Cover Art © by Sulola, Imran Abiola
ISSUE VIII MASTHEAD
Editor-in-Chief/Reviews Editor – J.B. Stone
Non-Fiction Editor – Skyler Jaye Rutkowski
Poetry Editor – Asela Lee Kemper
Flash Fiction Editor – Ben Brindise
Short Fiction Editor – Ian Brunner
Visual Arts Editor – Zaria Black
Poetry Readers – Lauren Peter, Maddie Petaway, Joshua Thermidor
Flash Fiction Readers – Sophie Fink, Bryanna Shaw
With the year of 2022 on its way out the door, and a new year right around the corner in 2023, this year has been tumultuous, but worth it to see all of the wonderful folks who trusted us with their beautiful work. As always we send our special thanks to our wonderful contributors, readers, submitters, and all of our fellow editors/team readers, trying to make sense of this crazy universe of ours.
As happy as we are to continue publishing such a great diversity of writers, we also want to take the time as well and issue our thoughts with our home base city here in Buffalo, still reeling from the racist, whitesupremacist attacks here on the East side of Buffalo over seven months later. We still will never forget what happened on May 14th, and will not be sitting on our silences as this racist violence continues. Our hearts go out to the lives lost and/or effected by the horrific incidents on 11/19/2022 at Club in Colorado Springs, CO. Our hearts go out to the local tragedies of Tyler Lewis, a young student who lost his life at the hands of a racist assailant, or Deyanna Davis who right now is serving an unjust sentence in Erie County Holding Center. We cannot and refuse to just let our voices stay unheard, doom-scrolling on social media, and crossing our fingers after casting a ballot, and hope everything will fizzle out. If the time we’re living in has taught us anything, is more needs to be done, and reaching out, supporting the intersection of marginalized communities in any way we can; these can be the basic steps needed to fight the hell unfolding before us all. If you are filled with rage, and fear, and sorrow, please know that we are in solidarity with those feelings, so many of us feel the same. So before you even get to the contents page, we encourage everyone, to explore the two pages worth of various organizations/mutual aid networks/activists, fundraisers doing some truly invaluable work, especially the ones local to our homebase and our hearts It’s important now, more than ever that we’re doing our part for those fighting against this tide of tyranny and come we come together as a community. With the recent tragedy unfolding right now as we write in our home base, Buffalo, is still digging itself out, and we wanna do whatever we can to show solidarity with all of the lives effected by the Blizzard of 2022. Support whatever cause you can and please enjoy the wonderful work here in our 9th issue.
Sincerely, Skyler, J.B., Asela,, Ian, Ben, Zaria, Maddie, Joshua, Lauren, Sophie, & Bryanna
TW/CW: The following pieces may include mentions/scenes of death, suicide, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, parental abuse, neglect, graphic imagery (blood and vomit), experiences with hate, bigotry, alcoholism, suicide ideation, ableism, abuse
VARIETY 4 JUSTICE
Lakota Law Project
An Indigenous Peoples and First Nations rights organization who promote the legal efforts of protecting lives of the true Americans of this country. From addressing the conditions of Indigenous territory, to helping the legal fight behind groundbreaking protests at Standing Rock to Lines 3 & 5, Lakota Law Project has been taking their fight head on and continues to make the voices of Indigenous and First Nations communities heard loud and clear!
Black Love Resists in the Rust (BLRR)
[From the website] BLRR is a member-led, abolitionist organization of Black folk and POC that believe –through leadership development, a shared politic, and community organizing – we will build safe and flourishing communities that resist the ills of white supremacist, cis-heteropatriarchal, capitalism; including policing.
Justice for Tyler Lewis
[From the Website] We are deeply saddened and heartbroken by the loss of our bright, funny, and charming teenage son, Tyler Lewis, on October 14, 2022. Tragically, his life, potential, and perseverance were all violently taken while away at college. Tyler was quite accomplished; he was awarded an academic scholarship and chose to attend SUNY Buffalo State College. He had an appreciable work ethic; this past summer of his freshman year, he completed a four-course workload. Tyler was our only child, and the only grandson, and is survived by a great-grandmother. This senseless act of violence has stolen not only his life but his dreams, his future, and all that he has worked towards. He valued his interpersonal relationships with those he loved. His college sweetheart, Karla Longmore, says it beautifully, "You were so sweet my handsome boy. My perfect person and my best friend. Everyone knew you were so caring, respectable, and simply a ray of light. You were my forever, my motivation to even try and you knew this." Tyler's grandfather had to make the arduous drive from Buffalo to pick up Tyler and bring him back home to Long Island. We pray every day that the person who killed our son will come forward. Donations will be used towards a scholarship in Tyler's name.
We Are Family CHS
A grassroots 2SLGTBQIA+ organization deep in the heart of North Charleston, South Carolina, providing a safer space for the youths, and allies along with their families since 1995. Be sure to check out the history ad be sure to donate to this wonderful local not-for-profit.
Autistic Women & Non-Binary Network (AWN)
Autistic Women & Non-Binary Network is an ever-growing organization truly committed to empowering the lives of Women, and LGBTQIA+ folks across the spectrum, through the providing of various resources, solidarity aid, community publication, and fiscal support.
The National Women ofColorReproductiveJustice Collective working to strengthen the fight against the tide and collectively raising awareness and fighting for the access to necessary reproductive health care.
Colored Girls Bike Too
A growing collective led by Black Women & Black GNC cyclists, promoting mutual aid, teaming up with programs such as seeding justice, and providing pop-ups/food drop-offs to help Black communities across
Buffalo, NY. CGBT also actively run workshops, and programs on the decolonization efforts of mobility
Our Mommie Village
An incredible organization dedicated to helping new mothers forged by CGBT’s own Shyana Broughton. The African Village concept is the model for the care one can receive at Our Mommie Village. Support is built in with the mothers that are already a part of Our Mommie Village. There is also a CashApp available for those who wanna show their support for them at $ourmommievillage.
D.O.P.E. COLLECTIVE WNY
D.O.P.E. (Dismantling Oppressive Patterns for Empowerment) Collective is an anti-oppressive project-based collaborative primarily led by creatives and theorists ages 18-35. They also have chapters in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; and Philadelphia, PA.
[From the Website] Trans Maryland is a multi-racial, multi-gender, trans-led community power building organization dedicated to Maryland’s trans community. By trans folks, for trans folks.
Tops Markets Community Resource Document
A go-to source google document constantly updated on ways we can all support those effected by the acts of Racist violence that occurred on May 14th , and as well addressing the support this area has been needing and will need further into the future. There are links to food drop-offs, pop-ups, donation portals, and much, much more.
New Voices for Reproductive Justice
Building a social change movement dedicated to the health and well-being of Black women and girls through leadership development, Human Rights and Reproductive Justice. Right now the most vulnerable communities that will be effected will be Black and Indigenous communities, especially those in low-income communities, and organizations need our solidarity now more than ever.
Harriet’s Wildest Dreams
Harriet’s Wildest Dreams is a Black-led abolitionist community defense hub centering all Black lives at risk for state-sanctioned violence in the Greater Washington, D.C. area.
Buffalo Books & Literary Freedom LLC.
An incredible program founded last year by Buffalo, NY’s Poet Laureate, Jillian Hanesworth, Buffalo Books mission aims to expand literacy to the most underserved communities of buffalo through the expansion of book houses across the cityscape.
Indigenous Mutual Aid
A network of resources, donation hubs, informational articles for the purposes of creating support to Indigenous Communities across the U.S. & Canada. With the Supreme Court set to gut the EPA’s ability to take on the ravaging effects of climate change; with a presidential administration refusing to shut down Line 3, Line 5, Mountain Valley, DAPL; and selling hundreds of thousands of acres of public land out west, we need to stand by the communities will know that bear with the most devastating harm from all of this.
The Galactic Tribe
Along with The Wakanda Alliance, an organization dedicated to creating educational thought-spaces within black communities. In these spaces, we examine works of art inspired by the many cultures within African diaspora, thus spurring insightful conversations between our audiences about the impact we can create when one combines space-time, culture and imagination! The Galactic Tribe also provides workshops and right now is calling for donations of clothing and sneaker drop-offs.
Friends of the Night People
A local organization in the heart of the Allentown neighborhood of Buffalo, that has served as a true beacon to homeless lives across the City of Buffalo, and anyone in need. Their efforts range from providing food, resources for various shelters, basic essentials/supplies, spaces to do both laundry and shower.
Buffalo Blizzard Group
If you are a Buffalo Resident going trying to survive and find the resources to help get you through this tragic storm the Facebook group Buffalo Blizzard group has been a super convenient tool for establishing the resources, calls to action, and as well emergency posts.
A local organization that has been a beacon in providing food and food rations to underserved communities throughout the city of Buffalo.
Flash Fiction Short Fiction
Greg Rapier 44
Matt Dube 11
Salena Casha 7
Jordan Ranft 46
Jaime Jacques 32
Sylvia Candiote 35
Yvette Chan 57
Ololade Akinlabi Ige 36
Rebecca Martin 60
Visual Art/Mixed Media
Sulola, Imran Abiola 61
KJ Hannah Greenberg 10
Amos Leager 51
Michael Barron 15
Shannon Frost Greenstein 37
Desiree McCullough 12
Eleni Stephanides 33
Bryanna Shaw 48
Paweł Markiewicz 58
Two Review-Essays by Demitra Olague 52
LOVE ISby Salena Casha
For her, love is a toilet, or, more specifically, a toilet left running, its handle soft and unanchored in her palm. Too much give on the downstroke. When she hears it shushing, she thinks of a tornado tearing through her mother’s house in Tallahassee. How it cratered the hardwood pine in serpentine rolls. In the 50s, her grandfather laid and lacquered and pinned that floor himself; one of the nails went through his thumb.
When that tornado came, her mother had been in the kitchen wringing a lime over mashed avocado, her toes anchored along a wood whorl by the toaster oven. The wind grew violent. As the air listed by her to sniff at her skin, her hair shifted.
After that, one of the women in her church group waited until she went to refill the lemonade and said, even the tornado didn’t want her and they’re not picky
So for her grandfather, love was splinters in his skin and for her mother, it was lime flakes trapped under her nails and for herself, yes herself, it was a running toilet.
The first few times, she’d left it running on accident, pressing too lightly and leaving it searching for rest. After that, she learned how to press down on the handle just so. And then, she’d wait.
Even when he was in the walk-in pantry with the rigatoni, he’d hear it. He’d head to the door of the bathroom and call her name. Beckon her with a finger and a thrill would go over her skin and she’d buzz around and say oh I know I know I know. She was water in the bowl then, all burble, all chortles. Still, though she knew what was coming they’d rehearsed it like a play she’d cross the carpet to him. Not hardwood. Her feet hadn’t felt hardwood in years.
He’d pull her in tight and whisper, see how it runs and runs and runs.
Not away, even though she did that once - years before she found out that this was love - slipped from the restaurant’s single stall while he sat at the bar, his back to her and wrists on the marble, cooling down from the August heat. She watched his shoulder move beneath his pineapple shirt, the way his head bent down over his phone, how occasionally he re-focused on the rows of bottles in front of him that never changed except when interrupted by the bartender’s collared arms.
After a waitress brushed by her twice with mains, she slipped out the door without telling him and her
spine shivered down into her tailbone. She sat on the granite stairs of the local Masonic Lodge and looked up at the toenail clipping moon until he found her.
He leaned in toward her, so close, and she waited for him to raise his voice and demand to know why she’d just left him like that. She waited for their burbles to rise up into the night and touch the sky and then fizzle out. Instead he said,
I think it’s still running in there.
What is? She’d asked.
It took him years to tell her.
