Backroads Literary Magazine
University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Volume XLIII
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Alyssa Malone - Editor-in-Chief Michael Gruber - Poetry Editor Erin Cain - Prose Editor John Fornoff - Visual Art Editor
Staff Brittany Hoover Jonas Kiefer Kristin Caro Jeffrey Adams Kyler Smith Danielle Myers
Faculty Advisor Professor Marissa Landrigan
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Letter From the Editor: I’m pleased to welcome you to the the 2015 edition of Backroads. I’d like to begin by thanking the folks who made this year’s magazine possible: Michael Gruber, whose uncredited work last year helped keep the organization on its feet, and whose dedication to the open mic nights and discerning eye for poetry this year really helped Backroads continue to flourish. John Fornoff, whose odd creative spark and unique vision led to Backroads advertisements like no other--how many other flyers have caused people to remark that they want tattoos of the designs they contain? Erin Cain, who got prose committee work done despite a busy and theater-filled schedule. Also, an enormous thanks to Marissa Landrigan, who brought experience and an eager willingness to help Backroads continue in the new direction it is heading in. I feel confident that with her advice, the magazine and the organization behind it will do nothing but continue to improve. Within these pages, reader, you’ll find visions of the world from something of a unique perspective: the student. Let’s face it--while academic papers may tell you something about students’ ideas, and certainly their work ethics, they give you access to only their most superficial ideas. Backroads and the works it contains offer a brief glimpse into the minds of this generation during this unique and inherently transitory period of our lives: pain, ecstasy, regret, dilemmas, celebrations, survival--the things you will never learn about students from a Composition essay. The things that make us human. I invite you to therefore immerse yourselves in this edition and enjoy the creativity and inspiration that the students of our small, fine campus have to offer. -Alyssa Malone
“Let us not forget that every authentic "work of art" is in and of itself alive and that, however "the arts" may differ among themselves, their common function is the expression of that supreme alive-ness which is known as "beauty."” -E. E. Cummings
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Table of Contents
Regret ...................................................................................................................................................... 9 Brittany Hoover Celexa ......................................................................................................................................................10 Scarlett Xenos But Can She Cry on Cue? .................................................................................................................11 Kyler Smith Take it Back ............................................................................................................................................13 Jennifer Palmieri Humble Ghazal ....................................................................................................................................14 Michael Gruber Eye Opening Ride ...............................................................................................................................15 Clifford Jones Slave to the Free ..................................................................................................................................17 Jaclyn Reed Leaf ...........................................................................................................................................................18 Jennifer Palmieri Manic .......................................................................................................................................................19 Kyler Smith Falling for You .......................................................................................................................................20 Jaclyn Reed Fall .............................................................................................................................................................22 Michael Gruber My Name is Fright ..............................................................................................................................23 Clifford Jones Commotion in the Court...................................................................................................................24 Jennifer Palmieri Write It! ...................................................................................................................................................25 Michael Gruber Christmas With You ............................................................................................................................27 Clifford Jones
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Thomas Plutt ............................................................................................................ 30, 31, 32 Peijia Zhang ...............................................................................................................33 John Mullenix ............................................................................................................34, 35 Moriah Howell ..........................................................................................................36, 37, 38 John Teacher ..............................................................................................................39, 40, 41 John Fornoff ...............................................................................................................42
More then a Handful ..........................................................................................................43 Jaclyn Reed The Right Thing ....................................................................................................................51 Wendy Wall Whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Wrong With You? ..................................................................................................57 Carley Kelly Heal Me! ..................................................................................................................................63 Jaclyn Reed Things are Big, Things are Small ....................................................................................69 Moriah Howell Marigold ..................................................................................................................................72 Austin Pardee Untitled ....................................................................................................................................78 Moriah Howell Does this Darkness Have a Name? ...............................................................................81 Carley Kelly Author Bios ............................................................................................................................86
Submission Policy ...............................................................................................................89
About Us ................................................................................................................................90 Cover image inked by John Fornoff and colored by Alyssa Malone.
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One day you’ll know. You’ll be picking up milk at the store and realize it. Time will stop for just a second, your pupils will dilate and there will be an unimagined vision before them. You’ll know. Seconds will bend to the motion of the Earth and your world will come pouring down, just as that 2% spills all over aisle #3.
Shivers will race down your spine, beads of moisture will form on your temple. Images of lovers intertwined; the taste of sulfur will bite your tongue, all of those forgotten promises will somehow reappear. You’ll know. Her eyes will burn your own, passion will set them ablaze. Your stance, once strong and fierce, will weaken and whittle.
One day you’ll know just how lucky you were to have gotten the chance to taste that divine sulfur and fall victim to the flames that fuel those passionate eyes. One day you’ll know.
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..Celexa, the one and only. the pill is a cubic millimeter of motherfuckingtheresa who winks/creaks open the well-used door bolthole, the prison, the escape, the s p a c e where I failed from beauty school art school culinary skool to cool for PrinCIpLEs of ACCouNinG 101111 NO i prefer (no i, too juvenile, she said) I LOVE YOU (ah, dearest communion of lonely nymph empty space behind sugarpink thistleskittle on the tongue of the boy Cuero, &the blue sweatsweet raindrop from a cheek to a cheek to a tongue to a crystallizATION INSPIRATIONPERSPIRATIONURINATIONABOMIN ation haitian patient patience SECRET hero of these poems, dearest lover, of the belly & cock & endless peaaisssss(ss innn r peace innnnnerr peace the nice coat said-)((&this blessed pill is the one room without a nosmoke square on the door so mercifully faithfully a cigcigcigarette follows every orgasm, every finger stretched in vain toward the alien orange sky. )) -Scarlett Xenos
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But Can She Cry on Cue?
Can she recite entire monologues, From SNL in the 70s? And not only recite, But match the inflections Of Akroyd and Martin To a t. Can she cry on cue?
But does she dance in the rain, Twirling and falling, and getting right back up Without a care of how sick her sister got From doing the same Can she look at you with reverence? Half shaded eyes Like the molded blown glass angels In chapels that lined the walk ways Of the places you strolled With her
Does she look at you during the best part of the song? The part where you close your eyes, And bang your head, Lost in the beat that hits your chest, And takes your breath And even though it hurts Does she know that you like it?
Does she trace your eyelids in your sleep When you both know youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re really awake Can she cry on cue?
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Can she pulse her hips The way you like When your hands find their place Warm and familiar, when she dances with her mouth agape Eyes closed And you lean in to smell her neck, And hear her breath catch in her throat
Does she cry for you? Does she fall on purpose? Without pain, from years of experience, Of making others laugh To make herself feel better And to make your parents laugh, too Because she knows how much they love it
Does she dream of an impossible trek An adventure she knows she would never take In a VW van, through Albuquerque And Toledo. Where you would stop At strange tourist attractions And take Polaroidâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Of stuff you cant make out But keep them anyway? Does she cry at the end Of comedies, too? -Kyler Smith
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Take it Back
“You square” croaks the bully. Like it is an insult to follow the rules… I bet this kid couldn’t spell square if it hit him square in his forehead. He probably thinks I am the lucky one for having three square meals a day or because I actually know the answer to eleven squared. I can see him now, throwing on his beat up leather boots, dragging his feet all the way down to town square just to beg for money. Placed square in the middle of being a kid & a provider. Years later, he stands outside the carpenters union holding his square. He approaches several people before reaching me. “Can I bum a square?” says my old-school enemy. His worn out eyes look me square in the face. Eyes lowering with guilt, He promises to repay me one day & all I can say is “It’s fine, we’re square.” -Jennifer Palmieri
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Recall where the story begins, if you can. At the altar, confess all of your sins, if you can. Heap all of your wasted possessions into the mouths of recycling bins, if you can. Collect torn up lottery tickets and count them as wins, if you can.
Sit in an empty circle just to hear how the bottle spins, if you can. Look me straight in my hungry eyes without any grins, if you can.
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Eye Opening Ride
While riding the Brooklyn bound G-train I lost myself by seeing your reflection, momentum skidded across my cheek, twinkling like space dust in cataclysmic unpigmented orbs.
My retinas were suspended in a voidâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; breathing became more difficult than our closeness. pulsated in rhythmic silences.
Your talons crushed my skull and correlated our hearts as we noiselessly soaredâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; which caused my resolute walls to erode. numbness prophesied never arrived.
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I could see the psychedelic sketch of me in your eyes screechingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; causing my self hatred to
surrounding me in an embellished veil of reality, and the train flew beyond.
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Slave to the Free
She sails across the seven seas, Screaming “Lord, what have you done to me?” Beaten by the waves below, Wanting only winds to blow – Blow them home to safer days, Of twiddling the hours away With thumbs hardened by wood and steal After years of sea life, cold and ill. She sails the seven seas away Dreaming fondly of yesterday When she was but a plank of wood Before the men took her for good Away from port to open sea Where now she wonders, a slave to the free
Underneath a full moon’s light Come with swords as sharp as night Candles burn – the sails are suns! Sinking ship Forever done.
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As you lean against our kitchen window, I stare at your yellowed skin.
Your veins pulsate up your spine into every limb. I dread the day your body curls and shrivels up so tightly, till finally
you fall, crunching underneath my shoes, dissolving with the others into nothing.
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I tickle the sacred 26 like some tickle the ivories. I open my veins through my throat and pour out on keyboards, sweet sticky notes. I sing to the rafters, even when there are none to be found. I sing to those ill-begotten rafters, I sing to the black night. I recite my words contrite, despite my own insight Of a wizened mans hands as they observe my reformed plans I clap along to a beat that is not meant for me, I keep my toes in line with my feet, poor rhythm They never have seen a white girl try so hard. I sweat, keeping up with the pioneers, We’re all just trying to reach the final frontier of the bard. I pound my heels into the grimy gym floor, I swing my head and trill my tongue I roll my eyes in the back till I can’t see the disco balls plastic florescence dance on the blue mats And the cool kids on the bleachers, Or the cooler kids out in the hushed light air, Trying cigarettes and staring at bright screens. I ignore the stresses in my shins and the stresses in the notes. Maybe if I ignore it enough… Sweat clings when the chorus sings and the brass bell rings And I wring, and wring,
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Falling for You
I think I fell in love with falling as I fell in love with you. Wind rushing through my hair, your eyes, that smile. the way you called me “love” – Oh, I melted.
I think I fell in love with insomnia because it meant hours of your voice. Despite nightmares that haunted me, an ache in my broken heart, the memories of him smashing me to bits… I think I fell in love with being broken because it meant your arms around me. It meant your compassion, attention, time.
I think I fell in love with 2:30. The ding my phone made, your name on my screen with “Hey beautiful” – Oh, yes, I blushed.
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I think I fell in love with crashing because I crashed into your chest. Jumped from a cliff out into the vast, rough ocean and straight into your heart. Oh, yes, I fell hard for you. -Jaclyn Reed
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Let the autumn air sink deeper into your lungs than yesterday. Your breath keeps you warm, but soon it will choke with frost. Hold a leaf delicately in your palm. Let the lush green absorb into your veins. Trace the bristled edge with
your tongue. Enter the humble holes where life was chewed out, spun into silk, spread wide, and flown. Slowly loosen your grip. Let the breeze pull your breath away.
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My Name is Fright
Vibrating tides pirouetted around one another— Preordained diamond strands yanked the scorched skeletal fingers as they grazed the frigid barrier That extended in every direction throughout time. Resolute beasts in mirrored mirages.
Angelic tweeting generated the tiniest of fissures, as Tears cascaded into the abyss, and Unveiled the grotesque shadowy mask.
The world was a terrible place full of beautiful things. The beautifully mysterious creature sauntered forwarded with bright twinkling eyes. My eyes ordinarily ached— Though my ears were cast into an unfathomable inferno. The world was a beautiful place full of horrible things. The arc was swept away on a sea of the purest light eradicating the shadows, Except for a curious thus invisible shard— His name was love and mine fright. Ignored regularly for fear of loss I am the Love that dare not speak its name. The masquerader was optimistically being masqueraded,
While lusting red roses petals of love blossom to expose their inner beauty, If imaginary the image would become an unfortunately accepted mirage.
In this part of the story I am the one who Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you, Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.
-Clifford Jones Page | 23
Commotion in the Court
We grew up in the same town. Every time he gets near me, my heart paces with his rattling. That snake. He squints and slithers over to me, his hand coils around mine, he tightens his grip. His lisp still echoing in my mind from my last defeat, he repeats â&#x20AC;&#x153;good luck.â&#x20AC;? I feel my lungs fill with air as he releases me. He strikes with full force, I jab at him. You amaze me the way you loop through every hole in order to surpass my defenses. His light brown suit and dirt brown shoes certainly show how he dresses the part. Words, those are what he mangles in order to win over the judge. The mallet knocks. Another criminal walks as I stare at him feeding upon the jury, swallowing them whole.
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Sometimes, the pen refuses write. The blank reflection stays blank because it might consume the one who dares to defile its perfection. After all, what curved and crooked stain can improve upon the thin blue lines scored like the meticulous strokes of a glass cutter or the elegance of a perfectly balanced figure skater?
