Not only drawing closer to “Ol’ Hallow’s Eve,” but also on the eve of election week, we channel the strength that can only be exhumed from the defiance in arts and letters. We have a jampacked issue of diverse voices, young voices, experience voices, never say die voices, familiar voices, new voices, all just to humble us, and all of our readers displayed on these pages. We would also like to extend a congrats first to our newest crop of editors to join the Variety Pack family; Co-Poetry Editor, Asela Lee-Kemper; Assistant Poetry Editor, Zarnab Tufail; and CoVisual Arts Editor, Dior J. Stephens, whom we had the honor of being a guest editor for our Black Voices of Pride Issue (yes folks he is both a poet and a artists, please support and buy his work).
We have Flash Prose from Mileva Anastasiadou, Megha Nayar, and Zanaya Hussein; Essays/Non-Fiction from Elliott Bradley, BD Shaw, and Rhienna Renee Guedry; Short Fiction from Jeremy Perry, Elle Bader-Gregory, and Jericha Taylor; Visual Art from Aaron Lelito, Tyler England, Bethany Krull, and Cynthia Yachtman; Poetry by Zanaya Hussein, Elle Bader-Gregory, Priyanka Sacheti, Lilia Marie Ellis, Theresa Wyatt, Sabrina Blandon, DS Maolalai, Aadesh, Meredith Phipps, and Mike Chin; Reviews/Review Essays by D. Arthur, Jay Miller, and our own Reviews Editor, J.B. Stone.
As we continue to strive, thrive, and/or survive, as a pandemic, a global rise in fascism, and climate change ravage the world, we also take heart to the many movements going on right now, from where we are mainly based at in Buffalo NY through the efforts of Black Loves Resist In The Rust, Black Lives Matter, Stand Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) and WNY Liberation Collective to across the Atlantic, to Nigeria at the belly of the #ENDSARS protests and the efforts of organizations like Feminist Coalition and Mirabel Centre, we want to end this final editorial thought with one that is constantly near and dear to us all, and that is to stand in solidarity with every group protesting, marching, aiding in the fight for racial justice, economic justice, disability justice, environmental justice, and other forms of social justice.
A special thanks to our contributors, readers, submitters, and all of our fellow editors, trying to make sense of these crazy universe of ours.
Sincerely, Skyler, Julio, Asela, Zarnab, Ian, Ben, J.B., Dior, Dana, & Ian
Rhienna Renee Guedry
Lilia Marie Ellis
Visual Art/Mixed Media
Aaron Lelito Contributors UNTITLED SERIES by Dylan England
UNAFRAID, RETURNING by Meredith Phipps I am supposed to be afraid of what will take my body when I die. I am not afraid; my favorite thing to do with my body in life is to give why should it be any different in death? Consume me and make me something you need. Call me what I am returning. Swallow me and undo me to make all your beautiful things, growing themselves and each other a thousand little lifetimes after my name is gone.
THE FIRST THING WE SHARED by B.D Shaw
She was 98 years old and already in poor health, so we knew this diagnosis was a death sentence. The certainty of death looms constantly over people that age, even in the best circumstances. We had been prepared for the inevitable for years. We planned our farewells when she was diagnosed with cancer at 94, but she beat what seemed like insurmountable odds and came out on the other side cancer-free. We said our goodbyes aloud when she was hospitalized for heart failure at 96. We watched her rapidly deteriorate while we sat at her bedside during what we thought were her final moments. In what could only be described as a miracle, perhaps divine intervention, she survived that, too. At this point, it became a family joke that she was immortal and there was a small part of us that started to believe it. But it was a small part. My grandmother died of COVID in July. She and I were always distant. She was a deeply religious woman who spent every day of her 98 years of life devoted to God and becoming a better Christian woman. I, on the other hand, grew up in a mixed-faith family and am Jewish, although I’ve never been “practicing” or embraced faith in any meaningful way. Her church, awash with talk of Jesus and heaven, felt foreign to me. She spent most of my childhood summers gently urging me to go Vacation Bible School. I always felt vaguely offended by this, since she knew I was Jewish and had never expressed any desire to convert. When I got my nose pierced at sixteen, she could not look me directly in the face for months because she was so horrified; she spent Christmas that year desperately trying to avoid eye contact. Things got even worse when I started getting tattooed. She loved me, there was never any doubt about that, but we shared little in common beyond our genetics.
In her advanced age, she became obsessed with creating a book documenting our family quilts. The use of the word “obsessed” does not feel like hyperbole. For the last five years of her life, our conversations consisted of little else. Over the years, she had come into possession of more and more quilts as distant family members died or tried to get rid of them, not knowing exactly what to do with a 100-year-old quilt that was too worn out to sleep with and too unsightly to hang anywhere. By the end, we had twenty quilts that had followed our family from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Era. In other circumstances, I would have been fascinated by this project. My grandmother wove stories of the family members who painstakingly handcrafted these quilts in great detail. I must emphasize: GREAT DETAIL. My grandmother, once known as a proficient orator, had begun to tell stories that were nearly impossible to follow; they jumped from one protagonist to the next and included an innumerable cast of characters, all of whom were somehow involved in even the most minute detail of the narrative. I did my best to parse through all this information and create a history that was somewhat cohesive. I measured, photographed, and catalogued all the quilts in chronological order, complete with detailed notes of their origins. I proved my dedication to the project by learning to quilt (sort of) and making and framing her a (poorly made) quilt square for Christmas one year. In our 25-year relationship, this was the first thing we had shared. But the project soon became overwhelming. She had very specific ideas for organizing the project that were massively time-consuming and only made sense to her. She lived almost two hours away, so I needed to plan for a full day trip well in advance. There was school and work. My illness and disability took up all my free time. It all began to feel like a burden. I made excuses. I work with elderly people and I’ve seen how soul-crushing isolation is for them, how abandoned they often feel by their families. I knew all this and yet, taking an hour to catch up
with her was often more than I was willing to do. I knew I would look back on that one day and kick myself for being so selfish. And yet… When she died, her church group posted her obituary on their Facebook page. The post was overwhelmed by people expressing their condolences, reminiscing on the ways she enriched their lives and her role as a pillar of their community. These were people who had seen her every Sunday—rain or shine, in sickness or in health—for the last several decades. They knew her in a way that felt much more intimate than I did. They shared the most important part of her: her faith. And what did I have? Quilts? When I heard the news, I was not overwhelmed with emotion. I was sad, of course, but there were no crashing waves of grief, none of the unbearable weight or heaviness that people describe. My grandmother was gone. The fact sat with me. It was just that, a fact. It is a sick irony that the constant feeling I have now is guilt — guilt about not having enough feelings. She was my grandmother. She was a kind woman. In the 25 years I knew her, I never once heard her speak a bad word about anyone. I don’t believe she even had negative thoughts. My body, my genetics, are made up of parts of her. In that sense, I owe her my life. And yet, when people have offered their condolences, I feel the need to respond with, “Thank you. It’s okay, we weren’t close.” I know that everyone experiences loss in their own way, but I just can’t help but feel like I’m doing it wrong. Maybe I’m writing this in the hopes that this small act of memorial, of reflection, can assuage this feeling.
JUSTIFYING UPROAR by Zanaya Hussein Dear Anyone, Who Will Listen, Why aren’t more people listening? Hate resurfaces, masking itself as love. How can we distinguish between the fake and the genuine? Does it matter? Frustrated about not doing enough, is maybe a correct frustration. A fruitless anger. Afraid and motivated. Afraid to do something wrong, afraid of being hurt. Motivated to take action despite the fear, because we will all need a bandaid someday. Perspectives change. About the soil under our feet, about a foundation we have grown accustomed to. WAKE UP! We are tired, but dreams are just that. Blissful maybe, but still ignorant. It is not enough to believe a singularity is protected. It is enough to comfort and aid until the same problems of today do not exist tomorrow. I want to hold hands with all of the angels who couldn’t fit within an exclusive picture. A picture painted by the exclusive. God doesn’t discriminate so maybe their god is different than mine. Even if we didn’t mold planet earth and put carbon and molten rock together with our hands, do we not make up the human life existing on it? So then it is our responsibility to create a world within a world. If this means to disobey our fathers then maybe their world was too small. Too small for human life to fit. Values are taught, but identities don’t have to be stagnant. Hate and love are tools of construction. Fluid and manipulated by the beholder. So we will swallow the hate and digest it until we are strong. Until enough of us, WAKE UP Loud voices of the people, the heavy weight of inclusive legislation,
and a fresh recognition of power will be a new construction. Love, A Cataclysmic Gen Z
HOW WE ROAR by Mileva Anastasiadou
A squat building, full of murals, full of life. We storm outside and it feels like flying, as if we were birds, we head to liberty, no fear in our hearts, no thoughts in our minds. There’s hundreds of us. We are a flock of seagulls and we fly above their heads, they are the prey, little fish in the sea, or they feel like it, but we don’t aim at them, we only want out. And we walk on.
A large street, empty of cars, empty of fumes. We step on it and we march, like we’re a strange parade, as if we were lions, we head to liberty, no obstacles in our way, no time to lose. There’s hundreds of us. We are wild animals, and we walk beside them, they are the prey, small, helpless animals in the woods, or they feel like it, but we’re not after them, we only want out. And we walk on, singing.
A thin red line, a swallow cut on the arm of earth. We cross it and it feels like floating, as if we were clouds, we head to the sky, we head to freedom, we feed on freedom, we breathe liberty, we fall like rain above their heads, they are the soil, that will turn into mud, only we don’t aim at them, at last, we are free. And we walk on, singing happy songs.
But they hear lions, they hear wolves, and we march on howling at the moon, roaring at the sun and they hear us now, they cringe, they step back, they are afraid, for they didn’t notice when we spoke human and acted human, but they stepped on us, they mocked us, ignored us, killed us. Now we are birds, we rise and shine, we fly in flocks, a pride of lions, we walk in pride, we walk with pride, among those who used us, abused us, oh how we roar and how they listen, now that we stand strong, together, we are the revolutionaries, the winners, we are those who defeated them, if only for a while, and we are ready, to fight again if we must, and sing again, when history calls, or those who need us.
LANDSCAPE 5 by Cynthia Yachtman
LANDSCAPE 2 by Cynthia Yachtman
AGE AND IDENTITY IN THE TIME OF MEMORY - TWO MICRO-REVIEWS: “BENTO BOX” BY MACKENZIE MOORE (KELSEY BOOKS, 2020) & “GHOST FACE” BY GREG SANTOS (DC BOOKS, 2020) by Jay Miller “[…] the assembly line / of self-improvement […]” is a wonderful crack in the witty verse of Mackenzie Moore’s Bento Box chap, a perhaps passer-through poet and illustrator of LA. And this intermittent, nonchalant metaphor, to me, says everything about her work, coming as it does from a place of lived experience, a proletarian one, of escaping the suburbs but never escaping the self. Somewhere between Mitsein and Dasein, you have Moore: something of a road novelist caught in the huis clos of American theatre. In the winds and not the shadows of industry, from New York to LA, she becomes the silent traveller in wanderlust—the coastal onlooker, the charlie horse fly on the wall, living the rich, interior life of one of God’s spies, a wistless, deadpan piner, a time travelling Judas perpetually returning to 1993 too young and too old for herself all at once. Her work is an answer to the brooding enigma of “what is a millennial poetics?” “Reaching a clearing in the woods, / I take a moment to consider my travels” writes Montreal poet.
Greg Santos’ Ghost Face delivers a catechism pep talk in the mirror. “Lots of searching,” he concludes elsewhere. “Books helped.” This latest collection features not only frequent flirtations with minimalism and haibuns, but a variety of intertextual pastiche as well. Big Lorca vibes. The presence of family life pervades his text as it does in Bunkong Tuon, Cambodian poet whose initial epigram sets the theme for the entire book. Santos reflects on his own roots, upbringing, mortality, luck, trauma, lacunae. The local influence of Gillian Sze, Klara du Plessis and Jason Camlot is colourful and immediately palpable everywhere throughout wherever you let the book fall open. The prose poem “Elegy for September 19 th ” makes for a unique historical record. The interplay between monologue, dialogue, narration, race, spirituality, identity and memory is dignified, inquisitive, hopeful. As a whole, this being only his third book, his word rings triumphant. Before he has even reached the proper writerly age of 40, he has produced a happy beauty of deeply touching poetry. You may forget this review, but don’t forget to read Greg Santos’ book—a duende for lost souls.
IF I HAD, I WOULD by Megha Nayar If I had a functional womb, I would transfer the Calendar widget to the home screen of my phone. It would be one of my go-to icons. I would use it all the time, marking dates in red, yellow and green, apportioning each month into anticipation and action. I would insert tiny notes: expected start date, ovulation period, conception window, safe days for risky romps. I would feel both normal and special, like other women.