It’ll never be quite right. I’ll never be quite you. If I could be anything but me–I’d be the man-boy-thing I glimpse sometimes in the mirror, pubescent bag-eyed like a bug. If I could be anything at all I’d be a bird.
It’ll never be quite the same as the men who meet in the coffeeshops of novels, entwine and embrace, take off their shirts in the heat of summer as friendship and love bleed together like water, an estuary of men with chimerae like us the runoff, the silt that feeds the algal blooms and yet remains part of your ecosystems.
I want to sit at those bars, those coffeeshops. I want the sunlight to glance through my hair. I want to pass through the spaces where beautiful men walk. I want to pass them on the street, our eyes glancing off each other like pebbles thrown off a wall, I want to pass as girly and as strange, I want to pass
I want to pass I do not want to pass, iambic mantra swimming through my mind, breaststroke on a summer day among the old men doing laps at the pool.
You can run your hands a million times through the silt and the fine mud in that cloudy Chesapeake water. You still won’t feel me there.
I can slip away with the best of the eels, and you’ll never feel this brackish body. You’ll never bring me to your lips for dinner. You’ll never quite get a hold of this thing I am becoming.
CUDDLESby KJ Hannah Greenberg
FIVE FEET FROM STAROMby Matt Dube
The guys who worked security at the Centrum those first couple years loved to tell my mom about it. It was easy work, taking umbrellas and cameras. Sometimes you’d stand near the stage and push people who got too close. Some were cops, but most were just regular guys, machinists and bus drivers and cabbies. She drew them pilsner drafts and they told her about the drummer who smoked cigarettes on the loading dock with his roadies, or the singer who covered himself with a shower curtain when he was outside his dressing room, “to maintain his mystique.” My mom would have paid for the drinks to hear about these big shots come to our town, but the guys gave her huge tips for her to listen, for believing them. . . .In 1979, boxer Fabian Mercer was hit so hard by a misplaced right hook his left eye turned liquid in the middle of a prize fight at Mechanics Hall. Years later he brought his one-man show to the same stage. He inhabited historical and mythical figures in a series of dramatic tableaux, but the only one people wanted to talk about was his performance of the cyclops Polyphemus from Book IX of the Odyssey. He removed the glass eye from its wet socket and put it in his mouth when he spoke as the monster. He riffed around with the famous cry; “No one is attacking me” became” “No one is coming to save me.” It was pathetic, in both senses of the word, I heard from people who saw it . . . . My mom traded a long afternoon’s draughts for access to the dressing room of a musician she’d been following since high school. She brought a box of chocolate covered strawberries because she’d read an interview an eon before where he confessed his sweet tooth led him into trouble. He smiled at my mother when she came in, and put his finger in the same biography of a WW2 general our dad had started but never finished. He laughed knowingly when she showed him the strawberries, and he explained his diabetes diagnosis. “But don’t feel bad,” he said, “I manage it.” He showed her a zippered leather case with a vial of insulin and a pair of syringes. He told her what to do, and then invited her to join him. They didn’t nibble at the chocolate shell but ate several right off. The rockstar’s eyes rolled back in pleasure, and he didn’t lift his head from the plush banquette when the stage manager came into the dressing room to tell him he was on stage in ten minutes. My mother readied the syringe and read the future in the papery skin of the rocker’s neck where he’d directed her to inject him. He slurred his words, but she thinks he said, “Just a few more minutes.”
THE KIDS HAVE TO BE ALRIGHT BECAUSE THEY’RE YOUby Desiree McCullough
"Tell me about the dead baby again, Mom."
My face scrunched up as I checked the traffic before pulling out of our driveway.
"You, you, you, you. you know ... the baby in your belly before me,” she said. The three of us acting as if her occasional stuttering was normal because, well … it was.
"I really don't want to talk about that. We've talked about that many times. The baby was very, very tiny and is with God now," I said.
Her older brother took over and offered a heart-to-heart about the miracle and fragility of life and the importance of not taking those around you for granted. There were a few points that made me cringe, but it sufficed, especially with only three minutes before the school's warning bell. Three minutes ago, they just fought about what snack to take to recess and what constituted a worthless Pokémon card.
I parked, so they could cross the school drive with the crossing guard and part ways to their fifth and second grade classes.
Big brother hurried out, not wanting to be late. He opened his sister's door and sputtered a quick "love you, bye" to me. Little sister moved slower because she was either still deep in thought or nervous like she was most mornings.
"Hey, you're going to have a good day. I love you and can't wait to hear about everything you learn about today." I knew it would sound awkward, but I felt the need to say it anyway, "You belong, okay?"
She nodded and walked with her brother. I always stayed and watched them, but I focused on her because she shuffled her bright pink or pastel-hued sneakers and looked down the entire way to the second grade portables. ***
She was six pounds, eight ounces at birth, and then she suddenly stopped growing. Phrases like "failure to thrive'' appeared on her medical record without explanation for well over the first year of her life. Her progress barely registered on those growth chart print-outs you get during well visits. There were a few times her stats couldn't even be plotted.
I was worried about whether she got enough milk, but her doctors reassured me that she was meeting all of her other developmental milestones.
"She's just small," they said. I kept telling myself that if we weren't at the health department where all of the other state insurance recipients were getting care, her case would be taken seriously.
Notoriously chunky babies, her dad (6') and I (5'6") attended seminary and hoped our sacrifices and willingness to become equipped for God's mission wouldn't lead to a destitute life.
Well, it did sometimes, but this story isn't about that or how we eventually left organized religion. This story is about her.
I know it sounds odd, but when we're watching TV and snuggling, I trace the lines of her arms and legs and wonder if a coroner could accurately determine her age from her remains. The thought makes me choke, and I curse how millennial crime fascination culture has rewired my brain to view this as an appropriate way to analyze my child's growth. Disgusting, I know.
Small yet limber, she climbs up the door frame like she’s trying out for American Ninja Warrior. She has two big brothers but needs zero protection. In their wild escapades, she dominates with her sass, stealth, and weaponized painted fingernails.
Grown men have started to notice her which makes me nervous. Their eyes linger and they interrupt our momdaughter time to tell her/me/us about how pretty she is. This embarrasses her. I want to lecture them about how smart, funny, and kind she is, but I don't want to strike up conversation. So I tell my daughter this instead while she finishes her ice cream or talks to the animals behind plexiglass at PetSmart.
"You're so cute," people say to her.
"You are your mom's mini-me."
Yes, she is a copy of my younger self. I wish I had more pictures from my childhood to prove it because aside from her wispy, curly caramel-colored hair, the resemblance is quite frightening. As if in embryonic development, genetic creativity began with the locks on her head and then got lazy. "She's basically her mom. Let's call it a day."
And, yes, she's me in personality, too. A quiet and shy child prone to oversentimentality and crying at the worst times.
She can get hypersensitive if she thinks she’s being watched, but when she's really comfortable with her surroundings, she becomes a comedienne, her hands flying wildly in gestures, overcompensating for her stature. She’s also a philosopher obsessed with words like basically, essentially, and literally. And when it comes to her speech, I still don’t know if she’s aware of her stuttering, in denial, or if she doesn’t care.
Whenever I brought it up in the past, she looked at me as if I told her she had a condition where she would slowly be turning into a unicorn. Whatever the reason, I am grateful.
We are also carbon copies in our actions. It is a strange feeling to live in constant déjà vu. The lines of memory blur when I wonder if a quirky stance, a response to a funny story, or a certain contorted face originated with her or me.
We can also move from one extreme to another. One minute she cocks her head to the side and delivers a smile that gets her anything, and a minute later, she yells that no one loves her, slams her bedroom door, and jumps on the bed or peels paint from the canary yellow walls to cope.
My husband and I have a joke that when she brings a brave soul home to meet us, we'll give the full lowdown about what makes her, HER. This will need to be done in desperate spurts when she excuses herself to the bathroom.
"We can sneak you out of the window. We won't be mad. She will eat you alive. Get out now!" Of course, my dad gave my now-husband a similar warning.
When she hops on the couch to find a spot under my arm-wing, she traces my tattoos and finger-combs my long dark tresses. She presses her face up against mine which slightly bothers me (which she knows) and says, "Don't ever cut your hair, okay?"
"Got it. All the way to my butt."
She laughs, bores herself further into my core, and whispers, "You're the best mom in the universe."
And I tell her, in all seriousness, which she doesn't get, "No, you are."
MILO FLEMING’S HOUSE OF HORRORSby Michael Barron
“Today, I will build a haunted house.”
Milo stands in my bedroom doorway dressed in a black cape and glow-in-the-dark vampire fangs, which aren’t doing much glowing with the sun pouring through my window.
I give him a thumbs up and return to my psychology term paper. Or the handful of disjointed sentences that by midnight tonight must be transformed into a psychology term paper.
Floorboards creak as he scampers into my room. “Didn’t you hear me, Autumn? I said, ‘Today, I will build a haunted house.’”
Without looking up, I say, “You’re a few months early, bud.”
“Anyone can do a haunted house around Halloween, but in the spring it takes a trew mastar of horrar!” He says this last part with a low-rent Dracula accent.
When Dad left with Virginia to check out wedding venues he’d said, “This afternoon will be a great chance to get to know Milo a little better.” Our bedrooms are connected by a bathroom. I want to know less about my future stepbrother.
“Come on!” Milo pulls at my arm in a way only a hyperactive seven-year-old can. “Do your homework on the porch.”
Letting myself forget about the paper for two and a half seconds, I go limp. “I’ll be your first exhibit! See? I’m the immovable corpse!”
“There no dead people in my haunted house!” He yanks harder. “Why’re you so heavy?”
I slap his cheek.
It’s just a little slap. The other girls on the varsity softball team used to slap each other much harder when we were just goofing around. But Milo stumbles back, eyes wide, like I might throttle him.
“Are you serious?”
He retreats into the hallway.
“I’m sorry!” Grabbing my laptop, I follow. “I’ll hang out on the porch. Just don’t tell my dad I hit you.”
Out in the hall, he peers down the staircase, as if he can’t remember where he is.
I crouch beside him. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Do you want help making your haunted house?”
He wipes his nose. “I want you to be the guest.” Taking me by the hand – I’m still not used to that – he leads me down the steps. I almost go back for my phone, but leave it. If Dad calls it’ll be on the landline, and my friends aren’t texting me much these days.
The living room has become a jungle of potted plants since Milo and his mom moved in. Photographs featuring Dad and me camping or stuffing our faces with hotdogs at Camden Yards still cover the wall. But more from the past year are encroaching in, of Milo, Virginia, Dad and me on our endless daytrips to Lancaster County where Virginia loves to go “antiquing.” Dad tries his best to pretend he loves it too.
After we pass through the kitchen, I free myself from Milo’s grip and open the hallway pantry. “Want a granola bar?”
Movement flickers in the corner of my eye as a figure scurries across the kitchen floor, brushing my leg. I jerk back, the taste of copper flooding my mouth. Spinning all the way around, I find someone staring at me from the laundry room doorway.
My eyes refocus. The figure bleeds into shadows. We’re alone again.
Of course we’re alone. Milo and I are the only ones in the house.
But even so, my skin tightens as I approach the laundry room door and flick on the light. The tiny room is empty. There isn’t even enough space for a child to hide.
A whiff of rotting meat lingers in the air. “Did you leave food out?” I ask, reluctant to turn my back on the doorway.
“No. Come on!” Milo pulls me so hard I almost drop my laptop.
As he drags me across the kitchen and down the hallway, I look back. End of semester stress is just making me jumpy. If someone really had been in the kitchen Milo would’ve seen her and freaked out.
All thought of the figure is pushed away when he leads me onto the screened-in porch and I stumble over
my softball bat lying on the floor. “What the hell?”
“I grabbed that in case the monsters get out of hand.”