Sometimes, a page is a tired farmer’s barren field, no wheat, no grass, not even weeds. All of the clouds are storm-clouds that spill no rain. The air is thick difficult to breath. There is no breeze to cool sweat. Senselessly farmer plows and plows and the dry earth stays unsown. Sometimes, the vise’s key is turned too far and the squealing steel, bent on gripping a thought and wringing its scrawny little neck, begins to crack. The thought begins squirming free so the vise squeezes tighter until the cracks spread and the dense instrument shatters.
Sometimes, a mustang, feral and snorting by the breaking post, drills its sight straight through to the back of the breaker’s skull where the sage wisdom of “How to Softly Break Wild Horses” can offer no aid. Its eyes say, Death will have to come first. Page | 25
Sometimes, it is enough to just keep breathing. Keep breathing and sometimes, just that will be enough.
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Christmas With You Our Love story Is frost-encrusted Six feet under now. I Screw the Brains out of Others to erase you.
Yet The entire Time I think of Nothing but your stupid
Crooked Smile. I Know blowing your brains out was necessary. And So I Do what I Must to survive this.
Despising You is Kinder than you Leaving me all alone. Belong Keeps playing Wherever I go and Page | 27
I keep putting the
Bottle To my Shaking lips. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m Dramatic youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d tell me.
But I call An unanswerable phone Every single fuckin day Because Hearing your Voicemail is the Only thing keeping me From Lying beside Your corpse. My Money ran out and Your Voice dissolved; Through all these Tears you remain
Am I Living or simply Existing out of fear?
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Tomorrow Heaven will hopefully accept us. Earth never did. Hello Baby I Guess this is To our eternity. Bang.
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Untitled - Thomas Plutt
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Untitled - Thomas Plutt
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Untitled - Thomas Plutt
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Untitled - Peijia Zhang
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Music Study II - John Mullenix
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Faded Flowers Bar the Door - John Mullenix
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Droplet - Moriah Howell
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Red Velvet Mite on Bark - Moriah Howell
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UPJ Stream Life - Moriah Howell
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Harvest Prayer - John Teacher
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Quiet Holly Day - John Teacher
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Sunset on Snow - John Teacher
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Untitled - John Fornoff
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More Than a Handful
Bilateral Reduction Mammoplasty. Most people didn’t know what it meant, but if they did and were too embarrassed for my sake to comment, I could go about my day pretending that the reason for my month-long absence escaped them completely. I could smile and converse casually about the events I missed or the coursework I had to make up, despite their eyes jumping from my face to my tightly wrapped, sore, and possibly bleeding chest. I dragged a rolling laptop bag through the crowded hallways, mocking and inquisitive whispers flourishing around the opening of my ears like small birds, too quiet to comment on and too loud to ignore. My cheeks permanently retained the flushed red color radiating up my neck. A few times the bag caught on a purposely misplaced foot and jerked my arm back. If not for the chatter echoing off every cinderblock and metal locker, I probably would have been able to hear the stitches tear at my sides. My shoulder blades curled my arms around me like a blanket, and I bit my bottom lip until it bled to contain the scream I desperately wanted to unleash on the unsuspecting, insensitive high school students. I worked my way to the elevator shamefully, and wiped every tear in the sanctuary of it before reaching the next floor. A little girl grows up dreaming of who she will marry, what she will look like, how she will contribute to the world. She worries about what boys will think of her (once the doctors cure them of their cooties) and when her prince will sweep her off her feet. She spends hours drawing herself in the perfect fairytale dress for the ball, with a perfect little waist, breasts, and a butt, all proportional to the rest of her despite her shaking hand. I was that little girl, drawing and dreaming, wanting to grow up without knowing exactly what that meant. I was angry I didn’t get curves when my friends did, angry when guys only saw me as one of them, angry when I wasn’t the beautiful woman I’d drawn. I don’t believe much in god, but I believe in the swirling colors of the Northern Lights, the idea of Karma, the equal exchange of energy in the universe. I radiated red, and so that is exactly what I received. Come seventh grade I went from nothing to a C cup, and by my junior year of high school I carried ten excess pounds of tissue everywhere I went. My prince arrived just in time and swept me off my feet with loving whispers and that very rare thing called chivalry. The moment I knew he was perfect, the exact words that made me want to be with him forever: “I didn’t even notice.” He met me in a tank top and shorts at the peak of my development and hadn’t noticed my…assets. To everyone else, it was a defining feature, two big things to envy, and none of them understood why I hated them so much. Perhaps I was too hard on myself, maybe I did see a different person in the mirror than everyone else, but I knew for a fact that nothing fit right. Page | 43
I knew for a fact that I was always in pain. And I knew for an irrefutable fact that my chest made my already small head look like a pea. I threw shirt after shirt across the room, tore out and put on a pair of thick black sweats, then the triple bra tower. I carefully forced them over top of my breasts until they were crushed against me. First, the 42D, super-doper supportive, underwired $50 bra (that never held up to its promises of support and comfort, that bunched up on either side and left indentations in my shoulders); the sports sling to hold the 42D in place; and the camisole to hide all the straps and add a bit more support (even though the built-in-bra didn’t even cover half my chest). Shirts just barely stretched around the tower but left my stomach swimming in material, drowning. I’d throw one of Taylor’s sweatshirts over top and go to school without any noticeable shape to my body. I liked it that way, even when it didn’t deter the comments of strangers. Most days I walked down the hall unnoticed by anyone, and others I was harassed. The most memorable stalker happened to be a senior while I was a freshman. To this day, I don’t know his name nor do I care to, but throughout my freshman year (mainly in the 900 hallway, or the “arts hall”) he would walk up to me while I was alone with a pack of his friends, grab my chest and make some kind of perverted comment. Every time I took it. I cowered and I said nothing. What could I have said? What could I have done to make him leave me alone? Nothing. There were more than just him, many more commenters that included family members and friends. Guys my own age (or older) saw me as a walking pair of tits. My great aunts, flat as the Nebraska plains, saw me as a freak of nature (and oddly felt the need to point it out at the most inappropriate times, including my cousin’s wedding). My girlfriends saw me as the bum, never dressing nicely or trying to look good, only getting guys attention because of my body, which wasn’t as skinny or tan as their own. Their comments snuck into my ears and clung to my brain, growing like moss until I believed every word. Every touch and comment, unfamiliar and unsolicited, ate away at my soul, and I could do nothing but brush them off and add another brick to my wall. Why’d they grab you? I don’t know. Lay a brick down. Hey chick, nice tits. Lay a brick down. Taylor only loves you because you have a big rack. Brick. Guys only compliment you because they want to cop a feel. Brick. I’m sure you’d look better without a shirt. Brick. You ever get rid of your boobs, Taylor won’t stick around. Brick. Are you even going to ask him before you cut them off? Brick. (Did I need his permission?) One day in the midst my junior year, I found myself in an office across from the Susquehanna River, listening to my mother talk about the “old Poly days” with a shorter, balding man in a white coat with “LEBER” stitched over the breast. I was in a gown cut
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down the front without a shirt, hunched over and cold. Leber’s own first words to me were, “What size bra do you wear?” To which I promptly answered, “42D.” And to which he shook his head and said, “I can tell without even looking at you you’re not wearing the right size.” (The right size happened to be a 28 triple D). The majority of the time was spent measuring, taking pictures, and informing me of what a bilateral reduction mammoplasty involved. He drew my scar patterns on the inside of a pamphlet, but assured me they wouldn’t be noticeable after a year or so. He was a plastic surgeon; his job entailed leaving no evidence he’d ever been there. I left with my surgery and pre-op visits on the calendar and the hopelessness dwindling in new light. I pulled my phone out and opened Taylor’s text on the drive home, my folder and To Do List laying open in my lap with the brochure and scar map. Our conversation was mundane, filled with comforting words to ease my tension, and finally: It’s scheduled. Say goodbye to my boobs.
I curled into his chest, warm like the space heater he was, my tears sizzling as they hit him in bombing waves. His hand moved in circles up and down my back as he smiled and whispered gentle, calming noises. Real Housewives ran in the background to make me feel better, but all it did was annoy me. The petty arguments, the shrill laughs, made me want to throw a shoe at the screen (a reaction most people have to televisions when frustrated, as if the remote has no control over the idiocy and only breaking the glass can relieve us from its hold). We sat in silence for a long time. I was afraid to say anything, though I had a lot to say, and I don’t think he really had anything to say. He’s going to leave you. Brick. You better ask. If he says no, you’ll cancel it right? Brick. “Are you mad at me?” “Not at all, love. Why would I be mad?” “Because I’m getting the reduction…” He pulled me into his lap, one arm cradling my head and the other wrapped around my legs. He sighed. “Jaclyn, you’re in so much pain all the time. Am I sad they won’t be as big? Yes, I’m a guy, but your comfort and happiness is more important to me, and I will still love you just as much without your big chest. You could cut all of them off and I’d still love you.” He smiled, then leaned in. “You’re not going to cut all of them off though…right?” He winked.
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“Maybe I should put squeakers in them. That would keep you entertained for hours.” “That would be fun,” he laughed. He looked down at my chest, sizing them against his own hand from afar. “Just like I thought. I can only get about half of each in one hand, and you know what that means.” “You have to use two hands?” He chuckled. “Well, yes, but no. It means more than a handful is just a waste.”
We met my dad and sister in the hospital waiting room the morning of my surgery a few months later (January 2012 – Friday the 13th), where a digital sign hung over the counter and a nurse called numbers like we were just people waiting in line at a deli. This heart? No, the child’s. Oh, so this one? Yes, that’s the one. A bigger, black woman came from the door behind the deli counter with a clipboard in her hand. She surveyed the crowd. “Jaclyn Reed?” My mom came with us back the sterile, white hall of cubby holes and hospital beds. The nurse was nice, kept joking to make me laugh, and I did laugh, even when it wasn’t funny. Nothing seemed to be funny. She took me to a scale out in the open and from there the routine medical tests began. I was set up in my own cubby at the end of the long hallway that looked like it came straight from Stephen King’s The Shinning, with a privacy curtain that blew open as people passed. I changed into an uncomfortable hospital gown and socks that made my feet itch. They stuck to the floors as I shoved my civilian clothes into a big plastic bag with my name written on it in sharpie. The nurse put it on the edge of my bed before doing my IV. She came around to my left side and behind her, creeping out of her own cubby, an older, wrinkled woman whose fake tan out did many preppy teenage girls’, turned to me with wide, crazed eyes. “They cuttin’ you open too? Don’t worry about the scars. Look what they’re doin’ to me.” She pulled the gown up in front of her face, her entire naked body covered in the horrible blue ink Leber used on me the night before. Mom tried to hold in her laughter, but neither of us could for very long. We leaned in towards each other and chuckled. But it still wasn’t very funny. “Go back to bed, Betty!” an orderly yelled from around the corner. He came and tugged the gown back into place before helping her back to bed.
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I was left waiting, talking to my mom, sister, and Taylor, stewing in nervousness and whatever warming drug flowed through my IV. Another nurse, slight and blonde, came to take me. She unlocked the wheels and dragged me down the hall. This was the point when the twin girls in frilly dresses appeared to tell me it was time to die, or when the elevator opened and poured gallons of blood all over the floor. This was the Green Mile, the point when they read me my crimes and turned up the juice on Ol’ Sparky. We made polite, tense conversation until we got into the operating room. It was cold and oddly lit with bright boxy lights, the way you’d expect an O.R. to look: the tile walls and floors, the blue tissue paper covering everything, the tables full of what can only be described as torture devices out of the “Hostel” trilogy, and the dozen or so people in scrubs with white masks. They moved me from my bed to the table. I tried really hard to smile. “Don’t be nervous.” I don’t think I was fooling anyone. “You know,” Dr. Leber said, pointing to a brunette nurse in green and white scrubs, “she had this done last year.” “Best decision I ever made.” Please, don’t lie to me… Leber put the mask over my face. “Count back from ten…”
I was crying in the darkness, over a bride throwing a toaster on to the ground and smashing it with a hammer hours before her wedding. The TV flashed and illuminated the red and black words scribbled on every wall from top to bottom. Taylor rubbed my back, consciously avoiding my bandages. I was dirty and in pain; I couldn’t shower, couldn’t wear a real shirt (which meant I was stuck in a robe and an uncomfortable post-surgery bra over laying three layers of gauze), couldn’t do anything by myself. “I can’t give you a shower, babe…” “But I want a shower…” My mom went into surgery for her spine that morning. We were alone and there wasn’t much he could do to soothe me once the drugs hazed my mind. He stood, lips pursed a bit in thought, and suddenly began to gather all of my pillows from behind me. He didn’t answer when I questioned and whined for him to bring them back. Instead, he took them into the bathroom. A few minutes later he returned for me, wrapped a towel around my shoulders, and carried me to the bathroom as if I weighed nothing (looking back I probably felt lighter to him as I weighed ten pounds less than the day I’d gone in for surgery). He laid me down in the little cove now padded with
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pillows between the wall and the bathtub and told me to tilt my head back. He used my removable showerhead to wash my hair, even dried, brushed, and put it in a ponytail when he was done. I cried most of the time. I always cried on Vicodin and it became a problem throughout the course of my recovery because I was unable to be productive in anyway or even have a conversation without bursting into tears (consequently, when I had carpal tunnel surgery on my right hand a few months later, Taylor and my mother took it upon themselves to order my surgeon to prescribe anything else).
