimes, watching her made me think she was a lot older than me. She was so serious. She played games at recess, and talked to the other kids at lunch, but sometimes, she just looked so serious, as if her tiny brown shoulders were bearing an immeasurable weight, and her dark blue eyes were just curtains, slipping over a three-ringed circus going on inside her head. I believe she was the most fascinating girl I ever knew. u n d e r g r o u n d
Riley had her paper folded in her lap. She held on so tight to that little paper. The teacher sounded so squeaky, cordial to the point of something fake, when she said “Riley, sweetie, don’t hold your picture so tight, you might wrinkle it.” I do not think Riley heard Mrs. Plumer. I think she was too far away, gone some place in her head that nobody knew about. Where are you? And what is going on there? I thought to myself as she rose from her desk, still clinging to her drawing. Riley O’Connor did not talk about dogs doing tricks, or playing with her mother’s fabric, or snacks at the tennis court. Riley O’Connor walked to the front of the class, and turned around. She unfolded her wrinkled paper, looked down and bit her lip. The class was so quiet. There was this little fish aquarium in the corner, and suddenly the bubbling sound of the filter was the only audible thing in the room. After a long, frozen silence, Riley O’Connor spoke: “There is something broken in my basement.” Sunday afternoons came with a slow, sleepy feeling in the O’Connor household. Mr. O’Connor was stationed watching golf on the sofa in the den. He was the only member of his family to occupy this room, as if an unspoken rule had been made a long time ago. Mrs. O’Connor was in a constant state of “getting some rest” in her bedroom. Riley O’Connor was dancing barefoot on top of the neighbors’ patio furniture. She had stolen her sister Laurie’s purple radio and scampered next door to turn the volume as loud as it would go at Eric’s house. Eric’s parents were never really around much, either. This made it easy for the two children to escape for a while. Eric and Riley would spend hours on that back patio, creating their own little concert. It was late afternoon, in that short period of time when the sun is so low that everything appears golden, but only for a moment, until the long shadows grow together, and suddenly it is not daytime anymore. Riley and Eric were spinning in circles with their arms outstretched, to the tune of Paul McCartney singing, “we can work it out, we can work it out” on the radio, when the music was suddenly 20
cut off. They were both so dizzy from the spinning they staggered around for a moment before Riley was able to plop down on the deck and see her older sister Laurie standing above the now muted radio. She just stared, waiting for a scolding from her nine-year old sister for stealing the radio, again, without permission. But Laurie did not say anything about the radio. She did not say anything at all. She walked over to Riley, who was cross-legged on the ground, and held out her hand. Riley took it, instinctively, and followed her sister across the patio, and down the stairs, back towards their house, leaving a dizzy, confused Eric still on the ground. Laurie gripped Riley’s hand with an intensity that scared Riley. Her small, bare feet were stepping rapidly as she tried to hold her sister’s pace. Laurie led her through Eric’s gate and up the hill to the back door of their house, the door that opened into the kitchen. As the girls ventured forward, there was a violent sound, explosion that sent a hollow, frozen fear through Riley’s body. Both of the girls halted for a moment, and began to walk again. The crashing sounds escalated, they were coming from the kitchen. Riley held a steady march, now with her sister a step behind. She reached the patio, and padded ever so softly up the wooden stairs. The girls slid behind a large pot full of their mother’s plants, so that they were wedged between the pot and the door leading into the kitchen. Riley lifted her small, trembling hand, and cracked open the small doggie door. As soon as that sliver of space was visible, a large plate came hurling into Riley’s view, and crashed against the wooden cabinets. Her father was standing by the cabinet where all the Christmas china was displayed. It was her father who had thrown the plate. But the man standing by the cabinet looked nothing like Mr. O’Connor. His face was bright red, and there was a crazed look of rage in his eyes. He was screaming in a pitch so high the words were inaudible. He moved like an animal, or a monster as he turned to pull plates, silverware, wine glasses, out of that perfect China cabinet, and send them shattering against the walls. He held up a pitcher above his head, and with both hands, smashed u n d e r g r o u n d
it onto the ground, and screamed through gritted teeth, its pieces flew upwards towards his face. And there was Riley’s mother, huddled in the corner of the kitchen. Her knees were curled up to her chest and her hands were clasped over her head. Her red, manicured nails were digging into her scalp as she braced for the shower of porcelain pieces sent from her husband’s hands. There was a red line of blood coming from her hairline, and trickling down her cheek. She was not making an effort to escape, or pleading with her husband to stop. She was simply surviving it. Riley and her sister huddled there, frozen, with their eyes fixed on the violent scene. Riley kept the flap pulled back just enough to witness the horror unraveling in the kitchen. She might have never moved if Laurie had not suddenly pulled her arm, and led her off of the patio, around the house, and onto the road. Riley walked in a daze, with her sister’s hand pushing gently but firmly on her back. Somehow her little legs were moving, putting one step in front of the other. But her world was spinning at a thousand miles an hour. Her father’s screams had ripped a raw hole in her chest, and there was a hot tear falling down her face, like the blood on her mother’s cheek. They walked on in silence. Finally, they stopped at the gas station outside of the neighborhood. “Pick out whatever you want,” Laurie said softly to her sister “I got some coins.” They bought their candy bars with loose change, and headed back towards their home in the dark. When they returned, the kitchen was immaculate, as if nothing ever happened. The marble counter tops were clear, no dishes in the sink, not a speck on the oak floor. Riley could hear the sound of a golf game coming from the den, and the rattle of ice in her father’s cup of scotch. She crept silently up the stairs, to find her mother’s bedroom door closed, and heard the sound of bath water. She went into her sister’s room. Laurie was under the covers in her bed. Riley wanted to crawl in with her, and hide under the soft pink sheets. But something kept her from doing that. Instead, she wandered down to the unfinished basement, 22
because it did not seem okay to be upstairs. She reached the bottom of the stairs, and in the corner of the big room that had been empty since Riley had been alive, there was a cardboard box, marked “Christmas China.” And nobody said a word. And Riley O’Connor stood like the saddest little soldier. With her hands at her side and her head held up. For some unexplainable reason, she looked at me, as if she was daring me to look back at her, and I did. In that moment, it felt like the most important thing I could ever do.
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Study in Blue, Kelly Barraza acrylic on canvas
Summer Nights in the Old House
India N. Davis
There were three couches We laid on that we jumped between earlier that day when mother wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t looking (right over the place we would put the tree in December) My mother braiding Paigeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hair while watching Rachael Ray (because she was never fond of kid shows) We never minded We played in the carpet instead (where my little brother would take his first steps) Then Iron Chef with my father Japanese with English subtitles The foreign sounds tickling my ears Late at night (This is when midnight was late) On what would become A small TV And in between all of this, seeing the cool dark blue light of a dying day
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It was a strange little moment, watching my mother get deported. It was like a fragile bubble had been popped, one that I didn’t even know was surrounding us for sixteen years.Consequently, I spent the first ten years of my life not knowing that my mother had an accent, either. She spoke mostly with her hands, broad disks of Cuban flesh that negotiated with the English phrases that were being overcome by the Spanish ones in her head, and it was through this exchange that we communicated. Despite having grown up in an American school and being exposed to far more perfected levels of English, my mother spoke in terms of unfaltering love and, at the time, that was all I needed. Her affection never stammered in the ways her orders at drive-thru’s did. It was not until my mother began transporting me to and from friends’ houses that I understood the difference. Childhood friends would sit in the backseat of our car, hands cupped to freshly pierced ears as though a funnel would transmit all things lost in culture. It was through their inquisitive eyes that they would ask me to translate. As far as what this did to our communication, ten was too early to tell. But I nevertheless began noticing all of the ways in which we were similar, yet irrevocably different. Mirrors would show the high rises in our cheek bones, the small moles that sat underneath our left eyes. But in the same way my mind now snagged, became disrupted and transfixed on her enunciation of simple phrases like “apple” (hers dropped the pronunciation of the “a” like a forgotten essential), my perception of her physicality morphed along with it. The hallowed space between her jaw and cheekbones sunk, dropping to the crevasses of a betraying tongue. The identical marking that had also confirmed our mother and daughter linkage appeared larger on her now, expanded to a near grotesque size that made me question my eyes. My affection for my mother never truly changed. But each time a friend, stuck to our back car seat from the 26
sweat garnered on a hot, summer playdate, asked me a shy “I’m sorry, what did she say?” I could feel Cuba and America grow one further inch apart. I navigated through the rest of elementary and middle school with this knowledge. Often times I would opt for my father, a nativeborn American that best displayed this nationality over a belched beer during dinner, for parentteacher nights. There would be no awkward moment of translation where my teacher would pretend with a gracious “mmm hmm, yes, Carla is a wonderful student,” to understand my mother’s English. And even though my father stood in direct contrast to his spouse, his own culture largely lost to the late nights spent watching football, the trips he made with his Southern dialect were still easier to recover from than my mother’s Cuban one. Subsequently, this left me in a curious space as a child. Ten was the age my mother’s voice blended into a cacophonous clash of cultures, stamped with the everpresent reminder of an old passport and pockmarked with a rare but slight Georgian twang. Fifteen, consequently, was the age I slowly began resenting her for it. Perhaps being a teenager, I couldn’t help it—perhaps being the daughter of an immigrant, my whole being called for a certain level of self-alienation. I would sit each morning lamenting the acute tragedy in the absence of marshmallows from my Cheerios bowl. My mother was not a fan of sugar and this was her compromise. As I was halfway through breakfast, she would descend the stairs in a flurry of illfitting heels, a messy bun, and bobby pins that stuck out in a disconcerted suggestion of a crown. My distanced but growing resentment radiated from my seat as my mother took her place across the table. It was this same routine until once, she handed me a container of sugar usually reserved for her coffee. “For your cereal,” she had instructed me. The first sign that her behavior was changing along with mine. It was small things like this. Drops of nervousness that, while they were unfolding, clued me into nothing at all. Then her deportation came. Or at least, watching her get arrested outside our home before the months of waiting in ICE began. And in those moments between the front steps u n d e r g r o u n d
of our house and police car, I didn’t fully understand that my mother was being taken away. I wanted to be angry—at my mother, at the system, at a government. But I could never quite reach that. I still can’t, really. At the time, all I could focus on was her mispronunciation of “shit” as she was placed in handcuffs. She couldn’t ever get the “i” sound quite right.
Lonely Drag Racer
Yari J. Mena
You don’t still drive like a drag racer, Do you? Speeding through the city streets under the silver moon, Slipping past parked streetcars on a deserted road Lit by lustrous, lonely light posts, Are you yet consumed by wayward habits, Getting lost in thought and lethargy With your head spinning so fast in false ecstasy Many miles from your home, And many more minutes after midnight? Never once does your seatbelt click, But the odds are always on your side, And God is always in your favor But I worry and I fret, And I care about you still, And in every instance My head can’t help but wonder, How you feel or do, But if you’re lonely, you should know, That I am lonely like you, too.
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Rainy Daze in the City, Bijan Nasseri digital photography
eye to eye, Jonathan Warren black and white film photography
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A Scientific Discovery
The pedestrians walking by the Macy’s entrance were treated to one of those peculiar displays, wherein a man attempts to hold a door for a woman, and there is that hesitation as she decides whether to accept this display of chivalry, and everyone parses out their thoughts on our patriarchal society and whether holding doors is disrespectful, or adorable and old-fashioned. It probably would have been easier to just shove the door a little extra and let nature decide things. Martin, our holder-of-the-door and creator of awkward situations, remarked to his friend Marlene, post-incident, “Why don’t you let me hold the door for you?” “Well, you kind of did—it was like a half-assed kind of thing.” The two twenty-somethings started meandering about the Macy’s as they chatted, half-heartedly rifling through the clothing on display. Martin inexplicably led them into the lingerie section. “I feel like women keep complaining about how chivalry is dead, while they’re standing over the corpse with a smoking gun.” “When was the last time you heard a woman complain about chivalry’s death? He died like fifty years ago, nobody gives a shit.” “Well aren’t you a ball of sunshine.” Martin picked up a bit of red lacy lingerie and held it up in front of himself, striking a sexy pose. “You like?” While Marlene tried to decide whether to acknowledge this abrupt change of subject, a standard American nuclear family walked by with their 2.5 kids and gave Martin and his sexy outfit a sidelong glance. Martin eyed the family back, “People look at me like I’m stupid all the time. I just don’t get it ….” “Oh, honey, it’s because you look stupid.” Marlene took the lingerie from her friend and put it back on the rack. “Do you mind if I call you honey? I like it—seems sassy.” Martin snapped his fingers in a sassy fashion and they 32
both laughed. They continued to walk around, making their way to the home goods section and lusting over expensive dinnerware from which to eat their standard diet of ramen and grilled cheese. “I kind of feel like it’s my balls, you know.” Marlene’s eyebrows rose in puzzlement. “I … what?” “Every time a woman rejects a man’s chivalrous display, his balls shrink, producing less testosterone and thereby slowly committing chivalry murder. Science.” Marlene responded only by shaking her head.
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RandiElle I don’t know why this keeps happening. There’s just no explanation for the things you do. Your laziness keeps getting me in trouble, and everyone thinks I’m lying on you. They say I should take responsibility for my own actions, and of course I know that’s true— but I cannot take the blame for something that’s entirely up to you. I have no control over your actions. I can’t make you do something you don’t want to. I mean, I could get real mad, hit you, or yell ‘til my face turns blue, but when I stop and think about it … what would that do? You probably wouldn’t even respond— you know that silent treatment messes with my mind, but it doesn’t matter since I have to do the work on my own 99% of the time. And when the teacher comes to me and says “You didn’t do your work again!” I have to tell her it’s not my fault, it’s that irresponsible pen!
He, Him and You Diamond J.
I am a single woman caught in a lovers’ quarrel involving four people … me, him, he, and you. Now this in no way sounds the way you think it sounds because him, he, and you have never met …. The only thing we have in common is me; and well me, I feel a different way about him and you than I do he. He came after him but before you and he was too good to be true …. He made me smile every time he said my name. He loved me more than I thought I deserved. There was nothing about me that he didn’t admire and I thought he was what I needed. I thought he was perfect …. but sometimes I wasn’t too sure … because even though he was my love he brought me mostly pain. When I finally reciprocated my love for he, he desecrated my temple. The one place he promised me that he would cherish became a place where he hid his feelings, which seemed to vanish overnight, and buried his lies and deceit deep inside of me in the devil’s hours deep in my bed … he gave me mixed signals. He gave me the green light saying “I love you” but after he did so, a red light emerged which read, “WE’RE JUST KICKIN IT” and I still don’t know what that shit meant but he said it every time I asked about us … it soon became clear that it was no us, just me and he, matter of fact me then he … and you know what, he made me think I was crazy. He made me think that love was real and then he stole all the color out of my rainbow, my light and my happiness. He made everything black and white when he left me in the gray area …. He hurt me … and made me feel worthless. But honestly, he has shown me nothing but how not to let someone take away your smile. He robbed me of my beam but it was him who continues to restore me. Because he doesn’t matter anymore … There’s not much I can say about him but that he changed me. It was him that I’d do anything for. I wanted to do everything unmentionable to him and at the same time, wanted nothing to do with him. I have always loved him…. u n d e r g r o u n d
It was him who I used to yearn for …. It was him who picked me first to be on his team in kickball, him who I couldn’t stand because my friends would tease me about his big ears, him who kissed me for the first time under the steps in 5th grade, him who took me to my senior prom, him who made me a woman, him who showed me what love was and at the same time showed me what it wasn’t. I wasn’t dangerously in love with him …. I was stupidly infatuated with him because we were so young and even though it felt like we were going to last forever, we didn’t because like most childhood sweethearts, things became sour and sometimes I miss him … even though I know I shouldn’t. I like to call him my first love because if it wasn’t for him, then he wouldn’t have wrecked my life which eventually would have brought me to you. Without them I would have never met you …. I can’t lie …. I’m thankful for him; I appreciate him. I’d like to call him the best mistake I ever made and I will always love him but I’m in love with you. Can I tell you something? I am madly in love with you and whether you know it or not, neither he nor him matter at this point because it’s you and only you. See, you’re the reason I wake up filled with a weightless kind of love and joy that overflows my heart. I thought I felt this way before about he and him but it wasn’t anywhere near as close of a feeling. They meant nothing and you mean everything. I want to thank you! Thank you for loving me flaws and all. Thank you for loving me despite what he did to me and despite of the virtue I bestowed upon him because you are my first at many more things than one … the first person to see me for my bad and my good, the first person to love all 3 of my rolls and 87 of my stretch marks. You were the first man I trusted. You, the man who showed me the difference between what it means to be with a man opposed to a boy. You, who brought me so much joy. You, who helped me become the woman I was meant to be. I love you and appreciate you so much. You don’t know what you have done to my life. You made me realize that they weren’t what I needed because that was already your place. I can’t wait to tell you about how there is no me and he, or him and me … just us and I can’t wait to meet you. 36
A Dead Flower C. Marie Cashwell Her eyes could snag mine from across the room, around corners even, and when she was nowhere to be seen, I would scan the scene like a metal detector on a beach, waiting for the sensation the discovery of her would bring. “Bbbeebeebeep” my heart would sing. There she is, in my head I would say. She lit me ablaze in the cold and gray of December. She dazzled me from the core—a wild headband atop bourbon ringlets, a body, fiercely facing the frigid air, enwrapped in lace revealing just enough to require a double take, but concealing enough to send the imagination into frenzy. She would eventually stop rummaging through her purse for menthols and place her gaze in my path, eyes meeting mine behind the fog of her first drag. Natural gravity would pull us nearer to one another through the crowd, seeing only shoulders of those moseying, aimlessly, around. Not us. Our movements had purpose. She would greet me by drawing me closer in, a pocket in the bone-chilling wind. Easing each other’s goose bumps, we would relax our bodies for seconds in the warmth of our enfoldment. Only friends can hug like we did—without measure of elapsed time, unapologetic for being still in a moving mass. In the dark hues of winter, sheer joy felt by the presence of one another gave glow to our path, and we would lock arms to insulate the heat flowing from our bodies. Of course we could ramble on and laugh about small things in our small lives, but only after showering each other with compliments, exchanging cheer, and sometimes clasping hands. Our conversations could be as shallow or deep as we were feeling. We could detect the mood of each other through just the lifting of an eyebrow or quivering of the chin, and then, without a millisecond of hesitation, I could pour out the pulp, whatever was left over from the whole, and she would listen. Spring arrived, and we welcomed it in bandeaus and tattered daisy dukes. Still floating along upon our u n d e r g r o u n d
companionship, we reveled in the freedom of the season. No longer did my friend shiver beneath the lace enwinding her. Finally, her ecru honey skin, in all its fine radiance, was no longer enfettered by the need for covering. What a shame it was for our friendship to end once we were no longer separated by lace and layers. My sun receded as abruptly as it appeared. A tiff, a squabble, a slip of sour tongue— whatever it was—it caused her to be gone for the rest of spring. Still to this day, I don’t know what she looks like in floral or how big her umbrella is. After a time, there were a series of August apologies. With a valiant effort to soothe the sting of words we wished we could take back, we did what we could to rekindle the ember of our friendship. I saw her for the first time since spring at the nearing end of summer. She was stuck in between the seasons, struggling with the middle ground of the year’s mood, and unknowing of whether or not she would be melting underneath the cotton by the time the sun shone directly above us at midday. We were both troubled not only with our fashion choices, but with things we never found troublesome before. We searched for words in petty conversation about our longing for fall weather and what classes we were taking. In the midst of the transition between summer and fall, our eyes met far less than they had in winter, but when they did, the moment was frostbitten with regret. Our hugs were rare, brief, and plagued with rigor mortis. The ember was dwindling. The sharpness of the breeze reminds me of winter’s fast approach. White clouds drifting all around, but not the ones from her cigarette. I try so hard to enjoy hot cocoa and long fuzzy stockings, but there’s a specific warmth missing from this season of cold. I see her headband bobbing up and down in the bustle of the crowd, but her gaze never crosses mine, and we pass like strangers. Our flower bloomed in the winter, but withered away in the rays of spring, and by summer, it was dead. I hang the wilted flower upside-down on the door of my bedroom to serve as a reminder that the seasons change.
