Editors’ Note On the farthest reaches of the western ocean lies a sylvan paradise where departed souls come to rest. Ancient Greek mythology speaks of Elysium, the Isle of the Blessed, which manifests the comfort of an unchanging horizon. The living wander through life, aspiring toward this haven of rich soil and feathered trees. The Elysian Fields warrant the struggles we endure, and even in paradise our pursuit of absolution does not go unnoticed. The ocean breeze carries our stories to shore: an orphan rediscovering her origins. A widower coming to terms with his grief. An aboriginal rendering his anger into language. This issue ofVertigo chronicles our conceptions of the path to paradise.
Vertigo is the official literary magazine of Lynbrook High School in San Jose, California. Advertising rates are available upon request by emailing email@example.com with the subject “Vertigo Advertising Request.” The views and opinions expressed within Vertigo do not reflect or represent the administration or faculty of this school or high school district. Printed by FolgerGraphics, Inc. © Vertigo Literary Magazine All Rights Reserved.
Cover Illustration by Rachel Yung Title Page Illustration by Jia Gao
staff writers Vivian Chan Kevin Chang Darya Charkashyna Nikita Gourishetty Beth Hightower Irene Hsu Jane Jun
Diane Kim Jessica Kim Claire Li Jefferine Li Emily Liu Jenny Liu John Park
Marian Park Catherine Pugh Emily Su Kimberly Tan Christine Wang Jeffrey Yang Christina Zhu
editor-in-chief Frances Guo genre editors Candy Chang artists Michelle Chang Irene Chen Jia Gao Angela Hu James Kao Diane Kim Joyce Kung Lillian Li Jasmine Liu Clay Song Richard Wei Ashley Wu Yifei Xie Ann Xu Annie Yang Rachel Yung Carolyn Zhao Christina Zhu Yuqing Zhu
Ashley Wu secretary Disha Banik treasurer Helen Jun production manager Frances Guo art editor Ashley Wu webmaster Robert Ying adviser Rick Hanford
production Candy Chang Frances Guo Irene Hsu Helen Jun Jane Jun Jessica Kim Jefferine Lee Emily Su Kimberly Tan Christine Wang Ashley Wu
Homeward // Helen Jun
My Crooked Neck // Irene Hsu
Streetlights of Eternity // Beth Hightower
Digging Up // Jeffrey Yang
Speechless // Emily Liu
Stress // Nikita Gourishetty
The Color of Love // Marian Park
Until Memories Fade // John Park
Flare // Jenny Liu
Waiting // Catherine Pugh
The One-Eyed Stuffed Bear // Christine Wang
Mermaid Dream // Christina Zhu
Waiting for a Train // JeffreyYang
Rebirth // Jefferine Li
Look Behind, Look Here, Look Ahead // Vivian Chan
Restoration // Disha Banik
Watchman // Jessica Kim
Waiting Winter // Emily Su
Footprints in the Sand // Kimberly Tan
Your Frozen Eyes // Darya Charkashnya
The Cuckoo // Jane Jun
Silence Revisited // Frances Guo
Speak, Savannah // AshleyWu
Homeward by helen jun
great city rose behind the clouds. All around, starlight rode on the galloping waves, whispering mysteries of the land. The silhouette of the harbor arched along the treetops and plunged with the boats. I was silent as I imagined a blonde woman and a man, holding the hand of a small girl, leaving this harbor. What filled the time before that scene? Our boat creaked as it touched the dock. When I stepped onto the pier, my heart soared, seeking the sweet-smelling earth. A bright yellow leaf fluttered to my feet. “Welcome home,” my homeland murmured. * * * In the daylight, the city lay bare. I followed the streets to the place where paint peeled off the walls like molting insects, and patches of dirt were like bloody scabs on the lawn. Children ran barefoot, their faces dirty and emaciated. “Hello,” I called out to one of the little ones, “Does Mrs. Hutchinson still work here?” The boy glanced at me and said a hasty “yes” before he sprinted away, shrieking as he chased a ball with his friends.
6 “Not everyone...