I watched myself unzip the bra and peel the gauze from my wounds in my bathroom mirror. Deep bruising hung below each milk chocolate eye, the pupils like bullet holes sinking further into the caverns of my downtrodden soul. The dying light bulbs, flickering like busy bug zappers, gave a washed out tone to the hourglass bathroom. And I, in front of this mirror, exposing myself to my own worst enemy, was a zombie without bite marks, without blood splatter. Grey skin stretched tightly over a sharpened skeleton left wobbling from one wall to the other. With every breath the skin expanded and tore. My nerves were dead, but I could still feel them writhing beneath the grey. Bloody white fell in sways and settled on the floor. I planted my palms on the cold marble and watched the tears hit beside them. Loud splashing, crashing waves, and screaming nerves rang in the deepest corners of my mind where not even the Vicodin could find them. They look like they’re going to fall off… I sobbed in silence, looking back and forth between the sink and the horrible, Frankenstein image of myself. Cheshire smiles. One-eyed-smiling-monsters. Cut and paste art projects where the glue couldn’t possibly hold up. They rose and fell with every labored breath, and the nerves, refusing to die, screamed louder. It took everything in me not to join them. I was confined to my home for a month, during which time, I avoided mirrors, thinking about what I’d done, and talking to people about how I felt. I was in pain, tired in every sense of the word, and hazed constantly by pain killers that made me cry for no reason. I wasn’t allowed to wear anything more than a sports bra until the incisions were fully healed, and Taylor insisted he and I go alone for my first new-body-new-me shopping trip. We parked furthest to the left below the embankment outside Kohl’s. Cars swerved dangerously around others and innocent bystanders, children ran in zigzags across the aisles, and a couple of elderly women slowed our pace as we entered the store. He grabbed a cart and took the purse from my white-knuckle grip.
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“Relax,” he smiled. Taking my waist, he led me to the junior’s section. Nothing’s going to fit. This is too small. This will never cover enough. I’m too big for that. It wouldn’t look good on me; I don’t have the right body for it. That’s for 12year-old boys. Yeah right, do you know how that would look over my chest? Can’t we just leave? He took a pair of skinny jeans and strapless black shirt off the rack. It hugged the bust with a cluster of pearls and beading at the center then flowed out over the stomach and back. It was a small. He guided me to the dressing rooms, dragging the cart loaded with different outfits (only two or three of which I’d actually selected). “Show me each one.” He kissed my head and pulled the door shut. The last thing I saw was his grin the size of my scars. One by one, I tried them on. They fit. They looked, dare I say, good. Shirts didn’t squeeze my chest and drown my stomach. For the first time in over four years, my body looked proportional to itself. I came to enjoy shopping, but maybe I enjoyed the look on Taylor’s face more. I came out in everything he picked. Sometimes he nodded, like a child after being asked if he wanted a cookie, and other times he shrugged or shook his head. It didn’t flatter me like the last one; the jeans looked too big or too tight. I’d stand in front of the full sized mirror, inspecting myself as objectively as I could, ignoring the voices that told me they were still too big, or even worse: that they were now too small. I’d scan my entire figure multiple times, but now and then I’d catch a glimpse of him behind me. He would be smirking, leaning back on one hand to watch me. His normally jumpy, sky blue eyes were fixated on my face in the mirror or scrolling up and down, deciding what to say about this combination. I came out in the skinny jeans and strapless top last. I worried it didn’t fit. I worried it made my breasts look small. I worried it made them look big. I worried it made me look fat. I worried it made my legs look too skinny. His eyes trailed up and down for a while, until he finally caught me watching him. He came to me and wrapped his hands around my waist, low enough that he wouldn’t bump the reawakening nerves. He leaned in to kiss the nape of my neck up to my ear, each peck gentle and warm. “How did I get so lucky?” “Lucky?” I chucked. “Not exactly how I’d describe you.” “Well, obviously I know better than you.” His arms tightened, thick pythons locking me against him. He nudged my chin up until we stared at each other in the mirror. “I mean, look at you. You beautiful creature, you. This is how you were always meant to look.”
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Leber wasn’t lying when he said the scars would fade. They’re barely noticeable everywhere but the sides where they tore the few times my bag was kicked or I was pushed or forced to play volleyball in gym before my body was ready. I can’t feel the pain anymore – some days I can’t feel much of anything, the nerves still fighting their way out of slumber’s grasp. Some days I stare at them in the mirror, only my eyes still able to see exactly where his knife cut.
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The Right Thing
Don’t cry, Annie. Hank looked at his wife, slumped over in the black chair that was far too big for her slender capsule of a body. Please, don’t cry. Well, now they knew. He wished they didn’t know. Doctor Feeny scratched his salt and pepper hair and adjusted his thick rimmed spectacles. “You know, there are alternatives…” When neither Hank nor Annie responded, Dr. Feeny took it as permission to proceed. “There’s always adoption.” Annie cried harder and gasped between sobs, “On an interior decorator and a bank manager’s salary? We..we just bought a house. My cousin--gasp—Mary, she said her boyfriend’s sister adopted a little girl from Russia and it cost them…” She didn’t finish her sentence. Dr. Feeny continued where she left off, “What about In vitro? Nowadays there are very high success rates with it.” Hank could tell Annie was no longer listening, and he couldn’t blame her. They’d been trying for a year and a half to have a baby, and, at 35 and 37, they weren’t exactly in the prime of their child bearing ages. “Thanks, doc, we need to have some time to discuss it privately. Thank you for all of your help. We’ll be in touch.” Doctor Feeny nodded and Hank reached his hand out to Annie. She grabbed it, hers wet from wiping her eyes, and hand in hand they left the office. Hank didn’t like how closed off he had become over the next few days, but he couldn’t help it. He began to take any chance he could find to get out of the house, to not be filled with the nagging guilt that would not subside, the guilt that was quickly turning into bitterness. As he stood in the check-out line of the supermarket the following Monday, he waited patiently as the young girl in front of him unloaded a cart full of various items such as ho ho’s, soda, hair dye, “And can I get a pack of Marlboro lights?” Oh, and Marlboro lights, too. Her three screaming children all tried to put more things in the cart as she unloaded it. “Sammy, stop that! Jesus, kid, I swear I can’t take you anywhere.” When the mother, who couldn’t have been older than 20 turned back around, the one she referred to as Sammy glanced at the others with a shit-eating grin. He grabbed a celebrity gossip magazine and threw it in the cart. It was a game now. “I said stop that!” The mother threw the magazine out of the cart and it landed on the ground. The old, stumpy cashier woman was grimacing through the transaction. Finally, it was Hank’s turn in line and the mother left, her trail of monkeys zig-zagging behind her. “Come on now, we got to go to the pharmacy to pick up your ADD medicine.” ADHD, Hank corrected her in his mind. Candy, Soda, and Ritalin, good combination. He picked up the magazine on the floor that Sammy had dropped and placed it back in the proper rack. On the cover was a famous actress who appeared intoxicated, and there along the bottom of her bright red dress in yellow print was the caption, “Who’s
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your baby daddy? Pregnant, Addicted, and Alone, why she refuses rehab. Follow the story on page 46.” Hank placed his few items on the black check-out belt which wasn’t stopping to wait for him. As he walked out of the supermarket, he wondered if he would tell Annie about the woman in front of him. He decided he wouldn’t, she was already going through enough. But Hank wanted to talk to someone, anyone, to vent about everything. When Hank was nearing the front of the store to exit out to the parking lot, he ran into Ginnie, the young girl who worked at the bank with him. She smiled and waved, “Hi! Mr. Gibbs! How are you?” She bounced over to him. Normally, Hank wasn’t one for conversation. But today he answered honestly. Hank told her about everything. He told her about the woman in front of him with the screaming children, the doctor’s appointment, and even the financial troubles. He was surprised at how much he had unloaded on her, and he immediately felt sorry that he did. It was hardly appropriate, and if Annie knew he had told anybody she would be more than furious with him, and the thought struck him with a pang of guilt. But he needed to tell somebody, and Ginnie seemed to get that. “Mr. Gibbs please keep me updated. I’ve heard great things about that In vitro stuff, although it’s kinda creepy to breed in a petri dish if you ask me.” This made Hank chuckle, for the first time since before the doctor’s appointment yesterday. He apologized for burdening Ginnie with everything and she shook her hand in the air at him and said, “Anytime! Best of luck to both of you. I’ll see you at work!” As Hank exited the supermarket and walked out into the cool February air, he felt as if a weight had been lifted. He got into his car, tossed the few grocery bags into the passenger seat of his Ford Focus, and started the engine. He wondered how Annie was feeling today. He turned the radio on which was playing an old Beatles song. He kept it low, tapping his fingers to the steering wheel as he made the drive home. “Love is all you need”… When Hank got home, he unloaded the groceries while Annie fixed dinner. They both took their plates over to the living room and watched the 6:00 news together just as they did every night. They sat side by side; Annie’s feet folded up to the side of her. She nuzzled close to him and he could smell her coconut shampoo. On the television, the weather man pointed at an oncoming storm that was headed towards their county. “You should expect to see some cool showers moving in beginning around 9:30…” Annie lifted her head, “Maybe I should shut the windows, just in case it hits early.” “Sure, hon,” Hank murmured in response. Before she got off the couch, an attractive middle aged women with a shoulder length bob cut came on the
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television. There was a small box next to her head in the right hand corner containing the mug shot of a woman. “In today’s news, 34 year old Nancy Hill was arrested for drowning her three year-old son, Timothy Hill, in the bathtub of their Cressonlake apartment..” Hank braced himself for what he knew was coming. “Why! Why do all those miserable pieces of shit get to have children? What’s wrong with the world?” Annie screeched hysterically. Hank didn’t have an answer for her. Her husband, who promised to give her everything, to always take care of her, couldn’t give her the one thing she wanted most in the world. He remembered how they had talked about it; they were just kids then. Naïve, high school sweethearts, gushing about the future. If there was a worse feeling than the one Hank had at that very moment, Jesus, he didn’t know what it was. Annie leapt up from the couch and went into their bedroom, slamming the door forcefully behind her. Hank then did something he hadn’t thought about for a long time. He got up and walked to the kitchen, opened the third cabinet from the left, and shuffled around until he found the dusty bottle he was looking for. He grabbed one glass out of the cabinet next to it and poured a generous amount of the pungent whiskey into it. He walked back over to the couch and drank until he could no longer hear his wife’s muffled sobs from the other room. A week later, Hank and Annie once again found themselves sitting across from Dr. Feeny. “So, you folks have given some thought to the In vitro?” They both looked at each other. Annie smiled meekly then returned her full attention back to Dr. Feeny, her hands folded neatly in her lap. “Yes, we’re going to give it a shot.” They signed some paperwork and got up to leave. As they left the office, Hank and Annie overheard two nurses in the hallway talking to a couple. “Well, how long’s he gonna be in here for?” the woman said while jittering around. Her clothes were scraggly, and her scrawny stature suggested that she hadn’t eaten in weeks. The nurse spoke in a calm tone as if she were explaining math problems to a six year-old, “He’s experienced a lot of trauma due to the effects of the drug use during the pregnancy. We’re looking at one week at least.” The mother looked at her mate, “Shit, babe, maybe we should just give it up. I mean, once I’m in rehab, you’s gonna have enough on your plate already without having to worry about another baby.” The man itched his arms and shook his head quickly. Hank grabbed Annie’s arm, “Come on, hon, this doesn’t have anything to do with us.” He led her down the hallway, the couple’s scratchy voices fading in the distance. They made their way out of the hospital and drove home in silence. Neither one of them wanted to discuss what they would do if the in vitro didn’t work. Hank remembered a conversation he had with Annie in which she confided that she always had
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wanted a girl. She never said it, but Hank always assumed it was because Annie’s mother and father had her at a young age. Her father bolted, never to be seen again. Annie and her mother had a strained relationship most of her teenage years, and her mother’s triad of divorces didn’t help stabilize that bond. Once, Annie had come home to find her little pink bicycle with the blue tassels and flower wicker basket lying mangled in the driveway after husband number two had driven over it in a drunken stupor. Her mother divorced him and moved on to husband number three. Hank looked at his wife’s blank expression next to the trees and houses rushing past out the window beside her. She didn’t look hopeful, she didn’t look sad, she didn’t look…anything. He was never one for conversation or emotions, but at this moment, Hank would’ve given anything to read her mind, to not feel so helpless. It was as if they were each on a rock, separated by some great force of trauma in the earth, and the growing crack between them was filling up with space more and more each day. Their appointment was on a Wednesday after noon. Annie had already begun to take her ovulation medications and all that was left to do was retrieve the egg, fertilize the two in the lab, and transfer the embryo. It was a process that took several weeks. It was the longest few weeks of Annie’s life. Hank was anxious, too, but he had always been a realist, getting his calm nature from his father. When they finally got the OK at the appointment to go home and take a pregnancy test, she made Hank read it. He looked at his wife’s expectant expression and wished he could sink into the floor, underneath the stained tile bathroom floors, “I’m sorry, sweetheart. It’s negative.” Weeks went by and neither Hank nor Annie mentioned the situation. That was all it was now, a situation. They could continue to try the In vitro, but they didn’t have the funds for it, and Annie didn’t have the stability. They went on in this limbo state for what Hank could only describe as eternity. It wasn’t long before they both shut off and went through their separate, daily lives, neither one making the first move. It was a Tuesday morning, and Annie was up with Hank to make him breakfast in a silent, routine manner. She opened the refrigerator, “We’re out of milk.” Hank wiped bacon grease from his mouth with a towel and swallowed. “I’ll get some after work.” Annie nodded and then shook her head. “I’ll go; I think I need to get out of the house.” Hank nodded, “Sure, hon.” Without saying goodbye, Annie grabbed her purse and went out the door. Hank finished his breakfast and didn’t see or speak to Annie again until he returned home from work that evening. For the first time in a while, Hank was glad to be home. There was a football game on at 7, and while he wasn’t a huge fan of televised sports, he couldn’t deny that watching the game and cracking open a beer sounded like just the type of normalcy he