You Paralyze Me Nadia Deljou Large swirls of brown and yellow dance around your head— lure my attention toward each tooth—petite and miniscule, like a dolphin’s mouth set wide apart. You are tainted with cynical perfume that emanates down toward your bell-bottoms and drags underneath the heels of your blackened shoes— ones that slush the floor with nonchalant composure and sit harshly on your face, like thick black glasses that frame the delicate corners of your soft cheeks, prisoning each pigment of your crystal blue eyes.
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Return to Origin, Allyson Busch digital photography
From June until the end of the world
The morning yawns quietly––the bleary bulbs bending under dawn-kissed dew. Honeysuckles I have gathered in the blur of summer hours, yellow and white, furled flowers with gossamer sweetness––my spider-skills spin their syrup into silk. Shades I have pulled over the white intensity of windows filled with springing sun––a bird beeps like an alarm beyond the shade, beyond the world and its glass panes. Baths I have drawn to smother the thirst of a thick season, like balm on a burn––or the touch of your palm, cool, against the side of my unsettled calm. Lightning bugs I have held in my hands, lanterns in a nest of fingers—winged sunflower u n d e r g r o u n d
seeds which bring the day to meet the dark on the back of their wings. The night creaks at the late hour; our lateness croaks backâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a frog among cicadas.
Bliss, Bijan Nasseri digital photography
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Hidalgo de La Mancha
I dare say that literature is a bore. Now this statement may seem in the least a bit controversial and even ironic but do believe me when I say it is true. Stories of the recent age, if they can be called as such, either lead a wild chase of conspiracies, politics and affairs or swirl you with fancy prose that tells you all of the literary significance and deep meaning within the potato. Cheap tricks and bollocks. Now do not get me wrong, I like sex and spuds as much as the next man but repetition is a cruel enemy to interest. Therefore I shall try my hand at something different. The tasteful talent of telling tales is unique in its composition for it is an analytical art. One of the few. Literature is an eye that sees things differently. However the problem with an eye is that despite how it spirals and spins and stares it can never see itself. That is without help of course from a mirror. Now do not get my claim at innovation confused with delusions of grandeur. I do not believe by some warp of the mind that I am this mirror. I be insane but not crazy. I am more of a murky water, an attempt at reflection with distortion expected. Maybe someday in further years to come a fellow damned with ingenuity will come across the true mirror into the soul of this art but he is not I. Despite this, I give you my word as a professional liar that I shall attempt to construct a new story in the least. One to think on. One to remember as is my hope, but enough of this load of toss. Let us get on with the story if there still be one at all. This story is of a man. Now this man was not a particularly interesting fellow, he was no warrior or king or anything of the sort; he was a pauper. A pauper named George. George was not one of those adventurous folk. He 44
had no lance on a rack, nor did he have an old buckler or greyhound for coursing. George had never slayed a dragon past the serpents in his field. He had never bedded an elf like the bar bums would claim. He had never heard the banshee’s shrill song, worse than his mother did crow. That sort of stuff was for the heroes, and George was no hero. George was a pauper, as I believe I have mentioned. He lived in a small house, with a leaky roof a few miles from a town whose name I will not pretend to remember. He tilled, and plowed, and planted, and reaped, and watered and it was all quite lovely to George. George was simple and his life was simple and George was happy. Until one day that is. This is not to say by any divine means that George became a hero on this day. No, nothing so obvious. Quite the opposite actually. The hero’s journey has been done and done again. This is a different kind of tale. A tale of tales and a story of stories so do keep up. On this day, something rather strange happened to George. A small group of barbarians attacked his village. Barbarians were the nastiest of sorts. They raped and mangled and slaughtered, not always in that order. Houses crumbled and the stalks of crops burned like a thousand torches. George’s beautiful fields looked like a bush of fire lilies. George hid. Two huge men knocked down his door. One of the men, Golgarr was his name if I remember correctly, who was rather small for a giant, had a scar down his face with eyes white as snow. The other man, Bumdor, who was rather large for a dwarf, had sleek black hair and a sword longer than George was tall. George whimpered and he cried but all to no avail. The shine of white armor filled the city. It was the Pale Knight, who had an ear for distress and a hand to cleanse it. The knight was a paladin, and protector of the weak. He drew his sword to the barbarians, and none of the bastards would live to tell of its beauty. They had a fool’s chance. It was a dance of blood, one in which they could not keep stepping time. The town’s people praised him, chanting the name of their hero. The Pale knight wiped the filth off his blade and sheathed it with a glorious ring. Without a word u n d e r g r o u n d
he disappeared into the forest, leaving behind only the faint sound of his marvelous steed running swiftly through the dark wood. Even with him gone the paupers continued to celebrate their silent savior. They whooped and hollered and sang and ate and drank all to the Pale Knight, but not a single glass was raised for the forgettable little man who lay dead in his wooden hovel. Not a single glass was raised for George. The woman in black read the final words and put the single text ridden page back onto her desk. “Much like George,” thought the woman “no one will mourn your passing.” The newspaper was still spread out in front of her. She should feel bad but she did not. The heading of the article was printed in small black letters above the man’s picture. He was a lanky guy, with unruly hair sprouting from his scalp as well as his chin. Suicide it said, off a building too tall to leave much to recognize. Alonso Quixano was his name. He was an amateur writer of short stories that had approached her publishing agency more than a few times. All of his attempts had failed, and so would this latest submission of his. She should feel bad but she did not. He was no good and a creep at that. The man had been forcefully removed from the building on a handful of occasions. Many believed that he had jumped because of the constant downturns and refusals. It seemed like Alonso had sent this to her as a dying wish sort of thing. One final attempt to have a lasting effect on the world. She should feel bad but she did not. He was melodramatic. His stuff was mediocre at best and would never sell. Even his death was on the fifth page of the paper. Alonso’s writing was archaic and boring. Any story that was so weakly written that it needed a narrator to voice its theme was not worth her time. There were certain rules that needed to be followed. A structure that he did not understand. One thing did stand out to her though. In the paper they quoted the rather fat window cleaner who had heard Alonso’s final words. Right before he jumped the man 46
declared to the world that literature was dead. The woman got up from her tall chair and walked over to the window of her office that stretched from floor to ceiling. She looked down at the city below hustling and bustling. What did Alonso know? He was obviously crazy. Everybody knows what crazy people look like.
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Morgan looms, curse in hand, Surveying electric Camlann. Knights strike many a key In the field of screens, where she finds me. Her ritual is hidden, Coughing Mordredâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s plague. It is a magic forbidden, in the convention of Hague. Hand over mouth, polite, Her chant disguised well. To me, the ill son takes flight, Choking Arthur on her spell.
Overachiever William Parks In the last hour I want to cower The task will devour Me Working in haste On lines double-spaced Inspiration has graced Me The clock hands taunt I change the font As her words haunt Me Get a head start If you are smart This isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t at heart Me Sent by email I just exhale Scared she will fail Me
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The Four Stages of Grief: Acceptance, Nadia Deljou film photography, 35mm
The Four Stages of Grief: Anger, Nadia Deljou film photography, 35mm
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Yesterday I Wept Parrish “Oak Morse” Bush Yesterday I wept. I left the last of my composure at the dinner table where we sat across from each other over pork chops, Cajun rice, mash potatoes and gravy, American food cooked by Chinese people who knew little English, but knew what customer service was, giving this new buffet a try, and hoping you would do the same for me. I don’t know if it was something in the noodles or if it was something in my mind that was nauseating, like I was two seconds away from one of mama’s ass whippings, after the teacher slipped and spilled the beans on how I was cutting up in class as if jokes were more amusing than long division. Not much different than I used to be, I covered up what was serious with comedy. I laughed loudly after every punch line setting up the mood to hear that you would take me back right after you became full and smiled as wide as an ocean, but you told me no. You told me no. Out-to-eat food never tasted so awful, and I’ve never been more shipwrecked, crushed and coiled. This precious awaited moment that I could almost taste morphed into the longest painstaking minutes of my life, and I couldn’t find my keys fast enough to escape it, frisking myself like a bouncer at a club, searching for something that he could confiscate for his own keepsake, 52
but then I realized they were on the floor with my self-esteem. I, a bundle of nerves and an unbalanced head on the car ride home, trying to stay in my lane, not just on the road, but not to overstep any boundaries in trying to get you back before I dropped you off, but it seemed as though you had already left, long before dinner. With the car in park and the engine still running, you hugged me like you would never see me again and I released you like it wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t the end. And within a blink, you were gone, just like that. Immediately I became a fallen soldier, dulled senses and numb. I muted the FM radio and gripped the steering wheel like I should have gripped you before you decided to throw in the towel, and mark me as something in your past. Driving through tears, confusing no left turn signs with stop signs, this path I normally know like the back of my hand seemed so foreign when I have a boat load of regrets rushing through my head. But at last, like a runaway slave with lashes embedded in his back who just set foot on northern land I reached the place we both used to call home. Yesterday I wept. I found myself paralyzed in a dark room, if she had called me later that day, I still wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have been moved. I was torn apart in the center of the floor, fighting off flashbacks of what we used to be u n d e r g r o u n d
and how it ended, becoming paranoid by all my mistakes that I made and the ones I haven’t made yet. Yesterday I wept. I was searching for solutions that did not exist and bothering to ask God nothing and that’s when it hit me, I was no longer this stone bridge secure and built to never break down. Yesterday I wept. I saw a man I wasn’t ready to see.
Our Greatest Fear Tramanda Chavis A million scenarios run through my mind every second. There are so many possibilities for my course of life. So many variables and choices affect the outcome of every day life for me, for us. What should I eat? Should I eat at all? What time do I need to go to this place, that place, your place â&#x20AC;Ś What do you need me for? What am I doing here? I think and contemplate and brood and drive myself mad with the realization that I am fragile. I have nothing solid. I have nothing steadfast. All I have is you and you are moving, you are graceful acceleration, and I want so bad to catch up but I am behind you, though I am not steady. I do not accelerate at a constant speed; I stop and start as they seem fit. My outside forces affect my internal velocity and that makes me no more useful than a vividly red rubber ball. I am not a root. I cannot absorb the ever-ready nutrition. I am not like you. I am a skyscraper. Man-made. I seem supported, but I sway. I am an illusion. I am a moving picture of pixels and each of my particles is like an atom, zipping and zooming and disrupting the peace. I seem whole, like one stationary picture, but if you squint your eyes and tilt your head just right you will see my entropy, each of my pieces moving at five miles a minute. I would probably make Monet proud. My greatest fear is not that I will be behind for eternity. My greatest fear is that I will be caught up, found, dusted off, hung amongst the keepsakes like a trophy. Showcased. But no. I want to be handled. I want to be worked like Georgia red clay. I want to feel something. I want to be u n d e r g r o u n d
your medium, to express yourself as you see fit. Turn me, twist me, make me into something beautiful because I am not in my rawest form. But I might hold potential. I want you to work with me until it is released, or until weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re both bloodied, battered, strung out on the kitchen floor. I long to be used. I am a puzzle. I cannot find my missing pieces in the dirty toybox but I might as well give up the search because I have not been unearthed in years. I am nothing more than a memory. A feeling. But itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s everything. I will fade, eventually.
Kudzu Camille Balboa Everything has cancer. Did you know that buildings have cancer? The old buildings outside of the parking lot Mama parks her car in every morning have cancer. I know they do. I can see it. The buildings are covered in long, green vines with leaves that look like four-leaf clovers. You can’t see where the cancer starts and where the cancer ends. That’s why it’s cancer. It keeps spreading all over the buildings. It poisons the buildings. It kills the pretty red bricks. Mama says, no dear, it’s something called kutsoo (cutzu? Cutzoo? Kudzu?), but I know it’s cancer. I don’t know why the buildings get cancer, but I know why the sky gets cancer. It’s the big jet planes that Daddy flies. The planes leave these long streaks in the blue sky. Those streaks are cancer. I know they are. The sky goes through remission because eventually the streaks go away, but the streaks always come back because of the planes. That’s why it’s cancer. It hurts the pretty blue sky. I tell Daddy not to fly the planes because it hurts the sky. Daddy says, no honey, they’re called kontrales (contrales? Contrails?). He says the vapor from giant planes freezes into itsy bitsy droplets. But I know it’s cancer. Cars get cancer too. Like Granddaddy’s. Granddaddy’s car is a really old famous car, Mama says. I think it’s ugly, but the color looks like the sky when it’s in remission. Granddaddy picked me up from school one day, and I saw the spots on the car. The spots looked like my funny circles that I have to draw in art class. On all of the spots, one half of the spot didn’t match the other half. None of the edges matched like the edges on normal spots. All of them were a yucky brown color, but also had some red and orange. I know these spots are cancer. Granddaddy picked me up from school a few months later, and the spots looked bigger. That’s why the spots are cancer. Granddaddy says, no darling, my car has rust from being so old. I don’t know what rust is, but I know the spots have to be cancer. Granddaddy says he finally has the money to fix his car, to u n d e r g r o u n d
“cover” the “rust.” He may be able to cover the cancer, but it’ll still be there underneath after he covers it. Granddaddy needs a new car before his car dies from the spots. My favorite tree at school has cancer, too. When I go outside for recess, I always sit under my great big pine tree and eat my animal crackers. One day I noticed that my tree had millions of holes all over the bark. I looked into the holes and saw sap coming out. The tree was bleeding. I started to cry because my favorite tree was bleeding from cancer. Mrs. Tyler saw me crying and ran over. I told her my favorite tree had cancer, and at first she looked at me funny, but when I showed her the holes, she said, no sweetie, horntail wasps make those holes. I kept crying because Mrs. Tyler lied to me. She didn’t want to tell me the truth that my favorite tree had cancer. Mrs. Tyler sent me home that day. When I got home Mama got mad at me. You keep causing scenes, she said. You need to calm down, she said. I don’t understand what’s going on with you, she said. She put me upstairs in the bath before bed, and I heard her and Daddy talk downstairs. They didn’t think I could hear them, but I could. “She’s getting worse,” Daddy said. “She’s not supposed to be getting this bad this quickly. She’s acting out because of it.” “Her head isn’t thinking clearly anymore.” “What are we supposed to do?” My head wasn’t thinking clearly because my heart was. When I was in the bathtub, I started to get scared, because I saw that my bathtub had cancer too. An icky yellow color formed an entire ring around my white bathtub. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before. The icky yellow ring was staining my bathtub. I tried to rub it, but it wouldn’t come off. The icky yellow ring even looked like it was staining the bubbles. I quickly drained all of the water, and sat in the empty bathtub. I had little bumps all over my body, and my arms started to shake from being so cold. I started to cry for Mama, but Jenna came running in. Mom and dad are talking downstairs, she said. What’s wrong, she said. I told her that my bathtub had cancer, and 58
that I was scared, and wanted to get out. Jenna pulled me out of the bathtub, covered me in a towel, and explained that the icky yellow ring was something called soap scum. I didn’t believe her, so she pulled out a sponge and a bottle of liquid from under the bathroom sink and began to clean the bathtub. The yellow ring started to disappear. See, she said. It just means that you need to clean the bathtub every once and a while, she said. But I knew it was cancer. I knew the icky yellow ring would come back. You don’t need to cry, Jenna said. Jenna wrapped me and the damp towel in her arms. She combed through my hair with her fingers, and warmed up my hands so that my fingers would stop looking like raisins. Jenna smiled, but her eyes looked sad. Her eyes looked like the sky when it’s in remission, like Granddaddy’s car, and it made me wonder if Jenna was going to get cancer too. Buildings, bathtubs, cars, trees, and the sky—none of that can get cancer, she said. I told her I wanted everything to have cancer. I told her I didn’t want to feel alone.
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Classroom Doodle in Anatomy Class, Tiffany Huynh
Independence Kelly Barraza
I hate to lean on things or to make things lean, like my fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wallet or my chair tipping on its back legs.
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I hope that tomorrow When I look up, Cross my arms And raise a middle finger You have a brief flash of that same digit Raising the hair on your neck As I lightly traced your spine. I hope you are left In awe, Confusion, Anything; As I tell you goodbye. Because the sober light of morning— Leaves me ashamed. Night clothed so much more Than your grungy windows Pretend to hide. I’ll shut your door silently And probably cry all the way To a gas station cup of coffee. And when my best friend asks, “Who used who?” I’ll cry— Because I know it was I Who used you.
bucket of spades
disco minded, Jonathan Warren black and white film photography
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If love is a fucking trip then I want to be riding shotgun with you Let’s escape the mundane and soak up the afterglow in the back of my car. I will sing you Roy Orbison and you can keep shaking about me leaving, but deep down you must know that it is always going to be you. When the sky is orange and the winds smell delightfully like autumn, it will bring me to you. I will kick and scream, you won’t understand me. You will cry, like my father, but I will always come crawling back to you. You will love me until I blossom into full bloom, fig soaked and used, you will bask in the glory knowing it was you. I will meet someone new, with blue eyes and an unfiltered tongue, but he won’t have your hands and I will come leaping back towards you. I am shaking in the morning, cold and improperly clothed. The windows are down and after digging my heels deep; I’ve decided today that I am going to marry you. If love is a fucking trip, I’m always going to be riding beside you.