If I had a functional womb, I would spend unhurried hours in the Personal Hygiene section at the supermarket. I would check out different types of sanitary napkins – some embossed with butterflies and smelling of roses, others gift-wrapped in mauve and purple like birthday presents. I would want to know the difference between the regular and the XL pads, the daytime ones and the all-nighters, the cottony-net covers and the insta-absorb ones. And though my friends tell me that napkins with belts became redundant after the arrival of self-adhesive pads, I would still buy one box of each kind, just so I know how they feel against my skin. Femininity is as much about feeling as it is about being, and I have not felt much in a longtime.
If I had a functional womb, I would crib about periods like all the ladies I know. I’d join the elaborate discussions my co-workers have in our restroom. I’d complain about the heaviness, the backaches, the dreaded cramps. I would pout and make faces and go tsk tsk tsk, but unlike them, my discomfort would be superficial. Inwardly I’d be happy to be uncomfortable, ecstatic even, because menstruation is the gateway to maternity, and maternity is a grief-sized hole in my heart.
If I had a functional womb, the sight of my sister’s children would not give me pangs. I would grow my own babies. I think the first one would be a daughter. She would start out as a shapeless lump but quickly take on human form, sprouting little arms and legs and miniature fingers and toes. The first time I visit the doctor, she would give me a glimpse of my little girl in three dimensions and I’d watch her, mesmerized, like a child on her first visit to Disneyland. The doctor would prescribe a whole new lifestyle – fresh fruit, supplements, morning walks, yoga. No cigarettes now, she would warn me. I would nod vigorously, for once unbothered by her sanctimony. On the way out of the hospital parking, I would dump my lighter in the trash can without missing a beat. For that little girl, I would willingly surrender my sins.
If I had a functional womb, I would have an altogether different life. I would need a bigger house and yard and washing machine. I would make peace with a smaller bank balance. I would use a different car: not the singleton’s hatchback but the harried mother’s pick-up truck. It would have tennis balls and school books sprawled across the backseat and a confection of used socks and candy wrappers on the floor. The insides of the car would smell of assorted kiddie fluids – sweat, phlegm, tears – instead of lemongrass and patchouli. My house would often, if not always, look ravaged. There would be 90-decibel tantrums and daily yell-fests. Food would be cooked, argued over, wasted. Toys would break, books would tear. There would be crying, sulking, reconciling. I would scold, then soothe. The days would be endless, the nights shrunken. I would be poor and cranky and exhausted. If the lives of other mothers are any indication, I would lose a lot of my former self – my hobbies buried, my friends adrift, my youth gone.
And yet, I would relish all of it. I would pick the cacophony of motherhood over the white noise of my solitude in a heartbeat.
If only I had a functional womb.
JODHPUR BLUE IS THE SUM OF ALL ITS COLORS by Priyanka Sacheti blue I see a bird dressed in Jodhpur blue on my Twitter feed and I am adrift, on a river of nostalgia. sepia I am seventeen, sitting inside my grandfather's garden on a hot July dusk. My grandfather has been long gone but his beloved plants are still here: rooting, fruiting, leafing. I smell a flower beginning to bloom, whose name I do not know. My gaze shifts from horizontal to vertical/petal to air,/pink to sepia. The world reduced to cupped sepia: a sepia, evoking nameless yearnings for that which you have never ever had. One monsoon evening in a distant city years later, I will encounter a wall of rain-soaked madumalti and smell hot sepia. color-libraries I browse through the color libraries at the matching saree-blouse centers. These are the places which taught me to read color as a little girl, where I learned that each color is a planet in its own. The librarians excitedly reveal a new color to me each time I visit the libraries, holding it up to the sunlight and letting the color fall down on me. I see oceans churning on one shelf, an autumn tree's mercurial moods adorning another. Love and joy have one shelf after another dedicated to them: magenta, electric green, rose pink, sunlit rose. Only a tiny corner is allocated to grief: so tiny to be almost invisible - but I see it all the same. blackrosedesert My great-grandmother wore black from the day she was widowed at thirty two till she died sixty one years later. In Jodhpur, when a very old person dies, everybody wears rose pink on the first day to celebrate their long life; afterward, they wear colors of the surrounding desert to mourn in the twelve days after. Nobody asked the dead when they were alive if they wished their lives to celebrated or mourned or neatly forgotten altogether; the truth is that nobody thinks of death until death arrives to take them home. On the thirteenth day, the alive are permitted colors into their lives again, carefully, gently, as if cradling a newborn in their arms. a woman wears cactus A tiny woman with missing front teeth has been dyeing clothes in the shadow of Ghanta Ghar for forty years. She recognizes seasons only by the patterns she dyes for each one: in monsoon, pink, green, and yellow stripes, in spring, mustard flower yellow. She herself wears the same color every day: green of the cactus growing on the hills cupping the city. The woman is younger than the city but as old as the hills. A winter night sky
I gifted myself a midnight-blue gold poshak in memory of a clear winter night I glimpsed from a courtyard in Meherangarh fort. Did the city's rulers once believe they were ruling the heavens too, the stars their loyal subjects? That night, I believed I could see and count every star in the sky: each one a friend, a promise, and a gift. I was young then, I am not so young now: the poshak no longer fits me and lives in a cloth envelope, a breaking, fading letter. But I cannot let go of it: it does not let go of me. The stars are still there but the sky is now full of smoke and I no longer know how to count anymore. moon-white/dusty rose A moon-white wall in a rose-pink Jain temple grows broken glass teeth, threatening violence to the sky. Each tooth is a different color: tea brown, cobalt, cloud, pink. A wood-faced man suddenly tells me to leave the temple because I am a woman wearing inauspicious black. The man wears black himself but when I point it out to him, he says it is actually a very, very dark gray. A very, very dark gray snake lives in the temple's stone veins, emerging every night to sip from a milky full moon of a marble bowl. They say it is good luck to spot the snake but I have yet to see it once in all these years. I secretly believe it does not exist; I secretly wait for it to prove me wrong.
TURNAROUND by Jerica Taylor It took Tempest several weeks to collect the items she needed so her parents didn’t notice. She disguised a trip to the botanical gardens as research at the library after school; she waited until everyone was asleep to carve the symbols into the knife she was in no way supposed to have. That alone took two weeks and Tempest nearly stabbed herself twice.
It was all assembled. Flowers and herbs, rose water and the words on a scrap of paper. A wide circle in the dirt, big enough for two. Sigils and shapes drawn carefully in yellow chalk - the only kind she could find to steal. Everything was ready.
Tempest flicked the water into the dirt in a slow spin, and started to speak aloud the words on the page torn from an old book. She knelt down, adjusted the flowers. Waited. She heard the neighbor’s door open.
The neighbor was her friend. The neighbor was a witch, or something like a witch. They moved in to the apartment next door after the loud smokers moved out. Tempest played in the vacant apartment for those few weeks, picked through the weird things left behind: an old box of spaghetti spilled in a cabinet. A mixer with one beater. A half-smashed cardboard box with two winter scarves, and a pair of men’s size 12 sneakers that Tempest had stomped around in around pretending she was a monster.
Tempest had met the neighbor when they were moving in and she was running out, trying not to get caught. She remembered the neighbor’s pause, as though wondering if they had the wrong apartment. Their reassuring smile when Tempest’s face flushed with guilt.
Tempest was not sure other people could see the neighbor, which is how she figured out they were a witch, or something like a witch. Her parents never spoke of them, though they lived on the other half of the duplex. They were always kind to Tempest when they saw her in the shared backyard. They always let Tempest’s cat inside their apartment when it was stuck outside in the rain, and they put medicine on it one time when it got into a fight and had a big scratch on its face, and another time they even shaved its fur and gave it stitches for the gash on its leg where it had gotten caught on something jagged.
“Hey Tempest,” the neighbor said, and walked from the dark toward her. The neighbor took in the circle, the flowers. Lastly, the knife that waited in Tempest's hand. "Dabbling in some dark magic in the middle of the night, interesting hobby."
But there was an uncertainty to their voice. Distraction. Tempest knew it meant the ritual was working. Singing for them, calling for the neighbor. There was just one more piece. Tempest held out her hand.
"You don't wanna do that," the neighbor said. Tempest was certain she heard anxiety in their voice.
She had the dreams. Floating in humid air, struggling to see in murky water.The neighbor was sick. They were starting to fade away. They wanted to go home but they couldn’t go home. Tempest knew that feeling, and she knew she could help.
"I know what I'm doing," Tempest said, and pressed the knife to her finger. It was just about to break through the skin and draw blood when the neighbor's hand tightened on Tempest's, stopping her.
"You don't," the neighbor said, low and close. Their eyes were dark. "This isn't something you play around with. This symbol, here,” they said, pointing to one that was round with sharp angles inside that had felt like drawing squares inside squares until she couldn’t fit anymore. “This is the symbol for you. And this one.” Tempest liked this one best. A spiral going in, and another spiral going out. It had felt soothing to draw. “This is me.” Their finger hovered over the line connecting them. “This means you’re giving me.....energy. Energy that belongs to you. That you’re supposed to keep.”
"You think I'm not strong enough for it? I’m 13!” Tempest shouted. She knew it made her sound even younger to yell like that.
“You’re way too young to be offering any part of yourself to anyone.”
“They take it anyway,” Tempest said, and it hurt leaving her chest, crawling up her throat. “Maybe if someone’s gonna take it I want it to be someone......nice.”
The neighbor’s eyes closed. Their hands were clenched in fists at their side. Tempest knew it was in frustration. Tempest had felt that a lot, so much her hands ached.
"Ok," Tempest said, because she knew the word ‘placate.’ "Ok, I get it. I get it." She went to put down the knife.
The neighbor stepped back, let out a deep breath. “So, where did you get hydrangea this time of ye—" The neighbor's voice cut out at the exact moment the knife cut into Tempest's finger.
Tempest didn’t have a cat.
"Tempest," The Neighbor said, voice strangled. Their frame trembled, shoulders hunched. “You can’t do this.”
“I already did.” Tempest swiped at the cut on her finger and came away with blood. “You’ll take me with you?”
She held her bloody finger out to the neighbor, who took Tempest's hand in theirs like they were going to read her palm.
“I will,” the neighbor said, and they wiped away the blood until Tempest’s hand was clean.
It rained for a week straight and Tempest did not see the neighbor once.
Thunder rumbled outside, percussive and enveloping. She fell asleep to the downpour every night, and when she woke, she could almost smell the petrichor, even inside.
At the end of the week, the neighbor was standing in the shadows of Tempest's room. It was not morning yet; her phone said 4:00AM. Tempest could somehow hear the neighbor's breathing over the rain.
“Come on, Tempest, up, up,” the neighbor said gently.
“What is it?” Sleepiness and panic were warring inside, making her head thick. “You smell like rain.”
“If you want to come with me, we have to leave now.”
“Ok,” Tempest said, getting tangled in the sheets trying to hurry.
There was a loud bang on her bedroom door. She had pushed a chair up against the door knob like she did every night. It was never going to stop anyone for long, just—give her some warning. The voices started up down the hall. She wondered if the neighbor heard them through the walls every time.
The neighbor smelled even more like a storm.
“Here,” the neighbor said, and they crouched down, gesturing for Tempest to climb up. Like a piggyback ride. She had to stifle a giggle.
The voices got louder, the pounding got louder. The sound of wood splitting. The chair breaking.
The only way out was the window. The neighbor ran, Tempest clinging tight to their back. They never hit the glass, and they never hit the ground. There was so much rain, it felt like being underwater. Tempest dug her fingers into the neighbor’s shoulders.
She was crying, and the rain should have been soaking her, but she found that neither it nor the tears, which rolled off her cheeks and floated off into the clouds, could stick to her.
A WINDY DAY AT STURGEON POINT by Theresa Wyatt Derby, New York I could make storm branches blocking the breakwall path into a poem, or men going fishing with nets when it says no fishing, or the Border Patrol vehicle that followed me all the way to my car – Everything alright ma’am? Perhaps I stood too close to the edge, I can tell they don’t know the poet’s life. I was simply lamenting the gray day, lost kites tangled somewhere, and the absence of yesterday’s hawk– its wingspan conducting the wave song.
RUSTY ROUTE by Elle Bader-Gregory Time passes in retrospect, but the space between point A and B shift with the same hush as a river, and picks up bits of permeability in the current. On the way out I’d let your shadow touch mine.