Dropping my computer on the porch swing, I pick up the bat. “This isn’t a toy.”
“Yes it is.”
“No, what I mean is…” I turn the bat over. At the end of season pizza party, almost exactly a year ago, all the seniors signed each other’s bats. It seemed cheesy at the time but that was before Mariko moved to New York, Summer and Carmen moved to Philly, and Hannah flew to California. We texted every day during the fall and hung out throughout the holidays, but over these past few months the texts came less and less and plans to visit got cancelled. They were all focused on new friends, classes and significant others, while I was left puttering around in our sleepy hometown.
“Don’t touch my things.” With the bat in hand, I head back into the house.
“Wait!” Milo jumps in front of me. “I already set up the… I’ll put it back.”
I don’t want him in my room. “Just stick it in the closet, okay?”
Nodding, he takes the bat and walks backwards into the house. “Just wait out here while I finish decorating, then I’ll take you through. You’ll love it. I swear.”
I don’t know how long I’ve been transforming threadbare bullet points into moderately comprehensible paragraphs when I hear the first rumble. “Milo?” I open the backdoor. “Hey! Milo!”
“Yeah?” He calls from somewhere deep inside the house.
“Are you moving furniture?”
“Really? Cause it sounds like you’re shoving a couch around.”
“Mom says the neighbors are over a mile away.”
Technically that’s true, but I doubt Virginia said that to assure him he could make as much noise as he wanted.
“I’m testing out sound effects on the speakers,” he says. “Don’t come in!”
That doesn’t scan, but it’s enough of an explanation to allow me to return to my laptop. The second my fingers hit the keys; the rumbling starts again.
“Just more sound effects!” he shouts.
Milo was such a quiet kid when I first met him. All he did was sit at our kitchen table eating slice after slice of pepperoni pizza while doodling robot cactuses. Virginia, who ate her pizza with a knife and fork, practically sat on Dad’s lap, gazing at him with watery brown eyes, laughing too hard at his jokes.
After they left, Dad asked me to join him on the porch. “I want to be up front with you so it doesn’t seem like I’m hiding anything.” He hesitated, like a boy who’d forgotten his line in the school play. Then he looked me dead in the eye. “Virginia has a history of substance abuse.”
I kept my face absolutely motionless.
He told me about the accident that killed Milo’s father. Virginia was the one driving. She survived but was in the hospital for weeks. Afterwards she developed an addiction to painkillers. Things escalated. She had to go to rehab. “But she worked hard at her recovery and has been clean for twenty-one months.”
I nodded, gripping the edges of the porch swing.
If one of my friends’ future step-parents was a recovering addict I would’ve said, “People deserve second, third, and fourth chances.” But Virginia would soon be sleeping in the same bed Dad had shared with Mom.
I barely remember my mom or her funeral, but I do remember Dad’s sobs, sharp enough to cut skin. I remember the way he’d grow quiet while dropping me off for sleepovers, knowing he’d soon spend the evening alone in a silent house. That’s why I always tried to get my friends to come over rather than go to their places. That’s the real reason I decided to stay home and do community college for a year. That’s also why when Dad told me about Virginia’s past I forced a smile and said, “She seems nice.”
During the whole conversation, Milo was only mentioned once. Dad had just finished hugging me and was standing to go when, almost on a whim, I asked, “Where was Milo while she was in rehab?”
“He spent a few months with his aunt and uncle on a farm up in Green Haven. They have a few boys
about his age. From what I hear he had a blast. Poor kid was too young to understand what his mom was going through.”
“Velcome!” Milo emerges from the house wearing his black cape and glow-in-the-dark vampire fangs.
“Ahre you ready tu valk the valls ov vystery?”
“Are you ready to walk the halls of mystery?”
“Listen, I’ve got this paper due tonight. Just give me an hour to "
“Please!” He grabs my arm. “Somebody’s gotta see it. Mom won’t like it and your dad won’t get it.”
I turn toward the door, which he’s covered in orange and black streamers. “You didn’t do anything gross in there, did you?”
“Of course it’s gross, it’s a Chambar ov horrar!”
I suppress a smile. “Sure it is.” Promising myself I’ll be back in ten minutes; I close my laptop and pull myself up. “Okay, chamber of horror, do your worst.”
Milo draws back the streamers. “Velcome!”
“You put my bat in the closet, right?”
Instead of answering, he leads me into the hallway. I’m expecting cardboard skeletons and plastic spiders, but it’s more or less the way I left it. Streamers cover the far end of the hall, but otherwise there isn’t a decoration in sight.
I do catch the scent of rotting meat again, though. “What is that?”
Milo runs up to the pantry. “Our first stop on this tour of terror…. The Cage Of The Invisible Boy.” He yanks the door open, revealing shelves filled with bottled water and granola bars.
“I don’t see anything.”
“Of course you don’t. He’s invisible.”
This actually makes me smile. “Cute.”
Milo shuts the door and runs across the hall. I’m turning to follow when I hear a clatter from the pantry, like a bunch of boxes were just knocked over. “What ”
“And now, The Dreaded Horror Of The Deep.” He pulls the bathroom door back. I brace myself for something gross or corny or both, but what I see is actually pretty cool.
The bathroom blinds are down and the lights are off, so I just barely make out what appears to be a dark green tentacle draping out from beneath the shower curtain.
“Is that papier-mâché?”
He closes the door. “The creature holds many secrets that should never be released.” He backs away. I follow him through the orange and black streamers covering the kitchen doorway. “And now we enter…”
THE LAIR OF THE LOST WITCH
I freeze mid-step. At first I try to convince myself that end of semester stress is getting to me again, but I’m actually seeing this. This is real. I’ve found the source of the smell.
“Are you out of your mind?”
Everything in the kitchen – the floor, the table, the chairs, the counters and stove – is covered in a layer of sickly yellow goo. The place looks, and smells, like someone has rubbed raw chicken over every surface, soaking it with juices.
“My dad’s gonna blame me for this. Why would you ”
“I didn’t do it!” Milo insists. “It was the Lost Witch! We must hide before she returns.”
“No. Game’s over. We need to ”
The laundry room door slams open. A woman stumbles forward, face masked by tangles of sopping wet hair. Rags hang from her frame. Talon-like toenails scrape the tiles.
My brain freezes, leaving me paralyzed.
Am I asleep? No, my heart is pounding so hard I would’ve woken by now.
Did Milo hire an actress? Where would he have found her? How could he afford Hollywood-level makeup for the sores running along her arms?
At first she stumbles across the room, groping at the counters. When she finally notices us, she produces a school-girl titter. “Warm flesh.”
I press my back against the wall. Rotten meat juices soak through my T-shirt.
“I love you.” She staggers toward Milo. “I love you so much. I just need a little taste.”
The witch reaches for him, and I realize I’m about to see her dead twig fingers clamp around his throat. Before I know what I’m doing, I step between them. “Get out.”
The woman is so close I smell the stink of her breath. Through the wall of tangled hair peer two watery brown eyes. I step back, knocking into Milo. “Virginia?”
Giggling, she staggers toward the counter and fumbles with a collection of brown jars. When she can’t open one she smashes it, indiscriminately cramming handfuls of broken glass and oily black pills into her mouth. “What…?”
“I told you,” Milo approaches the streamers covering the living room doorway. “This is the lair of the Lost Witch. Next we have The Forest Of Feral ”
Something grabs him by the front of his shirt, yanking him through the streamers. “Milo!”
The witch snickers, as if her son’s disappearance is the punchline to a dirty joke.
My feet slap puddles of yellow goo as I sprint toward the living room. Behind me, the pantry door creaks open, but before I can focus on that I tumble into…
THE FOREST OF FERAL CHILDREN
Three figures tower over Milo, like boulders made of flesh. My future stepbrother is barely visible, huddled on the staircase, clasping his glow-in-the-dark vampire fangs.
All three of the giants turn toward me, and I halt. They don’t have faces. Instead, they wear masks made from the faces of young boys. Their eyes are hollow and their mouths hang in tatters. One of the masks has been attached upside down.
“Get away from him!” I shout, cringing at the quiver in my voice. The flash in the pan burst of courage I
felt with the witch has extinguished. Sweat drips down my sides. I shiver as a late November wind pushes against me, carrying the odor of dead leaves.
The room where Dad and I cheer every time the Orioles hit a homerun has transformed into a forest. A carpet of mud covers the carpet. Naked branches puncture the walls, piercing family photographs. One of the limbs has shattered the landline that normally sits on the table by the sofa.
The three monstrosities turn back toward Milo.
“Your daddy’s dead, shit brains.”
“Burnin’ in hell.”
“And your mama’s lost her mind.”
“’Cause you’re a scrawny runt.”
“You gotta join one of ’em.”
“Please!” Milo moans. “This isn’t how things were supposed to….”
The beast with the upside-down face grabs the side of Milo’s head. “But first, we’re gonna do to you what you did to me. You’re going to The Butcher.”
I surprise myself by bellowing, “Get away from him!”
None of them even glance in my direction as they haul Milo up, lifting him over their heads. Like a whirlwind of muscle and ripped flesh they tear up the stairs, leaving me behind to shout, “Stop!”
I want to run after them. I have to run after them. It’s my only option.
But then my eyes fall on the front door. I yank it open. My phone’s still upstairs, but that doesn’t matter. I can sprint to the neighbor’s house in under ten minutes, and – assuming they’re home – call 911. I’ll tell the operator anything that’ll get real adults out here.
But how long will that take? When Dad fell off the roof while hanging Christmas lights the ambulance didn’t arrive for half an hour. We’d already determined it was just a bad sprain by the time they rolled up.
With my hand still on the doorknob, I look back at the stairs. I should go. Dad’s already lost Mom. Losing me might literally kill him.
I’m halfway out the door when Milo screams. It’s a short, pitiful shriek, sharp enough to cut skin. It brings me back to the sounds Dad made after Mom died.
I step back into the house.
“Hello?” someone whispers.
I stumble away from the voice, knocking over the lamp beside the door.
No one’s there. I can still hear the witch in the kitchen –either giggling or crying – but I’m alone in the living room forest.
“Who’s there?” I pray no one will answer.
A voice, so timid I barely understand it, responds, “It’s me.”
“Milo?” I look up at the stairs and then back at the empty air. “Where… Did you escape?”
“That wasn’t me. They took the first Milo. I’m the second Milo, The Invisible Boy.”
I shake my head. “What?”
“The first Milo Fleming made us. We’re all a part of his haunted house. But I don’t think he wanted it to turn out like this.”
Leaning against the doorframe, I clasp my face. I have so many questions they’re all lodged in my throat. Footsteps crush the dry leaves spread across the floor. A hand I cannot see takes mine. “You okay?”
This jostles a question loose. It’s the only question that matters. “How do I save him?”
“You beat the house the same way you beat any haunted house; by reaching the exit.”
I glance at the front door.
“The real exit.”
I turn toward the stairs, which now stretch twice as long as they should. “It’s up there, isn’t it?”
He doesn’t have to answer.
I’m raising my foot to climb the first step when I freeze and point at the closet door. “Is there anything creepy in there?”
The doorknob isn’t warm. At least I know there isn’t a fire on the other side. I consider counting to three, but that would only delay the inevitable. Instead I just go for it, yanking the door open.
At first glance all that’s out of place are Virginia and Milo’s rain jackets. I’m still not used to seeing them hanging there.
Then I spot it. The closet’s floor should be cluttered with out of season boots and tattered sneakers, but they’ve been replaced by a ventriloquist’s dummy, sitting cross-legged on the floor. The dummy has a slight stature and a round face that makes me think of Milo. A ring of unlit candles encircle the doll. The whole setup looks like a shrine devoted to the rock sitting in the dummy’s lap. The sharp edges of the rock drip with red.
My softball bat waits for me in the back of the closet.