To Fill in the Spaces C. Marie Cashwell He doesn’t drive, so he decided to take a cab. He really hates the idea of being in such close proximity with a complete stranger, but he found it was easier than being on a bus at a much closer proximity with several other strangers. “Where ya headed young man?” “Where do people go when they don’t know what they’re looking for?” “What the hell kind of question is that?” “The one opposite of rhetorical,” he said, looking into the rearview mirror, but at his own reflection, “the kind you’re supposed to answer.” “Ha. Alright smart ass. I don’t know. I guess people go downtown.” “How much would it be for me to get there?” “You’re not far at all. About ten bucks I guess. Plus a tip.” “Great. Take me to that place then.” “Say, you new to the area? Most people this close to the city know that it’s there.” “Uh, yeah. I just moved here this morning.” “Oh. W’okay.” He hadn’t moved into his condo that morning. In fact, he had lived there since age eighteen, after his parents gave in to his wishes to be more productive in an environment where his “mind space” wouldn’t go to waste. But he lied to that cab driver even though he believes lying to be universally bad. Despite his take on lying, he found that lying made things easier at certain times when morality isn’t much of a factor. Sometimes things worked out in his favor that way. The cab driver dropped him out by a sign that read “Welcome to Camelot Columns.” “It’s where people your age go,” he said. “You’ll have fun.” The streetlights were few, but the neon lights made Camelot Columns impossible to miss. As he got closer, he saw that the buildings were short and unsightly. No wonder they need those ridiculous lights he thought. He lit up a u n d e r g r o u n d
cigarette after taking a nice big swig from his flask and continued walking toward the colors and brick boxes. ~ He went out that night for reasons that were very important to his work. Usually, he has everything he needs in his condo—his kitchen was fully stocked with gin and frozen pizza, and a sea of white paper spattered with black ink pens and orange and brown pencils and shavings, all to help him design his inventions. Anything he ever asks for is funded by his parents who care deeply about his needs, but very little about anything else having to do with him. He doesn’t have a couch because he doesn’t have a television, and when he sits, he sits in a normal chair at an ordinary table. He uses his table as a desk for his inventions and a place to rest his elbows when he drinks his gin. Couches are sometimes used for comfort, but he uses his bed when he wants to relax. Couches are just middle ground, and things in that category are almost always a waste of space. There were only a few things in the middle ground category that he used almost regularly. One of them was alcohol—gin, specifically. He chose gin because he absolutely hates the taste. He knows that if he enjoyed the taste, then he would spend too much time in middle ground territory. The other—cigarettes. ~ He squeezed the cherry out of his cigarette onto the ground and threw the butt into a gutter. He never was good at planning for weather, and he rolled up the sleeves of his button up shirt since it was warmer than he predicted. From every single angle, in every single direction there were all of the following: 1. Blinking, blinding lights he didn’t like 2. Flamboyant, overwhelming women he didn’t like 3. A series of establishments all containing the following: a. Refer to 1 and 2 b. Women—the only thing that could make a person want to go to those places c. Alcohol—the only thing that could make a person stay Technically, “2” can equate to “b,” but since “b” does not 66
always equal “2,” the distinction has to be acknowledged, even though they both equal each other in almost every case mathematically possible. Despite the list of problems he already had with the neon strip, he stepped into the atmosphere of beckoning lights that highlighted the thick clouds of smoke drifting upward from the human-filled streets. He became another face on another street of faces. Faces all around him, eyes looking at him, or near him, or around him. Fuck. Fuck. So many fucking people. It had been approximately one hundred sixty-eight days since he last left his apartment. He usually waits until the one hundred eighty-second day of the year, but his inventions were lacking something, and he didn’t know what, and that bothered him. So, he made a tiny sacrifice for the sake of his work. He shaved his beard; he ironed his shirt; he poured himself more gin than he wanted to drink. ~ He found, at a very young age, that being surrounded by so many objects, devices, and other happy medians people use to fill in the spaces, made it very difficult to create entirely new inventions, rather than inventions that just relate to already invented inventions. He grew to despise all the stuff that could possibly cloud his mind space. His teachers and nanny noticed his issue with interaction early on. His teachers told his nanny that he avoided socializing with other children and lacked engagement in the classroom. When his nanny sat his parents down at their marble top dining room table, she also gave them a review of her experiences with him. “Every now and then, when we go to the park or the downtown market, he starts to breathe heavy. He turns bright red and throws a fit. He puts his hands over his ears and screams bloody hell ‘There’s no more room! There’s no more room!’ I don’t think he can handle being around much excitement, or much of anything. I don’t know what to do with the kid anymore.” His father looked down at his watch and said, “Well, then just let him do what he wants to do. If he doesn’t want to play with other children, then who cares? As long as he’s not beating up on other children, I don’t think we u n d e r g r o u n d
have much to worry about. And don’t take him with you when you grocery shop. If the little shit doesn’t want to go outside, then just let him stay inside all day. I’m sure he’ll eventually get bored and go outside.” “Yes, but make sure he eats healthily in the meantime. I’m not going to make my little man do something he doesn’t want to do,” his mother said before taking another drag of her cigarette and blowing the smoke upwards in a slanted path that barely missed their nanny’s temple. “We’ll homeschool him if we need to. What do you think, Marvin?” His head rose from his palms. He lifted his gaze to meet his father’s scowl and mother’s nickel sized pupils, and said, “A, I don’t want to go to school. B, doing school here solves that problem. And C, I’ll go outside when I feel like it.” And that was the same night he barricaded himself in his room and made the vow to go out at least once—half way through the year, on the one hundred eighty-second day. That way, he could use the images he sees as a part for his newest invention, whatever it may be. ~ He went into the first bar to his immediate right when he made it to the strip. No matter what, I can just make a quick left out of here. He opened the door covered with stickers. There was a stage behind a body of people standing and talking. There was a bar behind more people sitting and standing. He made his way through the people to a stool on the far end of the bar. There’s an emergency exit by the stage. He was going to order a drink, but he couldn’t speak because his stomach was in his throat. The music was too loud. He felt like he was only a speck in the crowd. There was a huddle of alpha-male types all around, and they were laughing, and yelling, and pouring drinks and spilling them immediately after by toasting and cheering and then drinking. They all had very large mouths, but the beer still seeped out of the corners every time they took their gargantuan gulps. The scents of beer, cigarettes, hairspray and cologne fill his passageways. Wow, it’s been a whi... whew. “What a brave seat you have chosen.” 68
He wiped the sweat from his forehead and tried to unblur his vision long enough to make out the face of the bartender now speaking to him, “Are you speaking to me?” “Well, you’re the only one sitting in that stupid seat, aren’t you?” “I guess so, yeah.” He put his head in his palm. One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two— She poured drinks and was talking to him, but not looking up yet. Still looking down at the drinks she was making she said, “I hate people who sit in that seat. It’s ALWAYS a guy, and I never notice him because he’s always teetering on the edge of my peripheral.”—onetwothreeonetwothreeonetwot hree—“and then some of them have the nerve to get smart with me for not seeing them when THEY’RE the idiot who sat on the very edge of the bar.” “I—I didn’t even think of that. I’m sor—“ He began to huff. Sharp inhales. Very little exhale. He forces himself to breathe out. He violently hyperventilates. He can’t keep his eyes open. There’s no more room. “No one really does, unless they have the same shitty job as me. S’ok kid. I’m just rambling. What can I get yaOOOHH shit are you okay?! Breathe. Just BREATHE. Oh my god, are you having a heart attack?” He hops off of his barstool, hands to ears, huffing, puffing. One of the alphas bends down and puts his face up to Marvin’s face, which Marvin didn’t like. “Hey buddy, you okay? You got a puffer for that heave or are you having a heart attack?” “Hey, leave him be. I got this.” The bartender runs around the side of the bar with a cup of water, “Here, drink this.” His eyes defog, he takes his hands away from his ears, and looks up at her for the first time in all of the maybe two minutes he was there, the last one and a half of which he spent having a panic attack on the grimy bar floor. He takes the water and sips. “There ya go. See. You’re fiiiiine,” she assures him while gently patting his back as he took deep breaths in and out. “Just woooosaaahhh. Hey, I’m really sorry if I made you tweak out.” Her eyebrows lifted making her look concerned u n d e r g r o u n d
and exquisite at the same time. It wasn’t you. He almost couldn’t handle the sight in front of him and immediately said, “I’ll take the shittiest gin you have.” She crinkled her nose and giggled, eyes squinted revealing the sharp black outline around them and purred, “Nice. Okay then.” Her lips framed perfect ovals of white. She stands up, reaches for his hand without offering it first, and pulls him upright. He towers over her for a moment, and then places himself at the edge of the bar once more, and she behind the bar. “One shitty gin for the asshole in the corner of my eye.” She snags his eyes with a SLAM of the glass to the wooden bar, and winks. Oh, my god, I love that she just did that. “I appreciate it,” he says, feeling a flush go to his face out of pure pride for reacting so natural. Woosah. ~ In spite of being homeschooled and left alone to do what he wanted, the little boy did eventually go outside. He said it was because he needed to find new shapes for his inventions. He stayed in the vicinity of his two-acre plot of land. He crawled around on the ground with a magnifying glass examining all the different blades of grass and the creepy crawlies living in between. He peeled back the black and brown bark of the trees and put the pieces of earth in his backpack. He plucked flowers from his mother’s garden knowing that she wouldn’t notice because she didn’t tend to it anyway. He moved ants, butterflies, and caterpillars from the yard to a jar. When he finished his final walk through the plot of land, he got right back to work on his inventions. Jars full of life sat around his room while he examined them, drew them, and later watched them fly away after he let them out by his bedside window. He sketched out all the new shapes he discovered. He was very lucky to have parents who would buy him all the colors and canvases he wanted, and they didn’t mind at all since he normally required very little attention. He drew everything big and small and never left an open space unfilled by a shape. He started putting 70
them on his walls so that he could see them all at once. The Nanny walked in one day to call him to dinner. Her eyes widened as she marveled at the jungle he created with all of his new shapes. Every wall became a tree that was made out of different ways to draw a tree. The border where the wall meets the floor was lined with hundreds of flowers and tall grass. Bumblebees and butterflies hung from his ceiling fan, and ants, worms and squirrels were scattered in between the flowers and the tops of trees. Green and pops of yellows and reds covered the pale blue walls. He invented a “story from shapes,” he said. Holding his written word in hand, he recited, “In a different time and place, there was once a sacred house made of only pieces that came from the jungle it was in. Nature built a home for all the creatures, and the creatures were all so different, but their common purpose to reproduce and find food kept them in a constant state of harmony, making it possible for each organism to carry out its life cycle to term. Beasts roamed and preyed, but the little critters inside the tree trunks and living under the brush of plants and fallen branches remained safe from the animals wandering the jungle.” The young artist spread his arms, took a bow, and then ripped his written words to shreds. “Now, time to make something better and completely NEW! ONCE MORE, ONCE MORE, OLD WOMAN!” He sees the surprise in the nanny’s face, then he starts to spin, faster, then faster. The nanny leaves him to his creative hyperactivity. This was one of the ways he would skip dinner when he got really invested in his work. ~ He finished his first three drinks too early. He was nervous, but surprisingly comfortable with asking the bartender for another, which made it easier to ask for another. The wave of people kept rolling in and away from the bar and was ever-changing throughout the time he was there. The gin, smoke, and music clouded his senses, but he did his best to keep an eye open for any image worth taking home. He saw a couple sitting at a small round table in a dim corner away from the stage. She twirled the straw in her u n d e r g r o u n d
drink and giggled as the man whispered words into her ear. He saw that same scene take place with at least four other couples that were there—generic garbage he thought. He looked around at all his surroundings, and he found very little material he could use. The mob of people swayed to the music as one, and the occasional new wave of people would roll through to order drinks again. It was all so uniform, and not fulfilling in the least. “Are you gonna keep throwing ‘em back or are you slowing down yet?” “Wow, I can’t believe you actually saw me sitting here.” “Haha! C’mon. You’re gonna have to forgive me for that.” “Eh, we’ll see.” “Ouch. I guess you won’t be ordering another drink for a while then?” He shrugs and covers a smirk with his glass of gin. He can see her looking straight at him out of his left peripheral. He sips, sips, sips, and then places his empty glass on the bar, looking down. “Were you going to be seeing someone here tonight?” “No. I don’t go out to be seen.” “I can respect that. So, you got a name?” “Yeah. It’s Marvin.” “Marvin. I’m Shandy.” “Nice to formally meet you.” “Now that we’re buds and all, you mind telling me what that was all about?” “I just—I always end up needing an inhaler when I don’t bring it along.” This is easier. “An asthmatic smoker?” One arched brow. Fuck, maybe not. “Uh, I only smoke when I drink, which isn’t often.” “You sure can pound back the gin.” “I—don’t drink often. I try not to. I don’t,” he halfway slurred. She crinkle-nose laughed again saying, “Yeah, you said that mystery man. No judgments on this end. But you’re quite the conundrum.” “You’re quite the observer.” Like me. 72
He could count the times he had spoken with a woman on one hand. He could never quite get on the same wavelength as girls or women. So, conversing with the barkeep was a feat for him. She was quite thought-provoking to him, which he liked, and he couldn’t bare the thought of leaving his place at the end of the bar with how well things were going. There was a whole strip of possibilities that needed to be searched for, scenes that could fill the white spaces covering his table/desk. But that woman—Shandy— the woman who asked his name and given him hers—that woman was right there in front of him, behind the bar, whirling a bottle in each hand, looking at him from the corner of her eye every once in a while. He lit a cigarette, frowning. He took a drag and took in everything around, letting it make its imprint. She spoke to him again. “I get off in half an hour. Have another drink with me before I close down.” Her lips pursed together right before revealing just a splash of white with a dab of a smile. He looked around and realized that the bar was almost empty. Music was still playing, but it wasn’t the live band anymore, just the radio. Lingerers wobbled in the background. He liked that she didn’t ask him, she just told him what to do. It made his part very easy. “Sure. Let’s have a drink.” ~ Shandy wiped down the bar and counted her tips. Marvin smoked another cigarette and was working on his last glass of gin. He was the only one in the bar. Shandy flicked off the neon lights buzzing in the window. She walked over to the far end of the bar where he still was sitting. She poured herself a glass of Tanqueray and tonic and tapped the rim of her glass to his. “So, how far out is your place? I don’t mind driving you as long as you’re not out in the sticks like some of the hillbillies who roll through here.” “It’s not far. But you really don’t have to—“ “Hey, you tipped me, more than fairly. Good karma, and such.” “Well,” he burps, “I guess I won’t kill you after all.” A flash of a smile, “I ‘preciate it.” u n d e r g r o u n d
She drove him passed the dwindling lights of Camelot Columns and walked with him up to his condo when they arrived. After he unlocked his door, he turned toward her and looked her in the eyes, voluntarily this time. “Can I make you something and bring it to you?” What am I doing, what am I doing? “I was wondering about the paint on your fingers. You wanna paint me?” She questioned, focusing in her eyes on his. “No. I mean, yes, maybe. But not with you here because you’re already here,” he says tapping his index finger to his temple, “but I’m not just a painter. I inve—write things.” He winces, “Fuck, you really make me explain myself.” “I guess I’m used to reading people more than actual books, but I guess reading me would be interesting. Bring it by any time on Fridays or Saturdays at the bar. Come hang out in my corner.” This woman. “I’ll see you sometime in the near future. I don’t know how long this will take. I might change my mind altogether. I don’t normally do this.” “I wish I could say the same thing.” His forehead tenses. “Just kidding. I won’t hold my breath. Take care,” she said as she backed away from his door, and walked away. ~ He snapped out of my numb stupor with a SLAM of a glass on the wooden bar. The sharp corners of her eyes would have sliced through my chest, right to my heart, if only looks could slaughter. No, no. Fuck. Not it. He unhooked the canvas from the wall. The painting, composed entirely of different shapes, has pops of the colors and images he remembers. Painting gave him a place to drop all the baggage he carried around with him day by day. He channeled his experiences from his paintbrush to the blank canvas. He fell into it. Writing was more controlled and helped him understand the load of shit he was regurgitating onto the canvas. He loved painting and any type of drawing really, but transferring images from memory always came out too abstract. It was as if reality 74
was always in slow motion, and when he later pulled images from that reality, it was in a fast-forward fashion. It bled out, incessantly, until it filled in the space. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s it.
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featured The pieces featured here were individually chosen by the editors of each section as the best of this issue. “Best” meaning each piece did something new that caused a stir within our editors far beyond what else they’ve encountered before. We also conducted a series of interviews in order to peek into the depths of the artists’ minds. And just because it’s fun to get to know people. Enjoy.
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Passenger, Yardley Jackson watercolor, acrylic, gouache
An Interview with Yardly Jackson Becca Doane Q: What is your major at GSU and how long have you been studying? I'm a studio art major and I've been attending GSU for four years. I've also begun cross-registering classes at SCAD to get the most out of my art education. Q: How long have you been interested in making art and what sparked your interest? I've been making art since I could pick up a pencil. From a very young age I'd like to think I was pretty imaginative; this may have stemmed from a rather rough childhood. For a very long time art was merely a venting tool for me. It wasn't until my freshman year of college when I met some amazingly hardworking, inspiring artists online that I realized I really needed to step up my game and start actually studying art and making improvement my main goal, instead of just drawing whatever I wanted. Q: When did you start painting specifically? Is there anyone who pushed/guided you towards that medium specifically or is it something you chose to start learning on your own? It's hard to say; painting with any medium was never really my forte. I always preferred pencil and ink until I started digitally painting with a tablet and photoshop in high school. As a teenager my household lacked any substantial money to buy expensive paints, so digital painting was the next best thing. I really only started traditional painting pretty recently; I took an oil painting class and a waterbased media class at the same time. I despised oil painting (I still doâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;it's too tedious and time-consuming for me personally) but when I dipped into watercolors and acryllics, I was amazed with all the things you can do with these particular mediums. It was frustrating at first because there was a certain lack of control, but I learned to embrace it and work with happy accidents. u n d e r g r o u n d
Q: Who or what are your biggest artistic influences? Why? Most of my influences originate in aspects of life. All of my best works have come from my attempt to translate my feelings into something visual. I have dealt with numerous hardships throughout my life, and as a result I wrestle with mental illness daily. I find that my frustration and confusion are best described in images rather than words. Or, rather, that's the only way I can describe them. Q: What is the highest goal that you have for your art (if you have any specifically)? This is going to sound weird in lieu of my watercolor paintings, but I actually want to be a concept artist for movies and video games. I love designing characters, creatures, and worlds. My dream schools were places like RISD and CalArts where I could get an education specific to my goals, but financial limitations restricted me to GSU (I should point out, though, that I still think a Fine Arts foundation is extremely important for any artist going into the industry). My ultimate goal is to do work for a triple-A gaming company, and if I could choose any studio in the world, I'd go right to Bethesda, no questions asked. Thank you, Yardley Jackson!