Jævvgë: English (Human) Śyyûr: 6/24/2017 (Earth, Human)
This story begins in a wide open, sandy area, with sun-baked rocks the color of Mars jutting out of its surface. In the distance a watchman spots a car coming into view, with two lifeforms inside the vehicle. The life-forms are Homo sapiens, the descendants of Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Cro Magnons, and the product of breeding between species and natural selection. These life-forms are registered as one biological male (xy) and one biological female (xx) from the human species. They are approaching in a simple vehicle known as an automobile, and registered as a silver, 2012 Toyota Highlander. This automobile has traveled a total of 80,233 earth miles. Earth cars have low fuel efficiency. The back of the automobile has several images on it with human writing: PEACE LOVE GRANOLA. U.S. HEALTHCARE MAKES ME SICK. ARIZONA. OBAMA 2012. EARTH. There are also smaller images of a Cactus Wren (a bird that supposedly rules this desert called Arizona), felines of varying shapes, a POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX, and a depiction of four humanoids made of white lines holding hands.
The aforementioned humans are registered on this planet as Jackson Biddle and Joyce Meyer. Relationship to each other: companions, scholars, inconsequential 8th cousins (our data shows that most humans have more than 500,000 8th cousins). The explanation as to what an 8th cousin is in human terms is also inconsequential. Jackson Biddle is registered as a human in possession of 20 years, and a nationality of American. This male human has 175 lb and 6’2” in
height. Jackson has brown eyes and brown hair. According to The Arizona’s record, the male will expire on 4/23/2021. Joyce Meyer is registered as a human in possession of 20 years, and a nationality of American. This female human has 160 lb and 5’4” in height. Joyce has red hair and hazel eyes.* According to The Arizona’s record, the female will expire on 6/12/2021. The log ends here. Humans are approaching at reduced speed and require additional observation. Personal Hypothesis: Humans will prove uninteresting, as prior observation suggests the human species is a dull one.
* Hazel is an unidentified color that could not be found in the vessel’s data storage.
In the passenger seat Joyce stretches out after her almost-nap and blinks her eyes three times at the landscape they were approaching. The miles of vibrant orange sandstone are known as Monument Valley in the Navajo Tribal Park, a 17 mile loop through a desert on the border of Utah and Arizona, located in the Navajo Nation territory, known for its towering sandstone features. The park is also the perfect backdrop of the next western/sci-fi/drama-comedy, the best place for a school field trip because the scenery is the lesson: Look. Just look! This is the power of nature. There will be a quiz. The best place for next H.G. Wells and aspiring George Lucas to be, she was sure of it. This is the place one goes to understand what it really means to have sunlight spilling from the sky, to feel something bigger than oneself, to sit under a colossal rock and contemplate hunger and shade and walking. This place makes their toyota feel insignificant and unwelcome. The outside environment of Earth’s handiwork and tourists scrambling for their cameras cannot reflect the state of entropy inside the car. There was a red stripe along Joyce’s
forehead, the same color of the sandstone monuments, from leaning against the seatbelt during her nap. The cup holder had discarded pens and coins in it, and a pocket sized notebook for poetry beginning to become damp from the condensation on Joyce’s lukewarm Coca-Cola. The underside of her left hand is marked up by blue ink, but she turns it the other way, so Jackson won’t see and roll his eyes at her. Underneath her feet there is an almost empty bag of trail-mix, with only raisins remaining at the bottom of the bag, all stuck together now in the heat to form some sort of super raisin gobstopper. Despite the car’s shortcomings, the atmosphere around them was actually quite comfortable for a 7 hour drive. All the important decisions had been made before they left his mom’s house (he would drive, because it was his mom’s car after all, and she would purchase the snacks, the gas, and the sunscreen). Quiet, but comfortable, Joyce thought. Their conversations could be loud and obnoxious, and go on for hours (what else do you get when you put two sci-fi nerds together), but they could also recognize the other’s need for think-space. Their audiobook had stopped playing hours ago, and since then Joyce had been slipping in and out of consciousness, sometimes picking up a novel or a notebook. Jackson’s boredom was less apparent. I don’t even know if he can get bored,some people are blessed with hyperactive imaginations. The only thing stopping him from making it in Hollywood are all those family-friendly happy endings. Sure, Jax never wrote a boring story, despite his many self-critical tendencies. Couldn’t recognize a compliment if it hit him the face continually for a year. Every argument always ends in the same way: questioning his purpose as an artist. HOW MUCH MORE EXISTENTIAL CAN YOU GET? His purpose is obvious to anyone who has taken the time to read his screenplays or seen his sketches. His films were terrifying in an interesting way. I’ve never seen anyone make an alien so relatable. His newest one was a tearjerker - if a new species from the outer cosmos can come to Earth and
commence a genocide so terrible, simply because they found our species’s customs so unnatural, then what could humans be capable of in their shoes. Of course the answer is sitting in every history textbook, humans have never been the protagonist in their own story. Then of course he had to end the closing scene with the alien space fleet commander, General Xiûrpp, shaking hands (his covered in fur) with the Human Resistance Leader, Pat. “Joyce, Joyce, hey, I’m going to stop the car now.” “Oh, we’re here,” Joyce observed, pulled from her reflection and back to the physical world. “Where were you, huh?” “Nowhere,” he’s smirking and it’s almost sweet, “thanks for driving, I really appreciate it.” “Oh, well, thank you.” “For what?” “Uh, snacks? Who knew that licorice rings could be so delicious?” “And practical too.” Joyce said, turning over the bag of sour-fruity licorice rings to see if there were any at the bottom. “I don’t feel like I should look up yet, like that would ruin the immensity of this moment.” “Have you had your eyes on the road this whole time?” “I mean, yeah, but more on the ground, not that I’d ever be an unsafe driver” He said. “Okay. Jax, I want you to imagine exactly what this moment would look like in a film. In the opening scene of a new film, how would the picture come into view?” “I don’t know-” “I know you’ve got something in mind.” “It would be black for a long time while a foley artist blew into a long piece of PVC pipe. The sound would get louder and louder and then in one frame it would transition from all black to a high quality picture of the monuments. In one moment, so bright you have to look away.” “I can do that,” Joyce said. “What?” “Close your eyes and look down. I’m going to get out of the car, and wait until I open your door.” She stepped out of the passenger side door and blinked against the sun, so this is a desert. “Don’t open your eyes yet Jax, cover your eyes with your arm!” Then she opened his door and undid his seatbelt before pulling him by the elbow. “Oh my head!” Jackson yelled, reeling. “Sorry, sorry, keep those eyes closed.” She led him around to the middle
of the road, checking for cars, and looked up to make sure his head was facing the right way. “Open your eyes in 3...2...1..now!” The afternoon sun was blinding but only for a moment, and then all the different shades of orange swam into view, each one frame after the other, ginger and fire red, bronze tinted, brown clay, and sand the shade of sweet potatoes. Then, quickly as it began, the opening credits stopped rolling and a clear picture stood in front of him, and his arms shivered in the middle of the desert with goosebumps. “Sooo - I’d say your silence speaks for itself?” Joyce asked, holding back laughter. “It’s certainly picture perfect.” “I’m not sure about that. An image seen through my own eyes always has a different type of clarity to it than a picture taken on a camera. Personal experience is the most valuable thing to me. You didn’t drive 7 hours just to take a picture, did you? ” “Was that a speech? Honestly, you should be a politician.” “Well maybe you should be a photographer, because you just spent 5 minutes staring out into open space.” “It’s well-deserved attention to detail.” “Yeah, well the landscape didn’t ask your opinion.” “Doesn't it make you feel so -” “Small? No, just grateful.” “Yeah.” He let the silence close in again, a comfortable warmth shifting with the breeze. “Okay, Jax, time to stop with the existential talk. We’ve got another 13 miles until the end of this path. If we make good time we might be able to walk around a bit and climb one of the monuments, a real Simba’s Pride moment.” “Yeah, I’m not too sure I want to get out of here before dark though. Who knows what hides in the shadows?” “I’ll drive, you can sketch whatever it is you imagine hiding in the shadows.” “You? Drive? My mom’s car? Is that really a good idea?” “Relax Jax, it will be good practice for me,” she stepped forward to pull him into a hug “besides, if anything happens we can tell your mom you were driving.” “What-” “Get in the car. Now.”
They drove in silence for a few miles, with only the sound of the wind and Jackson scratching his #2 pencil in an old notebook, pausing periodically to use his thumb to blend shades of grey, or make notes in the margins concerning the alien’s backstory, homeplanet, dietary restrictions, and general personality. His elbow jabbed against Joyce, who needed her full attention on the road ahead, but he did not apologize. The creature being created on the notebook page had the body shape of a pinecone, with four limbs and a disproportionately thick neck (by human standards). There were what looked like suckers, or little craters on the creature’s body, and it’s eyes sat in caves sunk deep into its face. In the margins Jacson scribbled the words lava red and fleshy, also teleportation and telepathy with an X through them, and shapeshifting circled. He worked quicker and quicker, already knowing where the next line would be. The finishing touch was a pine tree next to the creature, to demonstrate its height. “Finished,” Jackson said, his right hand covered in graphite powder. He explained the concept of this large, red, intergalactic creature to Joyce as she drived. “Hmm, very interesting Jax.” “I can see it in an old fashioned style, a late-night double feature film.” “That is perfect, but have you noticed -” “I think they would’ve landed here thousands of years ago. They know about humans, because of distorted timelines, but when they crash landed they couldn’t find any people. They built these monuments as markers of their spaceship, which is buried underneath this desert. There are laboratories and space communication centers down there, but the extraterrestrials don’t have enough power to return home.” “Are they dangerous to humans?” “Yes, but they have their reasons. It would be a nice ending.” “I’m sure it would be Jax, but-” “And they are red obviously, I already said that. They made the sand here the same color as them, to show that this is their territory. Think of the prosthetics work that could be done! This is just a rough sketch but-” “Jax, your sketch is an exact copy of a zygon!” “Oh.”
“I’m sorry Jax, the rest is really special.” “No, no, you’re right.” “You’re right too, if there's alien activity anywhere, it’s this place. We should stop at a cafe on the way home and write and sketch.” “Yes,” He said, lighting back up again. “We did binge season 13 last night, I forgot.” “It’s all the red rock, it seems like a place zygons should live.” “Yes, that’s it. You know what though? My production would be seamless compared to BBC’s 1975 technology.” “There’s a fine line between plagiarism and inspiration. Find it.” “Writing and then back home. I want to finish our marathon; the Anti-men aren’t going to stop themselves.” “Nerd.” As they drove away the sun dipped further in the sky, and large shadows grew over the base of the monuments. The clouds darkened the desert floor, highlighting the tops of the monuments, and making the sandstone glow red like beacons. Jævvgë: English (Human) Śyyûr: 6/24/2017 (Earth, Human)
Personal Hypothesis: Hypothesis supported by data. Humans proved uninteresting and unimportant.
HEALING by Zanaya Hussein Hold my feet steady for the ground is shaking. Faces I used to know become strangers. Our words become drifting echoes. Until I find myself falling into an abyss of alternative realities. This what-if keeps me up at night, haunting me. A ghost named instability. It disguises itself as nostalgia and steals our closure. I would have rather preferred a simple white bedsheet with poked holes, maybe with sunglasses. Instead it wears only a cloak of fear that twists itself up stomachs and fills lungs, Until there is a throw up of anxiety. And perfection. A cyclical upheaval until all that is left is a deep and hollow seeking of familiarity. A search that will turn up empty. Because new neighbors have moved in, movies just aren’t the same anymore, technology has updated, friends have met other friends, and now we’re all history too. All that’s left are old birthday cards. A speech and an old text message conversation. It’s as if the string of time is no longer differentiable or continuous. Life imprints itself like a jump on a graph. So in that case, I am actually a year younger rather than older, Because a new digit needs a proper welcoming. A new stage of life requires the proper preparation, not insincere compromises and pent-up, hopeless anger. It requires a sense of security provided by earnest mentors and smiling companions who promise to visit me during break. These are things that tell us, some things do last. So take my feet to last year, And walk me to an existence I have yet to regret. The palms of my feet want to feel a lighter time. Maybe I would have confessed my swirlings in person. Maybe I would have done better on that test. Maybe I would have laughed more. Maybe I would have looked to God more often.
Or taken bigger breaths. Or swung in the park until sunset. Or danced in an uncomfortable dress to bad music. Or have thrown my cap into the sky of possibilities. Or bask in the routine I had grown accustomed to. Maybe I will invite my former train pass, my filled notebook, my graphing calculator, and that photo of us from 2016 to dinner and inform them about how much things have changed. I will try to soothe them with the playlist from Dirty Dancing and convince each of us that change has the potential to mean growth. I’ll make lasagna and together we will count how many stages of grief we have left until acceptance. I will give each of them a comforting kiss, So that we can believe some things do last.