Before I can reach for it, one of the candles bursts to life with a tiny yellow flame. If the circle were a clock this one would be at high noon.
The candle to the right lights itself, and then the one beyond that. They pick up speed.
I shove the jackets aside, reaching for my bat. The closet is deeper than it should be.
As the ring of candles hit four o’clock, something strikes the closet’s back wall. I jerk back, picturing a man with a hammer trying to break through from the other side.
Cursing, I stretch out my arm again, fingers brushing the bat.
The candle at six o’clock bursts to life.
My right hand fumbles with the handle. My left slips on the doorframe, almost sending me crashing onto the dummy.
The hammering returns. It becomes a hailstorm. Flecks of plaster pour from the ceiling.
My fingers close around the bat.
Someone clasps my shoulders. The Invisible Boy pulls me back.
As we tumble backwards I slam the door.
The closet convulses, as if it’s being pummeled by a hundred fists at once. Hinges rattle. Wood cracks. It’s the sound of countless stones raining from the sky.
Trying to pretend I’m not thoroughly freaked out, I face the steps, brandishing my weapon.
Gripping my bat, ready to hit a grand slam, I take the steps one at a time. “You still there?”
“I’m here.” The Invisible Boy’s voice is thin, as if he can’t talk over a whisper.
“What the hell’s going on?”
“Milo, the first Milo, built a haunted house.”
“I get that. What were those things that took him?”
“Our cousins. We lived with them after ”
“There’s no way your cousins look like that.”
“That’s what they looked like on the day they took us into the forest.”
No one ever talks about the time Milo spent with relatives while Virginia was in rehab. I’d assumed it was a vacation in the countryside where he got to explore woods and ride horses. He seemed like the last person in the world who’d gone through something traumatic.
I glance to my right. All I see is empty air but I still hear the Invisible Boy’s footsteps. “Did they hurt you?”
“They tried, but then he showed up.”
I’m about to ask who The Butcher is when I realize the world has flipped around. We’ve somehow gone
from walking up the stairs to walking down.
Gripping the railing to keep my balance, I turn. The dim light of the living room forest still shines from the top of the steps.
“When our uncle saw what The Butcher did, he kept us down here.” The Invisible Boy brushes past me. The upstairs hallway has been replaced by a basement. The walls and floor are made of cracked cement smeared with mold. The ceiling is encased with rusty pipes. A mattress, as thin as cardboard, lies beside a bucket.
“God.” I cover my mouth and nose.
Footsteps lead me to the far wall where light shines out from beneath a door.
“Did you tell your Mom what happened?”
He mumbles something as the door opens. All I catch is the word “happy.”
THE CHAMBER OF PAIN
At first glance my bedroom appears deceptively normal. My bed is still a mess. Photographs still cover the walls. Bouncy, my stuffed kangaroo, still perches on my bookshelf.
I release a deep breath and relax my grip on the bat.
Then, I look out the window.
I should be able to see our backyard with my rusty swing set Dad never took down. Instead, deep blue waves crash against golden sand. A four-year-old boy walks along the beach, clutching the hand of a short man with messy hair and a slender woman with glasses.
Virginia looks so happy I want to cry.
“That’s our last happy memory,” The Invisible Boy says beside me.
“But Milo has tons of happy memories. He’s always joking and drawing and talking about….” I trail off, remembering how when I was a kid I’d pretend I was perfectly happy to not go to friend’s houses just because I didn’t want to leave Dad at home by himself.
I scan the room. The photographs taped to my walls now feature tiny versions of Milo with both parents, snuggling on a couch, reading bedtime stories and singing in the car. I’d seen Milo laugh and act silly, but I’d
never seen such naked, unfiltered joy.
The Invisible Boy says, “He must really like you to let these ghosts haunt your room.”
One of the photographs is of Milo and his dad, wearing matching Batman T-shirts, cramming ice cream into their mouths. I’m smiling at the mad glee on their faces when I notice the edges of a second photograph poking out from beneath one of the corners. Pulling back the ice cream picture, I reveal a photograph of Milo standing in the middle of a barren room.
Invisible fingers clasp my hand. “That’s us at grandma’s house. She’s just got the call that Mom and Dad were in a car accident. She’s trying to whisper, but I know something’s wrong. Everything’s changing.” He pulls me away from the photographs. “We should keep moving. This room is the most painful part of the house.”
THE HORROR OF THE DEEP
The bathroom door appears to move on its own as The Invisible Boy pulls it open. “Don’t look at the mirror.”
If he hadn’t said anything I probably wouldn’t have, but as we pass through the bathroom that connects our rooms, my eyes fall on the medicine cabinet hanging over the sink. Instead of seeing my own sweaty face, I see a forest bathed in the orange glow of sunset. A scrawny, underfed Milo pins another boy to the ground, pummeling him with a rock. Two more boys stare on, crying.
The mirror explodes. Shards of glass cut my cheek. A dark green tentacle shoots at me.
“Run!” Invisible feet clatter across the tiles.
I sprint after him. The tentacle grazes the back of my neck as we shove the door open and tumble into Milo’s room.
“I told you not to look!” The Invisible Boy pants, slamming the door behind him.
Milo’s room is empty. His bed, chest of drawers and shelves are all gone. So are his toys, books, mounds of dirty clothes and drawings. Only Milo remains. He stands in the middle of the bare floor. Dark green
tentacles, as thin as electrical wire, encase his body, holding him in place. His right hand is pressed against his side while his left is raised. The tips of his fingers barely support a silver dish.
A doorway covered with tattered orange and black streamers is set into the wall behind him. I can smell fresh grass and hear birds singing on the other side. All we have to do is walk through.
Setting my bat on the floor, I pull at the tentacles. “Come on, buddy.”
“Stop,” Milo whispers, barley moving his lips.
The plate’s surface is covered in a film of water. Images flicker of Virginia laughing, smiling, hugging and singing. As his hand trembles, threatening to spill what little liquid there is, the images change to the witch stumbling about, clawing at her face. The stench of raw chicken rises from the water.
He releases a long breath. The water steadies. Virginia’s face returns.
“We need to go,” The Invisible Boy whispers.
I try to make eye contact with Milo. “Your mom’s fine. It doesn’t matter what happens to this dish, she won’t "
That’s when I see him. The Third Milo watches us from the furthest corner of the room, face sprayed with red, eyes as hard as the rock in his hand. Tentacles grow from his arms, throat and cheeks. Some slither across the room, wrapping around my Milo. Others break through walls, infiltrating the rest of the house.
“Hurry!” The Invisible Boy pulls at my sleeve.
I reach for the silver dish. “Let me take this.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“You’ll spill it.”
“I won’t. I swear.” My fingers wrap around his bound wrist. “You trust me, right?”
“Please, let me help you.”
He doesn’t protest as I take the plate and set it on the floor.
Milo uses his now empty hand to pull at the tentacles, trying to break free. Tears well up as he struggles.
I reach out and join him. The Invisible Boy grunts as he also tries to help. But the bonds are too strong.
At last, Milo says, “I need to tell you what happened after I left the farm.”
Floorboards creak as the Butcher steps forward. His tentacles rise up, their eyeless gaze focused on us.
“You can tell me later.” I pant, trying to free him. “First we gotta ”
“When Grandma picked me up my aunt and uncle made me wear clean clothes and pretend I’d been sleeping in their guestroom. My cousin’s face was better by then. Grandma had no idea what happened.” As he talks he manages to free his right arm.
The Butcher is ten paces away.
“At first Grandma was really nice, but when we were almost home she "
“We have to go!” I cut him off. “Tell me this later.”
As soon as the words are out, the tentacles attack, covering his mouth.
I break into a cold sweat as I realize what I’ve done. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean that.”
The Butcher is eight steps away.
Beside me, The Invisible Boy screams as tentacles wrap around his legs.
“Milo!” I take The Invisible Boy’s hands before the tentacles can lash around them. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen. What happened after the farm?”
“I don’t like that story!”
“Please tell me. I know you think you have to stay hidden, but I will listen.”
Six steps away.
As the tentacles encompass his transparent chest, I hear the second Milo manage a deep breath and say, “At first Grandma was really nice, but when we were almost home she told me Mom was very delicate. Stress could make her worse again. I shouldn’t upset her.”
“I wanted to tell Mom what my cousins did, what my uncle did. I even wanted to tell her what I did with the rock, but she was so happy. I didn’t want her to go away again.”
“I’m sorry.” I squeeze his hand. “Your Grandma didn’t mean to hurt you like that.”
Tentacles drop to the floor. Not all of them, but enough for me to help both Milos wriggle free. “It’s going to be okay.” I tell them. “You’re both ”
The Butcher towers over us, raising his rock.
I shove both Milos toward the exit, toward sunshine, clean air, and green grass. The three of us yank back the streamers.
A solid brick wall seals the doorway. There’s no way out.
“No!” I punch the barrier.
“You won’t leave me,” The Butcher bellows.
I snatch my bat off the floor and swing it, smashing the weapon against his face. The bat shatters. Thousands of splinters fly everywhere. He barely flinches.
Still gripping the handle, I press the wooden shards against his throat. “Let us go!”
He stares at what remains of my bat. At first I assume he’s looking at the slivers threatening to puncture his skin, but that’s not what’s happening at all. He’s reading the names of my former teammates. His face pulls back into a snarl. Tears trickle down his cheeks. “You won’t leave me.”
I realize what I have to do.
Lowering my bat I say, “I won’t.”
I take his hand.
“What’re you doing?” The Invisible Boy shouts.
“Don’t touch it!” My Milo steps back.
But I grip The Butcher’s hand, pulling him close to me. “I’m not leaving you.”
At first I’m certain he’ll attack me with the rock, but his body melts against me, allowing me to guide all three of them through the door.
Only one Milo sits beside me in the backyard.
I turn to him but before I can say a word, he wraps his arms around me and releases an unbearably heavy
“It’s okay,” I hold him close, rubbing his back. Despite the sun shining down on us, he shivers. Tears trickle down my own cheeks. “You’re gonna be okay.”
He pulls away, wiping his nose. “I really messed up the house.”
“I’ll help you clean it up.”
Soon we’ll go back inside and take in the state of our home. Before long Dad and Virginia will return. When Milo is ready we’ll tell them everything. I can’t imagine what that’ll be like.
But for now, we sit in the backyard, on this bright summer day, crying together.
EIGHT IS THE MAGIC NUMBERby Jaime Jacques
Going to bed with a clear head after wanting nothing more than to drink eight cold beers = victory. The only time I miss drinking is when it’s sunny when the light fills up everything, except
Eight glasses of white and I’m a know it all I want: to be touched but hands slip right through my vapour. Tears will come at last land me in a loop of cringe and blue light morning sweats and oh yes the only time I miss drinking is when I’m sad.
Why do I always pull the magician card? the number one and infinity the beginning and the end less possibilities. A bottle builds a kingdom. Then burns it down. Four beers and four mescals wed to make the perfect high. With one hand to the earth and other to the sky the magician conjures the balance of eight
glasses of red make me feel like all my faucets are open the only time I miss drinking is when I’m in airport bars full of overpriced taps and untethered bodies the first night in a new city, before the comfort of a new friend, and then
I only miss it after sex or when I need to open up my chest and let the locusts out. Don’t give up before the miracle, the old timers say. Godless words stick to my tongue: When the resurrection happens how will I celebrate?
THE DELICATE LINE BETWEE SOLITUDE AND CONNECTION: LEARNING TO BALANCE IT AS A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON by Eleni Stephanides
Riding my bike through North Beach on a (rare) San Francisco sunny day, I stopped in Washington Square Park to eat my lunch. While chewing my sandwich on a sun-soaked bench dedicated to Juana Briones (“pre-eminent woman of the 1840s”), I watched as a seagull flew down from the sky and landed on a patch of concrete a few yards from my feet. Following him were two pigeons. Heads poised toward the sandwich in my hand, all of them looked up at me expectantly. Meanwhile, a sparrow hopped its way into the group from the periphery of my vision.