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needed. He pulled into his driveway and slowed the Ford Focus to a halt. He loosened his tie and hopped up the porch stairs, a little skip in his step. He walked in the door, hung the keys on the little brass hook next to the door, and turned around. His wife was sitting in the kitchen, and she was holding a baby. Hank stood stunned while his mind absorbed what his eyes were telling him. Finally he spit out, “Annie, whose baby is that?” Annie motioned for Hank to be quiet, as not to wake the infant. She walked over and set the baby down gently in a bundle of blankets on the floor, strewn out in the form of a bed. She walked back into the kitchen where Hank sat in disbelief and confusion. “Hank, please, hear me out.” He could feel his face burning. She took his stewing silence as permission to begin. Annie began talking about how she went to the supermarket and saw a familiar couple. “I knew I’d seen them before. And that’s when it hit me. They were the druggie parents from the hospital. Before I knew it, I had followed them right out of the store. I didn’t intend to follow them all the way home,” her words began to lose confidence as her voice cracked and hesitated, “but I found myself in the broken down projects of Hazelwood. You should have seen the place, Hank. It was no place to raise a child.” Hank remained stiff as a statue as she continued, “I was about to leave, when I noticed they had gone inside, and left the baby in the car. They took their other two children, the groceries, everything. But they left that baby in the car, Hank. I couldn’t just leave him there.” Hank stood up. She had officially lost it. “This isn’t right, Annie. This child doesn’t belong to you, and no amount of justification makes it so. I’m taking him back, and you can sit here and pray to God that they don’t press charges once I explain the state you’ve been in. Jesus, Annie. I can’t even believe I’m in this situation with you right now. Is this what it’s come down to? We can’t have a child so we steal someone else’s?” Annie began to cry now. Normally Hank would do whatever he could to console her, but right now the sound was like nails hammering into his eardrums. Once he managed to threaten the address out of her in between hysteric sobs, he picked up the sleeping bundle and walked out the door. Even as he drove, he had no idea what he was going to tell the parents. He contemplated pleading his wife’s insanity. He pictured Annie in an orange jumpsuit behind bars, looking back at him with hatred for putting her there. “Goddammit, Annie,” he whispered, so as not to wake the baby. He shook away the image and turned onto Hazelwood Avenue. “Forty-four, six, Ah. One forty-eight.” By now it was 8:00 at night as Hank pulled up to the dimly lit shack of a house. The porch was falling apart, and there was trash littering the entire front yard. Hank found it odd that there were no police cars. In fact, it was eerily silent. Had they not noticed that their child was missing? He sat in the car and focused his attention through the cracked window that had one of those stickers to Page | 55
alert fireman that there are children inside. Kind of ironic, Hank thought to himself. Off in the distance he heard the distinct sound of a gunshot and it echoed over the forsaken street. Maybe they werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t home. They were probably at the police station and had left in such a hurry they forgot to turn the lights off. He silenced the engine and carefully stepped out of the car. He slowly walked up to the house to get a closer look. Just then he saw a shadow of movement inside. From where he was standing, he could see a television set on and two small heads sitting in front of it. In the adjacent room, the kitchen he presumed, he could see the mother collapsed in a chair, clearly doped out. Her mate came in and sat next to her. He rolled up a dollar bill, and Hank decided not to watch the rest. He got back in his car and glanced down at the precious bundle in the car seat next to him, completely innocent and unaware of all that was going on around him. Hank thought of the woman in the supermarket in front of him. He thought of the woman on the cover of the magazine. He looked at the two children inside the house. He thought of his wife, probably still sobbing at home, clutching her barren womb that would never hold life. Hank knew he had to make a decision. He looked at the house, then back at the sleeping child. He decided to do the right thing.
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What’s Wrong With You?
“What’s wrong with him?” an obnoxious, nasally voice says from behind me. I dont’t have to turn around to know her question is being aimed at my back. I have heard those same words so many times I have lost track. Like there was this one time when I was four years old and decided it was a good idea to try to count the stars. I was laying in the cold, slightly dewy grass, gazing at the floating glitter shimmering in the sky and I remember just being absolutely amazed. I saw that there were a lot of them and the other kids said it was impossible, but I was really good at counting so I didn’t think I would have any trouble. However, then I actually tried. After a while, I lost track of what ones I already counted and my eyes started to blur. It got colder and I began to see my breath. I lost track somewhere in the hundreds, and it is the same with this question. “Oh, um, that’s Tyler,” Stacy replies to the woman. She is the one-on-one councilor at the group home where I am currently staying. Out of everyone here I hate her the least, but I guess that isn’t really saying much. “Why is he just staring into space like that?” I try not to physically cringe as her voice scrapes into my ears, like the tip of a fork rubbing against a dinner plate. I try, but it’s hard. “He is deaf,” Stacy says, but that isn’t true, and she knows it. Even if no one else here cares enough to figure it out, Stacy made sure to drag me kicking and screaming through painful hours of one-on-one therapy until she was able to prove I wasn’t deaf. Until she could prove that I could hear each and every word she was saying to me. You have to admit that it’s a good cover though as to why I don’t react to anyone and never speak. My file has said I am deaf since I was first entered into the system and no matter how many foster families I have been put into or how many counselors I was required to “talk to”, no one ever asked the right questions, and if they didn’t care enough to ask the right questions, then I wouldn’t be bothered to give them the right answers. The way I saw it then, and still see it now, it is the easiest solution. It is easier for them too. If a kid doesn’t make a sound, does he really exist? If he isn’t willing to reply to you in any way, are you required to continue looking for a reaction? I am invisible, and I was perfectly content with my life of invisibility, but then Stacy had to go and through paint in my direction and saw the outline of my form as the paint clung to my edges. She doesn’t get to see the whole me, but she sees more than most. She asked the right questions and managed to guess the real answers. And when she was able to guess that I pretended to be deaf so people wouldn’t try and talk to me, she agreed to keep my secret as long as I interacted with her in my sessions. Yeah, she blackmailed me.
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This obnoxious lady is obviously here to claim her next victim, so she can get a check in the mail from the government and I practically hear the thoughts form in her head as she contemplates the advantages of having a deaf foster kid. I guess I was too much risk though and not enough benefit because she quickly dismisses me and moves along to where a group of the younger kids are playing with a set of blocks. I hear Stacy blow out a large breath and I glance in her direction and cock an eyebrow at her. She simply rolls her eyes and shrugs before she follows after the woman. I am about to return to my neutral position but just as I am starting to stare forward blankly, the door opens and a guy walks in the room. Then I see her. She just walks into the room with a backpack over her shoulder and a disgusted look on her face. She floats through the door like it is the easiest thing in the world, like she doesn’t steal all the air from my chest. I try to regain control over my eyes and glance down at the table, or turn my head to either side so that I stop being some creepy stalker who is watching her from across the room, but I can’t. I am a compass and she is north. I can’t even tear my corneas away from her for a millisecond as I take her in. She has long brown hair that is practically down to her belly button, and even with her face pinched I can see that she has a nice round face that is home to the greenest eyes I have ever seen. She doesn’t look like any other girl that has ever been in here, and she definitely doesn’t dress like any other girl in here, with her flowing purple dress that hits her leg right above the knee. She doesn’t even have any of that black gunk around her eyes that most girls use like a mask to say “look at me, I am trouble”. The right side of my mouth starts to turn up and it feels foreign. I haven’t smiled in four hundred and eighty seven days, at least, not a real smile. I can’t even remember the last time I laughed, which would probably be depressing as shit if it weren’t so pathetic. I am about to look away when her eyes come up and lock with mine. Her scrunched expression turns into curiosity as my eyes refuse to flee to any other direction, even once I have been caught staring. “Oh! You’re here!” Stacy calls as she shuffles across the room. The girl’s eyes however, never even glance in her direction and that fact alone makes my smile grow another quarter of an inch. When Stacy makes it across the room the spell is instantly broken as the girl looks away from me. I am finally able to blink but I still can’t make my eyes go to any other direction in the room. And then, right there, as Stacy is rambling, I witness a miracle. Now, I have always been someone who wanted to cause physical harm to any person who said that someone’s smile lit up the room, but that is exactly what her smile did. The dark and cold room that existed only minutes before was now brighter, warmer. It isn’t a big smile but
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the way her mouth contorts and causes dimples to appear in her cheeks makes it feel like someone reached their hand into my chest, squeezing life back into an organ that has been dormant for years, which is once again cheesy as hell. Maybe everyone is right to ask what is wrong with me; I am wondering the same thing right about now. The whole transaction only lasts about a minute before the three of them all turn and walk over towards Stacyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s office. After the door closes I realize I am still staring in her direction but now that the sight of her is being blocked by a door and some walls, the curve of my lips suddenly feels awkward and out of place. I blink a few times. I breathe in. I breathe out. I then realize I am noticeably reacting to another person, I quickly snap my head straightforward again and wipe any emotion from my face. If anyone were to see, they might take it as an invitation to talk to me. I pause for a few seconds before I take a glance in my peripheral vision to see if anyone noticed my slip up. No one seems to be looking in my direction though so I am able to let out a breath. I continue to sit in the same chair for another hour, skipping lunch hoping for the chance to see her again. While I wait my face once again falls into its neutral state. The other kids always gossip behind my back saying that it looks like I am going to kill someone. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t really care though because at least it makes them not want to address me directly. I continue to stare blankly at the dust particles that seem to constantly be floating in front of me when the natural light flows through the window. Finally, I hear the doorknob turn and there she is. There is even more confusion on her face this time as she looks at me. I drag my gaze away from her and back onto the floating dust particles as I hear the guy she was with say goodbye to both her and Stacy. Then, after the door closes behind him there is silence. I find the silence strange. It is more unsettling than just about anything else that has happened today. Stacy does not just stop talking, ever. She always finds a reason to talk, especially when a new kid gets dropped off at the home. Usually, this would be the point when she would be going on and on about how she is here for you need if you anything at all, just come to her. Just come to her if you have any questions. Just come to her if you have any issue with any of the other kids, it doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t matter how insignificant it may seem. Just come to her. But there is none of that, not a sound. I think she broke Stacy. I will not look up. I will not look up. I will not look up. Then, the seat beside me at the table scratches against the floor. My head flies around to look towards the sound, wondering who possibly has the balls to sit next to
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me. I have been avoided like a first class freak, a mutant, for years, so you can imagine my surprise when my gaze meets a pair of bright green eyes. She lifts her hand up to wave, and it’s my turn to wear confusion on my face. My confusion only deepens when she starts moving her hands at such a quick pace that it looks like she is trying to put a spell on me. If I could, I would tell her she doesn’t need spells. She stops moving her hands and I meet her eyes again. She is looking at me expectantly and then I realize why. After a beat I pull out a notebook and write her a note like we are in fourth grade. I don’t know sign language. I spin the notebook in her direction and her expectance dissipates as she takes in my words and surprise replaces it. When she is done reading, she looks up at me and reaches out her hand, waiting for me to hand over my pen. I pass it to her trying my hardest not to touch her during the exchange. The pen was like a hand grenade, I had to transfer it cautiously if I had any hope of not exploding. She tosses her hair over the shoulder closest to me, and leans over the table, completely blocking off her face from me as she scribbles on the page. She sits up quickly and slides the notebook towards me, crossing her legs and turning to face me more directly. Oh, I’m sorry. Stacy told me you were deaf so I just assumed you knew it. Yeah, she tells everyone that because it’s what is in my file. I don’t know why I tell her the truth, putting my entire cover in jeopardy. Maybe she really did put a spell on me. Curiosity comes over her face again as she takes in what I just admitted and I hold my breath waiting for her response. So, you aren’t deaf? No. So, you can stop writing things, I will be able to hear you. There is a beat before she grabs the pen again and takes the notebook. Well, not exactly because I am deaf. She writes, and my face automatically reddens. I guess not speaking to people in the past seventeen years really makes me lacking in the whole conversation department. She puts the pen back in my hand as her face breaks into the biggest smile I have seen out of her yet, and I feel my own appear in response. We sit there smiling at each other for a few seconds before she lets out a silent laugh and grabs the pen away from my hands and begins to write again. It’s okay. I am perfectly aware that I am deaf. I have been for years.