ODE FOR THREE SHORT MONTHS by Elle Bader-Gregory I’ll carve out a small cave in my memories, maybe in the bottom bit of my brain, to light a fire in memorial to you and another stretch of summer days strung together to be worn like a friendship bracelet. Stand as my memorial to summer, a soft glow on the front stoop, up at watchman’s hours, keeping the light on, custodian of a sleepy street. During the day, beams of dusty light could bleach out all of yesterday’s nightmares, infuse the grass with laughter, and we’d sip lemonade under broad trees, connoisseurs of shade. In the afternoons, plug your nose and take a GASP of sun-infused air before dunking underwater like Mallards looking for food, eyes and nose and mouth met with stifling chlorine. Weather Today: Sunny currently. The high will be 95. Record heat. Clear tonight with a low of 78. 72% humidity. 21% chance of rain. Past my bedtime, when the rain finally came, drenching a forgotten sundress on the clothesline, heat dissipating long enough for late-night talks, late-night soda, LIMITED EDITION Cherry-Grape-Apple Spritz. Taste the summer, turn your tongue green! Limited availability in stores near you! $7.99/ea ($0.08/ fl. oz.) the last scoop of ice cream with a generous helping of sprinkles. In memoriam, we know how this story ends. Final farewells and goodnights, with promises of a sun-drenched tomorrow, not in any particular way different from the sun-drenched yesterday, and you take up your watchman’s post, guarding dreams and saying prayers, waking from a short slumber to see dawn safely on it’s way: light the torch, brew the coffee, cut the sandwiches, say the prayers, and wake the children. Your memorial is paint chips, a new fence, sun-bleached hair, kids riding their bikes without training wheels, and an empty tupperware container that used to hold sprinkles.
The leaves will fall, the shade will fade, we’ll pray on cool cement, asking for the strength to remember, and a little souvenir of sun-warmth to tuck inside our pockets.
TRAVERSING PAINTED FLOWERS by Bethany Krull
REPRESENTATION OF THE UNIVERSE by Sabrina Blandon
Her body was sculpted by the Creator As time passed, she despised every pound on her The same pounds given to her by the one who used a multitude of rocks to establish mountains For each mole on her body, she added them to her list of imperfections Every mole and scar on her was painted by the same one who dotted the night sky with stars Her unmanageable hair had been through years of rips and tears The waves of her hair was crafted by the one who formed the ocean Her loud mind, which she learned to silence for those around her, got her in trouble The very same mind was created by the one who pointed to the world and gave life Since the world couldn’t grow to accept her, she decided to tame it Why would she change her body and mind for the world? At the end, the Creator of the universe gave her every aspect Like every detail on the earth, it’s there for a purpose The Creator did the same with everything he created, including her She is a representation of what the Creator of the universe has in store for her
ARCADE MONEY by Jeremy Perry Anthony carried his small spiral notebook up to the front door and knocked. I waited on the sidewalk, nervous, not wanting to go through this shit again. He knocked once more and shortly after a tiny old woman wearing a pink housecoat opened the door.
“Hi, ma’am. My name’s Anthony and my class is raising funds for a fieldtrip. I’d be very grateful if you could spare a small donation.”
I noticed his delivery was getting better, more convincing.
The old woman smiled. “I’d be happy to, young man. Let me get my purse.” She disappeared back inside. Anthony was a dirty bastard. This was all his doing. There was no class trip. It was all made up. One big nasty lie and I was part of it. That made me a dirty bastard too. I thought this whole thing was a bad idea from the start, but I went along with it anyway. The old woman opened the door.
“Here you go.” Anthony collected and shoved it into his back pocket with the other bills.
“This will help out so much. Now, if I could get your name and address so we know where to send the thank you card.”
He was getting too good at this bullshit. This was our fifth stop this morning. She scribbled on the notebook. Anthony thanked her and walked away. I hated this. It was a terrible con game. Anthony shoved the notebook into his other back pocket and pulled out the small collection of money.
“She could’ve given more. I saw a lot more in her change purse. I could see right down in it. Oh well, fourteen bucks isn’t bad. At least we have some arcade money. Let’s hit the house on the corner before we head down town.” He stuffed the money back into his pocket.
“Not me,” I said. “I’m done. I can’t do this shit anymore. It isn’t right.”
“Relax, Preston. Jesus. Everything’s fine. One more and we’ll go.”
He wasn’t listening to a damn word I was saying. “I’m finished. This was a terrible idea. You go on.”
“Whatever you say, but I’m keeping the money. I did all the work and took all the risk. You didn’t do a damn thing.”
“That’s bullshit,” I said. “I deserve my share.” I’d been part of this scheme since the beginning. I’d put in just as much risk as he had. This asshole wasn’t getting away with this.
“You better give me my share.”
He was bigger than I was and we’d fought a few times on the playground and back alleys. He’d gotten the better of me on most occasions, but I never backed down. I came up on him. I was taking my money whether he liked it or not.
“Now, take it easy,” he said. “You’re getting your share. No need to get all worked up. But come on, man, you know I’ve hit every house this morning while you stood on the sidewalk.”
“That’s because I was being the fucking look-out.”
“I know, I know,” he said. “And you’ve been a good one, but let’s do one more house and you do the knocking and collecting this time. Come on, man. It’s only fair.” This asshole was pushing me, but there was some truth to what he said. He had been taking most of the risk for sure, but not all, like he’d claimed.
“Okay, one more, but that’s it.”
“Right. One more and we’ll go to the arcade like we planned.”
I headed toward the house on the corner—another old woman and likely another easy buck and we’d be on our way.
“No, no,” said Anthony.
“Not that house. Hit that house over there.” He pointed with his boney chin to the house on the opposite side of the street, to the McDonald house.
“What, are you serious?”
“You can do it. Go on.”
“No way,” I said. “Any house but that one. Clayton McDonald’s a nut-job. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows he killed his daughter.”
“Oh, that’s just a bullshit rumor someone started.”
“Everyone knows she fell down the basement steps and hit the back of her head. The murder story is just some rumor. Anyway, are you going or not?”
I didn’t know for sure if Clayton McDonald had killed his daughter. The story had been circulating in our school for a few years. Someone said he’d bashed the back of her skull with a hammer. I didn’t know. The girl was dead and that’s all I knew for sure. I also knew this asshole wasn’t taking no for an answer.
“Okay. Jesus, I’ll do it.”
“That’s the spirit,” he said and slapped me on the back.
Anthony waited down the sidewalk and out of site while I walked to the door. The front porch appeared as normal as any other porch. A rocking chair sat to the right of a picture window. A straw broom leaned against white railing, and I saw a welcome mat lying by the door. I knocked quietly hoping no one was home.
“Knock again,” said Anthony from around the corner of the house.
“Okay, relax. Jesus.”
As my knuckles raised a second time, the door opened and there in full view was Clayton McDonald. I had never seen him up-close before. I’d seen him on occasion when I rode past on my bike. He’d be working in his yard or just sitting on the front porch. I’d never seen him face to face. He looked around fifty-years-old and wore a button-up plaid shirt with khaki pants.
“Can I help you?”
“Good morning, sir.” My voice trembled. I inhaled, exhaled. “My name’s Preston and I was wondering if you’d like to make a donation to our class.” I was hoping for a straight up no so I could be on my way and free of this whole scene.
“Yeah?” he asked. “You guys going on a trip or something?”
“Yeah, a class trip. I forgot to mention that part.” I was fucking this up. I wanted to get out of here.
“That’s great,” he said. “Where are you planning to go?”
The question threw me off. The others hadn’t asked Anthony that question. He was much smoother and more confident than I was. He should’ve been up here doing this, not me. This wasn’t my style. I stalled as my incompetent brain fumbled for a reasonable answer.
Finally, I said, “The Children’s Museum. In Indy.”
“Oh, okay,” he said. His eyebrows raised as he nodded his approval, which gave me a boost of confidence. “I took my daughter there when she was a little girl. You’ll like it. They have a lot of great exhibits.”
The mention of his dead daughter had me thinking of her being bashed in the head. He seemed too nice. I’d seen enough crime shows to know that serial killers were always nice on the outside, but on the inside were cruel and evil as anyone’s ever seen.
Then he pushed the door wider. “Come on in. Let me get my wallet. Nothing like contributing to a child’s education.”
“That’s true,” I said, as the thought of being his next victim entered my mind. Tomorrow, my name, face, and the story of my murder would be headline news all over the country. “But I better stay out here.”
“Oh, come on.” He pushed the door wider. “We’ll only be a second.”
I realized I’d forgotten the notebook. The notebook authenticated everything. I just wanted out of here, but he waited for me to step in. “You want the donation or not?”
“Ah, yeah, sure,” I said.
“Well then, come on in.” His baldhead glimmered with thin sweat while his pasty, clean-shaven face stretched into a warm, friendly smile. I stepped inside but stayed by the front door while he moved from one room to the other.
“I have to find my wallet,” he said. “It’s around here somewhere.”
“Oh, okay.” I looked around the room.
A picture of a young girl in a silver frame sat on the coffee table. I could see it was a school picture, one from a few years ago. Her hairstyle and clothes were from the past. Looking closer I noticed it was the daughter. I remembered seeing her picture in an old yearbook. After seeing her face it only took a second for me to remember her name. Jerrica. Jerrica McDonald. Something else I noticed was all the train memorabilia. Little train models everywhere, sitting on shelves and tables. To my left, a small railroad crossing sign hung on the wall. I saw a blue conductor’s cap and jacket hanging in the corner on a coat rack. A black umbrella rested against the wall. On a bookcase a few feet away were some old steam locomotive engines. I saw into the next room through a doorway. I saw the kitchen sink and the end of the kitchen table, but I couldn’t see Clayton. I moved closer to the trains. There were boxcars and engines and tiny men and woman, little figurines. One man in a blue suit and hat held up a signaling lantern. Another man stood outside an open car holding a box.
“Here you go,” said Clayton. “I hope two dollars will be enough.” He moved toward me from across the room, his hand extended with the money in it. I looked for a hammer hidden behind his back. His weapon of choice. This was it. This was where it ended for me.
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Two dollars will help out a lot.”
I didn’t see a hammer, or a wrench, or any object that could cause massive head trauma. Time to get the money and get the hell out. Then I thought of the damn notebook again. “I’m supposed to write your name and address in a notebook, but I forgot it outside with my friend.” I thought if I mentioned I wasn’t alone that would discourage him from trying to kill me.
“No big deal,” he said.
He reached into a desk drawer beside him. He quickly shoved something that I couldn’t see under a pile of papers, and then pulled out his own notebook. He wrote onto it, ripped the page clean, threw the pad back in. He folded the paper and handed it over.
“Here, just copy it into your book later.”
“Thanks.” I shoved the money and paper into my front pocket. I tried looking into the drawer, but he pushed it closed.
“What’s your name again?”
“Do you like trains, Preston?”
“Yeah, I like trains.”
“Do you have any of your own?”
I shook my head. “No.”
“Well then, come on. I want to show you something. It’s down the hall.”
I thought he was pushing things a little too far now. To begin with, I didn’t want to be in the house, but somehow that asshole Anthony had talked me into knocking on the door. I’d also been taught never to go near strangers. Of course, that was when I was a lot younger and nowadays I didn’t pay much attention to that rule, but today I wished I had. Clayton McDonald was certainly a stranger, and maybe a murderer, and now he wanted me to go down the hall.
“I’d better be going.” I fidgeted from one foot to the other. I couldn’t look him in the eye.
“Don’t be nervous,” he said. “I won’t hurt you.”
“I’m not nervous.”
Then he said, “I know what this town thinks of me. You’re young but I’m sure you’ve heard all the nasty rumors about me, haven’t you?” I wasn’t sure if he was asking me or telling me. “People can be so cruel and hateful,” he continued. “They like to kick you why you’re down. I’m a good person, and I was a good father.”
He stopped talking, closed his eyes, and pulled in a lungful of air. Like a video game, he reset himself. He moved across the room heading to the hallway. With a head motion, he said,
“Come on. You won’t be disappointed. Let’s go check it out.”
I could see he wasn’t giving up. Just like Anthony, he wasn’t taking no for an answer. Also, I was already feeling guilty about the money he’d given me. Whatever he wanted to show me, I felt an obligation to go see.
“Okay,” I said. “But I can’t be long. I have to be home soon. My mom wants me to mow the yard.” It was the best lie I could come up with on the spot. Not a great one, but it would have to do. “Oh, we won’t be long. It’s just down the hallway.”