Myself an animal lover and former owner of parakeets, I felt an instant connection with these quiet pleaders. After tearing off a piece of crust and further dividing it into four smaller pieces, I then launched three towards the pigeon-seagull-pigeon trio and one towards the smaller puff of feathers skittering around on the outskirts.
What happened next both surprised and unsettled me.
I watched as Pigeon 1, after finishing his piece, lunged for Pigeon 2’s half-finished portion. The ensuing struggle involved a tug-of-war between their two beaks, which concluded with one pigeon biting the other’s wing causing Pigeon 2 to drop his bread in order to tend to his now wounded wing. This granted Pigeon 1 the perfect opportunity to snatch it up.
The aggressiveness took me aback. It wouldn’t have surprised me so much had the seagull been the one to coerce the food from the two smaller birds. The fact that a member of Pigeon 2’s own kin had been the one to bully him, though, felt unsettling to watch. Where was his empathy towards his fellow bird? ~~
I think back to this incident sometimes, wondering if what happened with the pigeons plays a role in why many introverts and HSPs tend not to enjoy crowded places, or venues where the high volume of people places limits on available resources
Like Pigeon 1, maybe we often feel pin-balled, or pushed out of the way. The bread is our well-being, representing the thoughts in our head. The bully pigeons are the unending stimuli of modern living, with so many things feeling like an assault on the nervous system. Provocations that run the gamut from mildly irritating to overwhelmingly upsetting can occur in as little as under an hour. As Svend Nelson has put it, “for the highly sensitive person, pain from loud sounds or any noise is amplified. Noise can be overly invasive, extremely distressing, and extraordinarily overstimulating.”
HSP psychotherapist Michelle Woodall wrote that the “sheer force of noise can leave us feeling totally offcentre. When in a noisy environment, I can find it difficult to root myself in this body of mine. It feels as though the commotion carries me off and away, when I want me back here.”
My own high sensitivity initially made shelter in place, truthfully, a bit of a blessing. Quarantine offered protection against the onslaught of the outside world, the walls of my apartment Saran wrapping me into a tiny pocket of safety. Upsetting events were clearly still happening, but I could control the amount of them I wanted to consume. I could take in as much or as little as I wanted.
And yet in time, it began to feel like something was missing. It was similar to how years before the pandemic, I tried to shut the world out by moving to a studio apartment up in midtown Sacramento. I became hermetically selective about who I chose to spend my time with, shutting out almost everyone. Needless to say it turned into a
lonely year. My mental health worsened. It didn’t help that I dated a woman who was in a similar “I don’t need anyone / people suck” phase that further cemented my own, as we both validated each other in unhealthy ways. Emptiness coexisted alongside the perceived sense of safety I’d cultivated.
I still savor my alone time, and will always be an introvert at heart. When the world re-opened, rather than rush to refill my social calendar, I planned my social outings thoughtfully and sparingly. After a year of hovering on the banks inside my cocoon though, I did look forward to swimming in that river of human connection once more. To seeing and hearing and hugging others. To dancing to music in public.
I willfully took part in it, even as I ended the day curled up at home with a book. COVID taught me I don’t have to barricade myself from the world completely just minimize my exposure to its at times overwhelming stimuli. I can still protect my flame, but I also choose not to guard it so vigilantly that I block out the Earth’s light.
As HSPs we can choose friends and environments wisely. We can spend time with people who aren’t on survival mode like the pigeon in the opening example, or biting at our wings for our bread piece after they’ve devoured their own. We can seek out the pockets of the planet wherein abundance mentality thrives and there’s plenty to share. The may not be on every corner, but enough exist to serve as refuge.
IN THE EYES OF YOUR DAUGHTERby Sylvia Candiote
If this were a good immigrant poem I would tell you That I did not understand My father Until I learned to speak The language of cut up fruit I would tell you of Lovingly prepared plates After 12 hour days I’d list them for you In his native tongue La manzana, el pomelo, la papaya
Esta es la verdad La lengua de mi padre Es violencia y no pude amarlo hasta Yo hable con el en su propia lengua
THE ORIGIN OF GRIEFby Ololade Akinlabi Ige
We bear sadness in our names: Blachi Ndidi Anointing i try forgetting names of cities rinsed by war & i cannot remember my name too it is like this i am meant to believe everything but often time i doubt my existence at my last birthday in a garden my friends said happy birthday & it reverberated at me that I was a grief year old a body could be said to be a depository of grief and happiness true but in what ratio let's say my mother was not dead i would have been a unit free from pains in one empty room my father erases his daughter's name from his memoir and still she reincarnates at the epilogue that is to say in the war of memory no one is an Anthony Joshua life could be said to be an encyclopedia of grief or anything with abbreviated happiness in this space i am tending towards depression i think of suicide the day i read about Dele often i run out of a room because the song from the radio is a strand on my neck every night i scour for light to sail me through darkness through the path where men drown into silence this is how i seek home in broken houses this is how i bear sadness in my name i mean this how i become a poem with broken verses
*Reference*: Dele trended on Twitter few days ago for committing suicide after battling with depression for seven years.
LOCKED FROM THE OUTSIDEby Shannon Frost Greenstein
Based on a True Story
“He’s even coming for Passover,” Sarah whispered, beaming through the scrim of dirt on her face. “My father invited him personally.”
Rose, her fingers deftly threading the sewing machine even as she listened, squealed enviously.
“He’s so handsome,” she sighed and Sarah nodded happily, her brain running away with images of Samuel even as she absentmindedly counted stitches.
It was warm in the factory, the vestiges of winter losing the battle against the spring sunbeams. As usual, it smelled of fabric and dust and the combined odor of 500 bodies in very tight quarters. Most of these bodies were also Sarahs and Roses, young women from distant lands doing their best to survive in America, Land of Opportunity. They all had a sewing machine, and they all had a quota, and they all had passions and dreams which had nothing to do with shirtwaists.
For hours on end, the women stitched and Capitalism churned and the sun traveled across the sky. Sarah worked on autopilot, dreamily planning the upcoming seder, her mental shopping list occasionally interrupted by errant thoughts of wedding dresses.
“Sarah!” Rose hissed suddenly, her voice shattering the late-afternoon stupor. “Sarah!”
Sarah, however, did not need this alert to draw her attention to the doorway; she had noticed Samuel the very moment he stepped onto the ninth floor. Her body was attuned to his presence, drawn to him like a dowsing rod, her ears perfectly designed to catch the exact timbre of his voice. As had been the case for weeks, a spark ignited behind her breastbone at the sight of him, electricity spreading into her molars and fingertips and hair follicles.
Samuel strode across the floor, his eyes darting to the side for the most fleeting of instants to meet Sarah’s. Smiling unconsciously, a blush rising upon her cheeks, Sarah quickly averted her gaze to stare at the pile of fabric before her. A relationship between a seamstress and a supervisor would be scandalous enough to threaten Samuel’s job as well as her own; sworn to secrecy, only Rose knew they were courting.
Calling for the manager, Samuel walked right by Sarah and Rose while Rose giggled shrilly and Sarah pretended to be very interested in a shirtwaist. Sarah knew her clandestine relationship was unwise; her family counted on the meager wages she earned at the factory. But she was in love for the very first time, and it made the entire struggle – the nauseating ride across the ocean, the family members left behind the tenements and hunger and grit of New York City – almost seem worth it.
Sarah stretched her aching back, keeping one eye on Samuel’s conversation with Mr. Bernstein. She was getting a headache, as she did every afternoon, her pulse thudding dully in her temples.
“What time is it?” she asked Rose, closing her eyelids against the light and motion of the factory, momentarily lost in a wave of dizziness.
“Almost quarter of five,” her friend responded, and Sarah exhaled deeply. Eight o’clock seemed like miles away; the American Dream seemed even further.
She drew a breath, readying herself to return to her sewing, and paused.
“What’s that smell?” she asked Rose, even as her lizard brain processed the odor, even as adrenaline began to flood her limbic system. “Is that…smoke?”
“I don’t smell…,” began Rose, and paused. Her eyes widened, and it was as she was opening her mouth to speak that she was interrupted by a distant yelling.
“Fire! Fire!” Sarah heard, panic rising from the stairwell and drifting up out the windows and slowly infecting the occupants of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, one worker at a time.
“There’s a fire!” Rose shouted, her nails digging into Sarah’s flesh as she gripped Sarah’s hands in her own. “What do we do?!”
Sarah shook her head briskly, trying to get her bearings even as her eyes started to sting, even as the ninth floor began to tumble into entropy. Cries and screams were filling the air like a rolling fog, voices stacked up to the ceiling in a cacophonous pile. The work floor had devolved into a roiling sea of bodies, frenzied and directionless with fright. Samuel was nowhere to be seen.
“We have to get out!” she exclaimed hurriedly. “Come with me!”
Sarah clung to Rose’s wrist and dragged her out from behind the sewing machines. The stairwell was all the way across the floor, but the elevator was only a few steps away, and it was to this beacon Sarah pulled Rose through the frantic mess of turbulent limbs.
A crowd of young women were jostling and shoving in front of the lift, while smoke began to billow into the room from under the ninth-floor doors, both shut tight. The elevator arrived slowly, desperate workers trying to rush inside before the doors had even opened fully.
“Hurry, girls, hurry!” urged the operator, a man her own age who Sarah knew only as Jacob.
But it was only a handful of women who made it inside; only a handful who descended to the street once the tiny cage was full. The elevator crept downward with a groan, floor after floor, each second a millennia. Sarah fidgeted feverishly in place, willing the old machine to work faster.
“Come on, come on!” she shouted in frustration, as Rose began to weep next to her. In the distance, Sarah could hear the warble of a fire engine approaching; much closer, she could hear screaming from the floors below and the street beyond.
There was a torturous pause, and the elevator began to rise once again. Sarah felt a rush of gratitude for Jacob for bringing the car back up, this near-stranger with whom she had nonetheless been spending nearly eighty hours a week.
“We have to get on this time!” Sarah told Rose breathlessly, preparing to rush inside as soon as the elevator arrived.
The doors began to separate, and Sarah was awarded a brief glimpse of Jacob before a searing pain in her back brought a shriek from her throat.
She turned to the mob behind her, clutching her back, immediately sensing the wetness of blood soaking her dress. Sarah did not know the worker standing behind her, but took only a split second to notice the dripping shears she clutched.
“Let me through!” the woman yelled, brandishing the shears, and Sarah ducked out of the way. Other shears clutched in other hands appeared in the crowd, some still adorned with scraps of fabric. The elevator filled in an instant, room for only a dozen, metal blades glittering in the dimming light. Through the bodies
pressing against all sides of the cage, Sarah saw a scissor slice into Jacob’s arm; as the doors creaked shut, she saw his sleeve turn red.
“This is taking too long!” Sarah exclaimed; her proclamation punctuated by a fit of coughing. The smoke was everywhere now, shrouding the scene in a granular darkness despite the afternoon sun. “We have to get to the stairs!”
Still clinging to Rose’s wrist, Rose still sobbing, Sarah lugged the girl along behind her as she rushed across the floor. They were less than halfway when she began to hear the thuds, a series of heavy bangs accompanied by howls of mortal terror.
Looking over her shoulder, Sarah watched as a wave of bodies disappeared from sight. The flames arrived, beginning to lick under the door to the Greene Street stairway, and she watched young teens and barelygrown adults – children, essentially, and mothers; all of them just trying to feed their families, all of them laboring towards a better life – throw themselves down the elevator shaft. She watched them fall in droves, aiming for the plunging elevator carriage, and she heard the impact as they landed. Then, turning back to the distant stairwell, Sarah stopped watching anything else at all.