I’m Not Mad Rebekah Cooper Day 1: His hands were the color of panic. The less than one-inch fingers stretched out in a small lives’ desperate attempt to keep breathing. The nurses rushed in a frenzy around the room, the doctor barked orders in a rhythm not unlike a death march. The father bowed his head for the first time in years. The mother reached her bony, shaking hand out and wrapped it around her newborn child’s, imparting the first and last squeeze to the tiny, purple hand. Neither of them had enough blood. It would make no sense to say she gave him her life. Because there was not a physical, a medical transfer of blood or organs, the slimy muck that makes up life. But she left the room with her face covered by a ghostly white sheet. He left tucked into a baby blue blanket, his fingers reaching upwards to nothing in particular. The father could not touch him. Day 365: He slapped his hands down into an elmo-themed plate of apple sauce. It might have landed on his father’s black, tailor-made suit if he hadn’t been on his way out the door. It splashed all over the full-time nanny, instead. Day 3,650: He knocked steadily on the glass bowl which sat on the grand piano, amongst heavy furniture in the dark living room. He did not say a word. His eyes were wideand glazed, as if he could pull nothing into focus, as if he weren’t in the room with himself. “Qué estás hacienda, Bebe?” Marta rushed in with a handful of boxers and socks, still static from the dryer. He said nothing. “Ayy, Bebe, lo siento …. I mentioned the fish food …. It could have simply become sick, sabes? That happens, you know, with fish. Some of them just don’t live long. I know how well you cared for it, I will see to getting un otro para ti.” u n d e r g r o u n d
He was still knocking, now with passive, vacant gestures on the bowl. The nanny put her laundry down and placed her hand on his small, shrugged shoulder, which was slumped in some mixture of defeat and apathy. “I thought we got him more food …. I meant to... well, I did mention it to …” “My father.” He pulled his white-knuckled fist back from the incessant knocking. As if he were tying a shoe, or throwing a ball, he picked the bowl up with both of his hands, raised it above his head, he smashed it down over the top of the large instrument, where it shattered, sending glass, water and a dead fishing running through the piano strings like a microcosmic flood. Day 4,210: The boy from down the street asked him to come and stay the night. His parents were going to take them to Spike’s Pizza with other boys from his baseball team. There was pizza dough that kids were allowed to play with and a whole room of arcades. He had been before. All of the boys would stick chewing gum and dough underneath the tables and on the arcade games. They would scream and jump whenever they won, or lost, and subsequently did or did not get a handful of tickets to go buy a ball of Slime from the store. He told them he was very sick. Instead of jumping around in response to a race car game, or infiltrating the boys’ bathroom with pizza dough, he was in the attic room. His father never went upstairs. He could stay up there for hours on the weekends, when Marta did not come, and remain unperturbed. There was a harp in the upstairs room. Most of his mother’s things were gone, but there was a harp and a flute in the upstairs attic which he had cleaned religiously since he first found them. Sometimes he would play them, making a few small noises he knew sounded the way they should, but always so softly. He kept his paints, pencils and charcoal in the attic, and would put a canvas on the floor, drawing, or painting, or shading until his small neck ached from straining downwards and his hands were 82
covered with excess art media. He also stashed candles, they smelled beautiful and they were the best kind of light for his solitary nights. Day 5,001: He heard laughing and hushed screams below the attic window. When he propped himself up on the window sill, he could see down to where his father’s Porsche was parked outside. There were large boys surrounding the car. They had spray paint and were writing words like “fuck” and “sex” on his dad’s car. He knew this was the kind of thing that made his father start screaming and throwing expensive things. He watched with a fascination as a red-headed boy ran a key over the hood, leaving a shiny silver line on the jet black paint. What a silly car. He thought as he tip-toed gingerly down the spiral staircase, towards his father’s bedroom. He planned his feigned panic as he told his dad about the atrocities outside. He decided he should start running in the middle of the hall, about thirty feet from his dad’s room. That way it would look like he sprinted from upstairs the moment he witnessed the criminal activity in the front yard. He pondered whether or not he should try to get the boys to leave himself, first. His dad kept guns, and it suddenly seemed plausible that his father might blow their heads off right there in the driveway. And they did not seem like the worst people in the world. Just teenagers, teenagers are always wild. I think they are supposed to be. He thought to himself. His quiet musings were interrupted suddenly by a highpitched, whiny voice. He did not know what the voice said, but he knew it was not his father’s. He stopped walking, and pressed his little pajama clad body against the wall in the hallway. As he crept down like a crab, the crack in his father’s door allowed him to see the TV screen across from his dad’s bed. There was a naked man standing next to a bed where a naked lady whose face was in a pillow and her butt was sticking up in the air. The man was saying things to her, but the volume was way down, and he was hitting her, kind of harder than men were supposed to hit girls, from what he had figured in his eleven years of life. He immediately u n d e r g r o u n d
felt guilty and bad. He wanted to be back upstairs, with his Mother’s harp and his candles and little charcoal pictures on the floor. He was frozen against the wall with his eyes shut, when he heard the same whiny voice coming from his dad’s room. Later, he would wish he made a run for it. Up the stairs and into the attic, where he could try to forget the things on the television forever. But he slipped quickly to the other side of the hall, where he could see through the door angle, where his dad was sitting on the left side of his enormous bed. He was drinking his brown, shiny alcohol from his glass, shiny cup. His eyes flickered vacantly from the television screen to the bathroom door. His sons’ followed. A woman walked out, in a black, shiny robe. That’s where the voice was coming from, her large, red lips and her unnaturally white teeth. “Turn that off for me, Baby,” he heard her say. She had the largest smile, and he thought it looked similar to his own, when he was forced to take pictures for school or sports. She did not look very happy. She walked over to the bed, and with one quick gesture, her robe fell right off. She was just standing there, naked, right in front of his fathers’ face. Without even changing the look on his face, his dad reached up, grabbed her long, almost too-blonde hair, and yanked it downwards. She made the strangest noise. Before he realized what was happening, he had slumped down to the floor, placed his small hands on his forehead, and squeezed his eyes shut again. This time, he felt hot, salty water leaking out of his eyes. The kind that actually stings. He pulled his plaid-covered knees up to his face, and did not move until he released a loud, involuntary sob. “What the fuck?!” He heard the whiny voice say from inside the bedroom, and something glass fell and broke beside the bed. Before he could get up and disappear himself, his father had walked swiftly out into the hall, slamming the bedroom door behind him, and picked up the small, curled up body in one swift movement. The boy was sobbing uncontrollably now. His small body was tense and shaking as he let out scream after scream. His fists curled up into balls over his 84
face, his head on his father’s naked chest. He might have been crying out of fear that his father would lose his temper very badly, or out of shame for watching what was going on in his father’s bedroom, or he might have been crying because everything felt so upside down outside of his little attic and because he had a feeling that was his fault, and because he did not think he would ever be big enough to make it right side up again. He was still crying when his dad dropped him onto the wood-panel floor, amongst his canvases and candles, underneath the shadows of the glowing harp. He did not look up as he heard his father’s footsteps disappear quickly out of the attic, down the stairs, back to the woman with the unhappy smile. Day 5,002: He woke up on top of a canvas he started drawing on the day before. The charcoal had rubbed off of it onto his face, his chest, his arms and his hands. It was still dark outside. The moon was coming through the harp strings, casting thin, delicate shadows across his coal-covered body. He pulled himself up and hoisted himself to see through the window. The teenagers were long gone, and his father’s car was left with what appeared to be a narrative of the night; “Fuck” like the strange woman screamed when she heard him crying. “Sex” like what his father was watching on the television, and doing in what used to be his mother’s bed. There was a graffiti drawing of a topless woman in between the other scratches. The graffiti made her breasts look unnatural and strange to the little boy. Like the lady downstairs, he thought to himself. Day 6,230: “Dear Dad, I’m doing well in school. Vermont is better than Maryland for me, anyway. There is more space and I have more things to think and draw about. I know we don’t write letters, but I thought I would send just one. Don’t worry about writing back, it would probably be kind of weird. Anyways, I know that I killed mom. And I know if she was u n d e r g r o u n d
alive you would not have to drink of your shiny drinks, and sleep with all your shiny women, or be so obsessed about your shiny car. And I’m not mad at you. Because I know if I had not killed her, I would be really different, too. I just thought you should know. I think I’m old enough to tell you. Sincerely, Caleb.”
An Interview with Rebekah Cooper
I’m walking into the Aderhold Classroom Building. It’s cold. I stop in the bathroom with a few minutes to spare and then begin to head up the goliath staircase to first floor. “Wait a second, which is the ‘first’ floor?” Rebekah suggested that we meet in the “first floor of Aderhold.” By that, does she mean the entrance floor, or does she mean the lowest floor in building? I test my luck and hope that she isn’t as technical and ridiculous as I am, so I head up the staircase and eye the “first” floor for a female student that might be named Rebekah. Then, I’m hit with the second round of ridiculousness: how do I expect to find someone that I have never seen and have no description of in a building full of people? I only know that she is female; literally, that is the only sure thing I have about my interviewee, and I can’t be necessarily certain of that either. I see a person standing by the very top of the stairwell, looking around, and I think, “Oh, that’s a great spot to stand, if you’re meeting someone because if they were as uncertain as I am about what “first floor” means, then they would have to come up or down the staircase at some point. Instead of using that logic, I pass her as I climb to the first floor, and begin to look around for someone else. It’s not until I check my email and find that Rebekah has sent me a helpful description of her as the “person standing by the stairwell in a black t-shirt”, that I find my feature writer. Greetings and merriments follow …. Q: When did you start writing creatively? What inspired you, and how did you start? I guess I’ve been doing it since I can remember. I was probably like eleven or twelve. It was mostly going outside, actually. I would go outside with pen and paper, and just write outside.
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Q: Okay, so what inspired you to create “I’m Not Mad”? It was supposed to be about that point that happens in everyone’s life, when something happens, and they stop looking at the world the way that they used to look at the world. It could be your parents getting divorced. In this story, he sees his dad having sex with someone who is not his mom. And, I think … that I’m kind of obsessed with that point in everyone’s life, because I think that everyone kind of has it, and it just looks different. So, I guess that’s where the story came from. Q: Cool. Let’s see. Are there any other stories that you have written that are connected to “I’m Not Mad” at all, or is it, in its own right, just a completely distinct story? Yeah, the character in “I’m Not Mad” is a boy, and I actually have another short story about a little girl, and she is … it’s about this same kind of moment in her life as well. And well, it looks different for her. It’s connected, but I wouldn’t say that the characters are the same, but the same story shows up. Q: Okay, I guess this is kind of a similar question, but it’s just something that I am curious about. Is there any story that inspired you to write in that style or in that kind of theme? Umm, yeah. Actually, I kind of pulled the idea from someone telling a real story about a moment in their childhood and when they were telling it, they were telling it to about nine or ten other people. And they told it, kind of how people remember things … very fragmented. So it was like, “I remember this moment … and then there was this moment.” And in “I’m Not Mad”, I think that there was this moment when his fish dies, his Dad doesn’t feed his fish, and he remembers that. And those aren’t the specific things that the girl talks about in this group, but it’s the same idea of these fragmented pieces of this happened and this happened, and then there was this “BAM” moment where he saw something, and he wasn’t going to un-see it. So that’s kind of what caused that style. 88
Q: Cool, okay. What kind of messages, or emotions, or images, I guess, do you see or are you trying to convey when you wrote “I’m Not Mad”, but also when you read “I’m Not Mad”? I guess when I wrote it, it was kind of a … nostalgia for the moments before, and kind of being a kid, and he just processes things kind of the way a kid processes things. And also a little bit of a mourning for the way that you change … as you get older. There’s definitely an overtone of sadness for me writing it, just because I think that while it’s inevitable for it to happen, it’s still sad and it’s something to be mourned, I think, the loss of innocence. So I don’t know; when people read it, I hope they don’t think it’s funny or something. Hahaha. Q: Yeah, yeah, I was really sad after I read it. Hahaha. It’s kind of a careful read, in a way. Okay, cool. I guess we’re kind of wrapping up. So a preview question, do you do any other kinds of writing and/or art, any kinds of expression other than prose or short stories? I did a lot of poetry when I was a kid. I wrote a lot of poetry. Now when I’m not writing a short story or something fictitious, it’s more of like a classic, “This is what I did today, and I’m so mad about what this person did today.” Just kind of stream of consciousness, basically. So it’s really that and the short fiction. Q: Okay. What does prose, not a specific style of prose, but short stories, and also longer narratives, what do they offer creatively compared to other forms of writing, like poetry, or even visual art? I think that it offers a chance to embody a voice, so … one of the more challenging things when I wrote [“I’m Not Mad”] and when I wrote the other piece that I was mentioning, it also talks about a young child losing innocence; it’s embodying that voice. It’s difficult because there’d be lines and I’d re-read and say, “That’s not right. An eight-year-old doesn’t sound like that.” That’s what makes it more challenging, but that’s also what makes it, to me, u n d e r g r o u n d
when I read it or when I write it, something that allows me to be there in that story. You know what I mean? It really is a mechanism that brings you into whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s going on and you feel like you could see or touch or hear this character talking â&#x20AC;Ś. Thank you, Rebekah Cooper!
Mad as a Mother
The first time I told her I didn’t want to go to church white tension split across brown knuckles and clashed with the door frame chipped paint rage wide open screw hole can’t hold the door no more bruised broze plaster held the knob looser than she gripped my wrist and insisted— that stubborn hallway floorboard I could never skip u n d e r g r o u n d
over no matter which way I tried told me NO like thrown over bookcase dvd, hardcover clash SHUT UP furniture pick up recovered plaster my lips are sealed still with gorilla glue have been since I was 10 Mom always found a way to fix the furniture so it stood up straight wonder if the truth will come out like pebble cracked window or flipped back couch wonder what kind of mad sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll be that day 92
An Interview with Kenita Betts
Q: When did you start writing? I started writing in 6th grade. You know when you hit middle school and everyone is super angsty, and no one knows what to do with their feelings? I started writing poems. Q: What do you want to do with your writing in the future? I just want to see it grow. I’m interested in performing my poetry, trying to get into that. I just moved back to Atlanta, so I’m trying to figure out the scene down here and where I want to pursue that. I would love to continue writing and be published. I think it’s cool the way that, when you put your poetry out there, the way it’s experienced by other people. Because it’s so much about your own life experiences, so that interaction is very interesting to me. That’s another reason I’m interested in performing my poems, and maybe getting into slam at some point, but [laughs] it’s really intimidating. Q: Favorite poets? Poems? Authors? My favorite poets are Lauren Zuniga, Megan Fowly, Anis Mojani. Lauren Zuniga has a book called The Smell of Mud, it’s my favorite, I’ve read it several times. As far as novels go … I’ve suddenly forgotten every book I’ve ever read in my entire life [laughs]. I’m reading Game of Thrones right now, which I’m enjoying, in between reading about five thousand other things for school. Q: “Mad as a Mother” has such a unique form, style, and voice. Does this poem come from your own personal experience, or what was your inspiration? It comes from my own experience. Not my mother, but my parents as a singular entity. I was taking a poetry class and one of the exercises was to take a common phrase, like butterflies in your stomach, and change a part of it. I used bad as a mother, and this poem is what I came up u n d e r g r o u n d
with. As far as the form goes, I was talking to my teacher Megan Fowly, and she said the tone of my poem was really passionate and erratic, and my form should match that. Q: What would you say is the tone or style of this piece? You used the word “passionate” earlier. I would say a passionate narrative. A lot of my writing is like storytelling. Q: What do you want readers to feel or think when reading “Mad as a Mother”? It’s never anything that I want someone to feel, I want you to feel what you feel. As far as what I was going for, sort of that off-the-cuff reaction. You know when someone hears something that they don’t like and they react very suddenly without thinking through it. That very immediate reaction before having a chance to think through what happened and what you actually think about it, that says so much about your cultural understanding of whatever it is you’re reacting to and the way that you’ve been taught to react to something before you think about how you would react to it maybe as the person you actually are. Q: When do you usually write? Do you have to be inspired? Do you have a routine, writing always in the morning or always at night? Do you try to write everyday? I try to write everyday, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes you’re just not feeling it. I say, “I want to write something, but I have nothing to say.” A lot of times I will write between classes. I have these weird hour and a half breaks, so I’ll sit down in the courtyard and write. I also like to write at night before I go to sleep. I may read a book first, then write, or watch something then write, or maybe write from a prompt. Sometimes you just need a little inspiration, and something electric happens. You have a thought and you want to get it on paper. Q: Tell me more about “Mad as a Mother.” What do you want to say about this piece? 94
“Mad as a Mother” came from my very passionate parents. There were instances growing up where they would get mad about something, like the furniture is on the ground, and it’s like, why? It’s not that serious. Especially with this piece it’s more about coming into my own, what I believe, in terms of religion and sexuality, and coming to terms with certain things about myself, and their reaction to it. It all comes back to how I was treated as a child and being put back in that very vulnerable place. For instance, if my parents knock over a bookshelf now, I’m as tall as the bookshelf, it’s not a big deal. But when that reaction comes from them, it’s very much being in that place of being a six-year-old and being so much smaller. When that bookshelf comes crashing down it seems so much bigger than you and so much louder, just terrifying. Being put back into that weird place, that very small comparison to the furniture and everything around you is so much bigger than you are. When your parents react to it in a negative, erratic way, it’s puts you back in that place of feeling very small in comparison to everything happening around you. Thank you, Kenita Betts!
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Fight Club, Tiffany Huynh
Absolution J.S. Epps Renegade reaper of my mind, oh damn you tortuous soul of old. I’m not supposed to think of you. I told myself I wouldn’t, that you don’t deserve me. I’m not supposed to be sitting here with a wrist clock of ugly magnitude as dirty as the streets of China, counting down the ugly hours of your return. I’m not supposed to be this drunk, one Jägerbomb, two shots of Jack, three— wait, I lost count. A miserable shell of my former self, I’m not supposed to be this washed up before I reach my summit, my peak, my— fuck it. But oh what a wonderful elixir alcohol is, who thought of such a precious gem to dampen my ardor and hatred and hurt in the wee hours when I feel—when I feel my hands closing around your throat for the senseless nonsense bullshit crap foul— but my mind is a muddled mess. My mind is a muddled, drunk mess. My mind is—I’m repeating myself. Little drunk old me, life shattered by Cupid’s bow. Fuck that ugly cherub. I’m not supposed to be sitting here with diamond tears in my eyes, mourning the loss of a name as precious as Denise, you Judas. How many pieces of silver did you sell my soul for—how could you turn your back on me? I needed you—but no that’s not necessarily true. You need air to suck the life out of life and water to quench your damnable thirst and shelter to house the evil in your spirit. Such a beautiful creature, u n d e r g r o u n d
how could you—what did I—why— Breathe. Life isn’t about making excuses or getting drunk while listening to ‘Take Care’ and calling her a gazillion times because you stalking her Twitter made you think she has a “him” or a fucking “bae.” Fuck a “bae,” and Drake is only out to ruin you, oh Soulful One. I just wish I could find it as easy as her to walk away. I’m not supposed to be this ruined. I’m not supposed to …. I’m not supposed … I’m not …
distinction, Najwa Hossain photography Hossain
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White Napkins and a Musky Voice
Monday nights began with a gentle kiss on your cheeks as grandpa stood three shots of vodka ahead. You sat in the impressioned pocket of the plastic covered couch, lost in the entertainment of a single napkinâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;one that grazed your pruned fingers like waves washing upon the shore. Your swelled feet took your crooked back only to the bed and back. Similar to our conversationsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; short and slightly uncomfortable. Perhaps the disconnect in our native language disconnected us. Or maybe you just never had much to say at all.