The hardwood floor creaked under my Nikes reminding me of every haunted house movie that I’d ever seen. There were always dark and evil powers at work in those houses.
At the end of the hallway, Clayton opened a door. “It’s down in the basement.”
The basement? The same basement where his daughter was murdered? Jesus. I still didn’t know for sure if he’d murdered her, but I did know from watching TV that going down in the basement usually ended shitty for the innocent victim. If I went down there, I was sure to be a
national story in tomorrow’s news. Boy Finds Demise in Killer’s Basement. He reached in, flipped a switch, and light shined into the hallway.
“Watch your step,” he said.
I wanted to run away, but something dragged me ahead, just like in the haunted house movies. I held onto the side of the wall and tiptoed easily down the dimly lit stairwell. I noticed the steps toward the bottom disappeared into a dark nothingness.
“Maybe you should turn on another light,” I said.
“Not yet,” he said. “I want it to be a surprise. I think you’re going to like it.”
Again I thought of his poor, dead daughter. I was next. I was sure of it. He disappeared and left me there alone. I could see nothing out there in the idle darkness of the basement, except behind me, back up the stairs, which was the direction I should’ve been heading.
“I probably should be going now.”
“Only a second longer,” he said.
I anticipated that at any moment Clayton would jump from the shadows with his hammer –
or maybe it would be a baseball bat this time – and strike me down where I stood for this con game I was putting him through, along with all the other innocent, giving souls from this morning. I was a goner, and it was that goddamned Anthony’s fault. That asshole hadn’t checked on me once. Hadn’t even knocked on the door. He’d left me for dead.
“Here it comes,” said Clayton from somewhere, out there.
I braced for impact, like when you’re about to get a shot in the ass from the doctor. Then…I heard a light switch. My squinting eyes opened to see long fluorescent lights hanging on chains from the ceiling, buzzing, and lighting every far off corner of the room. And there in front of me was the biggest collection of train memorabilia that I’d ever seen. Row after row of different types of metal signs and posters lined across every wall. A wooden sign had Clayton’s Train Station carved into it. There was a clock trimmed in green shaped like the front of a train engine. I saw railroad lamps hanging in the corner. Model trains lined dozens and dozens of shelves in every direction. In the middle of the room, of this huge collection, was the centerpiece to it all. A model train set, with tracks winding through and around buildings, bushes, houses, farms, and fields. My thoughts of murder had shifted to curiosity. He flipped more switches, and more lights came on. I’d never seen a set-up like this before. I walked over to get a closer look.
“Took me a year to make it,” he said.
“Worked on it nonstop after Jerrica’s accident. It was the only thing that helped me cope. People around town started saying terrible things about me. I hear the gossip just like anyone else. People are cruel and downright mean. Making this got me through the roughest part. Jerrica liked trains too. I guess I felt like I was making it for her.”
I agreed. People were cruel and downright mean, and Clayton seemed like an all right person, not some crazed killer as I first suspected. “Don’t pay any attention to them. Just ignore them.”
It was the only advice I could think of to say.
“I do, for the most part. Anyway, you don’t want to hear about my problems.”
He turned the control knob mounted on the side of the miniature town and the tiny engine car leaned into the weight of the trailing boxcars and took off down the tracks. He hit another button and the locomotive hooted from a tiny whistle and puffed smoke from a tiny stack. It went around a bend past the barbershop then a park area and then straightened out to roll across a bridge. I watched the train go around and around the tiny town and community. Then a few minutes later, I thought of Anthony.
“I better be going. Thanks for showing me your train set.”
“Hey, no problem,” he said, and sounded as sincere as anyone could. His face lit up with what I would describe as gratitude.
“You come back anytime. And get that yard mowed for your momma.”
“Oh, okay.” I told him thanks and that I would come back again sometime. I headed up the stairs.
I heard the train whistle once more as I pulled the money from my pocket and deposited it on the desk by the front door, which was the right thing to do. Then I thought about the drawer again. I wasn’t sure if Clayton had tried hiding something earlier, but I wanted to find out. I slid the drawer open causing a delicate, drawn-out squeak and reached under paper and over pencils. In the back, my fingers fumbled over a stapler, a pack of playing cards, and then some kind of long handle. I ran my hand up and down and felt the cold forged steel at one end. I didn’t need to see it. I knew what it was. I closed the drawer and ran like hell out the front door. I didn’t know the time or how long I’d been in the house. I looked for Anthony in every direction. I knew either he’d skipped out on me with my share of the money, or he’d gone for help thinking I was the victim of another small town murder, but I already knew the answer and headed down town toward the arcade. The alley I took led to the rear of the building and skirted around the side, leading up to the front of the arcade. I rounded the corner but what I saw next had me back peddling into the shadows. In the middle of the parking lot, the lights on a cop car strobed around in blue and red.
I saw the town cop talking to the arcade owner and another man who I recognized from earlier. He’d been our first stop of the morning. I couldn’t hear everything they were saying. The cop held up what looked like Anthony’s spiral notebook, said something about meeting the parents at the station, and walked away. And there through the backseat window of the cop car was Anthony. The jig was up. I was close enough to see that he looked sad and scared. That’s the best way to describe him. My share of the money didn’t seem that important to me anymore. The cop got in, turned off the lights, and drove Anthony away, and I ran down the alley and all the way home to mow the grass for my mother.
PRECIPICE by Aadesh If at all we must, For what it counts, Could we not? At all? It must be a gruel symphony to your ear, here. Here you are, heard you are, herd you are. Three times beautiful, Like moonlight in the blistering sun. And there I am, Where am I? You would say, “Here I am, here we are.” Here we must be For where I am There we seem to be. And if we be not together anymore, Here we are, But where are you? You are there, Where I cannot be. You are we. You are me. X----------------------------------------X----------------------------------------X
UNDERLINE IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT by Rhienna Renee Guedry The last time I was back home in Louisiana, I planned on spending time in the small town my father grew up in. My cajun family had been in Ascension Parish since Donaldsonville was the capital of Louisiana in the early 1800s. I had started working on their ancestral story, down a rabbit hole of Google image searches and genealogy sites. However, I had limited success: my ancestors held no passports, no property, no businesses. Public records and the U.S. Census told me, birth, marriage, death, and household details, but I wanted more than just milestones. The place that represented hundreds of years of my family staying put was a drive and two flights away from where I called home. I had moved away from Louisiana, but always felt connected to the landscape in intense ways. The smell of magnolias or a breeze rustling spanish moss were memories and often as they were the landscape of my dreams. My ancestral curiosities stemmed from a desire to make sense of that feeling of homesickness that never left me. Maybe I wanted answers to those questions: why did they stay? Why didn’t I? I learned that my aunts had been living in the family house after my grandparents had passed away. My grandfather’s obituary was full of beautiful names of people I never met Sylvania and Anastase (his parents, my great grandparents), Orellion, Orelia, Ophelia and Leontine (his siblings). We weren’t close, but I regret not seeing him one last time before he died. The truth was that I hadn’t seen most of that side of my family since I was a teenager. I’d left a message for one of my aunts at their old number, a landline that hadn’t changed since the eighties, except for the addition of an area code. My Aunt Lisa was the one who returned my call, assuring me that yes, her and Aunt Colinda would be around if I wanted to stop by and look through photographs. I never knew my Aunt Lisa well, but I remembered two things
about Aunt Colinda. First, that she was the one who took family photographs. Second, that she was the one who sent holiday and birthday cards and she underlined everything. Those (sometimes multiple) underlines gave the manic sense that everything was urgent and critical. I wondered whether this tick came from a desire for emphasis, or a lack of discretion for what was important. Colinda was the designated family scribe, since my grandfather didn’t know how to read or write, and my grandmother’s ability was extremely limited. Cards and letters were a kind of transcription: Paw-Paw sends All of his Love. Underlined, because he meant it. The home had been in the family since the 1930s, perched on cinder blocks a few feet above ground due to rampant flooding. Aside from the house’s age, wear and tear told the story of Louisiana weather: a blue tarp covered one corner of the roof, and masking tape marked Xs over all the windows. There was a homemade wooden ramp for wheelchair access, held down by two distressed sandbags. I parked my rental car in the oyster-shell driveway and saw the rusted screen door crack open, as one of my aunt’s hands extended a wave. I couldn’t help feeling selfconscious: my jewel-toned curls thriving in the humidity, my smart phone, my shiny rental car, my sunglasses. The land was bookended with live oaks, and the occasional pecan tree. I remember being fascinated with the webworms that nested there seasonally, spooky tangles around the leaves and drupe. When I was a kid, a vegetable garden full of tomatoes and okra sat between theirs and the neighbor’s house. Now, the garden was replaced with sod and had the remnants of a controlled fire: coils of a small mattress still visible among wood, fabric, and the charcoal-tinted scraps of mystery items.
Crossing the threshold of a place last traversed as a child, the scale of the thing was almost dreamlike. I towered into the living room where both of my aunts were waiting for me. Aunt Lisa looked different but familiar--her face had morphed into what I remembered my grandmother’s looking like. Our family face was a gendered blueprint: strong-browed women with small features on wide faces with weak chins; bird-like men full of sharp angles, large ears, and impressive heads of hair. Aunt Colinda was the most changed as one who was missing things: many teeth, most of one leg, and all of the other. I had assumed the ramp in the driveway was a holdover for my grandparents, but it was for her wheelchair. The living room was framed with the honey-colored wood paneling and the floralpatterned couch that I remembered from my youth. In fact, most of what was on the walls hadn’t changed in decades: a wooden clock in the shape of Louisiana, the temperature gauge with Audubon Society bird illustrations. I remembered how my grandfather had loved both birds and dragonflies, and I flashed back to a memory of his brown, calloused hands capturing a dragonfly by the wings to show us iridescence up close. As I situated myself on the couch, my aunts got down to business. Lisa grabbed boxes from what I remembered as “the game closet” from my youth and set them near me, while Colinda gave the occasional context of when, where, or whom. They agreed to loan one particular album full of the oldest images, so that I could properly digitize them. I asked my aunts a few questions as they occurred to me, and they answered with an equal measure of efficiency and openness. I was struck by how happy everyone looked, and all of the nuance in photographs of gatherings and family meals. Aunt Lisa and Aunt Colinda watched me take photographs of photographs.
There wasn’t much in the way of small-talk; it was a friendly but utilitarian visit. Once I’d exhausted the boxes of photographs, we said our goodbyes. I was surprised at the ease of it all as I hugged them both. My visit wasn’t a reconciliation because none of us seemed to need it to be one. It was good to put my eyes on them. These days, whenever I try to dig back into my lineage, I hit a wall. I have the names and dates; I know where folks are buried; I have a family tree. But how can I know the stories of people who, on paper, didn’t do much of anything? Why does it take a written record to know who my ancestors were? Hundreds of years of cajun folks living and dying in the same five towns: it was like the ancestral trauma of being kicked out of Acadia ran so deep that nobody wanted to upset the balance once they made the new place home. They had survived expulsion, poverty, and the wickedness of Louisiana weather. My ancestors withstood and endured, and maybe that was enough. Years have passed, as has Colinda. I’ve had some of those family photographs printed and framed. They show moments of celebration more nuanced than what had appeared in public records: my uncle’s first bicycle, my dad’s first marriage, a day trip into New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I’m coming to terms with what I will never know, but can imagine: the meals and songs, the romances and heartbreak. I’ll never know their depths, but I can imagine them. Their collective memories and secrets were buried beside them. And in the end, perhaps it’s more interesting to wonder than it is to know.
LONELY NOW by DS Maolalai lonely now is a Dublin dry august; hot air, sick stains laid for days, like finishing a bad cup of coffee and seeing dark rings, tessellations, spiral to the rim. and who will know if you use the same cup tomorrow? and love, then, is washing the cup anyway. it only takes a second and then you feel clean. but love is not so lonely – no sunbaked pavement on the corner with Rathmines – like crockery, the vomit rains away.
NIGHTMARE AND INTERRUPTION 17 by Lilia Marie Ellis Just when I had a million things to ask of you (or of when) and no way to know for certain, you must have seen me (though nothing more) and I thought you would have waved or at least wondered your face just heavy with nothing (as if there were matterings) atop a staircase steps the same feeling as pinprick memories (absence, alabaster,) of carouseling moments, airen day whispering goodybe until its voice gives out until it’s saying nothing intelligible at all and the lives we live pretend away the cracks which they become How do we get so far from each other. We weren’t born for this; no more than for apartness, or wholeness; how quiet this resoundous world is, how endless. Even to harden the heart requires we begin with flesh. The Earth cannot spin without tearing and shattering. How it gets back, I don’t know; there must have been many times it didn’t. How many people feel the same way, if you could ask, if you were not afraid to ask, if there were words and merely a touch of despair. We fall silent to say it. Walk in at the faces melting away, wondering what we’ve kept from.