“Sarah!” she heard through the pandemonium. “Sarah!!”
Samuel appeared, emerging from the smoke like a mythical creature, and Sarah felt weak with relief. Samuel would get them out; Samuel would keep her safe.
“Samuel!” she called out gratefully, rushing to his side and clinging to his chest, discretion be damned. A basket of rags burst into flame behind her; she could hear the crackling of fire chewing through equipment, chewing through walls.
“Follow me!” he ordered, ushering Sarah across the floor, Sarah hauling an unprotesting Rose, the trio headed for the Washington Place stairwell like a like a straggling line of ducklings.
The fire had not yet reached this corner of the ninth floor, and Sarah allowed herself the briefest moment of hope. Death could still be imminent, but it was no longer a certainty; they had nearly reached the stairs, and escape was tantalizingly close.
Samuel ran the last few steps, hitting the door with his arms outstretched, rebounding off with a stumble
and a curse.
“No! No!” he roared, grasping wildly at the handle, throwing his shoulder against the wooden slab. Nothing moved; the door remained closed.
“It’s locked!” he howled, and Sarah gaped uncomprehendingly.
“Locked?” she managed to repeat.
“Locked from the outside!” he responded with a shout, continuing to thrash at the wood, the door motionless in its frame.
Unbidden, an image of the factory owners flashed through Sarah’s mind. Mr. Blanck and Mr. Harris were always worried about theft from the factory; they were always complaining about workers sneaking breaks during the day. The door had always been locked, Sarah realized – locked from the outside – and now there was no getting through it.
“The other door?” Rose wheezed, but Sarah shook her head. She could see a throng of women crushed against the Greene Street stairway, their collective force against the door rendering the entire group immobile. An instant later, the fire was upon them, hair sizzling, flesh scorching, their screams echoing under the high ceiling.
“What should we do?” she begged of Samuel, her voice sounding foreign in her own ears. She coughed uncontrollably, tears streaming down her face, her eyes spotting flames wherever they happened to turn.
“Come with me,” Samuel ordered, and led the girls away from the door. There was nowhere to go, of course; the fire was everywhere. “We have to get to a window! I hear the firemen outside!”
Holding hands like schoolmates, Sarah and Rose followed Samuel at a run to the nearest window, where women hung halfway out of the frame, dangling over the abyss.
“The ladders…” Samuel began to exclaim, his voice falling away as he noticed what the workers at the window had already accepted. The fire department was indeed below, the firemen bustling about, their ladders resting against the building, rungs stretched to full height…and still falling nearly twenty feet short of the ninth floor.
That was the moment Sarah lost all hope.
All around her, women were beginning to jump from the windows, fire lapping at their feet. Sarah could hear screams from the spectators below, could actually feel bodies hitting the asphalt in her back teeth and in the pit of her stomach. Staring unblinkingly at the scene playing out before her, she watched the firemen unfurl a life net. She watched a figure strike the fabric, and then a second, and then the fabric tor and a third figure fell directly onto the street.
With Herculean effort, Sarah tore her eyes away from the ground and toward Samuel’s face. A long moment passed, a communal decision, an unspoken message flowing between them like a current. Samuel stretched out his hand to gently cup her cheek. Then he lifted himself through the window, clutching the frame and balancing upon the sill.
He reached for Rose, who turned to Sarah in confusion, her face practically unrecognizable beneath a mask of fear.
“What’s happening? What do we do?”
Sarah could not find the courage to tell her friend they were simply out of options. She did not have the words to explain their only remaining choice. She was unable to utter the truth that nothing is worse than dying by flame, so she simply squeezed Rose’s hand and stepped aside instead.
It wasn’t until Samuel pulled her onto the windowsill that Rose finally seemed to understand. He held her hand delicately – respectfully – like he was helping a fine lady step aboard a stagecoach. Then he gripped her waist and hoisted her away from the burning building.
“Sarah…” Rose voiced weakly, and then Samuel let go.
“Hear, O Israel, Adonai is our God,” Sarah recited under her breath, surprising herself by falling right into the Shema Yisrael like a child. “Adonai is One…”
“Are you ready?” Samuel asked, his voice barely audible over the shrill soundtrack of horror and destruction and death.
Sarah nodded, and he lifted her onto the sill, anchoring her with a hand around her middle.
He turned her to face him, suddenly clutching her in a fervid embrace. As Sarah struggled for breath, he pressed his lips to hers, the kiss she had been imagining for weeks. She wrapped her arms around his neck, her
fingers clutching at his hair, and wished with all her might for a second chance. Then Samuel’s hands were peeling away from her body, and she was falling.
She saw him jump, mere seconds behind her, and then she saw nothing at all.
A CONVERSATION ABOUT GOD’S PROVIDENCE WHILST SMOKING A BLUNTby Greg Rapier
As I was saying, we had them all together in a single-file line, and it was this kid Byron’s turn to be line leader. You know Byron?
Naw. Robin’s kid. Brown hair?
Oh, yeah. Sure. He’s like six, right?
He’s four. Anyway. It was his turn to be line leader. See, Byron’s nothing like his mom you know how Robin is. All reserved, put together.
Shit, that’s a good word. Yeah. Meticulous. So, Robin’s meticulous. But Byron…he’s wild. Runs every which way. Throws dirt. Sometimes gets upset when we’re in circle, so he’ll take off his clothes and start running around naked. Chasing his classmates. Chasing everyone. And you know that song about the cookie jar? You ever sing that when you were in preschool?
Yeah, we sung that. Song’s a bop. Go on and pass that, Viv.
Shit’s about to burn out.
Sorry… So when we sing that song about the cookies and the cookie jar, if anyone says Byron’s name, during the call and response who me? yeah you? where he’s supposed to say couldn’t be, he just says yep Just like that. Yep. Ruins everything. Wild fucking kid, Reed, I swear.
I don’t know sounds kind of funny.
I mean, yeah. It’s funny, but that’s not the point. Point is hold on, just one more hit point is Byron was line leader for the pool. So I held his hand, and with his other hand he took the front of the rope. And the other kids, they held onto the little handles attached to the rope, and Byron led us all to the pool. Or rather, I helped Byron lead us all to the pool. And you know the path from the daycare to the pool takes like two minutes, so we figured no big deal, right? There’s this stretch where the path runs parallel to the road, but it’s not much.
A hundred feet maybe. Oh, here.
And so when we got to the gate, I had to get the pool key from my bag. And my hand slipped. And Byron wriggled free. Kid yanked that rope and ran straight into the intersection. Brought the whole line with him. Eight, nine kids. Sanding there frozen in the middle of the asphalt on account of we taught them not to let go of the rope. I mean, I grabbed Byron real quick, and I brought everyone back onto the sidewalk, and none of the kids got hurt. So it was all good, but…
Let me just get a little.. That’s better… Here, you keep it… But like, that got me thinking. Like what if there was a car?
There wasn’t, Viv. Yeah, but what if there was? Like, what if there was a car, and what if I saw Byron veering off the path, and I just let him, you know. Let him get hit.
And so I guess the question is, like, with God and all that shit. If you believe in that. And with free will too you know, like choosing your own path that sorta thing. So, if we choose wrong, if we go off the path or whatever, if I’m tracking, then that means, I think… then that means God’s just going to sit back and let us get fucking annihilated. It just seems…I don’t know…
I’m not sure that’s the word. But, yeah, kind of. Suspicious. Should I roll one more?
Yeah, but just one.
THE WORMS IN MY BRAIN GIVE ME LINE EDITSby Jordan Ranft
cicadas have exoskeletons not skin. they shed them like scaffolding not minutes life would be the same if you could crumple your paper bones
dawns break like eggs not news. there is a new one growing warmer you won’t outlast it you meant to say cottage lure the gaze towards its own agony too esoteric the surface of the pond stills to hold the moon, a lover, in its mouth. can a stronger metaphor be established between this and the egg? how many eggs can fit in a mouth? does it matter if they break? how do you hold your lover?
cicadas shed their bones and sing from the crown. A crown is what you call the top of an oak tree. young cicadas burrow inches into the dirt and feed on roots. roots are not inverse of crowns. we are not the mirror of your agony
this image isn’t rooted in anything
A CYBORG’S BODY DYSMORPHIAby Bryanna Shaw
In June of this year, I had a surgery to implant an intrathecal morphine pump, a surgery I’d been anticipating for years- my last resort at pain management after a long and fruitless series of failed drugs and procedures. In layman’s terms, the pump is a hockey-puck-sized tank full of liquid morphine that sits under the skin near my belly button, between flesh and muscle. It sends micro-doses of medication through a catheter that winds around my abdomen, into my spine, and up directly through my spinal cord. If that sounds freaky to you, that’s probably because frankly, it is. It is a marvel of modern medicine, unimaginable even a few decades ago. This surgery is performed only as an absolute last option for severe chronic pain, and very seldom on a patient as young as I am. The incision scars themselves are fine, just standard-issue scars; a five-inch-long slice across my abdomen, and a four-inch-long cut down my lower back. The scars look hardcore, and I don’t resent their presence. It is the pump itself, however, that is, as I’ve been told, kind of hard to look at. After the two-hour long procedure, I woke up to discover my new body, significantly altered. In the reliably poetic words of my brother, it looks like “I shoplifted a tin of chewing tobacco and decided to just hide it under my skin.” I look down now at a body that, overnight, stopped looking like mine. I now have $60,000 worth of machinery marring what used to be smooth, velvet skin (yes, you read that number correctly). The device protrudes from my belly, far enough to be unconcealable by most of my clothing, far enough for acquaintances to gleefully ask “how far along” I am. I’ve gained weight as a medication side-effect, and the thin layer of fat in the area, now evicted by the new tenant, sidles up awkwardly against its new neighbor, collecting in rolls and patches, unsure of where it’s supposed to rest. I’ve replaced nearly all my clothes, embarrassed to wear anything that I once would have considered flattering, opting only for loose and shapeless silhouettes. Looking at my body in the mirror, more often than not these days, prompts the question: what the fuck have you done?
Feeling disconnected from this body is nothing new. When you’re living with severe chronic pain, the kind that makes you wish you’d just drop dead instead of enduring even one more minute with it, you learn to distance yourself from your body, the source of your suffering. Your body is not your friend; it is the enemy that
is actively, violently, perpetually trying to kill you. So, you learn to pretend it’s not yours. You become an amorphous spirit, floating through the world somehow connected to a pair of very sensible footwear. You’re not overly attached to your body because you’ve convinced yourself that it isn’t you.
My body image has been affected by my “invisible” disability since early childhood. Starting at age eight, I was barraged with daily, hourly attempts to correct my terrible posture, a result of painful scoliosis. I became the subject of candid photos, taken with the intent to shock and horrify me, to force me to see how “awful” I really looked when I was slouched over. I never learned to stand up straight because, unsurprisingly, attempts to forcibly straighten out my twisted bones were agonizing; shame and sheer force of will proved to be no more successful than bracing or physical therapy. After decades of effort, all those incessant reminders led to no tangible benefits, leaving me only with a small voice in the back of my head reminding me that the only natural, somewhat comfortable way I am able to carry myself upright is visually upsetting to the people around me. People have poked fun at the way I walk for just as long; for the way my hips snap back and forth instead of gliding smoothly, for the way my knees move with bicycle-peddling movements to overcompensate for how far they bend in the wrong direction, for the way my severely pronated feet deform my ankles and knees. Writing out these criticisms makes me ache for the young version of myself who was subjected to them, but ultimately, I have long since made my peace with these particular issues. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived with them for more than 20 years and I’ve just gotten used to them, and these specific idiosyncrasies have been a part of me for almost as long as I’ve been a conscious person. Their ubiquitousness in my life kept them from burdening my self-image in any major way. Up until this surgery, though I prayed for a miracle to untether me from my flesh prison, I was never afraid to look at myself in the mirror. I used to model in bikinis on occasion, so clearly, I was comfortable with being seen, even relished it. I look at those pictures now, though, with such deep melancholy. That body that I had always taken for granted is gone, absolutely irretrievable, now hacked up and cyborg-ified. It feels like my body was cut down in the prime of its “hotness;” I’m not even thirty, but I’ll probably never be comfortable going to the beach in a bikini again, never wear another crop top, never enjoy the touch of a lover’s caress on my midsection.