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She turns the paper in my direction but doesn’t offer up the pen, which is fine by me considering I don’t know what to say after showing off my outstanding social ability. When I bring my eyes back up to hers to signify that I was done reading, she spins the tablet and feverishly begins to scribble again. So, if you aren’t deaf, then what is wrong with you? And there it is. An asteroid just fell from outer space and hit me square in the stomach. She thinks there is something wrong with me too. I look up, ready to write the angry words that I have wanted to scream since the first day someone ever asked me that directly to my face but when I looked up, she doesn’t look spiteful, or mean, just curious. It is a genuine kind of curiosity that makes my anger dissipate into vapor. With a deep breath I reach out my hand and it slightly trembles as I wait for her to deliver the pen into my palm. It’s not like I am shaking because the reason I can’t speak is an awful, traumatic experience or even because she defined it as something that was wrong with me, I came to terms with my condition a long time ago, but I am shaking because for the first time in seventeen years someone has asked me this question, cared enough to ask me this question, and I am going to tell the truth because I want her to know me. I clench the pen in my hand and press the ink into the page with more force than necessary and let the words bleed into the page. I write slowly, drawing each line with careful, meticulous strokes. When I finish the three small words, seven individual letters, I put the pen on the tabletop, and turn the pad towards her. I am mute. I close my eyes because the emotions have become a washing machine in my chest, my head, my stomach. Everything is sloshing and churning and I don’t want her to see my discomfort. I don’t want to see her discomfort. My eyes are still closed when I feel the pad tap against my arm. I crack one eye open to take in her expression but one of her eyebrows is just cocked in the air as she looks at me expectantly. I turn towards her slowly, questioning. I grab the tablet and read what she has written. Well, nice to meet you Mute, I am Molly. In that moment I wish I could laugh audibly. When I glance up at her, her miraculous smile has returned and she is laughing silently too. Tyler I write back. Then her hand moves again. I just look at her hand as it moves through the air in different angles, much slower than she had originally. When her hands still she once again grabs the pen.
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That is how you spell your name. I nod my head but once again donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know how to respond. You know, she continues, I could teach you sign language. I must have looked at her skeptically because she sighs and rolls her eyes. In one quick movement she picks up the pad and the pen and throws them across the room. I feel my eyes get bigger as I watch them soar through the air and land with a thud on the concrete floor. When I turn my head back to her, her eyes are glittering like the stars I looked at when I was four, and I am just as mesmerized as I was then. -Carley Kelly
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“Welcome to Forest Haven mental asylum for the retarded children of the 1930s.” My cousin and I stood among trees reawakening from their winter sleep in the haze of a rising sun. She made a grand gesture towards the mess of decrepit brick buildings, and to the glistening new ones beyond them, encased in human chicken wire. Forest Haven opened in 1925 in Laurel, Maryland, and ran until the late 1990s when it closed due to malpractice and child abuse lawsuits. What they did to the children, I didn’t know. The usual things we find in “fiction” novels: no food, no baths, no love. They couldn’t afford to empty the buildings. Social security cards, “confidential” files, beds, and toys – all left to rot until the end of time. It was a place for the abandoned, the “retarded,” the disabled. I had only my imagination to fill in the blanks of this place. Only my imagination to haunt me when I left. I imagined a mother, staring down at her newborn boy, eyes so full of hatred and sadness because she knows deep down that something is wrong. I imagined her leaving him beneath the “Forest Haven” sign, crying and struggling in his bassinet. I imagined her walking away, and the baby being consumed by the asylum. It still stands, decaying, taking its final breaths and letting the remnants of echoes escape with each one. The money ran out, and the patients were relocated before the doors shut, before they reopened for people like us and for homeless and outcasts and vandals. I imagine it’s been a home for many by now, and I imagine very few of its tenants have actually wanted to be there.
A Dumping Ground Cottages. That’s what they called them. Cottage 1. Cottage 2. Cottage 3, 4, 5, 6… How many? How many horror houses sit under false names, happy names, like it was a camp of outdoor activities and midnight s’mores? Cottages. I vacation in cottages, and maybe that’s why they were named. Maybe they’re supposed to be illusions of what they aren’t. Bricks and vines entangled in a stacked tower, surrounded by the remnants of nightmares. Office chairs and mattresses, red bull cans and file cabinets. The inside is the same, littered with everything the “doctors” and “nurses” couldn’t take with them as they ran from the horrid things they’d done. Sweet morning air seeped into the cheerfully painted walls and froze the murals in place. Baseball players, football stars, dancing children, and Baloo from the Jungle Book. A wall is missing. A wall that was once a window but was no longer anything. And beyond it rested the children’s playground corralled in an endless series of high concrete walls – “You know, so the children can
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play,” Rose sneers – overgrown with the same decay as everything else. A rusted blue horse swung back and forth, in circles, whinnying with the wind on its spring. It pulled at the vines holding it down. It didn’t want held down; it saw what happened to the children when they were bound. Rose and I moved around fallen filing cabinets, from which names poured out attached to heavy words that dragged them under, that drowned them. Feeble mind. Retarded. Unresponsive. Aggressive. Violent. One, whose files flopped back and forth, laid open on its side, less rusted than most. Rose pulled out a yellow envelope, sealed, surprisingly untouched by the death that swept through the place. “Would you like to do the honors?” She held it out to me. Boatwright, Keenan 7-27-92 2 I broke the seal and poured its contents into my hand. Another envelope. I opened it. Two pieces of film. Small and black, old but well preserved. Three teeth and a hidden one wiser than the rest. Three opposite and another no wiser, and yet no less wise, than its twin. I replaced the film, the envelope, and slipped it into the camera bag on my back, behind the pretzels and granola bars. “The entering without the breaking,” Rose said when we stepped through the cottage’s door. But we could take things if they called to us. I took the x-rays and some nails from a squatter’s room that were piled on top of newspapers from 2001. I took unused vials with the corks in them and bottles half buried in dirt. They called to me over the sound of the asylum, over the screaming. Forest Haven, once a thriving facility that taught mentally ill people how to farm and milk cows, was reduced to the filth-covered, bug infested mess it stands as today long before its doors closed. In the seventies, a doctor reported numerous staff members that didn’t belong, who abused the patients or didn’t care about them. As the need for care for mentally disabled people rose, Forest Haven took on more patients than they had the room for. They stuffed groups of children in stalls no larger than a freshman dorm room, without a door, without walls that reached the ceilings. They printed their names (if they were lucky enough to still have a name) above the metal beds with straps so that they would always know where they belonged. Forest Haven was no longer a facility used to help people, but a dumping ground for unwanted problems. Between the lighted areas were corridors cloaked in the deepest darkness imaginable. Walking through them, I was sure we would run into someone sleeping, or dead. I waited for the movement in the corner of my eye, startled myself with wind-blown blinds, heard footsteps that weren’t there. I was sure that someone would be standing
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in the beam of my flashlight down a long hall. I waited for them, but they never came. Instead, I found worse things. A worn, pink rabbit. A little girl’s shoe. Heal me! scrawled in black. I found Jaqueline Davis’, Katie Eubanks’, and Thelma Faison’s cubbies and coat hooks. I found Indians dancing with school children in bright green grass. Burnt smiley faces and beds with straps still attached to its sides. The alphabet and numbers 1 through 10. I found, in rooms meant for playing or eating or banging heads against walls, Winnie the Pooh, the Pink Panther, and Charlie Brown’s Peanuts. Behind one door, I found a Peanut whose eyes had been made to look ripped out, red paint dripping from the sockets like blood. Rose and I agreed, though some graffiti took away from the building, a good amount enhanced it. Lost Souls in white beside a rusted metal crib. WE’RE ALL MONSTeRS HeRe with several ridiculous faces beneath it. Enter Hell! on the outside above a small opening into the building. IM Crazy on concrete bricks. Psyco Room’s in red with an arrow pointing to Harry Capehart’s stall. We Could be Ordinary Apart Or extraOrdinary Together next to an old piano and empty chair. The chair was one of many still living throughout the building and playground. We found them in solitary confinement rooms staring at the corners, waiting for the naughty children to come back for them. They surprised me. Not only the state of their condition (seemingly unscathed) but their colors, my own memories of childhood: sitting in identical chairs, playing in them, imagining in them. The whole place was so quiet, and yet so loud. The chairs were empty, the beds were empty, but in the silence of those halls, I swore I heard children laughing. I heard their footsteps dancing around me, their giggles and songs. I heard them crying and screaming and trying to understand the impossibly horrible things happening to them. They screamed at the murals jumping from the walls, trying to grab them, trying to commit them. They called out for their mommies because that’s what children do when their nightmares stay even after they’ve woken up. An EXIT sign rested on the floor. An EXIT sign without an actual exit. And for some reason, that image stuck with me. There is no exit. There never was.
Imagine If That Was Red The Administration Building is three levels high, plus an attic (that is highly unsafe in areas) and the basement morgue. We walked in through the broken double doors in the front and directly into the main hall. The place was a shattered hourglass whose sand covered every inch of floor. Its walls were stripped for their precious metals, the forgotten valuables clutched by desperate hands. . In almost every room, the paper Page | 65
peeled away from the walls in groupings like curled Post-It notes, and in others the paint no longer existed. Remnants of fires stained the walls black, and I had to laugh at the sign above the fire alarm reading “This interior fire system…” because in its worn state, I could have sworn in said “This inferior fire system…” We walked the length of the right side, staring into open twin doorways at the end where light poured in a golden white. Rose marked the light’s quality, and I nodded. It was beautiful, beautiful and sad. That was all I could say of the place. It was sad. At first, walking through the Cottage’s doors, I was terrified of the monsters lurking within, and now I was only pitying myself. Because the real monsters don’t live in shadows. They live in us. There wasn’t much left, and what was left was wet, dirty, or unrecognizable. We laughed at finding a wheelchair owner’s manual on the top floor in an office. “You want your wheelchair? Come get it!” We leaned over the banister through the eye of the staircase, and found detached pulley systems draped over them, the chain resembling something off of a bicycle. I considered taking it. We found the dental offices, so small Rose and I couldn’t both fit comfortably with all of the equipment and garbage. We found the old x-ray machine. The table below it was no longer a table, and the machine not much of a machine. On a desk behind it, by the shield used to protect the “doctors” from radiation, we found cards with dates and body parts. One, a little boy’s, had eight different x-rays on eight different body parts within a year of each other. “It’s Kazo’s room!” Kazo (Kay-zoe) is the main character in the books I’m writing, of which Rose is my primary editor. The first book puts him in a padded room of a government lab with other prisoners, left to his own dark thoughts. His room is new, padding lush and white, blinding in the candle light while the one I stood in front of was decayed, shredded, and forgotten. I had to wonder how many people were left to their dark thoughts in the Admin. Building’s padded room. Originally, the padded cell was created to house patients during psychotic episodes so that doctors wouldn’t have to restrain them with things like “Humane Restraints’” straps, those that hung from the metal beds at Forest Haven but are now safely tucked away in Rose’s apartment. Patients flung themselves from wall to wall, walked to the corners, tore at the cloth, but were unable to penetrate to the sweet freedom beyond them. It’s dark, its windows covered, its lights nonexistent. The little padding that survived was worn beyond belief, but the solitary loneliness clung to the barren walls like a rancid smell. It made my nose twitch. I couldn’t go in. 66 | Page
“Imagine if that were red…” One office (out of dozens), its adjoining room, and the half shattered mirror between them were splattered with black. It reminded me of a crime scene in Law and Order: SVU after someone was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat. Long arcs of random paint. On the open door. Across the mirror. On the frame. Above the door. Above the mirror. Imagine if that were red. Imagine if that were someone’s blood, someone’s soul, someone’s brains or thoughts or imaginings. Those were splattered on the rest of the building, in the graffiti, in their names scrawled by apathetic hands on files. “Imagine if that were red.” It became a slogan throughout the remainder of the Admin. Building. Rose and I have a way of letting our dark humor shield our emotions. We commented, more to ourselves than to each other, on the despondency around us, but rarely conversed about what we were feeling.
There were a lot of ghosts; they just weren’t the kind I was expecting to run into. At one point, into the Dictaphone I carried in my pocket, I noted that upon looking up at the Admin. Building, I felt as though someone would step in front of a broken window and look back at me with barren eyes that led to a hollow soul. No such eyes were to be found.