THE BELL IN HELL by Rhienna Renee Guedry The opening of the first Taco Bell in Scandinavia landed at the halfway point between my moving to, and then moving away from, Helsinki, Finland. On the corner of Kalevankatu and Mannerheimintie, neon lights rimmed each basement window, casting a violet glow onto cobblestone street. Silhouette decals of palm trees, and of course, that unmistakably familiar logo, beckoning me with the sweet memory of late-night drive-thru orders. As an American expat living in Europe, I hadn’t expected my homesickness to creep into such unexpected moments. Which is to say, I didn’t know I “missed” Taco Bell until I saw those Grand Opening banners. Helsinki is a small metropolis and the capital of Finland, a whole country with only twenty types of trees but hundreds of thousands of lakes, and just around 5.5 million people. It’s quiet and safe and cold. I moved there with my partner in the summer of 2017. We were fueled by the usual suspects: professional burn-out, grief, and the Trump administration. The Finnish language has a word for drinking alone in your underpants: kalsarikännit. I did a lot of kalsarikänniting as I gradually came to the understanding that Finns were even more antisocial than I was. Though Helsinki was safe and novel to explore, I struggled to engage on a cultural level, or to make meaningful connections. Drinking may have helped, but no amount of Glögi or Napue ever made Finnish food palatable. By the time we found ourselves in line for the Grand Opening of Taco Bell, it felt like a motherfucking Hollywood movie premiere. And despite the fact Paprika is the spiciest thing you’ll find in any Finns’ kitchen pantry; we were far from the only people in line. What I hadn’t expected was that there would be velvet ropes, red carpet, and security: it seemed that Taco Bell
had invested in a Taco Bouncer. A muscular gentleman dressed in a dark polo, slacks, and an ear wire took his “one in, one out” responsibility with a Kevin Costner-guarding-Whitney-Houstonlevel of seriousness. The queue took about 40 minutes to get inside. Once we were granted entrance from the cold, I noticed another vinyl decal on the brick interior wall, one that just screamed “California”—I mean, it really did say “California”—featuring more palm trees, and sort of a paint splatter look you might have seen on an Abercrombie &amp; Fitch t-shirt in the early 2000s. This was definitely not the run-for-the-border experience I remembered. Behind the counter there were an impressive number of blond, austere teenagers. Each was assigned their own specific task in an assembly line of TB-optimized production: one at the meat station, another at the deep fryer, another for lettuce, another to dispense oozing mustardyellow liquid cheese, and finally, someone whose job was to fold the burritos into perfect little parcels.
The drink cooler behind them declared in all caps, “THIS IS LIVING.” You bet.
When it was finally our turn to order, we were overcome with options. This place Had It All, by which I mean, there were multiple ways to get french fries. Other surprising menu items included:
1. Alcohol (Corona Beer &amp; Garage Hard Lemonade) 2. Pulled Oats 3. BBQ Pulled Pork
4. Churros 5. An entire section devoted to “Snacks” 6. The Boss Level Burrito 7. “Epic Meal Crazy Box Deal” 8. Mexi-Fries 9. Choco-dilla (“Go Choco-Loco!!!,” the sign demanded)
We spent 30 euros ($34.00 USD) on a sparse and weird selection: one order of Nachos, two Taco Supremes, and a Grilled Stuft Burrito with pulled oats. We didn’t get any alcohol and instead ordered two Coke Zeros because we hated ourselves, but not enough to order the french fries at fucking Taco Bell. The stoic but potentially irritated TB employee behind the register handed me a buzzer that read “It’s Almost Taco ‘Clock!” in large letters, and underneath in smaller type, “tilaustasi valmistetaan.” Google Translate told me it meant “your order is being prepared” in Finnish, which if anything, sums up the juxtaposition we were experiencing: IT’S M-FING TACO TIME, BITCHES!!!!! We will make your food for you now. Within a reasonable amount of time, the vibrator-strength buzzer in my hands sounded off, and we traded it in for a tray of food. I have to admit, it felt like a homecoming. But unlike home, the famed sauce packets were nowhere to be found. Instead, we received a dollop of Fire sauce from a squeeze container, administered by yet another ambivalent Finnish teenager—a “say when” of the wits. It looked an awful lot like ketchup, but what choice did we have? We’d made it this far.
“That’s good,” I said, but in reality, I had no idea if it was true.
We headed up to the second floor, AKA the Party Floor, where most of the other folks dining in were drinking Corona beer (no lime; did they know?) and everyone had their mobile devices, tablets, and even laptops hungrily plugged into wall outlets. A lightbulb-strung “Live, Mas” wall lamp had a burnt out “s” already, just sort of threatening us all to “Live, Ma.” No music. Tall tables and plastic barstools. Bright and unforgiving overhead lights. Girlfriends and boyfriends and classmates of the army of Finnish teens that had served us down below. The view from upstairs: pretty much the same, but further away from the Coke Zero machine. The food was fine. The Fire sauce tasted like sugar and Paprika. I lacked the conviction to feel surprise or disappointment; everything in Finland teetered on this cusp the entire year I lived there.
I went back only on one occasion, which is how I learned that the Taco Bell in Helsinki, Finland had a “No Beans After 10pm” rule. It really makes you wonder what had to happen to enforce such a thing. But I learned a few lessons from those cold Finnish nights, warming up with a Crunchwrap Supreme. First, homesickness is a strange motivator for comfort food. And second, you probably shouldn’t run for the border when you’re one country away from Russia.
THE HIGH-FLYING WRESTLER by Mike Chin The high-flying wrestler has a vision that one day he’ll jump so high off the top rope he’ll hit the lights hanging from the ceiling. He’ll come down, not just a human body, but a celestial one surrounded by a thousand glistening sparks. The high-flying wrestler dreams of fighting through the air, the next frontier of tangling high, high above the people. For these sights unseen are how men become myth. These people—they tell him to slow down, that he doesn’t need to take his risks. He goes faster, he goes higher, until all they are is blurred specks. Until he is electric.
BLOCKERS MADE ME CRY: FILM REVIEW-ESSAY – “BLOCKERS” (2018) by D. Arthur Blockers was released in April of 2018 into a different type of world. I saw Blockers opening weekend in a packed theater in Union Square. The night had that special alchemy that comes with seeing a movie during a crowded opening weekend screening, every joke was funnier, every laugh fuller, that high feeling of not just enjoying something, but enjoying it with friends and strangers. This experience was heightened by the fact that we were at the peak of the $9.99/month MoviePass era. It felt like every movie theater in New York City was packed at all times. My friends and I were going to the movies multiple times a week, sometimes even using the lunch break of our day jobs to scurry downtown to purchase physical tickets in advance for screenings later that night. We were also seeing movies we would never normally see in theaters, and for me, Blockers was the perfect example of that. While directed by a woman, Kay Cannon of Pitch Perfect series fame, the movie was written by two men, and I was certain I would hate it the second I saw the subways plastered with ads for it. The marketing campaign and posters all feature a cartoon rooster in a not at all subtle show of the movie’s implied title, Cock Blockers. The premise of the film turned me off; the story follows three young women who have a pact to lose their virginity at prom, and their parents team up and do everything to stop it. How archaic! There were so many layers of patriarchy and weird ideas about purity and ownership that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the thought of it. The whole concept reminded me of country songs where daddies threaten their daughters’ boyfriends with shotguns and think it’s cute. It didn’t appeal to me at all, but one of my friends suggested it and it was freer than free with MoviePass, so I had no reason to not go see it.
The three girls, Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), and Sam (Gideon Adlon), find themselves on the precipice of huge adolescent unknowns. They are looking over the edge of the cliff of high school and wondering what that means for their love lives, their sexuality, and most importantly, their friendships. When I sat down to see Blockers, I was also venturing into the unknown, and by the end of it, I was glad my friend had dragged me along to take the plunge. While imperfect, the movie was surprisingly heartwarming. It subverted its premise more than I expected, and ended up being a sweet story about evolving friendships, family dynamics, and more. I was surprised to find that it was so funny. And most surprisingly, Blockers had a portrayal of two young lesbians that stayed with me long after I left the cinema. Yes, there was the packed movie theater magic. The deep in the belly kind of laughter reminded me of raunchy comedies that I went to see with my cool older brother and his cool older friends when I was growing up. It reminded me of the first time I saw Billy Madison, Superbad, or even The Hangover. There was something about those types of big booming comedies that made me feel like seeing them meant I was being let into the world’s best inside jokes, even though in hindsight most of those jokes weren’t for me. I had a similar feeling when I saw Bridesmaids, a movie that I thought was going to be a simple romantic comedy when I walked in before being overwhelmed with the emotion that finally, finally, a woman could take a shit in the street and throw up in a movie for a reason other than pregnancy. So yes, there was something special about the humor of Blockers, the small win that it was an R-Rated comedy directed by a woman, the fact that these three young girls were far from the butt of any jokes. I laughed so hard when John Cena was tricked by a gaggle of high school boys into butt-chugging, but it wasn’t the laughter that made me cry. Sam, one of the three best friends in the movie, has some of the most trepidation about
the virginity pact, one that she enters only because she believes that it is important to maintaining her friendships. She takes her awkward, fedora-wearing lab partner, Chad (Jimmy Bellinger) as her prom date, but early on in the movie we learn that she has her eyes on someone else—the eccentric and adorable and confidently out-lesbian, Angelica (Ramona Young). Sam, on the other hand is not out at all. Throughout the movie, Sam awkwardly fumbles with her sexuality. She asks Angelica, who wears an ethereal LARPing cape to prom, how she knew she was gay, and tries hooking up with her prom date Chad only to definitively realize that’s not at all what she wants. At the after-prom blowout in a hotel, she comes out not only to her friends, but also to her absentee dad (Ike Barinholtz). Both her dad and her friends are supportive and excited. In a crowded room where Sam, now draped in her own makeshift cape from her friends, kisses her crush Angelica, it is sweet and tender, and people are excited. While this representation of queerness is perhaps too neat, and not perfect, I was moved to tears by the warm and sparkly and joy-filled storyline. It was nice to see a story about a queer young woman that wasn’t trauma porn or fueled by the male gaze. When I saw Blockers, I was 26-years-old, sexually confident, a feminist who had had many partners, but few long-term boyfriends. I identified as straight, but curious—predominantly watching lesbian porn and occasionally flipping my Tinder to both genders. I was outspoken, liberal, and invited to my college’s Lavender Graduation—a special ceremony for queer grads— as an LGBTQ ally. I played softball when I was in elementary school, ice hockey in middle school, and a semester of rugby in college. If I were gay, why wouldn’t I be out already? But more importantly, if I were gay, why wouldn’t I know it? With tears streaming down my face in a packed movie theater in Manhattan, I realized that Blockers was showing me a story that I didn’t realize I had been missing. I didn’t even know
there would be a lesbian character in the movie which made it all the more exciting and satisfying to see Sam’s heart-warming arc. The soft and tender kiss between Sam and Angelica cracked something open for me. Something so simple and sweet felt like a strange and radical act for a raunchy mainstream comedy. Girls kissing girls is no unique thing when it comes to movies and mainstream media. When I think about movies from when I was younger that include sapphic smooches, however, all of the kisses are somewhere on the spectrum of sexual or sinister and often played for laughs, or a combination of all the above. In 1999, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair infamously kissed in Cruel Intentions, in a scene that is definitely both sensual and illicit. On a picnic blanket in Central Park, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Kathryn, dressed in all-black like an Upper East Side widow, brushes the hair of Selma Blair’s Cecile, dressed in country club pastels and made to look like an overgrown child. In a scene shift that could be straight out of a clunky porno, Kathryn goads Cecile into learning how to kiss, leading to a tongue-heavy and sloppy swapping of spit. This kiss won an MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss. Similarly, I remember when Britney Spears and Madonna and Christina Aguilera all kissed at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards—MTV awards shows loved girl-on-girl action, and I have a feeling it wasn’t because they wanted to be pioneers of lesbian representation. The Britney-Madonna-Christina moment was exhilarating for me for reasons I didn’t understand at the time, but it was mostly discussed for its element of surprise, for the way it tantalized a very specific element of the male gaze. And there were countless other movie or TV show moments where traditionally attractive feminine women kiss each other not because their characters are feeling the blush of young love or a new crush, but because the predominantly male writing rooms wanted something
scintillating on people’s screens. Rarely were any of the smoochers in question queer celebrities or women playing queer roles. This media obsession with girls kissing girls for shock value or the pleasure and enjoyment of men often seeps into the lived experience of young women as well. In middle school, my best friend and I, like Selma and Sarah Michelle in Cruel Intentions, kissed just for practice. In both high school and college, it was commonplace for girls to kiss girls, and I am not proud to admit that it is only in hindsight that I realize I was doing something “for male attention” that I should have been doing for myself and my own romantic and sexual discovery. When Sam and Angelica kiss in Blockers, it is because they like each other, there is nothing sinister or hypersexualized or comedic about it. Blockers is just one example of recent media that is doing justice to young lesbian storylines. Booksmart features a lesbian teen, Amy played by Kaitlyn Dever, who gets to have a romantic teen storyline, and awkward sexual encounter, without the burden of a coming out arc. In Netflix’s recent teen series Never Have I Ever, Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) comes out to her robot, Gears Brosnan, before coming out to her family and friends. Netflix’s The Half of It written and directed by Alice Wu, follows a young queer girl in a story that is more about friendship and sense of self than romance. Girl-on-girl storylines in media for teens and young adults are moving to a point where lesbian representation is there to show young queer girls as complex characters with the capacity for joy instead of French kissing machines for the boys around them. As a 28-year-old lesbian who has only been fully out to myself and the world for about a year, this shift in teen media means a lot to me not just because I think of what an impact it would have had on me to see representation like that when I was in high school, but also because of the impact that representation still has on me now. While I love so much recent adult media
telling queer women’s stories, from The L Word: Gen Q to Portrait of a Lady on Fire, blessedly the last movie I saw in theaters before quarantine, I take comfort in teen media with well rendered queer teen girl characters. They at once help me imagine what it would have been like to know myself like that when I was a teenager, and they also provide comfort as I continue to become more confident and comfortable with my own queer self now. If my youth had fewer Cruel Intentions style kisses and more Blockers style kisses, maybe I would have come out closer to 17 than 27, but I try to be more thankful of what I have now instead of regretting what I didn’t have back then. While I wish I would have found it sooner, there is a kind of giddy teen love that I feel now with my girlfriend, something that was missing from my relationships and my life when my sexuality and romantic inclinations were shaped by and geared toward men, when I kissed girls less because I wanted to and more because there were eyes on me like a roaming camera lens. Sometimes, she asks me to give her the softest and sweetest kiss possible, and I hope she doesn’t dump me when she finds out that sometimes those soft and sweet kisses remind me of sipping a cherry icee with tears running down my face in a Friday night screening of Blockers. She has never seen the movie, and I look forward to making her watch it. There were certainly other things in my life in the spring of 2018 that were making me more confident in myself, other things that were making me more aware of my queerness, like a supportive community of queer friends in my life in Brooklyn. Blockers, however, and the extreme wave of emotions, that feeling of laughing and crying in a room full of crowded strangers has an odd and important warm spot in my coming out story. Blockers helped me push
myself into the biggest unknown of all, the tender and radical and vulnerable space of finally allowing myself to be known to the world around me and, most importantly, to be known to myself as the out lesbian that I am today.