She smelled of downy and stale Now lights She would cook you dinner But she had to have her cigarette first She would wash your clothes But she had to have her cigarette first She would clean up after us But she had to have her cigarette first She went to the doctor She did not tell us the news She cooked She cleaned She took me to school But she forgot to have her cigarette first The nurses came and went The bed was replaced by one with hand rails The furniture was removed, to make room for the wheel chair She let out blood-curdling screams To replace the “I love you’s” She smelled of sickness and fear I think I can deal with this But I have to have my cigarette first
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Someone Mikaila Mack
Marry someone who plants flowers in your soul and who won’t disappear if they don’t bloom. Love a woman who will water your plants and keep the harmful insects away. Be with a man who loves you enough to know that you yourself are not a garden, but understands how to maintain one. And when the rain overflows and the sunlight is gone, he’ll know that even though the storm may be temporary, your soul will need just as much care and attention as it did before. She’ll know how to help you weather the bad weather, take comfort in the thunder, and breathe in the carbon dioxide that gushes from her lungs. Marry a man who will make you miss the shit out of him when he leaves. Love a man who knows this, and will make a pointed effort to lessen the trips he takes away. Be with a man who misses you just as much, if not … more. And when the days apart finally end and he finds himself heading back to the home in your arms, he’ll make a vow to himself to never leave again even though he will have to. But he’ll know how to make the days he has with you count. He’ll know each frown, each sigh, each tear that conveys your unhappiness and he will crawl to the ends of the Earth to make sure that while you’re in his presence, nothing will be missed. Marry a woman who both infuriates and calms you. Love a woman who is connected to the inner workings of your mind and knows how to push every single button you possess. Be with a woman who seeps all the anger, frustration, and fight out of your tense body with her every touch. And when your blood starts to boil from something someone has done to you, your heart will yearn for her skin because it knows that is all you will need. She will 102
sense your calm and know just what to say to ignite a flame of passion deep within you. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll make sure to keep you balanced, even when your mind wants you to be anything but. Marry someone who loves you, your garden, your presence, your temper. Love someone who has seen the very center of you and still loves you. Be with a man who understands the reason your heart beats and will stay even if the reason isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t him. Marry a woman who is broken but is willing to fix you up with the pieces of her that remain. Love someone who loves you.
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Coal, Najwa Hossain charcoal
Woven, Rachel Wahaus digital photography
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1 I live with my brother, and most of the time we could kill each other. Right now, Christopher and I have a mouse infestation, and my dog Olive appears to enjoy their company, so Christopher and I are in a truce. There are five mice stuck to black sticky traps in the kitchen, four in the laundry room. One is screaming and I laugh like an evil villain because the assholes have chewed gigantic holes in everything that is not in the fridge. The sticky strip box says to simply throw the strips away in a comfortable neighborhood street trashcan, so I make Chris do it. I can hear more of them in the walls, mating and birthing hundreds of new members for their mouse militia. 2 Eight more mice caught in the traps this morning. EIGHT. All in the kitchen. A baby one is screaming and the damn sticky stuff works so well that he’s broken his legs from struggling and one side of his face is stuck to the stuff. He’s breathing so hard I can’t take it. Chris agrees that we should save him. 3 An hour into trying to free the little guy. Water and plastic bendy straws are not working very well to pry him off. The straws keep getting stuck. Chris is working on freeing the mom. We have a cooler we’re going to keep them in. 4 Worked for five hours, finally freed all eight mice from the death traps and Chris went to fetch the ones we threw away yesterday. Three of the strips had somehow smashed together and the mice were disturbingly also smashed together. I don’t want to go into it. The rest were still alive and kicking, not quite sure how, also don’t want to think 106
about it. They’re very cute when they’re dying, but I admit, looking at the eight sticky, wet mice climbing on top of each other in a cooler made me gag once or twice. Still sort of cute though. I can’t believe I haven’t gotten bit yet. 5 IF I GET RABIES, I WILL DIE. That is a fact that I just read on the Internet. A fact. The world’s deadliest disease. There is nothing you can do, you go rabid and lose your mind and you die. “I don’t want to die in a hospital, Christopher. Take me outside and give me the same courtesy that was given to Old Yeller.” “You haven’t been bitten.” “I know, I know, but rabies is death. That’s it. One of these mice has it and he’s going to be thirsting for our blood. If it comes down to it, someone needs to know that I don’t want to die in a hospital and that’s that.” “Ok. When you get rabies, I’ll just go to the store and buy a gun real quick, come back, and shoot my sister in the backyard. I’ll tell Olive to close her eyes, that is, if you don’t bite her while I’m at the store.” “Thank you.” 6 Big Treece stops by to check out the mice. I sent out a video of the precious babies after the rabies scare died down. He’s interested, but then he just smokes and does his laundry. 7 Treece is talking about Will Hardesty with the yellow truck. No one knows any other Will Hardesty’s, but everyone still calls him “Will Hardesty with the yellow truck.” 8 Having a send off for the mice. Treece does not care about anything, so he leaves. Chris tips the cooler over in the soccer field across from our house. Not much is happening, u n d e r g r o u n d
except sad things. The sticky stuff is caught in their fur so they are getting caught in the grass. I’m getting choked up here. It’s like that scene in that movie, what’s-it-called, where the guy and his horse are trudging through thick, sticky mud up to the guy’s waist, after days of walking, no food, just trying to get home. The only difference is that these mice most certainly weren’t starving. 9 One look at my kitchen and I’m pissed off again. 10 Three more mice are screaming on the sticky paper. I can’t take it. We Google what to do. Apparently cooking oil easily removes critters from the sticky strips. Easily. Like pour, one-two-three, they’re free. I can’t think about this or my head will explode. 11 “Now what? Once they’re free? Skip all that.” “Christopher. You have to kill them, it says. Which means you have to kill them. I just can’t. I don’t even want to watch. Or hear it, hear anything hitting anything. The sound of an object making contact with another. I don’t want to be in the house actually.” “Fine, let me see that. Says the most humane way … is to stomp on it with a hard-soled shoe … or hit it with a hard or sharp object. Neither of those sounds humane.” I can’t do anything but shake my head back and forth forever until he leaves the room. 12 He tried to kill them outside with a pointy stick but he couldn’t. After a long talk and a lot of thinking, we decide to throw them in the comfortable neighborhood street trashcan. 13 Thought we got them all, but we hear critters crittering around in the walls. They have made tunnels and hallways 108
and bridges, formed alliances with the squirrels. Or they have found the secret to selective breeding and have bred their largest mice, making super mice. Probably evolved, smarter, more cunning. Probably planning on a takeover. They’ve grown fearless. I’m sure my neighbors think someone is in here trying to kill me at how loud I scream every time I’m going about my business and come across one just looking at me. Not moving. Smelling my fear. I know they can climb and I’m just waiting for them to suffocate me in my sleep. They’ll probably threaten me first. Leave little pellets all in my bed as a message, like leaving a bloody horse head on my pillow. It’s beginning. Going to the mattresses.
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I Was Never Good at Breakups Mikaila Mack
It’s a bit of a tragedy how I still think of him even when I know I’m happy with you. It’s as if he’s embracing me as I inhale the very essence of him into my long worn-out lungs while you stand there next to me gripping onto my hand. And I’m not trying to say I don’t love you cause that would be a lie. I just think of him sometimes and sometimes those thoughts turn into wishes which turn into wants. I’m not saying that I want him, I’m just confused (and I’ve always been conflicted), but I think it’s been amplified ever since I saw him with her smiling and happy. I’m not saying I’m not over him but he used to be my bloodstream before he walked away to let me bleed. I’m not saying that I don’t need you, just in a different way than I did him and the love I have for you won’t scar me the way his did 110
and I’m not saying I want you to scar me, but he’ll always have a piece of me you won’t. And I guess I’m trying to say that I don’t think I’ll ever feel about you the way I kind of still feel about him. I’m sorry.
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She hears their whispers, feels their stares They canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t see past her veil, their stereotypes Blind to the tears that wet her cheeks too Justice, tell us a story more true. Sweet cupcakes and smiles on a summer day Bright symbols of freedom fill the sky of July An Iraqi girl plays, safe, far away from home Stomachs growl within sanctioned borders A different kind of explosions mark the night Innocent bystanders become collateral damage Justice cries out: Human life is human life is human life. A false narrative permeates the pulpits and pews Divisions of us vs. them, with God on our side His kingdom proclaimed in red, blue, and white Justice, give us eyes that see, hearts that repent, arms that extend. This land of conflict and chaos and weary hearts Bloodstained streets that yearn for redemption Her beauty stands behind the veil, solemnly resilient Justice, come.
Justice, Come., Caitlin Fogerty multimedia collage
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Eadgar T. L. Maurloch
When shadows stretch and darkness cloaks the sky, that is the time the imagination fills the mind with restless noises and gentle whispers. Harsh breathing, the erratic pounding of the heart, these sounds overshadow rustling leaves and hurried footsteps. They drown out the screech of tires and the low hiss of animals. Shadows meld into horrors as the mind attempts to make sense of shapeless entities. Many things can go wrong at this time, such as a loss of footing or the dropping of keys. Howeverâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;mostâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;often by its end, the golden light of home drives these creatures, born in the darkness around you, away. The adrenaline begins to dissipate as you convince yourself it was nothing. Just your mind playing tricks on you. This moment in time is when you are at your most vulnerable.
The Sheep and Their Shepherd
“There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces.” —Kurt Vonnegut Dawn broke over the country and light cascaded over partially dilapidated buildings of the third tier’s district— partially because the buildings were cared for with at least some dignity but they were still haggard and old looking. Great buildings that have seen, countless times, trees fade and spring to life again intermingle with a plethora of shacks that have popped up like unsightly weeds all over the district. Some squat between their columns and others occupy spacious gaps between buildings; others are set up in impromptu neighborhoods scattered about the old Woodruff Park, but a majority of the population lived happily in poverty stricken suburbs surrounding the third tier’s district’s center. The sun inched even more over the horizon and cast its light on the third tier’s district’s Superlative Infant Testing Center. It was a monstrous white building with no windows and a scrupulous egg shell exterior that contrasted with the rest of the browns, greys, and blues of the surrounding city. Inside it contained hundreds of testing rooms, all white, all sterile, cleaned every day to the highest degree of scrutiny, built to accommodate three hundred first grade students. On the highest floor was a top secret floor only accessible with special clearance. Down the singular corridor which housed all of the rooms was a door at the far end of the hall. The unassuming wooden door had the label: “The Administrators of Testing and What Not.” Inside some old and wrinkly men and women sat on comfortable leather chairs specially designed to support their crumpling spines, situated in front of a long table facing a set of telemonitors. u n d e r g r o u n d
They seem to be in concentration, squinting at the ghostly light cast by the telemonitors, watching each testing center with its three hundred chairs and desks. “It is a marvelous day to be testing. In a few hours, the Infants will be guided to a room, with a specially designed test to measure their academic aptitude. Hopefully the test scores will not be too bad this year. I do wish that our Infants would score better. What do you think will be the first tier and second tier passing rate this year?” said an administrator. This was Doctor Bal-Ding, a man that sat tall among the others, with a raspy but burly voice. Age had sunken parts of his body like fissures after some bad earthquake, and his hair had all but fallen out. “I estimate the passing rate to be one to three percent at best, you know how stupid these third tier students can be. At best they will be cashiers at some store. Honestly, why did we get put in charge of the third district?” said an administrator. The line came out as an exhausted expression not only as something that came to be known as a cliché to the administrators, but also as a line that came to symbolize their existence, intellectually exhausted. A woman at the far end of the table responded with her wrinkly mouth that was shaped more like a horse’s than that of an ape’s. “They must think that we are the cream of the crop.” She had a hairy mole on her lip that twitched when she thought she said something witty. Someone coughed but it sounded more like laughing, and in response the old lady’s mole twitched as her mouth formed a smug smile, and her wide football shaped eyes looked in direction of her fan with irrevocable satisfaction. “Sorry, I took a weird puff of my cigarette,” said Doctor Virgil, who coughed. Every living thing in that room was old. However, Doctor Virgil, who coughed, seemed not to be touched by fossilization just yet; his features were still taut around his face, but he had laugh lines around his round eyes. His most defining feature was his long white beard that covered almost half his face and reached down to his torso, only breaking around his salmon pink lips in a waterfall of hair. 116
The nose of this administrator was rounded and a little wide, but just so that it balanced with the rest of his features like a Greek statue. Most of the other administrators were jealous of his remarkably good looks, but even with his natural embellishments, he was not well respected among the administrators, in fact he was nobody special. He took another puff, and spoke up. “Do any of you remember last year when we were ordered by the Spectacular Board of Unfairica Testing to test random students from the district’s fifteen schools?” “Yes, that experiment was a damn shame. I believe we have been ordered to do it again this year. Can you confirm that Doctor Bal-Ding?” There was a pause as the tall and bald administrator looked at his papers. He found the document he was searching for, and read it aloud. “‘You are to select several students from each of the third tier’s district’s fifteen schools and have them take the Infant Examination again. The scores do not matter, and you can equally distribute the students throughout the first and second tiers’ districts at your discretion. The only stipulation is that the students must be rising ninth graders. As always, have a great testing season. Signed, The Spectacular Board of Unfairica Testing. Dictated but not read.’ Does that answer any of your concerns?” Later that morning, around ten o’clock, parents rushed to get their first graders ready to go. The testing hour was fast approaching. They slicked their boys’ hair down to a neat part, the girls got a thousand brushes; the girls and boys wore their one and only dressy pair of clothes. They went in swarms, moving and undulating this way and that, breakfast, then the old car or the bus, then the road, then the traffic, but parking was the worst. Parents took tests to see which parking space was most suitable for them at the parking entrance booth. “How many children do you have?”, “Are you physically fit?”, “Are you lame?”, “Do you have a disability?”, “How far are you willing to walk?” et cetera, et cetera. The administrators watched coolly in their ghostly lit u n d e r g r o u n d
room at the telemonitors, as the first graders rushed in and were quickly guided into their testing rooms. “They flow like salmon going upstream don’t they. Doctor Virgil, what say you?” remarked one of the administrators. Doctor Virgil turned with his long white beard to the administrator and looked at him bewildered. “Do you mean in terms of their movement on screen or their actual life?” “You know what I mean.” “I think that if we did not limit them to a test, and we simply evaluated them on their interest in a subject and their motivation, then they might not be so much like salmon.” This brought a roar of laughter from the rest of the administrators. Doctor Virgil’s face flushed red, and he shrunk back in his chair. “What is the matter, Doctor Virgil, are you mad?” “No. No. He is just embarrassed because he cannot back up his opinion.” “You know, Doctor Virgil,” commented Doctor BaldDing. “There is nothing by the means of tests to prove your point. Meanwhile the Infant Test proves to be a reliable measure of academic aptitude. The test has a 99 percent accuracy rate. Children with parents who are already denizens of the third tier’s district will, with 99 percent certainty, be denizens of the third tier’s district as well. There is no denying that.” He continued: “As you also know, the experiment failed last year; all of the students committed suicide and barely had the literacy skills to write a decent note. The pressure of the first and second tiers’ district was too much for them to handle I guess. Do you suggest we make students suffer that way?” Doctor Bal-Ding looked at Doctor Virgil. His gaze tip-toed and peered expectantly into Doctor Virgil’s, and Doctor Virgil sat silently with his mouth ajar; he just couldn’t think of what to say. With that, he relaxed his facial muscles in defeat, and walked out of the door. After Doctor Virgil got up and left, the room echoed with laughter once again. 118
Testing had ended by now, and the sun was setting, splashing the sky with yellows, oranges, reds, and purples in a fantastic gradient of color. Doctor Virgil stepped out into the cool autumn air, took a deep breath and released it, letting out plumes of water vapor that condensed in the nippy air. He rubbed his large hands together and then took out a cigarette placing it to his mouth. To-morrow, he planned to give a speech at the “National Assembly of Pedantic Appraisal.” He felt desperate at this point and was willing to do anything to get his point across to those rotten academics, but he knew that his speech would only cause sardonic uproar. After all he was not able to do research at the academy because he had been consistently denied permission to “undermine the testing system in place.” All he wanted to do was see if children would be able to perform well in a field even with low Infant Test scores. So his convictions were all he had. He stood there for a while, and watched the sun drop below the horizon. An airplane flew past, and he stared at that until like the sun, it disappeared as well in the black night of the city. He took the central metro back home to his cat, and went to sleep late that night. Fancy cars and people in elegant dress filled the streets, and they were lit by soft and beautiful lamp light. Tonight there was an event at The Grand City’s Building, a prominent marble building near the Superlative Infant Testing Center of the first tier’s District. Intellectual laughter floated gracefully through the air, as people intermingled on the marble steps and the magnificent Corinthian columns of The Grand City’s Building. Doctor Virgil arrived on the scene with the other administrators from the third tier’s district. As they walked by their peers, whispers could be heard coming from the clusters of coagulated academia. A few days before Doctor Virgil was asked by Doctor Bal-Ding if he would like to join the group on their excursion to the “National Assembly of Pedantic Appraisal,” and Doctor Virgil accepted the polite gesture, although he knew Doctor Bal-Ding’s actions were merely a necessity to “apologize” for what had happened on u n d e r g r o u n d
the testing day of that year. Under the crystal chandelier in the State ballroom, tables were set up before a stage. On the stage stood the host introducing tonight’s honored and venerable guests to the audience of some two-hundred and ninety-five administrators and staff of the Superlative Infant Testing Centers across all three tiers. “And now let us welcome a newer member of our administration, Doctor Virgil. He will read tonight’s program.” The host turned to Doctor Virgil and flamboyantly motioned him on stage. Doctor Virgil went on stage and took the microphone in his hand. “Today I speak for the third tier’s district. The education system is corrupted by your ‘so-called’ sense of order and by your ‘so-called’ sense of fair. You call yourselves the carriers of torches, burning away the dark with your ‘socalled’ enlightenment. A simple test binds children to their district. Isn’t that ridiculous? In my district, because of this test, children seldom wrench themselves from the hands of poverty, and so they never know true freedom. Stand up with me and help me fight this system of corruption! A child in Unfairica can never know what it is like to choose what he wants to be, because his choice has been made for him when he is born. Life seems a good alternative, but when he has no choice in life, then why should he not choose death? I implore you all to think and see how we have corrupted our children and adults; I implore you all too in turn change the lives of children and adults in this country!” The tide pulled back, silence filled the room, and for a fleeting moment Doctor Virgil thought the crowd would break into applause, but instead a tsunami of laughter washed over him. Armed guards grabbed Doctor Virgil by the arms, and he sunk into their embrace, a corpse now and a wet noodle.
Love Like Yeah
I follow behind you, walking in the fade of rain; and pain comes along, too, not like a stab or a blow, but like the thud of a stone dropped inside the hollow of my here; and fear (which does not creep, does not leak, does not leap) dips and swells like a buoy in the blackening sea; but to be—just to be in so much of me; just to dream between the splitting of the seam, the teaming of threads in our disheveled beds; and to dread, and to cry, and to justify the tears, the spilling of years waiting for a brighter better, years biting still at the tightening knot; but I loved—no, love—you so big and small, but only in the spring or fall; love you like the turn in a familiar drawl, like a familiar bitter gall; love you my sicker, my better, my other who sleeps through rains and thrown stones and drowning waves and years and years and years of love like water, love that frays, love like rope, love that stays, love not like no, love not quite yes, but love like ––yeah.