We came to the basement last, and upon looking to my left I found a dark, burnt hallway with an elevator. At the end of it, lit by more broken windows, a table with a brown-stained cloth hanging from it. Something one would expect in a morgue – that iconic first look into the pit of death, or at least as close as we mortals will ever get to it without being sucked in. I did imagine the sheet covered in red, rising and falling over the shape of a human body. I imagined the body sitting up, looking at me, being that horrible face in the beam of my light. Rose warned me beforehand not to get too excited about the morgue. They don’t, in fact, look like they do in movies, especially not ones from the early 1900s. There were only four drawers, the sliding beds inside collapsed in on each other, three doors ripped off. I found the doors in my own little game of exploration, laying on the floor made primarily of dust and disintegrated patient files. After finding one, I yelled, “Mitsuketa!” (“found it!” in Japanese – Rose and I traveled to Japan together, and I picked up the habit of saying the few phrases I know any time I could). These hallways were filled with bodies, children and adults unable to control
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themselves physically or mentally, stuffed together in uncomfortably hot or cold rooms for days and even years. Then they died. Dozens died of medical neglect, sexual abuse, lack of food or water, but even more died from lack of love, from loneliness, from sadness. They drowned in their own lives and were buried in a heaping pile on the 200acre property. 387 people under one headstone. We climbed out the back of what was most likely the “body drop off” and continued to the schoolhouse and another building Rose had never explored. It was there we read most of the files, connected to some of the names. Shirley. James. Harry. Nathaniel. Jacqueline. Katie. Thelma. I went to bed that night in Harrisburg, in my room, with walls covered in writings and sketches, hand prints and artifacts from across the world. Taylor curled around me from behind, waiting to leave until I was asleep, quietly breathing his lulling one-way conversation in my ear. His hand rubbed the length of my back. At times it paused, began to slip away, jolted, and found my back again. In the darkness, he couldn’t see my eyes snapping open every time they closed. My preserved, Middle Eastern camel spider crawled from his place between two scorpions and around the room like he did when I was lost in my mind. He crawled up and down, around the window, across the floor, and back to his place like he’d never moved at all. Children’s songs, the sound of skipping feet and jump ropes tied into nooses, filled in the silence. Chairs appeared in the corners, masks bled from the eyes. Black words painted across moonlit, white walls became jumbled letters, reworked sentences. Lost souls. Harry Capehart. IM Crazy. Enter Hell. Heal me!
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Things are Big, Things are Small
A slap across the face. A hand around my neck. Fingerprints smear up and down my arms like graphite. I don’t love him, but I can’t seem to stop coming around. There is a curious devastation in a moment when someone finds out something that you don’t want him or her to. It swirls around you, rosy, the color of shame. It makes you think, well, there goes that. He peels back my clothes to reveal my scantily clad secret. My friend reaches out, dusts his hands over my battered body. “These bruises are so big,” he says. I stare at him blankly. “Compared to what?” × There is a news story of a Canadian riot on Yahoo.com. I don’t like violence. I’m suddenly compelled. I click on the story. Fire, police, angry and contorted faces. The pictures are all the same. I thought Canada was supposed to be a really peaceful place. Suddenly, a new image of the riot downloads into my retinas. A couple lay in the foreground. The man is on top, covering her body with his own. They are kissing. Further research describes the story of a young couple, terrified, fleeing the riots. The woman fell down, broke her ankle. She begged him to leave her, to get to safety. Instead, he got down beside her. He shielded her body with his. He kissed her briefly, to comfort her. To reassure her. As a photographer, I’m jealous. How small he must have felt to capture a moment so monstrously beautiful. Did he weep before he brought the lens to his eye, snapped the photo in the same manner of the wedding and fashion photographers, knowing what he was about to achieve was so much greater? Or did he cry after, in the dark of his workroom, once the pixels filled his computer and his soul? I have taken many photos that have changed me. A Killdeer nesting her eggs, watching as they hatch. A child playing with bubbles, reflected in the shiny, colorful surface with a face full of joy. My cousin’s daughter, small and perfect, kissing the cheek of my wrinkled and wise great grandmother. However, I have never, ever taken a picture that has changed the world. I don’t know where the riots took place. I don’t remember why they happened. Every time I close my eyes, I can conjure that specific image pristinely and without effort. × A friend of mine commits suicide. His name is Eric. I carry that around for weeks, crying only in the shower and directly before bed.
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My school offers to take people to the funeral and back during school hours. They want the family to feel supported, loved. The day of the service, I dress in black. I paint my eyes black as well. Before school is in session, I am alone, a ghost in the hallways. My dad, a teacher, let me into the building against school policy. I tape a rose to his locker, hang some pictures. We aren’t allowed to have burning candles out, so I steal the battery operated ones from the drama department and line them up on the floor. For a week now, our administration has been tearing down anything put up around his locker. It won’t help anyone move on, they say. It’s okay not be ready to move on just yet, I say. As I arrange the fake candles, their lights flickering like souls, I feel a slight pressure. A hand on my shoulder. I look up into the slightly too shiny eyes of a peer. His name is Dustin. We’ve spoken before, briefly. He is Eric’s brother. “He talked about you sometimes,” he says. “He said you’re funny, nice. He said that you used to edit his papers for him after school before your dad took you home. He said you were friends.” “We were,” I say. I stand. “Thank you,” he says. He pulls me in. I hold him. His grief is monumental. It soaks my skin. It soaks my soul. I do not attend the funeral. × I am very small. My great grandmother’s kitchen smells like freshly brewed tea, flowery perfume, and cookie batter. “If you like a man, make sure to wear red lipstick.” We bake all day long until I can no longer tell apart the scents of the sweets. She teaches me to crochet. “If you feel like the universe is calling you, close your eyes and hold your hands to the sky. If you show you are listening, awesome things will be revealed to you.” She lets me play in the bathtub for hours. She sits beside the tub and reads the Bible to me. “Be open to everything. If you take someone for granted, then you’ll be taken for granted as well.”
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She loves professional wrestling. She sips tart wine between screaming to the competitors. She lets me sip occasionally. She makes me feel bigger than I am. “Real women know how to fight for what they want.” “Real women realize that education is more important than being someone’s wife. You can’t stand beside your man if you don’t know how to speak intelligently.” “Real women love without fear. They love without qualm.” Her advice is small like corn kernels, but I eat bowl after bowl of it. x While helping a friend move into college, we run into some friends. One points out the tattoo on my upper thigh. It’s no longer new, and I still find myself surprised when someone hasn’t seen it. Every night before I go to bed, I run my hands over it like a prayer. “It’s so little.” He laughs. I smile and agree. It means so much to me. x The first time I see the ocean, it changes me. I break off from my family like driftwood in a storm; pitch myself across the beach. I stand on the very, very edge of the beach, where te sea can barely touch me. It kisses my feet. My emotions ebb and flow with the water. “It’s so beautiful, isn’t it?” My aunt takes my hand. “I feel so small,” I say. “You are small.” She laughs. “We’re all small.” I look out over the expanse of the ocean and it fills me. For the first time in my life, I feel whole.
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Life, Mr. Marigold observed, is fragile and fleeting. He stared at his patch of roses. Planted not a week before, now they were dead or dying. He had made sure to water them sufficiently every day and made sure that they were planted in proper, lively soil, so as to watch them grow into the beautiful things they were destined to be. But life was harsh and cruel, he supposed. “I’m sorry, Shelly…” he mumbled to himself as he stood up. Roses had been her favorite; they always had been for as long as he had known her. She used to tease him about his name, saying, “It’s a damn shame your last name isn’t Rose. I’d quite like being Shelly Rose… But I suppose Shelly Marigold will have to do.” It had been, what? Fourteen years since she died, he reckoned. Or was it fifteen? Damn it all to hell, my memory is worse by the day. He supposed the amount of years didn’t matter. He lumbered his way back into his small wooden house, into the kitchen, which was decorated exactly as she had it before she died. He didn’t dare to move any single thing for fear of ruining his memory of her. She spent a lot of time in the kitchen. It was one his few reminders he had left of her. Besides, she’d give him hell for moving anything. He poured himself a cup of coffee, which was now tepid and flat. He grimaced, as if in pain, and scratched his beard before taking another sip of that god awful liquid. He stared vacantly out the kitchen window at the vast and empty farmland he commanded control over. With the winter months approaching, his crops were either already pulled or sold to the local market or dead, much like those damn flowers. It had been a profitable spring and summer, people seemed to suddenly want home grown goods once again. He even thought that maybe he could finally buy a new truck. Surely he could afford one, even after paying his bills and whatnot. He ended up pouring the rest of the coffee down the drain, as he could stomach no more. He grabbed his yellow work gloves off the counter and the shotgun he had rested on the wall beside the door and then whistled for his dog. Heather was a large German shepherd with brownish black fur, and she was one of the nicest animals you could ever meet… Unless Mr. Marigold didn’t like you. Together the two walked to the barn, Heather trotting beside Mr. Marigold as he loped, his right leg giving him a bit of a limp. He opened the large, sliding barn door with a little bit of heft and a lot of grunting. Heather sat by patiently, panting heavily as her tongue drooped up and down, up and down. Mr. Marigold fished the keys from his pocket and knelt down on the floor, brushing away the hay that covered the door to the cellar. He heard the rustling of chains as he did so and promptly shouted, “I’ve got my gun, you son of a bitch. Don’t
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try anything.” Gun in hand, he took off the lock he had placed on the door and threw it open. Below him, the boy he held prisoner scurried away into the dark as far as his shackles that kept him chained to the floor would let him. “Calm down, I’m not going to shoot you just yet,” Mr. Marigold proclaimed as he and Heather descended. Heather lay down between the two as Mr. Marigold grabbed a stool from the corner of the cellar and sat down. The boy began to shuffle closer until Heather let a growl loose under her breath, which caused the boy to back away in fear. “Alright, boy… What’s your name again?” Mr. Marigold asked, leaning forward. “It’s Calen, sir. W-w-what do you want with me?” “I just have a few questions, is all. If you answer them with answers I like, well, I might just let you go. Got that?” “Please ,sir, I didn’t do anything! I just got accepted to college and-“ Mr. Marigold flew forward and slapped the boy with the back of his hand, which caused Calen to yelp in pain. “The only time I need you to talk is when I ask a question, understand?” Calen nodded, tears streaming down his face. Mr. Marigold pulled a picture from his pocket, unfolded it, and then showed it to Calen. It was of a young girl, probably Calen’s age, with short blonde hair and a rather cute smile. “You recognize her?” Calen nodded. “Uh, yeah, I’ve seen her on the news. Isn’t she dead?” “She is. Her name was Sam, or Sammy, and she had a bright future ahead of her. Until you killed her.” “What? Mister, I didn’t kill her!” That rewarded him with another hit. “Don’t lie to me, boy!” “I’m not! I swear!” The beating got worse after that. Soon Calen’s face was reduced to unrecognizable mush, with blood streaming from his nose and mouth, and Mr. Marigold’s gloves were stained. “Tell the truth, dammit! You killed Shelly!” Calen was in a daze but he still managed to get out, “W-who’s Shelly? I thought her name was Sam…” “Uh, right, that’s what I meant.” Mr. Marigold grabbed his shotgun and pointed it at Calen. “Now, tell me the truth, or I will pull this trigger.” Calen was crying profusely, “I swear, I didn’t kill her!” “You have until five. One.” “Please, sir!” “Two.” “I swear on my life…” “Three.” Page | 73
“It wasn’t me!” “Four.” “It was my friends! I was at the party, okay, but it was my two friends who raped her and then killed her, okay! I swear!” Mr. Marigold lowered his gun. “What are their names?” “Lenny and Jordan. They have fake I.Ds and spend a lot of time at Foxgloves, that bar outside of town. You’ll probably find them there…” Mr. Marigold stood up and began walking up the stairs, Heather behind him. “Thanks, Calen, much appreciated.” “Wait, aren’t you gonna let me go?!” “Nope,” Mr. Marigold replied as he slammed the door shut. * The Foxglove wasn’t somewhere Mr. Marigold particularly enjoyed being. He had given up drinking after Shelly passed and being at the bar really tested his urges. If he was here on any other type of business he might consider having a drink just this once. But he had to be vigilant tonight. He had dug up photos of Lenny and Jordan on the Internet and kept a watchful eye for them. Finally, after waiting about an hour and a half, they entered. As far as Mr. Marigold was concerned the boys could probably get away with drinking without fake I.Ds. They were rather large and both had beards that, while not fully grown, weren’t patchy and made them look older than they were. The two sat at the bar and ordered a round of beers while Mr. Marigold watched from his table. He couldn’t decide how to approach the two without making them suspicious. Finally an idea struck him. He approached them, sitting next to Lenny. “Excuse me, boys, did either of your fathers work at any mines? Or were they ever miners?” Mr. Marigold had never worked at a mine and this was a bit of a long shot but it wouldn’t be too crazy of a notion in this area. Jordan perked up in his seat. “Yeah, actually. My old man worked at the old Lilly mine. Did you know him?” “Depends. Would you be Jordan Henderson by chance? Marty’s boy?” “Yeah! That’s me! You worked at the mine with him?” Mr. Marigold nodded vigorously. “Oh, yes. Your father and I go way back. And what about you, young man? You look awfully familiar as well.” Lenny took a sip of his beer before responding, “My dad didn’t work at a mine, but chances are you probably saw him with Jordan’s dad. They’re old pals as well. My name’s Lenny, by the way.” He held out his hand. Mr. Marigold shook it and smiled wide. “Well, I’ll be! Here, let me buy you boys a drink or two!” 74 | Page