REVIEW: “LAKE OF URINE” BY GUILLERMO STITCH (SAGGING MENISCUS, 2020)
From the start of Guillermo Stitch’s darkly comedic novel Lake of Urine, there is a journey. One slinking through back and forth, between playful caricaturing and starkly demented wit. The only thing more absurd than the language, were the cast of characters with each one more eccentric after the next. Characters like Ms. Emma Wakeling, and her daughters Urine, and Noranbole and William Seiler, who seems to be a shy observer in the beginning, but it becomes clearer and clearer with each passage that he’s a bloody mad man. From the start, not the absolute start, but when the Lake is first mentioned in Part One: Seiler, when we see how peaked Seiler’s curiosity is, and to witness it with ever sentence morph into a downward spiral. There is a trend where he starts to take a string, we aren’t told where the string is docked, but that it extends far. Far enough to explore the depths of the lake, far enough to rim around from the murky, nightly shore all of the way back to Wakeling’s residence. His curiosity reveals his truest colors, as depicted in the passage below:
“Come on, Spot!” I tried to sound light—jovial even—but Urine’s stupid mutt, willingly surrendered, was clearly going to be a spanner in the works. It hadn’t even managed to get onto the boat yet, though to be fair it was having to deal with a number of impairments to its mobility. I had learned a vital lesson from my first attempt. If anything were to go awry down there—an unanticipated depth or an obstacle of some kind, a
rocky outcrop for example, or a tangle of vegetation—then I would want to know about it. It was vital then that in the event of failure Spot would be able to return to the surface with said information. To this end I had duct-taped a pair of flippers to the hind feet of the dog and this was understandably causing some changes to its gait—a circumstance it was struggling to cope. (9)
In just this tiny excerpt alone, the Seiler reveals himself to be a sociopathic, animal-abusing monster. Although this type of character depiction is one that should be de-platformed not praised, Williams Seiler makes it clear that he isn’t a good-natured person, he isn’t glorifying his existence and as readers our goal shouldn’t be to glorify his sickening quest, but to laugh at its very existence. This isn’t done graphically of course, as Guillermo’s use of imagery brilliantly respects this etiquette while realizing this story still needs to have a conflicting, albeit down-right unforgivable character.
In Part Two: Noranbole, Chapter One, we find ourselves pulled into a complete 180 in transition going from Seiler’s heinous actions followed by being screamed at by Ms. Emma to Noranbole’s daily morning routine. We find her reluctantly waking up to the sound of her morning alarm, slumping down for a breakfast feast fit for a forest king. It’s an unconventional turn, but it’s without a doubt a brilliant one, it takes the reader back a bit, only to figure out the in-between, is this a slipstream? Did we skip a gorier scene dredged from William’s madness to just give us another that might as well call the prior a blur? The actions of our characters in the beginning of chapter one, take a different tone, one more concerned with the mundane rituals of a 9-5 work week rather than the deep fathoms of murky lake. However even in this moment, readers are treated to a use of whimsical and over-top-theatrical imagery. Throughout the rest we are
introduced to awkward workplace rituals, flowery love scenes in chapter four of Part two, Throughout Noranbole’s experiences, readers can find a pit stop of normality, at least to the extent this Novel lends itself to, through the deeper explorations of Noranbole and her beloved Bernard.
In Part Three: Emma Wakeling, we are given an origin story like no other compounded by rogues gallery of ex-lovers, and unused rooms, and the angst both may carry in their aftermath. For each and every surname she took, it was almost as if a specter from a past life follows her into every room she mentions. It’s an interesting backstory to a character who comes off at first a wicked sort, and ends up giving us some sort of reckoning as to why she is who she is nowadays. From red flag antics from her first lover at seventeen years, with Selwyn Prentice to a raunchy tale of her time married for the seventh time to Paco Naranja, out in the backroads of Seville; readers might find themselves battling for a reason to feel empathetic towards Emma, past even the most wicked of deeds.
In the final part, Part Four: Urine, we end right where we left off. The village around the lake was not only changed, but turned upside down. A brilliant call back to the damage left in William Seiler’s wake. Urine’s backstory reads as a requiem not for her but for the town and it’s entirety. At this point we start to see the string Williams Seiler sowed across the village, and the chaos that unraveled; a barrage of lost items, Urine’s traumatized puppy, Spot. Whether it’s a glimpse of Noranbole and Bernard’s routines as they to do what so many couples try to do so often: their best, or the expositional storytelling that give a more in-depth portrait for characters
like Emma, the downturn for Urine, or the obsessive, madness of Seiler which ends up unraveling like an unwanted gash; Lake of Urine isn’t just one long, dry joke building and building to a punchline. It’s the folly of a town, and the four main characters who call it home where a simple quest of curiosity brilliantly twists and turns into a recipe for chaos. The calamity is a stark look at how our own actions can blow up right in our faces. Guillermo Stitch’s novel makes magnificent work in establishing how dark the humor in our own vices can get, before we end up paying for them. In conclusion, it should also be clear, and this one of the most underrated beauties of Lake of Urine: it can be interpreted in so many ways, but in this It can truly be said the series of events and slipstream of exposition in between them, build an anthological arc quite like no other.
ON READING ALONE by Elliott Bradley The first time I spoke to Amelia, she was handing me a cracker for communion. Her father followed closely behind her, handing out cranberry juice packets and telling the adults about their future blessings. Two years into being selectively mute, I could barely say thank you. She laughed at my stutter until her father hit her in the back of her head to knock it off. Immediately, she was stone faced and apologizing. Head down, she walked away. Every Wednesday when she taught Teen Bible Study, her voice never wavered or lowered or became meek. Nothing touched her on the altar but God. I couldn’t have competed if I tried. She said every word euphoniously, treated every verse like love, cradled the Word like a gift she wanted to share, and I was always there to take my piece first. Every Wednesday there I was again, on the back row, hoping she’d never stop talking—or, more desirably, talk to me.
It didn’t matter that I was there two hours early every time. Or on those days I could convince my mother to let me wear jeans. Amelia only seemed to know me on Wednesdays in dresses that touched right above her knee; on the altar, looking down at me from her soap box. She only spoke to me before Teen Study. She’d tell me to put down chairs, let the boys handle the setup come read with her. At first, I didn’t bother to listen. I could only see myself impressing her through juvenile tasks. I thought picking up four chairs and setting up the entire room would make her stay in my presence. But she always disappeared after a shook head, bible left on the back table, bookbag underneath and unzipped. Eventually I stopped coming early for the chairs and brought my own bag. Amelia let me disappear with her to go read. We’d sit under a dusty table in the Bible room, door closed. She’d tell me which house I belonged to. Back then I wasn’t sure what a Ravenclaw was, but I
pretended to understand every word she said. She’d tell me not to mind the Bibles. To bring poetry. She’d tell me her favorite stanzas. We even made it a game. Sometimes one of us would bring a part we loved reading that week, and the other would guess the author. She always brought obscure poets and I brought whatever Google would find for me.
“there is nothing i can do except open my throat and say the word for girls who are the ghosts of want: “slut.”
i’ll take my shirt off while you watch— call it love when the knife rips through my ribs, when the ice pick cracks my chest, or however it happens this time but first” “Essex Hemphill?” I offered, interrupting. “Let me finish,” she’d giggled. “It’s gets better.”
“here’s my prayer: that what happens to girls like me who die dirty, give it up with a shudder like pleasure— pray that when we’re killed as martyrs we get loved like saints.”
“Maya Angelou?” I’d whisper. “Toni…uh…Toni-” “-Morrison? No,” she said flatly. “Read more.”
Our first kiss was during a session after I introduced her to spoken word. Olivia Gatwood and Sarah Kay, Shihan talking about that type love.
And I want a love that makes me regret how small my hands are I mean the lines on my palms don’t give me enough time To love you as long as I’d like to type love And I want a love that makes me st-st-st-st-stutter-
And she kissed me. It was quick and painful; we both knew God saw it and immediately prayed. Amelia apologized for giving in and I was sorry I didn’t recognize my blessings sooner. My head was too small to focus on everything. Repenting and the way it felt, the poem and Jesus, service being almost over and what this meant for us. Could we no longer read together?
She stuttered her way through the whole thing. She would not stop looking at the cross on the wall. I was too amazed at her timing. Why would Jesus care? Why couldn’t He mind his business? To me, if she’d never thought of Him, we could have kept going. Never stopped the kiss. Finished the poem. Wasted less time. She only dropped the phone out of panic. There was a huge crack I had to take a whooping for after I lied and said I did too much during worship. There were Wednesdays she couldn’t bear to meet me there. A month of reading alone. In between services expecting her to pop in with her floral dress, waiting for me to tilt up the title of what we’d read next. Nothing.
But eventually, she came back. She sat too far from me and stacked the Bibles in the corners like columns and turned the spines away. Took the cross off the hook and hid it behind her holy wall.
“Why don’t we ever read in the pews?” I asked her as she finished. “You want to be around everybody? You can barely speak in front of me.” “Then you read instead,” I insisted. “You have a nice voice.” “You would too if you used it.” Amelia stared at me. “Besides, ain’t nobody wanna hear Langston Hughes in between services.”
After that I didn’t speak. I was too upset to waste my words further. Who was she to tell me about myself? Sure, I had a stutter and a little anxiety that resulted in periods of muteness, but me not being able to read aloud shouldn’t have made her not want to be seen with me.
“You gonna let me sit next to you or not?” she asked, trying to break my vow of silence. “You gonna read with me in the pews?” I retorted.
She stayed by the Bibles. Like on Sundays, there was no swaying her.