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The Precipice, Kelly Barraza multimedia collage
The stars were supposed to be vast and endless, but he had counted them. They were numbered and charted, but not named. He had nothing better to do. He felt crushed, trapped in this tiny space with no end in sight. And so he spent his indefinite existence lying as still as he could, watching and counting and unable to even wither away. They called him wise, everyone else. All-knowing. But he was ancient and careless, and that was all. They came to him with questions, asking for meanings and solutions, and he could see it all because he had seen it all before, and the lines blurred together until there was no difference. He answered, spoke of what had come before this, and it was like connecting two points in time, mapping stars. And after all, stars were much the same and mattered as little. Everything was just there. It had been for some time and would be for some time more. He did not become bored or frustrated, because his world simply was. Wishing, feeling, seemed as pointless and distant as anything else. Then she came and asked questions to which he had no answers. He did not know who he was. He did not know why he was here. She disturbed something within him; he had always looked outward, and known. This was something, an event, a sparkâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a blip in the infinite, straight stream of time. He told her this, because he had no other answer. She answered him, though he had formed no question. She explained beauty. She explained light. She told him of colorsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;not the spectrum, but how they felt and tasted. She told him where laughter came from and what a thrill was like and why a simple touch was everything. She stayed there for a long time, just talking. He listened as the pressure of endlessness, the weight of imprisonment, fizzled away in bursts of crackling light. She taught him the names of the stars.
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Mirror, Mirror Typhanie Hall
The kingdom barren, gray, rotting soon to black. My search is long, as it always is, because I long to find an answer, because I loathe the poisonous words dripping from my lips that give her her power. “My Queen, you are the fairest in the land,” I say. And my words do not lie. But they feel like lies upon my tongue. But of course she is the fairest, for she drains everything beautiful from the lands of the kingdom until the only color that remains is what is filled into her sharp, narrow cheeks on her cold, pale face. I wish I could lie, but I cannot. I lose hope one morning when I search for the fairest thing in all the land. My search brings me back, once again back to the royal palace. Expecting to find myself in my queen’s chambers as I always do, I let my feet take control as I prepare to spill those mind-numbing words once again to my queen … but this is not the queen. I find myself in the gardens. A young girl, skin pale, unlike the queen’s, beautiful, refreshing, like snow. Her lips, the color of the queen’s cheeks, but deeper, as though blood had been stained upon them. And her hair, darker than the finest ebony in all the kingdom. She is as beautiful as the day and yet until today she was as unknown to me as the night. The gardens are green around her as she sings, the flowers erupt with colors, the last time I saw such colors, I do not know. I wish to stay forever, but I must report to the queen. Her time has come. As I make my way to her chambers I feel excitement welling in me, but then I realize, what will the queen do to that fair child when I tell her? The excitement drops down to the darkness of my stomach. I must lie. For the first time in my existence I must… “Who is the fairest in the land?” she asks me. I must lie. I face her now, I see the color already draining from her now falling cheeks. 124
“My Queen, you are the fairest here so true.” I struggle, but I already know I am not strong enough. “But Snow White is a thousand times more beautiful than you.” I never had the best self-control when it came to the truth. The girl’s fate is now out of my grasp, but of course, it was never mine to hold.
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Snow Angels, Rachel Wahaus digitized film photography
Rebel America, Tiffany Huynh
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Summer Apology Kayla Stockton
Today I met a boy. I motioned through what you taught me; donned a pretty smile and feigned interest, never mind that his touch felt like acid seeping into my exposed skin. I still haven’t figured out why holding hands makes me sick but rushed roughness in shadowed places makes me feel high. When I work at piecing together my fragments in an attempt to solve myself, I always hear the echo of your damnation ringing in my ears while I wring my hands— refusing to ring my hand: “You’re fucked up” I’m sorry; I’ll be better. This conversation stays stuck in a loop, cycling like seasons: changing tones, varying in levels of heat and frost, but perpetually circling back in on itself. Luckily, I am experienced in navigating the waters of the womb, of Hades; two places I am not convinced are two at all, and so I deflect: “Have the bruises healed yet? I’ll be home to stitch you up soon, I promise. Maybe I’ll bring home a boy this summer. Maybe he’ll have green eyes and steel fists, the way I know you like. I’m still learning how not to flinch. It’s just that you make it look so easy, you know?” She does know because I hit where it hurts; 128
she takes a pill, takes a nap, nurses her woundsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; from me, from him. I call home, run from home, bite into the pomegranate cradled in the palm of sin itself. I relish in the winter, all the while preparing my summer apology.
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Social Anxiety, A Stream of Consciousness
Grant Richard MacNeil
Sometimes I wonder if my friends hate me, and that they just aren’t telling me because they’re nice people. “Hey, you!” I hear her shout. Arms wrap around me. This feels weird. Do I do it back? What if I leaned in? No, don’t lean in, she’ll think you’re weird. Remember that time when you leaned into a hug and that girl thought you were trying to smell her hair? Yeah, don’t lean in. A pat on the back? Yeah, that works. I pat her on the back. “It’s nice to see you again!” she says. Is it really? “What have you been up to?” Dear God, don’t tell her what you’ve been up to. She’ll laugh. What do you have to talk about anyways? That you’ve been at home reading the same book that you’ve been trying to read for a year now? Don’t tell her about your recent TV binge, either. You have nothing of value to contribute to the conversation. Just ride it out. Be vague. “I’ve been here and there. Just kind of doing me,” I reply. “Oh, that’s cool.” What does she mean by cool? Is she making fun of me? Maybe I didn’t give her a specific enough answer? What the Hell am I supposed to tell her? My whole week in detail? Ride it out. Be vauge. “Yeah,” I reply. Smooth. Crisis averted. Her eyes dart towards the ceiling. Is she bored of me? Is she looking for something to talk about? Maybe I should start a conversation. Search the memory banks for something she can relate to. Wow, I’m drawing a blank. Do women like football? No, no they don’t. No, that’s sexist, you don’t know if she likes football or not. Find a genderneutral topic. Movies? Yeah, that seems like a good topic to talk abou—damn she’s talking. “Do you want a beer?” she asks. Do I want a beer? No, you can’t handle your alcohol. The 130
last time you drank a beer it turned into four beers and 2 shots of whiskey and a double shot of vodka. You wound up puking all over the air mattress that someone had set up. Then again, maybe you should have the beer. You don’t want to be the only one who isn’t drinking at the party. They’ll laugh at you, call you a loser for staying so sober. You don’t want to be a loser do you? Who are you kidding? You are a loser. Deal with it. Fuck it, have the beer, loser. “Yeah, sure. I’ll take whatever you got,” I reply. “Cool, I’ll be right back.” Cool. What does that mea—nevermind, find something to do while you wait for your beer to get here. Scan the room and see what’s going on around you. There’s a group of people dancing in the back of the room. You aren’t a half-bad dancer, right? No, you’re an awful dancer. Remember when you almost knocked over Karen’s vase at her graduation party? Of all the spots in the living room to dance in, you pick the spot with the most valuable objects. So no, no dancing for you. Maybe the conversation over there in the corner? Nope, you’re terrible at conversation. You’re timing is off, nobody watches the same shows as you, nobody listens to the same music. You’ll be completely alone in the conversation. Drinking games over there in the kitchen? Damn it, did we not discuss the fact that you can’t handle your alcohol? No, there’s nothing for you here. Go stand up against the wall. The wall looks safe. People are going to think you’re a loser. Doesn’t matter, you are one. To the wall you go. Alright, here we go. Left foot, right foot, left foot, righ—slam. Nice one genius, you tripped over your own feet. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off. Apologize to the girl you slammed into. Throw the hood up on your jacket, nobody wants to see your face. Oh damn, your jacket is dirty. How dirty do you look exactly? Holy shit, you didn’t take a shower before you came here. What if when she hugged you she thought you smelled? Smell yourself. Take a sniff. No, because I don’t want people to see me smelling myself, that’ll look weird. I’m stuck. Re-brush yourself off, I can’t remember if I did that before when I first got up. u n d e r g r o u n d
“Hey!” She yells. Christ, she’s back with a beer. Okay, turn around. Don’t trip over yourself, genius. “Here ya go.” She extends her hand with an open beer in it. You take it and take a couple of sips. What would your parents think? Your parents would be disappointed. You are nothing but a disappointment. Remember that time you smoked weed back in 10th grade. Yeah, let’s think about that for a moment. Man, your parents are so anti-drug. How would they feel if they found out that you’ve done drugs before? Yup, you’re a disappointment. Shit, she’s still standing in front of you. Make conversation. “This is a nice party,” I say. “Thank you,” she replies with a smile. Go ahead, ask her. Ask her. Ask her, damn it. “So, um, do you … want me here?” I ask hesitantly. “... What do you mean?” she asks. Great, you’ve done it now. She’s completely upset that you’ve asked that question. Moreover, she’s probably weirded out by that question. You’re getting overly sentimental. Just leave it alone. You’ve had your beer. Make your way for the door and leave the party. You don’t know anybody here other than her and even she probably doesn’t want you here. Just leave, dude. LEAVE. “Nevermind, I’m sorry I asked. I’m just going to go home. I’m kind of tired,” I say. “Wait a minute,” she retorts. Walk past her. Head for the door. Cut through a crowd of people having a conversation. Say sorry multiple times because you didn’t mean to be so rude. Look behind you. She’s walking after you, and she’s clearly upset. You’ve upset her. Great. Keep going, don’t worry about her. No, worry about her, she’s your friend. Right, but am I her’s? I have a headache. I stop dead in my tracks. I begin to rub my temples. I’m so frustrated. I’m so angry. I’m so sad. Wipe the tears out of your eyes, nobody wants to see you cry. Keep walking. Fight through the headache. Fight through the tears. Keep walking. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Stop. Drop. Cry. 132
She placed her hand on your back. She stoops down to your level. “What’s wrong?” she asks. “I don’t know,” I reply. “No, what’s wrong?” she persists. “I—I’m not sure,” I answer. “Tell me,” she says. “I’m … I don’t feel like I belong here. I feel alone,” I say. “You’re not alone. You don’t have to feel like you’re alone,” she says. Stare blankly back into her face. Wish you could tell her why you feel this way. Wish you could let her know that you love her as a sister because nobody ever cared about your well-being the way she cares about it. Arms wrap around me. This feels good. Do I do it back? Yes. I lean into it. She pats me on the back.
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Delinquent Bridge, NYC, Bijan Nasseri digital photography
My Boyfriend Did It (But No one Will Believe me) ISSUE #1, “Laundry” Helen Souris, a.k.a. HellyBoJelly pen, ink, graphite
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How Far We’ve Come Linda Tran “You’re stupid, Nina.” I flinch. “After all you guys went through and you just cut him off like that? Why don’t you just throw your whole life away instead? In fact, I think you’ve already nailed the definition of ‘throwing your life away’ since all you do is mope and give me one word answers.” I swing my head towards Elliott, my roommate and practically like my sister; although, I’m not feeling any sisterly love at this moment. Anger boils through my body, and I deliberately make it clear for Elliott to see. However, she has no reaction, glaring at me right back as if I’m a child who’s done wrong. “I know I’m not the only one at fault, but what do you expect me to do? Jump right back into his arms? I trusted him, Elliott! I—” “We both know that this isn’t about trust, Nina,” she spat. “You still trust him and the only reason you’re avoiding him is because you don’t think you’re good enough for him.” I flinch again because she’s right. “Then what?!” I yell. “How am I supposed to react after what I saw? I can’t get that image out of my head no matter how many times I try to forget! I just can’t!” I’m screaming now, tears coating every inch of my cheeks. I can’t stop crying about him. Every. Damn. Time. “I love him so much.” My voice cracks, “God, so much.” With no strength left in my body, I fall to my knees on our living room floor. I don’t know what to do, where to go, what to think. The pain I’ve been feeling for the past three weeks has become unbearable. It’s become a parasite that I’ve gratefully welcomed, and now I’m too scared to get rid of it for fear that I won’t have anything left to hold onto. I know I’m using the pain as an excuse to become pitiful, and I try to use the pity of other people to cope, which lets me delude myself into thinking that I’m the victim. And if I’m the victim, I can easily move on with no remorse or 136
guilt without harsh judgment. But I’m not the victim. The moment I walked away from him, I became the bad guy. I’m deeply ashamed. I don’t deserve anyone, let alone him. I feel Elliott’s arm wrap around my shoulders, and I look up through my haze of tears, only making out her short black hair. “I know I’m stupid,” I whisper, “but my brain won’t let me forget, and my heart hurts every time I think about it.” Elliott is massaging up and down my arm with her other hand. “Oh, Nina,” her voice softens, “I don’t think I could ever understand what you’re feeling right now, but if that’s the case, you should just try to talk to him. Maybe the fact that it’s not meant to work out is why you’re hurting so much. If you can’t forget, you can at least try to forgive him and move on.” No. “And,” she continues, “If he can’t reassure your insecurities, Nina, then …” No, no, no! My heart shatters from her advice. The thought of him not being by me is even worse than the thought of dying. Before him, I didn’t think it possible to love so hard. I was a hopeless romantic, but I knew real life didn’t meet expectations. He changed that. He made me feel everything and nothing all at once. I can’t let him go. Even if the inevitable happens and we do fall apart, I can’t give him up. I need him like I need air. I need his touch, his reassurance, and his love. And to get all of it back, I have to put what happened behind me. And Elliott’s wrong about him not being able to squash my insecurities. He can. He does it every day in every way he can just to show me how much I mean to him. I just haven’t given him the chance to squash it this time. Elliott sees my internal revelation and smiles, “Has sense finally gone through your wall of stupidity?” I laugh and wipe my wet face of tears with my sleeves. “Yes,” I reply hoarsely, “thank you. You’ve stopped this from being written onto my long list of regrets.” She chuckles. “Nina, I think you’re too good to have u n d e r g r o u n d
regrets.” I roll my eyes. “You’re good too, but I see you crying yourself every night to sleep because of Assassin—” her hand clamps over my mouth. Her eyes narrow through her black framed glasses, “We don’t talk about that here.” I push her hand away and give her a small smile. “We never actually talk about it anywhere. Now if you’ll excuse me,” I stand up, “I have to go make amends with the love of my life.” Elliott rises and shoots me a curious look. “Will you be coming home after your … talk?” I look at her in bewilderment. “Of course, why wouldn’t I?” She snickers, “I meant that Jake’s not going to let you come home after sorting things out.” Blushing probably a very deep scarlet, I grab my keys on the side table by the door. I can’t face her because she’s obviously right, again. I internally groan. How embarrassing! “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow morning? Or maybe not until the weekend is over?” Amusement laces her tone. “Jesus, Elliott!” I whirl on her after slipping my ballet flats on. “Please stop!” She bends over laughing, and I can’t help but giggle myself. I wait for her to right herself and wish her a goodnight. “Seriously, text me when you’ll be home so I don’t worry,” she calls out as I’m opening the door. “Will do!” I call back. “And Nina?” Elliott asks. “Yeah?” I turn around. “If he breaks your heart, I’ll eat him.” Her face is stoic, as if she’s really intent on carrying out her words. I suppress a laugh. “Aren’t you a vegetarian?” She grins. “Hannibal does wonders on the human mind. I’ll go meat for you, chica.” I shake my head at her TV show reference, but I can’t help but laugh at her slightly sweet and sordid proclamation. 138
I wish Elliott a goodnight again, step outside, and close the door. *** My confidence immediately vanishes after knocking on his apartment door. What if he doesn’t take me back? What if I waited too long and he’s already moved on? “No, Nina,” I chastise myself. I trust him, and therefore I know he wouldn’t do that to me, no matter what I saw. I hear footsteps on the other side, padding toward the door and my resolve cracks. Please don’t let it be a girl. The door opens and I’m filled with a rush of relief, but anxiety crawls up my spine quickly after. “Nina?” he breathes out, almost in disbelief. Jake’s wearing black pajama pants and a fitted white t-shirt. His sandy brown hair is in its usual tousle. And although I’ve seen him practically every day for the past year, his beauty never ceases to amaze me. “Can I come in?” I manage to squeak out. His eyes soften and he steps aside, giving me room to enter. “Of course, baby.” His term of endearment squeezes my heart. I swallow while stepping through the door and head straight into the living room. I plop down onto his red sofa, taking a throw pillow and hugging it like it would save my life. Jake comes in right behind and sits down next to me, careful to leave a few inches between us. I despise those few inches. “Do you want anything to drink?” he asks. I shake my head. “Did you eat dinner yet?” I nod. “Are you lying to me about eating dinner?” He cocks his head and narrows his eyes in suspicion. A small smile forms on my lips. Typical Jake, always calling me out on my little white lies. Honestly, with Elliott scolding and comforting me right after I got home from class, the thought of food wasn’t able to cross my mind. I nod again. He grins. “I have Italian in the fridge. I’ll get you a plate.” u n d e r g r o u n d
He starts to get up, but I take a hold of his hand. God, I’ve missed the feel of holding his firm hand. “No,” I say. His eyebrows raise. “You sure? It’s from your favorite restaurant.” Leave it to Jake to always have my favorite food on hand, but I can’t stomach food until I’ve talked to him. I shake my head. “We need to talk first.” I force myself to let go of his hand. He lowers himself onto the sofa again and a look of pain flashes across his features. I’m tempted to ask him why he’s hurt, but I barrel into my apology before I lose my words to fear. “Jake, I’m sorry.” I fix my gaze on my lap, feeling too guilty to even look at him. “I’ve been stubborn and stupid. I was selfish and only cared about myself being hurt. When I saw you and her, I … I didn’t know what to do. I thought that maybe you found someone better. Someone who would be able to do more for you—” Suddenly, those few inches and the throw pillow between us vanish. I’m crushed against Jake’s chest, breathing in his sweet scent of aftershave. His arms wrap around my shoulders and waist, and his fingers are soothing my back in tiny circular motions. I close my eyes and bask in his warmth. I can’t believe I was able to stay away from him for three whole weeks. I speak again, my voice slightly muffled through his shirt. “I’m sorry I didn’t let you explain. Your friends and my friends tried to, but I refused to hear anything out of hurt and denial.” I bury my face into his neck. “I’m so stupid.” My cheeks are wet again. “No, Nina. You’re not.” Jake pulls back a little and wipes my tears away with his thumb. The brush of his skin against my cheek causes my whole body to tingle. I search his warm brown eyes and see that he means it. “Just because you say I’m not doesn’t mean it’s not true,” I murmur. He lets out a light chuckle. “Please explain it to me if you still think I deserve to hear it.” I plead with him and hang my head. I have to know what happened that night, even though what I saw was so painful that I compelled myself to run and stumble several 140
blocks home in four-inch heels. His fingers slip under my chin to lift my head up. I meet his gaze and the softness in his eyes gives me hope that he can forgive me. “I don’t have to tell you, Nina.” He pauses. My heart drops. The fact that Jake feels he doesn’t have to justify himself indicates that I’ve taken way too long to come here. And that he’s probably moved on. Jake sees my hurt expression and widens his eyes. He immediately pulls me in tighter with the arm he still has around my waist. “No, baby. I didn’t mean it like that.” The fingers under my chin have left and now sweep a loose, dark lock of my hair behind my ear. He then trails his fingers down the length of my hair and rests them on my shoulder. “I meant that if you really don’t want to hear it, then I won’t tell you. I don’t want to see you hurting more than you already are.” He softly explains. I give a slight nod, taking in his real meaning. A pinch of relief washes through me knowing that he’ll be okay if I don’t want to hear what happened. However, I know that I need to hear it. It’s what caused me to falter in our relationship to cut it off. I need to know so I won’t overreact the next time. I really hope there isn’t a next time, though. *** Jake tells me every detail per my request. “I assume your line of vision saw us at the worse angle possible, Nina,” he says, leaning his elbows on his knees. We’re not tightly embraced anymore, but we’re sitting side by side without an ounce of space between us. I groan and bury my face in my hands. “I’m so, so stupid!” There was no kiss. No forced kiss. No consensual kiss. No kiss at all. I assumed all of it because I was literally in the wrong place at the wrong time. “I’m officially an idiot,” I whisper through my hands. Jake peels my hands from my face and entwines my fingers with his. “Nina, it’s not your fault that you were u n d e r g r o u n d
upset over what you thought you saw. Hell, if it was me, I would have assumed and been angry too.” I sigh, realizing my exhaustion over these past few weeks was because of a drunk girl, who was about to fall onto her butt if Jake hadn’t caught her in time. “But you would have let me explain sooner.” My voice wavers with guilt. Jake runs his thumbs over my knuckles. He exhales, “Yeah, I would’ve.” I cast my eyes down to our tangled hands, and shame consumes me. “Look at me.” Jake’s gentle tone prods my head up. I look at him. I instantly scour his face for any hints of anger or irritation. I also try to find any hints that he’s tired of me, but I can’t decipher anything. He keeps his expression smooth, and his eyes are tender. I’m afraid I’m mistaking it for pity. “Enough with the bad thoughts, Nina,” he says as if he’s read my mind. “I’m not letting you go. You’re sticking with me for life.” He smirks. I laugh and lightly push his chest with our still entwined hands. “I’m not your prisoner, Jake Winstead.” His smirk twists into a devilish smile. “Oh Nina Rosewell, you should know me better than that to think that you’re just my girlfriend.” “Of course I’m more than just your girlfriend. I’m like your freaking mom half the time,” I scoff, remembering all the times I cleaned up after him. It’s not that Jake’s messy, but when he’s constantly away at football practice and outof-state games, I take it upon myself to keep his apartment tidy. Jake chuckles, knowing full well of what I meant. He then envelops me in a hug and lifts me up to sit on his lap. I’m quickly brought back to why I’m here with him in the first place. He’s done it again. He’s eradicated every negative feeling and thought in my body. I wrap my arms around his neck and lean into his embrace. “So you forgive me?” I ask to make sure. Jake frowns. “I didn’t think you really needed to apologize. But if it eases your conscience, then yes I forgive 142
you.” He lightly pecks my lips. I beam, finally feeling like a massive weight has been lifted off my chest. “But why did you look hurt when I said we needed to talk?” I ask, suddenly recalling my curiosity about it. “Oh, that.” His voice lowers and I immediately regret asking. “Not seeing you for a while made me lose hope, Nina. I was so sure that the next time I saw you, you’d tell me that we were done. So when you said we needed to talk, I thought you were …” he averts his eyes from mine, pinning his gaze on my lap instead. Guilt starts to climb its way back up my throat, but I swallow and push it back down. “Jake,” I say as I take his face into my hands, making him look at me this time. Sometimes I forget that Jake is as vulnerable as I am, and that he needs to be comforted too. “I love every moment I spend with you. I love you so much that part of me wants everything to speed up so we can be done with the obstacles and bullshit that comes with a relationship. And the other part of me wants time to slow down so I can remember every bit of how I met you and fell in love with you. I want to remember and savor every bit of detail that there is. I want to remember all the jokes and small kisses.” I pause to take a breath and press my forehead against his. “I want to remember all the weird conversations we had that ended with us laughing our butts off. I want to live through all of our playful banters again. I want to remember all the tiny touches that you’ve made on my body and heart.” I feel a lone tear trail down my cheek. Jake’s eyes are watery and he’s staring at me like I’m a goddess. Giving him a loving smile, I continue with my speech, “But most of all, I want to remember how strong our love is now, so that I can compare it in the future and see how much stronger it got.” “I want to see how far we’ve come,” I whisper before kissing him senseless.