He had them now, and he wasn’t letting go. The rest of the evening Mr. Marigold pumped alcoholic beverage after beverage into them, waiting for the perfect moment as the two babbled on and on to him about their fathers and their lives and all sorts of things of this manner. Finally, Jordan got up to use the restroom, stumbling his way through the bar, with great difficulty Mr. Marigold observed. A boy Jordan’s size tended to invade everyone’s personal space by accident, even more so drunk. He shoved his way through the dense crowd, eventually making his way to the restroom on the other side of the building. With Jordan preoccupied, Mr. Marigold managed to get Lenny’s attention on something else and quickly slipped some roofies into their drinks. It wasn’t enough to put them to sleep, but it would distort their mind enough to help him get them to his farm. It didn’t take long for the drugs to go into effect. The two were seemingly piss drunk after a few more drinks and neither of them suspected that anything was wrong. And how could they? Mr. Marigold was a seemingly harmless old man, the kind of man who’d have grandchildren and spoiled them constantly. He kept constant eye contact with his prey and his dark green eyes lulled them into a sense of ease. “Y’know, mister… It’s been real nice, uh, catching up with yous and stuff, but I think we need to go now…” Lenny managed to blurt out. “Oh no,” Mr. Marigold exclaimed, “I can’t let you drive home in this condition. Let me drive you home.” “But what about my car…?” Jordan asked, his words slurring together. “Oh, no worries there, son. I walked here. You see, I only live about a block away. So I can drive you two home and then get a cab.” “You… You’d do that for us?” “Of course!” He escorted the two out of the bar and to Jordan’s car. To Mr. Marigold’s pleasant surprise, Jordan had parked the car in a small corner of the parking lot, tucked away in the dark from the reach of any pesky light those damn streetlights gave off. It made the next part somewhat easier. He pulled the first pair of handcuffs from his pocket and put them on Jordan, who wasn’t even remotely aware of what was happening. Lenny on the other hand saw Mr. Marigold in the act and took a step away from him. “Hey, what’re you… What’re you doing?” Lenny asked in shock. Mr. Marigold brandished a pistol he had hidden in his inner jacket pocket and and aimed it at Lenny. “Don’t make me kill you right here, son. Jordan, you get in the car. Lenny,” he tossed the handcuffs to Lenny then, “you put these on. If either of you
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try something funny, I will blow your goddamn brains out!” They did as they were asked, both of them entirely too intoxicated to even think of attacking the old man. Once Lenny had put on the handcuffs Mr. Marigold put him in the backseat with Jordan, then he got in the drivers seat, started the car, and drove off into the night. They had about a two-hour drive back to the farm. Mr. Marigold glared at the boys in the back through the rearview mirror. “You two looked petrified. What’s the matter?” “Mister, what’re you doing? Why are you doing this to us?” Jordan managed to squeak out in response. His voice had raised a few octaves out of fear. “I’m sure Sammy asked you two the same thing.” Lenny had actually begun to cry. “Who’s Sammy? Mister, I don’t wanna die!” “Don’t play dumb with me!” Mr. Marigold snarled. “Sammy’s the girl you two raped and murdered! And don’t worry, I’m not gonna kill you yet. You’re going to suffer like Sammy did. You and your friend Calen.” Jordan sat up suddenly, saying, “I think… I think there’s been a misunderstanding here, sir… We barely know Calen! We only talk to him here and there…” Mr. Marigold turned around in his seat, gun in hand, “That’s enough out of you two! One more word and I’ll kill you right here and right now, got it?” The two nodded silently in fear. * Police chief Weiss sipped her warm coffee on this cold, barren morning as she surveyed the car wreckage. It was about an hour from the local town, most famous for it’s bar Foxglove. The old blue sedan was flipped over and practically demolished, bent gruesomely in half like some sort of new wave art sculpture by a tree it has slid in to. No wonder no one survived. One of her officers came up to her, tipping his hat. “Morning, Edel.” “We’ve talked about this, Kenny. It’s chief Weiss while on the job.” “Sorry, Edel. I mean, Weiss. Oh shoot, I mean, chief Weiss.” She smiled reassuringly at him. “It’s alright, Kenny.” He wasn’t the smartest, but he did fine police work. “What have you got for me?” “Well,” Kenny said, handing her some files, “it was really a freak accident. Looks like the one tire blew out and that caused the car to spin out of control. And it turns out the three passengers were Lenny Irvine, Jordan Henderson, and George Marigold. We found their I.Ds on their persons, along with the boys’ fake I.Ds. I assume they were
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Chief Weiss raised an eyebrow as she looked at the boys’ files. “Mr. Marigold? Isn’t he that farmer whose wife was killed? Lives about an hour from here or so? What was he doing out here?” “Well that’s where things get crazy, chief. See, last night we got a call from Marigold’s place, about two in the morning I think. But it wasn’t Marigold, it was Oliver Marks’ boy, Calen. He said some crazy old man had kidnapped him and was saying he killed that poor Sammy girl.” “Didn’t Marks’ father call him in as missing?” “Oh, Oliver’s out on a business trip out of town. Calen said he’d been at Marigold’s house for about two days.” Chief Weiss nodded, taking another sip of her coffee. She handed the files back to Kenny and began to walk back to her car. “Okay, so how did Lenny and Jordan get involved in this?” “Well, Calen lied to Marigold about these two having raped and killed that Sammy girl. He said that he was buying some time to get out and call the police, hoping he’d manage to get in contact before Marigold found the other two.” “How’d he get out?” “He managed to lift the nail that kept him chained to the cellar floor of Marigold’s barn and then, as luck would have it, Marigold forgot to lock the cellar door. The boy managed to even kill Marigold’s dog before it caught wind of him.” The chief nodded along to the report before saying, “Huh. So what, we’ve got one traumatized victim, two dead, innocent boys, and a dead psychopath.” She scratched her head, trying to put everything together. “Did you say something about that girl out in Ulrich County? What was her name again? Sammy Clover?” “That’s right chief. She was raped and killed, they never found out by whom. Actually, it’s sort of like how Marigold’s wife died. Some coincidence, eh?” The chief couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle at that bit of irony. “I suppose I probably shouldn’t laugh, it’s not funny. It’s just… It’s a fucked up world, y’know?” Kenny nodded, looking back at the wreckage. There were bits of glass and metal everywhere and plant life had been torn up in the car’s wake. There was even blood dripping and long, bloody drag marks from where they had pulled the corpses. “Sure is, chief. My momma always said that life was short and surprising. Or something like that.” -Austin Pardee
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Kathryn watches a couple spin across the dance floor and instantly feels like throwing up. “What are we doing here?” she whimpers. “They’re fucking killing it,” Marc whispers back. She stares at him, sleek with his styled hair and tuxedo. She doesn’t even hush his cursing, a habit of hers. His eyes are glued to the couple on the illuminated squares. She can’t determine whether he’s impressed or if his sight is narrowed by the dominating focus of the competition. Kathryn wrings her shaking hands together. “Why did we decide to do this?” she demands quietly. “We’re not ballroom dancers. This is going to be a train wreck.” He glances over at her, a grin forming on his lips. “It’s going to be fucking awesome. We got this, Kat.” Reluctantly, she looks back at the couple. They’re ridiculously professional. The woman is floating around like a feather, but the man is more grounded, stones grown in fields. Kathryn always felt like a butterfly on the dance floor: jilted, ungraceful, but managing to make it work. Contemporary was great for her, even hip hop allowed for small, intricate movements. Ballroom, on the other hand, had to be fluid, flawless, perfection embodied. Not to mention romantic, she thought, watching the couple onstage kiss before breaking away from each other and whirling to opposite ends of the stage. Kathryn steps away from the line of dancers and their analytical gazes, hiding amongst the spectators. She wipes her sweaty hands on her white sheer dress. You can’t have the Viennese Waltz without passion. Kathryn never understood how a dance full of stiff backs and straight lines could convey some of the greatest love stories of all time, how dips and swoops could make an audience swoon. Marc’s hand slides into hers. Kathryn looks up into his puppy dog eyes. “You okay?” he asks. “Fine,” she replies tightly. Marc pulls her to a table. She forces down the back of her dress and takes a seat while he grabs a chair opposite of her. “What’s bothering you?” he asks. “You’re never this nervous for a competition.” She looks down at her hands. He reaches across the divide to take them, forcing her to glance up and meet his gaze once more. Kathryn didn’t know how to explain it to him, the fear building up inside her. “It doesn’t have a title.” She almost chokes on her words as she spits them up. Marc laughs at her. “Not everything needs a label, Kat. You’re being ridiculous.”
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Kathryn is drawn back to his soft tone. He’s studying her, his thumb rubbing a soft circle into the skin of her hand. She swallows back her feelings, struggling to put up a mask. Any kind of disagreement on emotion, and their award winning partnership would be dried up in an instant, a delicate flower left in the desert to starve to death. “We have something they don’t,” he assures her. “We have each other. That’s how we’ll place. We just gotta focus, yeah?” “Yeah,” she says, withdrawing her hands. “Focus.” “It’s only a minute and forty seconds. We can do this.” “Okay,” she says. She just wants him to shut up. He’s mistaking her fear for nerves, and it’s torture to hear him trying to pinpoint it like this. There’s a few moments of quiet between them while the music from the other dancer’s blares in every corner of the room. She peeks at him. Marc studies her seriously. He knows her well enough to know something else is wrong. “We should have just gone to the hip hop competition with Royals and killed it there,” Kathryn says, hoping to deter him. Marc cracks a smile. “Lorde is amazing, but I like the song you chose for this one.” A love song. What was I thinking? It’s not even about lost love or anything, she thinks. The host announces a brief break and then their names. Marc pulls her from her seat and over to the dance floor. Kathryn stares straight ahead while his fingers grip hers. As they stand there, she begins to feel the real nerves buzzing through her. Marc tugs he arm. She looks over at him. He gives her a little smile, his full pink lips becoming the center of her universe for a moment. For a moment, she feels gutsy, impulsive. She has to tell him. “Marc—” The lights flash, signaling them to take their spots. “What?” he whispers quickly. “Nothing,” she says, coming to her senses. They don’t have time for this. Their hands drop to their sides, and Kathryn’s heels click across the floor. She looks around at the blur of faces circling them. A deep breath expands her courage while she takes her position across the staging area from Marc. She looks up. They lock eyes. A sudden calm washes over her. This isn’t their first rodeo, even if it’s our first Viennese Waltz. “Marc Jameson and Kathryn Hesse with an untitled Viennese Waltz,” the host bellows. Untitled. Kathryn returns Marc’s smile. Maybe it isn’t so bad. It’s effortless. The music, his skin as they meet in the middle of the floor, her Page | 79
emotions are as obvious to the judges as they must be to him. Doesn’t he feel this? she wonders. There might be something raw in his eyes, but she can’t tell if it’s real or if it’s her own desire reflected back to her. But this dance, it’s freeing. For Kathryn, the sliding of his hand up her back, her coy steps back, it’s everything she’s ever wanted between them. It’s not two characters they’re portraying; it’s really her and him. With the last notes floating to a close, Kathryn feels her own heart settling down. There’s a turning earth under her feet, but she can no longer feel the motion. It’s concrete. Reality. She’s descending back into her mind, separating from her emotions as she spins towards him for the final moment. He catches her, holds her gathered in his arms like a desperate man. He’s flawless, she thinks. Suddenly, his lips catch hers as the last note rings throughout the room. As the polite applause begins to lift from the hands of the competitors, Marc breaks away, standing Kathryn up on her own. “We didn’t choreograph that,” she says, her voice breathy in her own ears. “No,” he pants back. “We didn’t.” As they face the judges, Marc takes her hand. She stares straight ahead, too shocked to look at him. She feels her own cheeks turning pink. Untitled, she thinks. As the first judge holds up a number, a small smile begins to crawl across her lips.
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Does This Darkness Have a Name?
“Daaaaaddy,” a tiny singsong voice whispered loudly into my ear followed by two sets of giggles. I let out a groggy moan knowing, before I even opened my eyes, that I hadn’t gotten nearly enough sleep. I didn’t get home until close to six in the morning, pulling my second five to five in just as many days. I still had one more twelve-hour shift to go and I really needed to be sleeping, however, my daughters had a different plan for me. “Daddy,” the other voice said, more insistently as she poked my forehead. Begrudgingly, I cracked open my eyes and the sandpaper on the inside of my lids scraped my cornea making my eyes instantly water. It took a few seconds for my eyes to focus but when they did I saw a big set of brown eyes inches away from my face. “Layla?” “Daddy?” “What are you doing?” “Waking you up.” “Why?” “Mommy told us to!” Harper chimed in, her light brown hair covering my face as she leaned over my shoulder. They giggled again as I rotated onto my back and let out a deep sigh. “And where is mommy?” I asked. “ I’m sorry!” Sarah shouted from the bathroom. “I am running so so late and I need you to feed them and put them on the bus so I can get to work on time!” I groaned loudly and dramatically so I could be heard in the bathroom and it was followed by a harmony of laughter by both girls. Sarah stuck her head around the corner of the door with a crinkled nose and stuck her tongue out at me, which added my baritone laughter to the melody. I took the girls downstairs where we all ate our coca puffs while Layla chatted excitedly about her first soccer game right after school. Then, after they were done, I put them on the school bus while my wife rushed around the house. She managed to kiss me sweetly goodbye before she sped out the door towards the rest of her day. After the house was quite I tried, once again, to find oblivion before I had to go to the station to start my shift. I managed to pull into the firehouse just a little before five after tossing restlessly in bed for a few hours, unable to fall asleep. When I walked into the building everything was normal. The guys were sitting around our card table playing poker while Harrison slept on the couch. “Yo!” Eddie shouted from his chair around the table, “Jason’s here!”