“You know we can’t do that.” “Well I don’t see why not. We don’t have to touch to read,” I bargained. “No,” she uttered. “Everybody in the congregation knows you’re different. My daddy would kill me if he saw me hanging out with you.”
Deacon Daniels had always hated me. Once, when I first started attending church with my mother, I wore nothing but men’s clothes. For two weeks, I attempted to live as a boy for the first time in my life. The congregation had no clue! I was still too silent for my voice give my birth sex away, so I was considered, as far as anyone else was concerned, my mother’s third son for those weeks. It came to a close when, in between services, I couldn’t hold my pee and decided to try using the men’s bathroom. Unfortunately, at the church all the toilets in the men’s bathroom were urinals. As I tried to walk out, a group of boys from my Youth service came in and greeted me. They played around with each other, talking about all the girls in service they’d happily share a bus seat with. I, too shy to interact, tried to walk out. One of the boys stopped me and asked if I found any of the choir girls attractive. I shook my head, hoping it’d be enough, but the insults came soon after. A couple joked that maybe I
was gay. Some thought I was just too young to understand what they really liked about sitting next to the girls. One, Deacon Daniel’s youngest son, wasn’t convinced I was even male.
As soon as he made the comment, I tried to run out the door. A couple boys grabbed me and pulled down my suit pants. Once confirmed the fact I didn’t have a member like theirs, they locked the door and did what mobs do to a traitor: strike fear through torture. When Deacon Daniel walked into the bathroom to me semi-conscious on the floor, he asked me who did it. When I told him his son did, he told me to never come back without a dress on and God won’t have to send a prophet to speak to me through.
“Fine,” I told Amelia. “Lock the door.”
The week she started reading Zora Neale Hurston we skipped service to read longer. I had trouble concentrating on her words. Her hands shook as she read. She fumbled through Johnny
Taylor kissing Janie and was weeping by the time Janie’s grandmother told her she was to get married.
“You don’t want that?” I asked her. “You don’t want to get married?” “I don’t want to be married like that. Do you?” “I want to after I grow up.” She considered my feelings. She always did on our day. “You want a husband?”
And I didn’t. I wanted to be a husband. More importantly, I wanted to be her husband. I wanted this forever. To sit under the table and watch her shake. She never did that on the altar. Amelia was too proud to show anything but her love of God up there. Nothing could ever coexist. But here, on Wednesdays, we were always shaking. My voice and her hands, my body, and her morals. We only lived like this for an hour a week, two if I could convince her God wouldn’t mind us skipping Bible Study for extra education.
“Yeah, everybody does.”
We both knew we could never do it. I wanted her and only her, and she wanted anyone who wore dresses and could make her uncertain. But in the moment, we would settle for having each other for the hour, reading. This continued for almost a year. I only read outside of our bunker to impress her. The only thing we had in common were the books we read, and the only books I read were ones I knew she’d like.
She always loved Andrea Gibson. Her favorite poem was “Maybe I Need You”. In the latter half of our sessions, she’d whisper parts from memory when she was scared.
Even as I wrote this essay, I relistened to all the poems we heard. I reread every book we read, shook my hands, and stumbled over my own words. I’ve written this a thousand times trying to get her right, remember her words exactly how she said them.
I want to remember everything; I want to show her how well I’ve lived without. To tell her I haven’t stopped thinking about her, but I’ve started writing. I want to introduce her to Wright and Chen and Vuong and Hacker. To the newest Gatwood collection and my majors. To Boston and quarantine. To the books I’ve read without her.
She’s currently somewhere. Last I heard she ran away. She ran back. Is with a boy who reads the Bible to her. Is with a girl who loves her. Was exiled after me, caught with her hands shaking next to someone else undesirable, went to conversion therapy and left voluntarily. I don’t know, her father still won’t speak to me. I do know that she travels with me, begging me to stay longer. Begging me to remember another, another, another just for her. She’s on my bookshelf, my desk, the library, whispering into my ear:
I give you promises other than milk, honey, and liberty. I assume you will always be a free man with a dream.
RIPPLE by Aaron Lelito
CLIMB by Aaron Lelito
JUNGLE GIRL by Zanaya Hussein Nothing like your sisters’ covered up and romanticized, because she’s too beautiful. Side bangs, front bangs, short, or long she still feels the same. Silicones, parabens, and sulfates have hindered her. So now flourishing, she is unrecognizable. People only know what they’re used to, so they think you’ve altered yourself with intent. Rather she’s bettering her potential. Yet always looked at as even more Anglo-Saxon, as too outspoken. Like your great grandmother's they say, just to avoid saying she is like my mother’s. They never call her curly, they always call her tangled. Childhood trauma is embedded in detangler sprays when she was looked at and judged. Around-the-clock gel, flattened ponytails, Mom always told me she couldn’t deal with my perfectionist tastes. This grew into independence and taking control of how I would style her. Whether I applied coconut spray or the way in which I chose to scrunch. But always, always a t-shirt and not a towel. I don’t mind that she is different, maybe that’s my American individualism speaking or maybe I want her to be different so that I can justify why she and I feel alienated. And not because we’re naturally unwanted. Society is beginning to reclaim us, it’s elitist to define a hair type because anyone can be anyone if they want to. But I think the poufy, and the frizzy was just a desperate cry for better care, and this better care caused a transformation, a new identity. Even if it’s only one that I know, I care all the same. Tangles are treetops and knots are lions; she is a jungle that has, quite literally, grown on me.
CONTRIBUTORS D. ARTHUR D. Arthur is a fiction and essay writer from Buffalo, NY. Her work can be found in or is forthcoming from Washington Square Review, Foglifter Press, Electric Literature, and more. You can find more about her on her website, www.d-arthur.com, but she is most fun on Twitter (@babydmarie). MEREDITH PHIPPS Meredith Phipps (she/her) is a current undergraduate student at Barnard College where she studies English and works as a Writing Fellow. She bounces back and forth between Manhattan and northern Indiana. She typically writes poems about whatever she can't get off her mind. She can be found on twitter @merzi1999 and instagram @meredithphipps99. PRIYANKA SACHETI Priyanka Sacheti is a writer and poet based in Bangalore, India. She grew up in Sultanate of Oman and has previously lived in United Kingdom and United States. She has been published in many publications with a special focus on art, gender, diaspora, and identity. Her literary work has appeared in Barren, The Cabinet of Heed, Popshot, Terse, Lunch Ticket, and Jaggery Lit as well
as various anthologies. She's currently working on a poetry and short story collection. She can be found as @atlasofallthatisee on Instagram and @priyankasacheti on Twitter. MEGHA NAYAR Megha Nayar was longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020. She spends half her time teaching French and English. The other half, she devotes to learning Spanish, taking long walks, and pondering the purpose of human existence. Writing is her validation and dopamine fix. Her work has appeared in Burnt Breakfast, Cauldron Anthology, Potato Soup Journal, Ayaskala Magazine and The Daily Drunk Mag, among others. She blogs at meghanayar.tumblr.com and tweets at @meghasnatter. B.D. SHAW B.D. Shaw is a 25 year old musician/teacher/member of the gig economy from South Florida. Her current goals include surviving lockdown and teaching her dog to put away her own toys. ZANAYA HUSSEIN Zanaya is a Buffalo-based writer and a proud cat owner. She is currently a college freshman studying International Studies. The reason why Zanaya writes is because she says sentences became her jungle gym and words tied up better than presents did, and now Zanaya is forever trying to describe indescribable feelings. DYLAN ENGLAND Dylan England is an artist living and working in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY. Say hello @dylpaxton
BETHANY KRULL Bethany Krull is a Buffalo, New York based sculptor whose porcelain and mixed media sculptures and installations explore the complex and often complicated relationships between humans, their fellow animals, and the rest of the natural world. Her work has been included in many regional, national and international exhibitions including, Eureka! at the Blue Leaf Gallery in Dublin, Ireland, The Ceramics Biennial at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, and, Hot Rookies, at the Gyeonggi International Ceramics Biennial in Seoul, South Korea; Her most recent museum solo show, Where are the Wild Things? was held at the Castellani Art Museum, in Lewiston, New York. She currently maintains a boisterous family and an active studio at home in the city of Buffalo, New York.
CYNTHIA YACHTMAN Cynthia Yatchman is a Seattle based artist and art instructor. She works primarily on paintings, prints and collages. Her art is housed in numerous public and private collections in the Northwest and she has been shown nationally in California, Connecticut, New York, Indiana, Michigan, Oregon and Wyoming. JERICA TAYLOR Jerica Taylor is a non-binary neurodivergent queer cook, birder, and chicken herder. Their work has appeared in Dream Journal, Daily Drunk, The Fabulist, and perhappened. She lives with her wife and young daughter in Western Massachusetts. Twitter @jericatruly ELLE BADER-GREGORY Elle Bader-Gregory is a 16-year-old writer from Buffalo, NY. Elle often attends youth workshops at the Just Buffalo Writing Center. Elle uses She/Her pronouns. Elle has a personal instagram account, @ellebg22 ELLIOTT BRADLEY Elliott Bradley is a lover of all things great: fresh fruit, movies that are so pleasant they make you forget the patriarchy exists; raspberry chocolate-chip ice cream. They are an arising black, queer poet and prose author that has been previously published in Homology Lit, Royal Rose, InQluded Magazine, Teen Ink Magazine, Marías at Sampaguitas & Rag Queen Periodical. They can be found on Twitter & Instagram @ayeelliottmyguy. JEREMY PERRY Jeremy Perry is an American writer whose books and stories span many genres. His stories have appeared in magazines such as Cowboy Jamboree, Story and Grit, Plumb Journal, and Hello America. His books include Forsaken Land, Chicken Liver Blues, Hard Luck, Moonshiner's Justice, Brothers of the Mountain, and Under the Willow Tree. For all book and story news visit jeremyjperry.com.
RHIENNA RENEE GUEDRY Rhienna Renèe Guedry is a queer writer and artist who found her way to the Pacific Northwest, perhaps solely to get use of her vintage outerwear collection. Her work can be found in Empty Mirror, Bitch Magazine, Screen Door, Scalawag Magazine, and elsewhere on the internet. She is working on her first novel. Find more about her projects at rhienna.com or @chouchoot on Twitter.
LILIA MARIE ELLIS Here is a brief bio: Lilia Marie Ellis is a trans woman writer from Houston. Her work has appeared in publications including The Nashville Review and perhappened. Follow her on Twitter @LiliaMarieEllis! MIKE CHIN Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife and son. He is the author of three full-length short story collections: You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue from Duck Lake Books, Circus Folk from Hoot ‘n’ Waddle, and The Long Way Home from Cowboy Jamboree Press. Chin won the 2017-2018 Jean Leiby Chapbook Award from The Florida Review and Bayou Magazine’s 2014 James Knudsen Prize for Fiction. Find him online at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin. JAY MILLER Jay Miller is a technical writer working and living in Montreal. He edits The Lit Quarterly (litquarterly.ca), reviews books and writes poetry. He holds a BA in Linguistics and sometimes freelances as a translator working from French and German to English. DS MAOLALAI DS Maolalai (he/him) has been nominated eight times for Best of the Net and three times for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry has been released in two collections, "Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden" (Encircle Press, 2016) and "Sad Havoc Among the Birds" (Turas Press, 2019). He can be found on Twitter at @diarmo1990 AADESH Aadesh will make you cry when you're happy and make you happy when you can't stop crying. Though his half broken smile can melt your heart, his writing has the same effect too. A few drunk thoughts mixed with a serious 4 AM thinking makes a great piece, and Aadesh's writing will prove just that. Be aware though, you might get lost in one of them. SABRINA BLANDON Sabrina Blandon is a college freshman majoring in journalism. She has been writing since the age of eight and was first published by the age of ten. She wishes to show the world her writing to prove no one is too small to make a difference. AARON LELITO
Aaron Lelito is a visual artist and writer from Buffalo, NY. In his photographic work, he is primarily drawn to the patterns and imagery of nature. His images have most recently been th published in High Shelf Press, The Scriblerus, About Place Journal, 45 Parallel, and Alluvian. He is editor in chief of the art & literature website Wild Roof Journal. See more of his work at aaronlelito.com and on Instagram @runic_ruminations. THERESA WYATT Theresa Wyatt is the author of Hurled Into Gettysburg (BlazeVOX, 2018). Recent work appears in New Micro (W.W. Norton, 2018), New Flash Fiction Review, Spillway, The Healing Muse, The Exphrastic Review and The Phare. In 2017, Theresa was a finalist in the Best Small Fictions. Along with her husband, she resides south of Buffalo. MILEVA ANASTASIADOU Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Trampset, Milk Candy Review, Okay Donkey, Bending Genres, Open Pen and others.