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C. Marie Cashwell
I carry around a mess of papers encased by plastic covers who only had one job: to keep my shit together and maybe serve as a hard surface. The prongs disturb my doodles, casting them onto the tile in a sea of white weeping sheets. Scribble scrabbles sloshing around in my brain matter, and they need a place to hide. Honking horns ring in my ears and the glow of lights in the night splotch my vision and the pollution, the goddamn pollution wafts its way to my nasal cavity and seeps into the holes in my head and it all just boils until reduced to a slimy pulp that swishes in my belly and I take a gulp, to force it down but the pulp just keeps pouring out and now it’s looking up at me from the ground. I have other plastic covers held together with unbroken prongs. They don’t embarrass me in front of peers by failing to do their job. The pages lie flat while I write and don’t snicker at me as they cascade down and spread out, revealing my insides. But I buy at least two of these every year and replace them the next. They’ll abandon the pulp nesting in 144
my intestines not because they are broken, but because I discard them myself. How easy it would be to only keep whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not broken. But I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t want easy I want what I have.
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Whereupon Death Found Love
Miranda L. Hawkins
The first moment that Father Time saw Mother Nature, he knew it was love at first sight. He had never seen anything more beautiful in his life. From her wild red curls, to her painted nails, to the elegant way in which she drew smoke from her cigarette, he knew there would never be anyone else but her. Mother Nature was not at first turned on by Father Time’s charm. In fact, she was downright against having anything to do with him. Dreary, was the word that came to mind whenever she thought of him; but Father Time was persistent, and eventually Mother Nature came to love him in return. Soon after, there was a grand wedding, and the two became happily married. Nine months later, Mother Nature gave birth to a son. His name was Death. Death grew up like any other child. He went to school. He had chores. He bickered with his parents. It wasn’t until an incident in high school that Death came to learn how different he truly was. There was a girl in his class, Sally Lou, who was the most beautiful girl of all. Death became very fond of her and she of him (after all, Death was quite a handsome fellow). Finally, Death worked up the courage to ask Sally Lou out, and she agreed. Death was ecstatic. That night, Death dressed in his best outfit, combed his hair, and polished his shoes—not once, but twice. On his way to pick up Sally Lou, he stopped to buy her a small bouquet of flowers. She loved them. The date went according to plan. They laughed. They talked. They smiled. The stars in the night sky were put to shame by the stars in their eyes. At the end of the date, Death escorted Sally Lou arm in arm, up to her front door. Looking at her then, he knew that this was his chance. So when she lingered, Death leaned in and kissed her square on the lips. 146
Sally Lou dropped dead. For no one, not even Sally Lou, can escape the kiss of Death. Death was heartbroken, not only for Sally Lou, but also for the realization of his true nature. After Sally Lou had been laid to rest, the news of her passing was spread far and wide. There was nowhere on Earth that Death could escape, because there was no longer a place where Death was not known. Father Time and Mother Nature did everything they could to console their son, but it was futile. Death was not to be consoled. He was doomed to walk all eternity with fear and hatred as his companions. And if that wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t enough, Death was to do so alone. He would never experience the joy his parents shared. In a fit of despair, Death packed his bags and headed out. He could no longer contain the grief that overwhelmed him. He knew that somewhere out there, there was a place for him, and he was going to find it. Days passed into months, the months into years, and the years into centuries. Death roamed the earth searching for his place, but everywhere he went, he was greeted the same. There were no welcome arms, no bonfires lit, no drinks to be drunk, and no warm beds to be shared. Death was simply not welcomed. The fact that Death found most upsetting, was that even though the glares and the stares and the avoidance of staring was done so with fear and hatred, Death did not feel the same in return. He did not hate those around him or blame them for the way in which they treated him, but he longed to understand. If this was the way in which he was greeted, then why did he exist? Eventually, Death learned that it was best to not roam the roads openly. He still roamed, for Death enjoyed his freedom, but he chose to stick to the shadows and the backgrounds. He found it was easier for everyone else when he was out of sight, so that he was not there to remind them of their fates. They would all meet Death one day, but they had no desire to meet him before then. And this was how Death lived. Always in the shadows, u n d e r g r o u n d
always out of sight, and always alone. One day, while Death was bathing in a stream, he had the sudden inclination that someone else was there. Considering the depths of which he had traveled into the forest, Death took into careful consideration of what this visitor wanted. Death was not afraid, merely curious. It had been many years since someone had willfully chosen to seek him out. Turning, Death watched as a woman stepped out from behind the trees. He gasped. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Even his memories of Sally Lou faded compared to her. The woman introduced herself as Love. Death had heard of her. Just like him, Love was known throughout the world; but unlike him, she was greeted with warmth and had spent many a night beside the hearth of a good home. Death felt his heart begin to flutter, and he knew that she was the one. And it was there, in the depth of the forest, where the eyes of humanity could not reach, that Death and Love promptly fell for each other. For the first time since he could remember, Death was not alone. Not long after, Death proposed, and he and Love married. Mother Nature and Father Time cried at seeing their son so happy. At last, he would know the joy that they themselves shared. And when Death kissed Love, she did not wilt, but shown even brighter. Nine months later, Love gave birth to their daughter. Her name was Purpose. And so, Death had found his place, because with Love, Death had created Purpose; and with Purpose came the understanding that without Love, Death would hold no meaning, and without Death, Love would wilt. And so ends the story of whereupon Death found Love.
Four, Jessica St George digital photography
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privilege (priv â&#x20AC;&#x201C; uh â&#x20AC;&#x201C; lij, priv â&#x20AC;&#x201C; lij) [noun] to have the benefit of someone to call before your voice breaks as freely as your skin a bank account full enough to hand over funds when confinement is threatned half as often as you lock your pride inside 4 hospital-white walls of bandage tape note: how peculiar it is to erect gates around a house that locks from the inside attempting to set the sadness loose [verb] (see note) being given keys to both having so much to lose to feed a teething infant of indifference time to measure its growth in notches, watch its growth fade up your frame a history of your time together [synonyms] sterile blades matches that only strike what you intend to accountability 150
love that allows only indulgences dipped in chocolate being told no [examples] It is a privilege when the blazen swelling of day favors ripening fruit more than fire, and taking it in is more nourishment than circus act. Privilege is putting the weary child youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve watched grow to rest; staking a crimson white-flag beside it. Privilege is surrendering the lonely instead of yourself. Privilege is living. note: It is afforded to a precious few.
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The Solidarity of War
Eadgar T. L. Maurloch
Scarlet stained the budding flowers springing up from the valley floor, the blood of thousands upon thousands painting its coursing river red. Drops of dissolving frost nurtured this green oasis, and vultures began to cover the sky at high noon in hopes that the frozen flesh winter had snatched would be released upon the arrival of spring. Today, they would finally feast upon the Fallen. The valley groaned as the raptors descended, perching upon branch and banner alike as they settled down in wait. Golden sunlight flooded the isolated area, glistened and reflected off the snowcapped mountains, and descended upon all that lay in the bowl-shaped formation. The frost that captured the corpses’ flesh melted under the Sun’s heat, and the Fallen began to thaw under a legion’s watchful gaze. These were the bodies of soldiers and Kings and subjects. They were of peasants and nobility, of farmers and merchants, of harlots and virgins. These were the Fallen, a people that had gone to war, drawn to this sleeping valley as they collided in anger and hatred and loyalty, hot blood spilt onto the trampled ground and crushed foliage, cooling in the autumn breeze. It was they who had awoken what the surrounding villages called Aodhán. The bloodshed had increased a hundredfold after that first crimson drop, and what had begun as a battle fought with knights and men bellicose for their King had escalated until even vagrants and children tore into their enemy with a truculence unbefitting of the debilitated and of babes. No one had stepped out of that valley, and everything that lay guarded by those snowcapped mountains lay dead. The vultures stirred and descended like a sea of black, the sheer number of carrion that slipped from winter’s limp grip and into spring’s warm embrace more than enough to halt insurrection amongst the birds of prey. A crown of gold upset several vultures as it landed in their midst, the remains of what had once been a mighty king now a blind and rotting victual for the feathered beasts. 152
The feast took several weeks to reach its height, carnivorous fowls of every shape and size joining in what the surrounding villagers had long deemed the Gathering. Those who knew of AodhĂĄnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s tale did not dare enter the valley, especially during the Gathering. Long ago had been the days when their warnings of what lay sleeping within that horrendous place were heeded, their words praised as wisdom by common man and King alike. However, these warnings were discarded as though the ramblings of senseless men, and the villagers would not risk the danger of further involvement. These cretins would learn the depths of their foolishness, though they would learn far too late for the truth to be of any use. Ravens and crows joined the writhing flock, buzzards and falcons ripping the dead flesh to pieces until only gleaming bone and bloodied armor remained. Yet, still it did not stop. The feast continued with carrion galore. The Sun poured into the mouth of the valley, giving warmth to the boscage beneath the mass of feathers and talons. There was rustling and scraping and the sound of fluttering wings; and then there was nothing. No wind. No sound. No sun. And it was as if the valley had unfolded, wily green fingers wrapping around each and every moving, rapacious, unknowing beast beneath the opaque sky, engulfing their prey within a paralyzing green secretion before dragging them beneath the ground to store and feed upon at a slower rate. Alive. And then there was nothing. No birds. No bannisters. No gleaming bones picked clean. Not even a single feather remained. Only crimson stained flowers soaking in the egressing Sun and a sickly sweet smell that was picked up and tossed past the mountains that surrounded the valley and the villages that surrounded them. It reeked of life and spoke of promised glory, carried on a wind evocative of a deep and portentous laughter. u n d e r g r o u n d
Everyday Jewels, Yari J. Mena acrylic on canvas
Ondine, Sarah Klingberg gouache on watercolor paper
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It shifts as you shift moves as you move coquettishly it sings out a thousand lies covering your face and body with crumbly foundation, with bad cement poor quality makeup easily so now you associate with a bad crowd peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s teeth are made of mirrors as they chew and gnash the edges chip off the shards fall to the floor only to become splinters in unsuspecting bare feet so wear shoes like the civilized avert, your eyes, be polite and believe in peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s teeth lest the shards and splinters glitter and glare drive you to act audaciously
1x4, Bijan Nasseri digital photography
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Selfie Game Proper, Bijan Nasseri digital photography
For The Feeling I Lost Today
Age: 22 A string of curses left Andrew’s mouth as he stood under a tree. Of course, the tree wasn’t much of an umbrella and drops of water were still making splotches on his t-shirt and track pants. He narrowed his eyes at the sky because rain was fine—Andrew could run in the rain with no problem— but it was like an entire tsunami rolled into the park within a minute. Lightning struck followed by thunder a beat later, causing Andrew to jump. He was starting to get cold, and began to wonder how he ended up in this predicament. Andrew just wanted to go on a run to clear his head like he always did, but apparently Mother Nature had other plans. He would have just called his sister to come pick him up, but when he went out for a run, Andrew only brought a water bottle with him. Anything else weighed him down and he didn’t need any distractions. He had to get himself back on track and Andrew liked to believe he was getting close. He graduated from the academy nearly a year ago and had been a proud police officer ever since. Andrew realized in that moment how silly this situation was. He was an officer who had faced some dangerous situtions, yet he was standing under that tree as if the droplets would be the death of him if it touched his skin. Just as Andrew was about to get back out there and just deal with the rain on his run home, a woman with a large umbrella approached him. “You alright there?” “Oh yeah,” Andrew nodded. “Just a little trapped, that’s all.” He shrugged and he was surprised at the humor that came out of him. The woman chuckled. “Perhaps I can help, then. This umbrella was made for two.” Andrew raised his brow. “Are you propositioning me?” “Just an offer to help you escape.” The woman smiled, and Andrew had the urge to take a mental photograph and u n d e r g r o u n d
print it onto every wall he saw for endless murals of the beautiful sight he just witnessed. “How kind of you.” Andrew stepped out from under the tree and got under the umbrella. The woman lifted the umbrella a little higher, so it was covering both of them. “I try. Were you headed towards the parking lot?” Andrew shook his head. “I actually ran here and I was on my way back home, but this mess happened.” He gestured at the sky. “Then I’ll extend my help with a ride home.” The woman paused and added, “If you want, that is.” “I would like that, thanks.” The two of them slowly made their way to the parking lot. The wind had picked up, so the woman had to keep a strong hold on the umbrella. They occasionally got sprayed by the droplets of rain. When they finally got to the woman’s car, Andrew got a good look at her. The woman had sandy blonde hair that was swooped to the side with a pair of blue eyes that shined in the dim light of the car. “I’m Nina, by the way,” the woman said as she exited the parking lot and got onto the main road. “Andrew.” Nina smiled. “It’s nice to meet you, Andrew.” Oh, you have no idea, he thought to himself. Age: 25 Andrew awoke with a start. His heart was racing in his chest and he was sure he had a layer of sweat covering his skin. He tried to remember what he had dreamt of, but all he could remember was being scared. Slowly, he sat up. It took him a few seconds to register that he was in Chase’s living room. He figured he must’ve fallen asleep at some point and his friend just let him rest. Andrew smiled at the thought, but it didn’t last long because that twinge in the pit of his stomach was back. For months now, Andrew felt that twinge, but he had yet to figure out what was the cause of it. At first, he thought it was medical. He took precautions, such as eating healthier and not pushing himself too hard when he worked out 160
or ran. The twinge was still there, so he made a doctor’s appointment only to be told that he was fine. Next, Andrew thought it was nerves. His job was risky and he had always feared messing up. Evaluations were coming up and they usually determined if the station would keep you or slowly, but surely let you go. Andrew didn’t think he did anything wrong, but he had a habit of secondguessing himself. Everything might be fine today, but by tonight, he will be reevaluating every single thing he’s done and look for mistakes. Rubbing his eyes, he sighed. Andrew felt a great wave of uncertainty pass through him and he wondered if this was where he was supposed to be. Not particularly in this apartment, but in this city with this job and with his past. He didn’t feel strong on his feet and there was just something deep inside that was slowly clawing its way out. Whatever it was, Andrew knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. “He’s awake,” Andrew heard Spencer say just before Spencer sat down next to him. “You ready to take on the world after your power nap?” Andrew couldn’t help but smile a little. “I dunno about the world, but—” He never finished his sentence because Chase joined them wearing a t-shirt and sweats, and Andrew wondered how horrible he looked in his plaid shirt and jeans. “Feel better?” Chase asked. “Um.” Andrew wasn’t sure if he felt horrible. He was tired and he didn’t remember falling asleep. There was something nagging at the back of his mind, so he didn’t actually think the nap helped with anything. “How long was I out?” Spencer leaned back on the couch and rested his feet on the coffee table. “Nearly two hours. Chase here didn’t wanna disturb your beauty sleep, so he forced me to watch House of Cards on his tablet with him.” He rolled his eyes and shook his head. Chase reached over and thumped his brother on the back of his head. “Shut up. You know you love it.” Andrew looked down and rubbed the back of his neck. It was a bit sore from falling asleep on the couch, but he u n d e r g r o u n d
doubted it would bother him for long. He kept his gaze down because he felt embarrassed for sleeping so long. “I better get going.” He grabbed his phone from the coffee table and slipped it in his jeans pocket. Chase stood up, too. “Are you sure? We barely started our movie night.” They had made plans earlier that week to get together and watch a couple of movies. With the start of the semester and Andrew’s work schedule, they haven’t had a lot of time to just hang out, and they wanted to fix that. But Andrew fell asleep. “I know. I’m sorry.” Andrew genuinely felt bad. “Next time, yeah? Probably when I’m not on-call the night before.” He yawned and it took him by surprise. “Are you sure?” Chase asked again. His voice almost sounded...sad. But Andrew was not going to allow himself to acknowledge it. “You are welcome to crash here for the night. Or with Spencer across the hall. You know he won’t mind,” he offered and Spencer nodded. Andrew shook his head. “Thanks for the offer, really, but I can’t tonight.” He took a step closer to the door. “ ‘m sorry again.” “It’s alright.” Spencer patted Andrew’s hip as he passed. “We get it, bro,” he said. “You save lives and you need your rest. It’s important.” Andrew looked back at the head of blond hair. “And you’re starting to sound like a real adult with proper wisdom.” The youngest of the group snorted. “And you’re more tired than you’re leading us to believe. Get out of here, Saunders!” “I’ll be back before you know it.” It sounded like a promise that Andrew would very much like to keep. He grabbed his jacket, made sure he had his keys and left the apartment. Andrew tried not to think of how Chase was tracking his movements and how he could still feel the burning stare on his skin.