I will have this device, in theory, for the rest of my life, requiring follow-up surgeries every five years to replace the batteries. Perhaps my wizened octogenarian self will have made peace with the device or will be long past caring about the way my abdomen looks. If the device works, the loss of aesthetics would be a very minor tradeoff. As it stands now, though, six months out from surgery, the pump is not decreasing my pain at all; the device simply feels like a burden, a high-tech albatross. Surely, hopefully, mercifully, the pump will start working the magic I was promised, and with my newfound freedom, I’ll be grateful for all the scars, bumps, and lumps. And surely, hopefully, mercifully, that day will come soon, and I will learn to show kindness to this new cyborg body.
CIGARSOFTHEPHAby Amos Leager
TWO FLASH TV REVIEW-ESSAYSby Demitra Olague
THE INDESCRIBABLE CATHARSIS THAT IS MY MISTER
My Mister is a 16 episode 2018 Korean drama starring Lee Sun Gyun and IU alongside an ensemble cast.
Park Dong-hoon (Lee Sun Gyun) is a middle aged engineer who is going through the motions of life. His friends lost their promising careers, his brothers are stuck at home and forced to take over a cleaning business, and his wife is secretly having an affair with the man he hates most, his boss and college junior Do Joon Young (Kim Young-min). As the only hope left amongst his immediate social circle Park Dong-hoon is stuck spending his days in silent misery.
After an anonymous package lands on his desk, he gets mixed up with a temporary worker named Lee Ji-Ahn (IU) and is investigated for bribery. Lee Ji-Ahn is also barely living life herself. At a young age she was abandoned by her mother who left her with an enormous amount of debt. She is the primary caregiver for her disabled grandmother, she gets physically harassed by a loan shark and her past is constantly thrown in her face. With nothing left to lose Lee Ji-Ahn offers to help CEO Do Joon Young fire Park Dong-hoon in exchange for the money to pay off her debt.
What seems like an easy job at first becomes a journey into Lee Ji-Ahn’s humanity, Park Dong-hoon’s steps towards happiness and their unexplainable relationship.
My Mister isn’t an immediate attention grabber. The first few episodes truly build off one another and the main premise of the show doesn’t feel like it starts until around episode four or
six. However, I believe this is intentional. My Mister for all intents and purposes is a slow moving slice of life drama with some fantastical elements. It is heavy and it sneaks up on you.
The relationship between Park Dong-hoon and Lee Ji-Ahn is indescribable. They never cross into a romance, they stay in a platonic state. Misery loves company defines how the two of them begin to interact.
Park Dong-hoon has forgotten how to be happy, he’s lost his ambition, his desire to live. Lee Ji-Ahn has never been shown kindness, at least not for very long. She expects people to fear her, mistreat her and even disregard her as a human. The two barely cross paths despite working relatively close to each other until Park Dong-hoon’s lively hood is under threat. Park Dong-hoon doesn’t take a liking to Lee Ji-Ahn right away, instead he’s simply desperate for her to clear his name. When Lee Ji-Ahn plans to get Park Dong-hoon fired, their relationship slowly creates a shift inside them.
In the early episodes Park Dong-hoon constantly harasses her to admit she took the bribe money for herself. Lee Ji-Ahn simply responds by telling him she threw the money away and in turn her actions inadvertently help his case. As a form of thanks when Lee Ji-Ahn asks Park Dong-hoon to buy her food he doesn’t reject her. This exchange leads to a series of others where they eventually grow closer. The two almost silently recognize each other's own misery. In a way it is this ability to see one another that sparks hope in them despite their words stating the opposite.
As the story progresses Lee Ji-Ahn ends up loving him, something Park Dong-hoon never reciprocates. She begins to see life through his eyes, his kindness to her rarely falters in fact it devastates her and asks her to take his side against Do Joon Young. When she ultimately does, she sacrifices her own found freedom for his happiness.
By the end the two pitiful souls find a way through their misery onto a new life where they promise to be happy.
My Mister is not a show for the unseasoned K-Drama watcher. It demands the right mood, the right atmosphere and overall the right timing. You can’t just jump into it because you won’t like it let alone appreciate it. Lee Ji-Ahn may not be a sympathetic character for many at first but you should let her be. Park Dong-hoon is perhaps too real for some of us. He is a reflection of the fears we hold due to the weight of success and societal obligations. In a lot of ways My Mister asks you to confront those very fears if you choose to watch it.
My Mister is often referred to as a healing drama. However, in my opinion it is a cathartic one. At its best it will leave you in tears begging you to ease up on yourself and truly live life. At the minimum it’ll remind you shit is hard but the hardship is not everlasting.
THE PERFECT MIX-UP: BOYS’ LOVE AND ROM-COMS
Kieta Hatsukoi also known by its English title My Love Mix-Up! is a Japanese Boys Love or BL drama adapted from the manga by Wataru Hinekure and illustrated by Aruko. My Love Mix-Up! aired in the final months of 2021, starting from Oct. 9th and ending on Dec. 18th. The show consists of ten episodes with a runtime of just over twenty minutes each. It stars Shunsuke Michieda and Ren Meguro as the main couple, Sota Aoki and Kosuke Ida. Riko Fukumoto and Jin Suzuki also round out the cast as supporting characters, Mio Hashimoto and Hayato Aida. A year after its original transmission and my initial viewing of the show, My Love Mix-Up! Found its way back to me during a drama slump.
The story is about a high school student Aoki (Michieda) who finds himself in a bit of a bind. During an exam Aoki borrows an eraser from his crush Hashimoto (Fukumoto). At first his heart flutters and the memories of Hashimoto’s previous generosity flood his mind. When he finally looks at the eraser more closely he finds another classmate's name scribbled on it, Ida (Meguro). Shocked Aoki assesses the new information and mistakenly drops the eraser right next to Ida. The situation gradually escalates with Ida now left under the impression Aoki likes him. Afraid exposing Hashimoto as the true culprit of love would embarrass her, Aoki lies. He pretends to like Ida until he can clear the air during lunch. From one love mix-up to the next Aoki and Ida find themselves exploring their identities and turning a lie into reality.
Rewatching it their early interactions hit a deeper cord within me. Ida initially rejects Aoki; he’s flattered but not open to anything. It’s in the moments that follow the rejection where Aoki’s behavior is seen as genuine heart ache over Ida. This misinterpretation on Ida’s part accepts Aoki’s “feelings” as being serious enough to warrant reconsideration. The weight of this otherwise small gesture is even more significant in the grand scheme of
Ida didn’t need to rethink his decision; Aoki didn’t pressure him too. Ida chooses to give Aoki’s crush more thought. Ida’s change of heart shows the audience why someone would be drawn to him and why Aoki falls for him in the end.
The impact of Ida’s turn around and Aoki’s empathy for others has left a lasting impression on me. Something I hadn’t appreciated when I originally watched My Love Mix Up! Furthermore this time around Aoki’s straight best friend Aida (Suzuki) is more likable despite his inability to read the room. He learns about Aoki’s dilemma then pushes him to resolve it. An action which leads to more confusion as Aoki begins to want Ida to like him back. There’s a bit in the early episodes where Aida wears a detective hat but is clearly unable to figure out why Aoki isn’t instantly relieved when he tells Ida the truth about the eraser. Hashimoto has to step in to knock some sense into him, literally, and Aida offers Aoki an apology for his insensitivity. In fact he encourages Aoki to pursue Ida letting him know their friendship wouldn’t change.
Hashimoto herself shows her support for Aoki’s feelings towards Ida the second he confesses them to her. She reassures him they’re normal and even if they have to be rivals she’ll cheer him on. Both Hashimoto and Aida were characters I wasn’t fond of when the drama first aired. I saw them not as valuable to the story rather detractors of it. I blame my desire to see Aoki’s true confession to Ida rather than whatever was going on with the straights. This time around Hashimoto and Aida add to the humor, they help cause some of the chaos and are Aoki’s biggest supporters. Yes, there are still moments I may be annoyed with them while recognizing how they can serve as mirrors to Ida and Aoki's relationship.
After Aida’s meddling diverts the main couple from each other they come back together. They aren’t officially in a relationship but they are dating. The innocence of the romance between them is never taken away, instead it matures as they do. The show doesn’t demonize them for exploring or being uncertain. Aoki is allowed to keep their relationship a secret. Not because he’s ashamed of it but because he is afraid of how exposing it will affect Ida. Within the pairing Aoki is the most concerned about the external world while Ida the internal. Ida may not see the need to keep their relationship under wraps but he’s not thinking about the “other” surrounding it. The other in this case refers to his friends, peers and society at large. He is more concerned with figuring out Aoki’s thoughts and internal desires. Ida repeatedly shows up for Aoki the best he can, and vice versa.
One of the most poignant moments for Aoki’s external fears comes around in episode eight. After seeking help with his grades Aoki meets a student teacher who he grows close with. Simultaneously he is stressed about his recent interactions with Ida. The student teacher asks Aoki questions about his personal life in order to connect with him. When Aoki tells him he’s currently seeing someone, the student teacher smiles and teases Aoki. It’s only when Aoki and Ida clear the air the student teacher realizes who Aoki had been talking about. His friendly demeanor quickly turned into prejudice.
Aoki’s disappointment is obvious from the get. The outside world has proven who it is. At first he doesn’t want to make a big deal out of the situation. Later it gets the better of him and Aoki expresses his frustration with the student teacher's ignorance. Embarrassed by his actions the student teacher sticks to the promise he made Aoki before everything had unraveled. The two along with Ida share a celebratory bowl of ramen because Aoki’s grades improved and the student teacher apologizes for his behavior.
By the final stretch of the show Aoki and Ida’s relationship suddenly meets its end. They break up as a result of their inexperience and fears. Ida’s friends find out about their relationship and rather than shy away from it Ida openly claims it. Something Aoki doesn’t seem to be ok with. Most importantly Ida’s initial consideration of Aoki’s feelings becomes his downfall. Ida from Aoki’s point of view behaves more like a friend towards him rather than a boyfriend. This leaves Aoki wondering if Ida is simply being kind to him out of pity rather than true interest. Finally, the cherry on top of everything is Aoki's fear that Ida will be ostracized from his friend
group, most of whom are on the volleyball team with him. The break up is frustrating, however, it exemplifies Aoki and Ida’s behavior as characters and young adults. By the end Ida the internal thinker is forced to express himself in a way he hasn’t. Aoki with his external fears is asked to dismiss the outside world and accept that he and Ida can be together if they want to be. Their realizations ultimately bring them back to each other.
In the show's final moments Ida lets Aoki borrow his eraser before an exam. This time when Aoki uncovers the eraser he finds his name etched in the center. A clear declaration of Ida’s feelings and a nod to the start of their mixed up romance.
My Love Mix Up! was the perfect fix for my drama slump. From its original run to my second viewing, it brought me back to my love of rom-coms. A great pick for anyone looking for something sweet and long lasting.
MAKE YOUR MARK, SET IT ON FIRE, GOby Yvette Chan
Once, I walked with two right shoes, navigated quicksand in an hour under midnight blue that I can’t do
anymore. Not unlike the ghosts that haunt, I pass through all the worlds my fingers still cling to.