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“’Bout time, princess!” Sanders chimed. “Oh, yeah, because you guys really needed me here to take all your money.” “No, we needed you here to be sandwich bitch while we play,” Eddie returned. “You’re delusional.” And that is how the next few hours went. The guys and I were just joking around, waiting for the sirens to wail. It was a slow night, which was pretty typical for our small hick town but I was ready for some excitement. I was craving it. I was looking for something to do rather than just sit around in that musty room playing a waiting game. I would have even gotten a cat out of a damn tree, just for the sake of maintaining my sanity. Then it happened. The sirens started whaling and we all jumped to our feet. The jokes were paused as we ran over to get suited up. We were all dressed and on the truck in less than two full minutes and we peeled out of the drive, racing towards the fire. I was so amped on adrenaline that I didn’t look out the window. I didn’t see us turn into my neighborhood, or onto my street. When the truck pulled to a stop and the rest of my team jumped out and started to race to the closest fire hydrant, I stood immobile, watching as my house went up in flames. The blue shutters that Sarah had insisted on were now being swallowed by the licks of yellows and orange, the white paneling turning black as the smoke and flames charred it to a crisp. I began to look around, searching the crowd for the faces of my wife and two little girls. My head going back and forth so quickly that I thought I was going to give myself whiplash but I didn’t care. Nothing else mattered in that moment but finding my family. I pushed off the ground as hard as I could and sprinted towards a cluster of our neighbors watching my nightmare become my reality. I knew that I had a job to do and I should have been working along with my team to put out the flames that continued to grow, but I needed to make sure that my girls were out first. As long as they made it outside then the devilish lashes of fire could have swallowed the house whole and I wouldn’t have even stood in their way. I stopped in front of Mrs. Blake, staring into her haunted eyes as I asked, “Where are Sarah and the girls?” She blinked quickly as she awoke from a trance and looked at me, not realizing until that moment that I was standing in front of her. She didn’t speak and I thought that maybe she didn’t hear the question, but then I saw the tears begin to fill her eyes and her cracked lip tremble as she looked away from my face and back at the house. I
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knew, then, that she heard my question. I knew that her silence was her answer. No. No, no, no, no…. There was no conscious decision made as I took off towards the house. I heard my name being called but I barely registered the sound. I raced forward with as much speed as my legs could push but I was still too slow. The house was still too far away. I only had twenty more yards to go when I was suddenly rushing towards the ground. Confused, I looked to the side and saw Eddie beside me. His face was pale and dripping with sweat. That son of a bitch had tackled me. I had no time for his bullshit so I sprung back to my feet just to face plant back into the ground. “What the hell are you doing?” I screamed at him trying once again to stand. “You can’t go in there!” he yelled. “The hell I can’t!” I tried once more to stand up but Eddie was dragging me away from the oven that was holding my family captive and towards the blue and red flashing lights. When I saw the direction we were heading, I fought with every molecule in my body to push Eddie away from me. It didn’t matter that he outweighed me by at least a hundred pounds; he would not stand in my way. I had adrenaline pumping through my system and a family on the line and there wasn’t a thing he could have done to stop me from going into that house. I stopped fighting against his hold for a full second before I turned around and firmly planted my fist against his nose. His arm lifted off of me in an attempt to block my blow, but he was too late. Blood sprang from his face, oozed down over his lips, looking almost as black as the smoke that was rising into the darkness. I didn’t even give him enough time to process what had just happened before I lifted my hands against his chest and pushed as hard as I could, watching as he plummeted to the ground. I couldn’t waste any more time. I turned on my heel and raced towards the front door. Someone had already managed to break the door from the frame and I was able to rush right in without pause. The second my foot reached over the threshold the heavy smoke found its way into my mouth and was dragged down into my lungs. In all of the chaos, I had forgotten to grab the rest of my gear and now I was blind and choking as I wandered through the house. Flames were dancing in every direction I looked, celebrating the destruction of my world, whistling a high-pitched tune as they continued to blaze on. I kept low to the ground but it was becoming harder and harder to breathe and my head was beginning to get hazy, until I heard a cry. My senses all stood at attention while I waited and listened for another sound. I
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started to fumble my way through what used to be my living room, searching for any noise besides the crackle and pop, praying that it wasn’t just my brain playing a sick joke on me. I made it over to the stairs and put my foot on the first step but they were completely engulfed. I tried to think of what to do next but the burning in my lungs was too strong. It was like the fire had jumped from the walls into my chest. I turned to try to go another way but I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe. My mind and body were shutting down and I was suddenly falling towards the ground again, but this time there was no one around who was pulling me. I felt like I should have tried harder to pull myself up off of the ashes and crawl out towards safety but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to go out there without them. I didn’t want to constantly be reminded that I didn’t save them. If my girls didn’t get to walk out of this fire then I wasn’t going to either. The flames continued to dance and play all around the house and it was in that moment that I was mesmerized by their beauty. I had spent so much time fighting against it, but as I was laying there, watching them celebrate their victory against me, their colors mixed with the way they swayed, I began to question why I had always wanted to kill them. Somewhere in the depths of my mind I knew there was a reason but in that moment I couldn’t be bothered to think of it. I vaguely heard yelling around me as water fell, dampening my skin and making my new friends smaller and smaller, until eventually they were gone. They were replaced by blackness and a dark gooey muck that clung to every inch on every surface. My hope vanished with the extinguishing of the flame and everything around me just felt like a warped black hole that took away every ounce of happiness I had ever felt. It was a bleak darkness that I had never experienced and that I hadn’t even known existed. Whether my eyes were opened or closed, the same haunting darkness was there. I hadn’t even realized I had been lifted off of the ground until I opened my eyes and I was in an ambulance, the red and blue lights so much harsher than the glow of the flames. Words like “unknown cause” and “casualties” were coming in over the radio and swirling around the confined space. Every ounce of by body hurt as I tried to sit up. The paramedic put his hand on my shoulder to try to keep me from moving, but no matter how much pain I was in, or how much more pain I would be in as soon as I saw the charred remained of my former life, I had to see it. With the oxygen mask strapped to my face I managed to move to the edge of the gurney and slide my way down to the floor, practically crawling to sit with my feet dangling out of the back. “Sir, we need to get you to a hospital,” the paramedic said as he reached out to try and pull me up.
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I managed to shake my head and hold up my hand in a weak attempt to request waiting five more minutes. The paramedic was about to protest when someone called his name, and with one last worried glance in my direction, he began walking over to talk to another EMT. I lifted the oxygen mask off of my face and began to cough up smoke. My chest hurt as I heaved, trying to purge the polluted air that was still trying to strangle me out of my body. However, my chest hurt from far more than the ashes. I tried to remember that morning. Everything was so painfully typical. I didn’t think to go beyond the everyday “I love you” goodbyes to any of my girls. I didn’t tell them how much they meant to me or how important they were. I could barely even remember what they were wearing. I took it all for granted and now I would never have that routine again. Something inside of me began to disintegrate. The foundations of my soul crumbling just like the foundation of my house. All that was left in both cases were a black pile of nothingness. A few minutes later, the EMT strolled back over to where I was sitting and began to help me stand up. I was just beginning to shuffle my way into the back when I heard her. “Daddy?” Her voice was hoarse and rough from the smoke but it was still hers. I turned faster that I would have thought possible and jumped down from the back of the ambulance, ignoring the police officer standing next to her. I wrapped Harper tightly in my arms as I looked over her head for Sarah and Layla but I didn’t see them anywhere. When Harper’s tiny frame began to convulse with the sobs that were raking through her body I realized I wasn’t going to see them. She was my miracle and she would by my only miracle. I choked back my own sobs as I tried to reassure her that everything was going to be okay, lies that I didn’t even believe. The EMT tried once more to get me into the ambulance and to the hospital but that had to wait until I could bring myself to let Harper out of my arms. She pulled her head out of the crook of my neck, eyes still pooled with tears although the sobs had stopped and she and I turned to look at the house as the embers smoldered, mocking us, and waiting for the opportunity to rise again.
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Author Bios John Fornoff is a hairy, reclusive artist who no longer plays the viola.
Michael Gruber is a poet and a double major in Psychology and Writing. He enjoys a good challenge and he hates winter.
Brittany Hoover is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown majoring in Psychology with a minor in Philosophy. In her spare time she enjoys writing, reading, and creative arts. Upon graduation, Brittany intends to continue advocating for liberal arts and creative studies.
Moriah Howell is a Creative Writing/ English Literature dual major with a History minor. She is currently applying to fiction MFA programs and hopes to be accepted for the fall 2015 semester. Moriah is also the author of Sara Six Strings.
Carley Kelly is a Senior at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. She has a major in Communication and a minor in Writing. John Mullenix is a Professor of Psychology at PItt-Johnstown. He sports over 40 tattoos, collects throwing knives and swords, and lives by the Code of the Samurai.
Jennifer Palmieri is currently a senior. Her major is Secondary English Education and she has a minor in Writing. She is a member of Sigma Tau Delta and the President of the English Education Club.
Austin Pardee is a writer who spends too much time contemplating life, brooding in the dark, and just being pessimistic in general. He likes to think one day he'll be just as good at writing as Cormac McCarthy, though he will settle for being better than Stephenie Meyer. Thomas Plutt Currently a student of the University of Pittsburgh, Tom enjoys taking photos in his spare time or when asked to.
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Jaclyn Reed is a sophomore duel Creative Writing and English Literature major. Originally from Harrisburg, PA, she prefers longer works of fiction, focusing on emotionally captivating and thought provoking narratives and fantasy. She strives to bring readers an insider perspective on dark topics, such as depression, self-esteem, and bullying. After graduation, she hopes to go on and get her MFA in Writing.
Kyler Smith is a sophomore at UPJ. She has previously published two other poems and worked as a column contributor for the local paper in her hometown of Martinsburg from her sophomore year of high school until graduation. She likes being with her friends and family, watching and memorizing movies, and acting. John Teacher is an instructor of Theatre Arts at Pitt-Johnstown and has had a life-long love of all arts. His first public work was melting crayons on the radiator in kindergarten.
Wendy Wall is a 23 year Junior studying Psychology. After she receives her bachelor's she will pursue a bachelor's in nursing. She recently moved back to the Johnstown area last January from Burbank, California where she lived for 6 months. She enjoys writing of all sorts in her spare time. This is her first Backroads submission.
Scarlett Xenos can't bring herself to write a proper bio because she has no idea what her personal identity is, let alone her professional identity. She thanks Alan Ginsberg, e.e.cummings, Anis Mojgani, and the great Marshall Mathers for their poetic influences. Peijia Zhang is a second year Journalism major who enjoys reading. Taking photographs is one of her many interests, and she wishes to study and practice it more professionally in future. She is also an international student from Shanghai, China.
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Submission Guidelines We accept submissions of short stories, short plays, poetry, personal essays, creative nonfiction, literary journalism, photography, and drawn or painted visual art of any medium. We accept submissions from students currently enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, as well as from faculty and alumni.
Please send submissions to email@example.com, with your submission attached as a separate file. Multiple submissions are accepted, but must be included as separate files. The file name of your attached submission(s) should be the name of the work, but the document itself should not include your name (this is done to ensure unbiased reviews of all submissions). The subject line of your email should be "Backroads Submission." In the message of the email, state your name, the titles of all works attached to your email, and a brief (one to three sentences) third-person biography about yourself. Specific Guidelines:
Prose: Short prose includes short stories, personal essays, short creative nonfiction, literary journalism, and short plays, and should be included in a .doc file, .rtf file, or .docx file. We advise that you check your work for grammar and other kinds of errors before submission. We recommend a maximum length of five to six pages but will accept longer submissions. Poetry: Poetry should be included in a .doc file, .rtf file, or .docx file. Visual: Visual art includes drawn or painted art (either digital or traditional) and photography. Visual art should be included in a .jpg, .bmp, or .png file. We recommend that drawn or painted art be captured using a scanner and that photography be of a decent resolution. Remember, Backroads editors and staff select the best quality work for publication.
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About Us Backroads is the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown's art and literature magazine. We publish the best of student-submitted short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, plays, and visual art. We also accept submissions from faculty and alumni.
Mission Statement: We strive to promote and share the love of literature and creative works across our campus and beyond. We want to provide a comfortable, fun, creative, and supportive space for students to experiment with new kinds of writing and art techniques. Overall, we strive to share the love of expressing oneself with any who will listen. Submissions are open until mid-January and the magazine is released every spring.
To be involved on campus, consider joining as a staff member or attending our open mic nights to share your favorite authors or poets or your own work, and enjoy the written word with fellow enthusiasts (and coffee).
For regular and up-to-date info, like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/upjbackroads
And check out our site for more detailed information, to contact us, or visit the online archive: http://upjbackroads.weebly.com/
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