Age: 23 From the moment Andrew walked in, he felt like he was at home. He could picture himself moving around the space as he got ready in the mornings and he could picture himself falling into bed at night. He had an idea of how the apartment would be decorated and how it would have a touch of both of them. An arm snaked around his waist and squeezed his hip. “I think I’m in love,” Nina said as she stood with Andrew and looked around. “I couldn’t agree more.” Andrew slumped into Nina’s side and smiled in content. He felt warm and safe, and that finally, things were working out for him. He had a place in this world and if you asked Andrew, it was long overdue. The happy couple walked through the rooms together and Andrew was getting more and more excited. He and Nina had discussed moving in together for the past couple of months and it was finally happening. They were looking at a few different apartments, but just from the feel of this one, Andrew knew they had found what they were looking for. “What d’ you think?” Nina asked, rubbing her hands up and down Andrew’s arms. “I think we’ll be happy here,” Andrew replied. Nina smiled, and it was that same smile he gave Andrew the day they met. The smile that made Andrew weak in the knees and his heart burst with love. “I was hoping you would say that.” She leaned up and captured Andrew’s lips with her own. Andrew had one hand on Nina’s waist, fingers slowly slipping under the hem of her shirt, and the other hand on the back of her neck, keeping her close. Nina was leaning into Andrew so much that Andrew feared that they would topple over, but he didn’t really care all that much. “Oh,” followed by a nervous giggle came from somewhere behind them. They broke apart to find the real estate agent flushed red with embarrassment from walking in on them. “Sorry.” Nina shook her head and chuckled. “It’s alright. We got a bit carried away.” Andrew pinched her side. “Hey!” u n d e r g r o u n d
The agent had a clipboard in her hand and looked over the papers. “Have you made a decision?” The two faced each other with matching grins on their faces. They turned back to the agent and while Nina nodded, Andrew said, “We’ll take it.” Age: 25 Andrew was wearing a fresh set of clothes with the station’s logo on it. He showered as soon as he got back from his shift, and all he wanted to do was call it a night and go to sleep. For the past week or so, Andrew had trouble sleeping through the entire night. It would take an hour or two to fall asleep and then he would wake up at eight every morning. He tried going back to sleep, but he never could and he felt restless the entire day. As soon as Andrew got comfortable in his cot and closed his eyes, one of his coworkers shook his shoulder and told him he had a visitor. He inaudibly groaned and reluctantly got up. His steps were heavy with exhaustion and there was a crick in his neck from how he fell asleep last night on Chase’s couch. Before he got to the end of the staircase, he stopped. The only visitor he got in the past five months had been Chase. Andrew looked down at his outfit and ran his hands through his hair. He was sure his hair had dried in a stupid way and he hadn’t bothered to style it because he was planning on sleeping. Groaning (audibly this time), Andrew walked down the rest of the staircase. When he got to the visitor area, Andrew was glad to see that Chase wasn’t there, but he was confused to see his older sister there. “Andrew,” she said, giving him a smile. “How’ve you been?” He walked over to her and gave her a hug. “I’m okay. How’re you?” She nodded. “Same old, same old.” “Nothing ever changes with you, does it?” Andrew asked as he led her over to one of the tables and sat down. “This is a new shirt, I’ll have you know.” He chuckled. “Very nice.” He folded his hands together 164
on top of the table. “Not that I am against this surprise visit, but what brings you here?” She opened her mouth, but then closed it. Andrew knew his sister and he knew that she was about to tell him something he would be against. “Andrew,” she began, her voice cautious. “Tonight, there’s uh. There’s a family dinner type thing and...” “And you want me to go,” Andrew finished the statement that his sister wouldn’t. “Yes.” Andrew shook his head. “No, I’m not going. You know,” he paused and took a breath. “You know how they are and you know everything that happened. I can’t go back there. I won’t.” She reached over and placed her hand over his. “Look, I know you don’t have many good memories with our parents, but please. I’m asking you to try one more time. It’s been years and who knows, maybe they’ve changed.” The look on his sister’s face and the tone of her voice made Andrew give in and agree to go. He knew this was his sister’s attempt to bring their family back together. “Fine, but the second anything shitty happens, I’m gone and I’m never going back.” She nodded sadly. “Deal.” Later on that night when Andrew and his sister were sitting in the dining room table of their parents’ house, nothing but awkward, forced conversation filled the air. Andrew hadn’t seen his parents in years and in the time that his sister told him about the dinner and him being there, he had been trying to figure out the best way to list out his accomplishments to them. He had come a long way from who he was at eighteen and he wanted to share it with his parents. He had always wanted to make his parents proud of him. His father took a sip of water. “So, Andrew, have any stories as an officer?” Andrew smiled a bit at his father’s interest. “Actually, yeah. Just last week,” he began, but never got to finish. “Please,” his mum snorted. “Don’t act like you care because you surely didn’t before.” u n d e r g r o u n d
His father dropped his fork onto his plate. “Why are you still bringing that up? It was years ago. I said I was sorry. It’s in the past now. Just let it go.” “Let it go?” Her voice raised. “I can’t let go of betrayal. I can’t let go of the fact of what you did.” After that, it didn’t take long before Andrew’s parents were at each other’s throats. Before he went off to college, his parents bickered then and it seemed as though nothing had changed. Well, except the fact that Andrew finally understood what one of the foundations of their arguments was. He knew his parents had problems, but he never would have expected infidelity to be thrown into the mix. Across the table, his sister mouthed sorry. He nodded once before scooting his chair back, throwing his napkin on the table, and leaving. Andrew realized after that dinner that there was no way he could make his parents’ proud if they were too busy with their own lives. They hadn’t checked up on him or tried to keep touch. Age: 24 Something bumped into the back of Andrew’s leg, which made him turn. He squatted and patted his thighs twice. The dog rested his front two paws on Andrew’s legs and Andrew petted behind his ears. “Hi, boy. You doing good?” Andrew asked as he kept petting the dog. He was the one who found the dog in the abandoned warehouse that the fire and police teams just came back from. There weren’t any people in the warehouse, just the dog that one of the firefighters saved from the fire. There wasn’t a collar on the dog, so Andrew named him Cooper. Andrew had always wanted a dog, and he and Cooper had taken a liking to each other, so maybe this could work out. But Andrew needed to clear it with Nina before he brought home a stray. He was sure Nina wouldn’t mind and Cooper was a dog anyone would fall in love with. It would work. Andrew was sure of it. After his shift ended, Andrew left Cooper at the station and headed home. He planned to talk to Nina tonight, buy 166
all the necessities in the morning, and bring Cooper home in the afternoon. But unfortunately, not everything went to plan. As soon as Andrew stepped into the apartment, something felt off. He usually got a huge sense of relief when he got home, but he didn’t get that feeling today. Andrew couldn’t place what was off, so he walked farther in. “Babe?” he called out, but he got no response. Standing in the living room, it felt lighter, which Andrew found odd. How could a room feel lighter? It didn’t make sense and he was honestly starting to freak out just a little. Andrew went straight to the bedroom and that was when his heart dropped down to his stomach. The sheets on the bed were missing, which made the dents of where they slept prominent. The stack of books Nina had on her night stand were gone as well as her random knickknacks on the dresser. Andrew walked to the closet, and he closed his eyes when he opened the door. It took him a moment to open them because he was scared of what he was going to see. He wanted to believe that Nina was just doing some cleaning. Maybe she wanted to rearrange the furniture in their bedroom or something. Maybe she was just downstairs in the laundry room doing a massive load. Maybe she would come back any minute and Andrew would find his weird feelings to be silly. He wanted to believe these things, but when he opened his eyes, he saw that Nina’s side of the closet was empty. Andrew didn’t bother checking the drawers of the dresser or of the nightstand because he had a feeling that they were empty, too. Walking right back out of the bedroom, Andrew found himself in the kitchen. He needed a drink because he refused to believe this was happening. But when he went to open the freezer, the little white board on the door caught his eye. It read: Andrew, I know my departure is sudden and I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you this in person. There just wasn’t enough time. u n d e r g r o u n d
Remember that apprenticeship in Virginia I told you about? Well, I got it and I start tomorrow. I applied just to see what happens and I didn’t expect to get it. And babe, I’m so sorry, but I couldn’t not take this. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. I love you and I’m gonna miss you, truly. Thanks for everything and I hope you’ll forgive me. —N By the end of the note, Andrew found himself sitting on the tile in the kitchen. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths as he tried to process everything. Nina leaving was so unexpected and Andrew couldn’t help but wonder if Nina was just trying to find an out. She told Andrew about the apprenticeship, but she had never said anything about how big of an opportunity it was. The more he thought about it, the more Andrew’s chest tightened. He didn’t know what to say or what to think or what to do. He couldn’t believe that this was happening to him again. He couldn’t believe that the person that made everything better was gone. Nina left him just like how everyone left him. Nina was moving on to bigger and better things, and here was Andrew, a college dropout with a high risk job that could easily replace him. Andrew leaned back against the cabinets and he felt so damn empty. Why did everyone turn their backs on him? Why did Andrew always get the short end of the stick? Why did this apartment no longer feel like home? A tear ran down Andrew’s cheek and he didn’t have the heart to wipe it away. He knew that he would never be good enough for anyone or anything. He consistently failed and he didn’t know how to recover again. There wasn’t anyone to help him and he was tired of picking up the pieces himself. He couldn’t do it anymore. He couldn’t be in that apartment for a moment longer, so with whatever dignity he had left, Andrew got off the ground and packed a bag. He had nowhere to go, but to the station, so that was where he went. Andrew sat with Cooper for a while and let the dog cuddle up with him. He had really wanted to bring Cooper home with him, but Andrew didn’t have a home anymore. That apartment lost all of its value the second Nina left. 168
And Andrew lost his place in the world at the same time. Age: 25 Subconsciously, Andrew found himself on Chase’s doorstep. When Chase opened the door, Andrew lunged forward and threw his arms around Chase with a hug. He knew he probably looked crazy in that moment, still dressed from his dinner with his parents, but he just needed someone there. He needed to place his ear on someone’s chest and hear their heartbeat. He needed someone to hold him tight and assure him that he would be okay. He needed to fill the void in his chest because he didn’t know how much of this emptiness he could take.
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Teeth T.J. Blackburn Greg ran his fingers through Maude’s black hair, tucking strands behind her ear, then followed the lines of her neck to her shoulder. He adored her skin, the evenness of its tropical color, the smallness of the frame that held it all together, and the way his wife fit inside his arms. They had been cuddling for the past hour, and Greg wanted to go on doing so for several more, but it was late, and he had to report for guard duty in the morning. “We better get ready for bed,” Maude said. She propped herself up on an elbow and looked into Greg’s eyes. Her eyes shimmered mischievously in the candlelight, and her lips curled into a toothy smile. She kissed him fiercely, sliding on top of him, her hair cascading around his face. He could feel the tightness of Maude’s abdomen as she slid under the covers. He felt the small size of her breasts as she pressed herself against him, her skin electrifying his. Maude giggled and then slid off Greg and out of bed. He watched, transfixed by the muscles moving under her skin as she padded around the bed, disappearing into the bathroom as she closed the door behind her. Greg rolled over and buried his frustration between his body and the mattress. He bit his pillow and wrapped the ends around his ears, trying to drive the image of his wife’s naked body from his mind, but a predatory urge drove him out of bed and toward the bathroom. Greg’s reflection in the dresser mirror caught his eye, and he stopped. His skin was a pasty white color that seemed to glow in the half-dark of the room, and he wondered if Maude got as turned on by him as he did by her. He took inventory of his physique, noticing that Maude’s cooking had added a layer of fat to his body. He sucked in his stomach, flexed his biceps, and then laughed at himself. He supposed that Maude at least found him attractive. She did marry him, after all. He got down on the floor and did several quick push-ups, then flexed in the mirror again. He cupped his hand in front of his mouth and smelled his 170
breath. Time for more sex, sexy, he thought; then, he burst through the door. Maude stood frozen, visibly mortified, staring at Greg. He jumped back, at first surprised that he did not recognize his wife’s face, then confused. He recognized her large brown eyes, her black hair that framed the roundness of her cheekbones, but her face below her nose seemed as if it belonged to another, much older person. The triangle of her jawline was gone, and toothpaste foam crowded the edges of her toothless mouth. Her lips were withered and leathery and flapped to the rhythm of her breath. He moved his eyes to the object in Maude’s hand. False teeth. “Wha …” Greg groped for words. “What?” Maude hurriedly rinsed her mouth. Then she rinsed the toothpaste off her dentures and reinserted them. Greg watched as her lips appeared to take on a life of their own, wrapping themselves around the dentures like a sea creature inhaling its prey. Her face molded itself around the teeth, taking on their familiar shape. “You … What?” Greg said. Maude waited, arms akimbo, as if nothing had transpired beyond his intrusion. She was herself again, confident, strong. And naked. “I can’t take you seriously when you’re—” Greg pointed at her. He grabbed a towel and handed it to Maude. “Naked?” Maude offered. She wrapped herself then returned to her previous stance. She looked at him impatiently, as if she was waiting for an explanation, as if nothing was amiss. Greg reddened, becoming acutely aware of his own nakedness. He grabbed another towel from the rack and covered himself. He felt vulnerable, unfamiliar with his own skin. Unsure of himself or whether he had imagined everything, he asked cautiously, “You have false teeth?” “Yes.” “How long were you going to go on without you telling me about this? Were you planning to tell me?” “Of course, asawa,” she said. “When?” “I don’t know. I was waiting for the right time.” u n d e r g r o u n d
“We’ve been married for a year.” “I was afraid you’d think me ugly. Do you think I’m ugly?” Greg looked at Maude then past her as he thought about her question. “You think I’m ugly!” Startled, Greg blurted, “I … I don’t think you’re ugly.” He felt silly all of a sudden, and his cheeks started to burn. Maude’s tone had been harsh, but her eyes were playful—he hoped. “I just wish that I knew, that’s all.” “It’s common in my country for people my age to have false teeth,” Maude said. She sounded almost forgiving, like a mother trying to explain manners to a child. When did he become the bad guy? “You’re twenty-two. Or is that a lie, too?” “I’m twenty-two and I’ve had false teeth since I was eighteen.” “That young?” “The Philippines doesn’t really have good dentistry.” “It’s the nineties.” “It’s the Philippines!” “Fair enough.” Greg raised his hands in front of him, surrendering. He ran their conversation through his head and came to the conclusion that it did not change his feelings for Maude. He could live with this revelation, he thought. Then curiosity got the best of him. “Do you sleep with them in?” “No. I take them out.” “How did I not notice this before?” Greg felt his pride wither. What else did he not notice about his wife? Can he even be an effective Marine anymore? “Do you keep them in when you …?” He pointed hesitantly at his penis. “Yes.” “Wow! You’re good,” Greg said, impressed. He smiled at Maude and she smiled back at him. He was surprised at how natural her dentures looked, how perfectly white and straight. Maybe they were too perfect, he thought. He remembered a story of a corporal from Headquarters Company who had his penis nearly bitten off by a prostitute 172
whose false teeth had come loose. “Do you use adhesives to hold them in?” “No. Those taste funny.” “I don’t know how I feel about that.” “Okay, I’ll start taking them out then.” “I don’t know how I feel about that.”
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** Special Thanks: There was simply too much gratitude on my part to try to fit all of my thanks in my first letter. So here goes, Bryce McNeil, you not only dressed as the most awesome advisor ever, you fulfill the part every day. Thank you especially for helping keep my head cool when I was suffering from another politico-fever. Even though you sure know how to talk when we both have things to get done, I wouldn’t care to share office space with anyone else, which is highly unfortunate for me given the future circumstances. But, in any case, may your days be forever filled with candy and all things fluffy and wonderful because you deserve to be chuckling and giddy whenever you get the chance. Rachel Pickett, my most trusted partner in crime, where the hell would I be without you? Thank you for putting up with my demands and my ludicrous attempt at keeping the staff organized. Let’s make this final run the best of our lives. My staff, you stuck with me through all manner of deranged personalities and ridiculous imaginings. Thank you for dreaming with me and for keeping up with my strenuous tasks. My editors, Carla, Sydney, and Becca—ladies, we did it. It was a pleasure and I hope to keep in touch far beyond these campus grounds. The amazing, courageous, fiery people who I’ve met at conferences both here and there—those who believe in bringing forth the light of the creative minds wherever they may linger. Thank you for helping to bring my dream of Underground being a nationally recognized journal to light, for being a follower and a friend, and for refusing to put out the flame of creativity in your own home towns, no matter what adversity you encounter. Finally, to those who added to the flames with their beautiful works and those who worshipped such pyres, to anyone who has ever gazed upon our lantern and began to wonder, you are my family. Here’s to the start of a new legacy. Cheers, Raven Neely u n d e r g r o u n d