Grime from worn boots grapevine up my jeans, but even then, when the underground rises, I’ll still hide behind New York’s sewer steams, the rattling manhole covers covering my footsteps as I exit the scene.
The flickering streetlamps sing louder than the thoughts in my head. The wilting begins in the silence that taunts.
And for a moment, disco lights will take a backseat, allowing rainwater puddles to live their fifteen minutes before drying up.
They are fated to be one hit wonders it’s in their blood.
Like old myths of vampires, I don’t show up on mirrors, so, I’ll zero in on the unseen, make the most of my transparency, vanish into mist, hope to god that benefits those waiting for water droplets to smear their lips.
I’d watch a bubble bath deflate, wait until it’s lukewarm to bathe.
I’ll fold ten thousand paper cranes and chance a scarring on proper cared skin.
I’d light a cigarette with an iron, bite the butt with pearl teeth, hold my breath, feel the scorch against my mouth to spit it out and stain the ground.
THE BROKEN SOUL IN MY HOMELANDby Paweł Markiewicz
When I was in the Osuszek-grove for the first time, I was fully grown. I went there on a bike after finding out about it on the internet, a few years ago. I drove south through my whole town, on the road to Siemiatycze, along with the place, namely: the little village of Piliki. Osuszek was wrapped in a summer mood. This is a forest clearing by a 2km long path into the forest, marked as a small memorial site. There Hitler-Germans shot about 1000 residents of Bielsk Podlaski and the surrounding area during World War II, probably also my late grandfather's young sister called Leokadia. When I was in Osuszek for the first time, I thought of a story whose witnesses were only the plaques. An angel of imagination had broken his wing at that time. His eyes caught fire. In angelic hands there was the gold of melancholic forlornness.
My muses wept. They no longer needed joyful poems, but poetry of tearful chasms into which the corpses of men, including those of the clergy, fell. There was sadness everywhere. A god was crying. He was sad for humanity's sake. My homeland was on fire. And my sparks were gone for some moments that hurt. A spirit of Leokadia left tears that were never meant to be swept away. I was in this clearing briefly, then I came home.
When I first read about a wartime-labor-camp in Bielsk Podlaski on the Internet, it was an autumn day a few weeks ago. People had been arrested here, forced to work, murdered and tortured. There were no more witnesses in the form of walls or buildings. The angel of imagination wept tears again, poetically dark Apollonian tearlets. His eyes suppressed fire. In the angelic hands there was silver of sad oblivion. My muses burned like books in Nazi Germany. They no longer need jolly floodplain-like poems, rather gloomy elegies that are no longer able to enchant the world. The sadness unfolds wings. The god left home again. He was angry because of human souls. My homeland fell apart for many moments that cried.
A ghost of a forced laborer left behind the tears that could never be swept away. I thought about it for a long time sitting at home. When I first experienced this, I felt like I was an eternal witness to eastern Calvary.
Now I can't ride my bike to Osuszek anymore. Psychoses return with exhaustion. When I first fell ill with schizophrenia, I was 24 years old. Cause: A bad woman rented a windowless room for me in the basement of her
villa. Such madness as in Wes Craven's movie People Under the Stairs.
TODAY I MISREAD CARBON COUNTY AS CARRION COUNTRYby Rebecca Martin
and even more bugs die audibly against the glass. No eagles. Once we left your home state, the scrub brush, dead hills, and religious billboards persisted, but in a green field deer graze like slender cattle. I want to ask if there is such a thing as a deer farmer. Lick my lips for salt. Touch the velvet shoots poking from their skulls.
Touch is like this: in Bliss, Idaho, I used my hands to feel for a release button along the underbelly of an unfamiliar car. In Boise, last night, I dreamt my mother tried to strangle me. Her hands were around my throat. Her sleeves were purple. Why aren’t you scared, she kept asking. The hood popped open and stayed where I asked it to.
In Utah, spires cough smoke and RV Worlds stretch out, long and relaxed. The mountains have nowhere to be anyway. When I reached into that humming black ribcage I judged the color of oil.
Like honey, we decided. I almost forgot: this is a poem about the red rocks red sand red ants scurrying around my sandals. Of course the stones and views were perfect. I expected the baking sun, but not the silence.
Like you, I was the owner of soundless feet and not only soundless feet but a soundless body next to a soundless rock next to soundless red sand. What I thought an enormous crow with a plaintive open beak walked by without a word. I waited for it to say something in a man’s voice, maybe Steve from Budget roadside assistance or my former landlord who told me he’d miss my smiles. Its mouth opened and closed, but nothing ever did come out.
JOURNEYby Sulola, Imran Abiola
Ag (he/him/his) is a librarian from Maryland with a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Library Science. This is his first published work.
Ololade Akinlabi Ige (he/him) is a Nigerian poet, he was a nominee for Nigerian Writers’ Award, 2017. In 2018, he was shortlisted for Albert Junger Poetry Prize and won Ken Egba Poetry Prize organized by Poet in Nigeria (PIN). His poems have featured in Sabr Literary Magazine, Dissonance Magazine (UK), Voice Journal (USA), Teach. Write (USA), Otherwise Engaged Literature and Engaged Journal (Mexico), Madness Muse Journal (USA), Dyst Literary Journal (Australia), Northern Otter Press Journal (Canada), 2020 anthology (Canada), Knight Literary Magazine (USA), Harbor Review Journal (USA), Minute Magazine (USA); his poems are forthcoming in Poet in Response of Peril Anthology (Canada) and Writers Resist (USA). He can be reached on Facebook and Twitter at Ololade Ige and @Ololadeige1 respectively.
Sylvia Candiote (she/they) is an American-Argentine poet. Drawing on the rich history of Latin American poets, her work explores her childhood in America as well as the intersection of LGBTQ and ethnic identity. She currently resides in Buenos Aires with her cat and fig tree.
Yvette Chan is a poet, screenwriter, and storyboard artist from Hong Kong. Her work seeks to cross boundaries between art forms, often combining visual and aural elements when presenting her writing. She is a First Class graduate of the University of Warwick in English Literature and Creative Writing, and served as head editor of their literary and arts magazine Kamena. She has been published by the borderline, celestite poetry, Tigers Zine with more publications awaiting. Her poem 'One Year Older' was shortlisted by Wells Festival of Literature, Young Poets’ Competition 2021. Twitter: @yve__c. Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/@yvettechan
Jaime Jacques is an itinerant writer who currently calls the east coast of Canada home. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Birdcoat Quarterly, Cagibi, Anti-Heroin Chic, Brazos River Review and others. She is the author of Moon El Salvador and her reporting and travel writing can be found in Salon, NPR, Narratively, and Roads and Kingdoms among others. Find her on Instagram @calamity__jaime.
Rebecca Martin (she/they) creates poetry that centers embodied queer femme experience through the personal, familial, and political, simultaneously in conversation with and troubled by the parameters of history, archive, and myth. Their work has most recently appeared or will appear in Peach Mag, Good Luck Have Fun Press, Muzzle Magazine, DATABLEED, Cotton Xenomorph, Dream Pop Press, Birdcoat Quarterly, Pretty Owl Poetry, and others, and received an Honorable Mention in the 2022 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize. They are a recent graduate of Oregon State University's MFA program, where they were awarded the Graduate Creative Writing Award in Poetry and served as poetry editor for literary magazine 45th Parallel and department steward for their graduate employee union. She currently teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh.
Jordan Ranft is a writer living in NYC. He has been published in Rust + Moth, Bodega, Midway, and others. Sulola, Imran Abiola (The Official Sulola, he/she) is a Nigerian phone photographer, poet, public servant, and art enthusiast & a student of the prestigious university of Ibadan with some of their work published in The Quills, Kalopsia Lit Magazine, Lumiere Review, Undivided Magazine, Wondrous Real Magazine, ARTmosterrific, Kaedi Africa, Best Of Africa, Rasa Literary Review, Odd Mag, Macro Magazine, The Roadrunner, Conscio Magazine, Olney Magazine, Lemonspouting Magazine, amongst others. Connect with him via Twitter @official_sulola and Instagram @official_sulola
Amos Leager is an artist, cartoonist, musician, and radio personality living in Appalachia. Twitter / Instagram: @brine_eno
KJ Hannah Greenberg tilts at social ills and encourages personal evolutions via poetry, prose, and visual art. Her bold, textural, colorful images have appeared in various places, including, but not limited to: Bewildering Stories, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Kissing Dynamite, Les Femmes Folles, Mused, Right Hand Pointing, Stone Coast Review, The Academy of the Heart and Mind, The Front Porch Review, Tuck, and Yellow Mama Additionally, her art is featured alongside of her poetry in One-Handed Pianist (Hekate Publishing, 2021).
Greg Rapier's work has appeared or is forthcoming at places like Dream Pop, The Nervous Breakdown, Five on the Fifth, and Fathom. He has degrees in English and film and is working on his doctorate in creative writing and public theology (Yeah, that’s a thing).
Salena Casha's work has appeared in over 50 publications in the last decade. Her most recent work can be found on Pithead Chapel, Scrawl Place, CLOVES, and trampset. She survives New England winters on good beer and black coffee. Follow her on twitter @salaylay_c
Matt Dube teaches creative writing and American lit at a small mid-Missouri university, and reads submissions fortheonlinelitmag, Craft.Hisstorieshaveappearedin Construction, Literary Yard, Front Porch,andelsewhere.
Paweł Markiewicz was born 1983 in Siemiatycze in Poland. He is poet who lives in Bielsk Podlaski and writes tender poems, haiku as well as long poems. Pawel was educated in Warsaw (Uni – Laws) and Biała Podlaska (college – German). In 2007 and 2010 he was a participant of Forum Alpbach – the village of thinkers in Austria.
Bryanna Shaw is a disabled writer and editor living in South Florida. Other essays, mostly about disability, can be found on her blog, bryannashaw.com. Her work has also previously been featured in Variety Pack Issue III.
Eleni Stephanides is an LGBTQ bilingual writer and Spanish medical interpreter, Eleni was born, raised, and currentlyresidesintheCaliforniaBayArea.Herworkhasbeenpublishedin Them, Curve Magazine, Tiny Buddha, The Mighty, Elephant Journal, The Gay and Lesbian Review, and Introvert, Dear among others. She currently writes the monthly column "Queer Girl Q&A" for Out Front Magazine. You can follow her on IG: @eleni_steph_writer and read stories from her time as a rideshare driver at lyfttales.com
Desiree McCullough (she/her) is a creative writing graduate student, copywriter for the odd and provocative, and an occasional substitute teacher when her district is really desperate. She lives with her family in the Walla Walla Valley of Washington State. Find her on Twitter @dmccullough_
Michael Barron (he/him) writes about twins who continually create the world, family squabbles that could end humanity, and roommates who share the same body. His writing also poses the question: what happens to kid magicians when they are forced to grow up and get jobs? His short fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including The Sonora Review, Ink Stains Anthology, and After Dinner Conversation. He is a member of the neurodivergent community, which often influences his writing. He blogs at michaeljbarron.com and you can follow him on Twitter @Barron_Writer.
Shannon Frost Greenstein (she/her) resides in Philadelphia with her children and soulmate. She is the author of These Are a Few of My Least Favorite Things, a full-length book of poetry available from Really Serious Literature, and Pray for Us Sinners, a short story collection with Alien Buddha Press. Shannon is a former Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy and a multi-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Pithead Chapel, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. Follow Shannon at shannonfrostgreenstein.com or on Twitter at @ShannonFrostGre
Demitra Olague is a Latine writer, an avid consumer of dramas and a girl trying to keep one foot in reality and
the other in her daydreams.