I stepped inside. “Mrs. Hutchinson,” I said, offering a hand. “It’s nice to see you.” Her eyes were like gaping caves as she bolted upright. “You here to adopt a child?” “Mrs. Hutchinson,” I watched her face, smiling hesitantly. “I’m Erica.” She looked at me blankly. “Who?” “I lived here seventeen years ago, until the Gardiners took me overseas. Remember?” “I’ve had a lot of Erica’s.” Mrs. Hutchinson slouched back in her seat. “Hold on, I’ll bring out the files.” She shuffled through the fading papers, one crumpled sheet after another. The faces of the children blurred together in her fingers. “Here.” She handed me the yellowing paper. The young girl clutched the hem of a ragged skirt, a rough hand pushing her forward. It was my face that smiled demurely behind the smudged fingerprints. I scanned the picture for an answer: who was I? Mrs. Hutchinson ushered me out of
the orphanage, but I didn’t leave. It was hard to believe this was it. A boy squatted near me, peeling the wings off a struggling dragonfly. The children screamed and chased a ball until it burst; a small gaggle hurled rocks at a girl until she cried and lost their interest. Perhaps there was no answer. The path back to my hotel was lined with ginkgo trees, but the tears smeared the view into a yellow haze. The rancid smell of the fallen leaves stung my nose, but I walked on. “You forgot this,” a young voice said behind me. It was the girl the other children had been bullying earlier. I took the crumpled paper from her hands. “Thanks.” “You’re pretty,” the girl peered up at me. “Are you a mother?” I started. “No, I’m only a student.” “Oh.” She made circles with her
foot in the gravel. “Are you from the neighborhood?” “No, I’m from the States,” I said. “But this place, this city, is my homeland.” The longing and pride that drenched my words surprised me. “Did you miss it here?” she asked. I remembered the orphanage with the molting walls and gaunt children. The way my heart was drawn to this land, the way the earth called to me. Yes.” I said. “I don’t think I ever truly left.” * * * The city faded just as it appeared, vanishing behind the billowing clouds. I held a heart-shaped gingko leaf in my hand as the sunlight saturated the air. The captain’s whistle spilled into the bright sky as we drifted homeward. 7 ...can be an orphan.” — Andre Gide
y mcrooked neck by irene hsu
ell, Mom tells me, you’ve done it again. This is Mom’s favorite sentence. She says it about nine times a day, but what the “it” is that I’ve done again, she never says. This is a good indication that she will grab my hand and charge out of the door, which she does, and that I will flop along right behind her, which I do. When Mom charges forward, and she does it every week (usually on Fridays after her work), the whole world whizzes by we’re leaving it behind. Last last week at the grocery store, everything was just zooming by, like the row of cabbages, and the other day it was her rolly chair. Mom
always beats the whole world though, and I tell you, that rolly chair is a speedy one, because my sister Marie and I always race on rolly chairs. Of course, I’m the only one who ever gets in trouble, but I like racing Marie on those chairs because it’s the only thing I can beat her at. This time, as she grabs my arm and pulls, all I can see is Ms. Jenny, whom I hate more than people who make fun of my name, which pretty much happens every time. When I hate the world, I usually go to the library across the street to read some titles, but once, I was making a break for it, and Ms. Jenny asked me what
8 “Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them...
I was doing, and I said nothing, and she said go to the office, and then Mom came to drag me away at supersonic speed and to yell some words that Marie says pretty much mean “stupid” and “dumb” at Ms. Jenny. Every day now, Ms. Jenny gives me the stink eye on account of Mom calling her stupid and dumb, but I don’t really care because she has a mole on her left cheek, and Marie told me that people with moles are secretly witches in disguise, haven’t I read any books? Yes, I have, but I guess after Dad was gone I didn’t have anyone to read with and skipped the books about witches. It’s a good thing Marie told me, because even though witches don’t scare me, I don’t want to get eaten by Ms. Jenny, of all witches. That’s when I figured that since Marie knew everything, what would be the point of two of us knowing everything? We linked pinkies and said that when we grow up, she’d do all the reading and I’d do all the nodding along, and she can tell me all about witches and George Washington and Nate the Great. So from then on, I decided not to read any more books. Plus, it makes me sad when I read books, because then my head reads them in Dad’s voice, which is very thick and velvety, like hot chocolate, and then I remember that I won’t ever get to hear him read again. Anyway, as Mom is storming out the door, I wish that Jimmy would pick me up if I were ever in trouble. Jimmy is no Dad, and even though he and I are mutually not so hot on each other, I like sitting in the car with him because it’s nice and quiet and I also find coins in his car. I don’t care much for the quarters and nickels, it’s the pennies that interest me most because they’re so shiny, and the best part is that Jimmy always lets me keep them. When I
get home, I drop the pennies in my jar and I hear them clinking together, and I feel like I am rich. So that is why I like when Jimmy takes me home. Plus, Mom likes Marie more anyway, which is probably why she named her Marie while I got stuck with a crappy name like Herman which everyone always makes fun of and pronounces as “Her-man” instead of “Hurmin”. Everyone just gets it wrong, even Ms. Jenny, who is fortunately whizzing so I don’t have to look at her left mole for forever. Mom is telling me some things about my posture as she yanks the seatbelt over me, but I don’t really listen to her, because she is always telling me something and dragging me somewhere, especially after that time last week when she told me to sit straight, but I was sitting straight so I don’t know why she told me do that. And then she frowned at me like I am frowning now and asked me if there was something wrong with my neck. Since then she hasn’t really smiled a lot, but she has these angry looking wrinkles on her forehead and she also does a lot of talking on the telephone and I’ve been hearing my name getting all mingled and bunched up with “posture” and “neck.” It’s not really a big deal, since she loves to talk about me and how I give her migraines. Once I told Ms. Jenny that Mom gives me migraines ...rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.” — Oscar Wilde
and also scratches the inside of her nose so that it looks like she is picking it, but apparently Mom doesn’t like copycats and she gave me a time out. Mom is saying, Her-man, we are going to the doctor right now, this instant. She yanks the steering wheel to the left, and then we almost run over a squirrel so I scream a little before remembering that boys aren’t supposed to scream. Marie told me that, too. Marie tells me a lot of things, and so does Mom, but I only like listening to Marie and not Mom. I used to listen to Mom, but only because Dad promised that for each word I listened to, he would help me find that many pennies. But he died before I even got up to a hundred. I wonder how many pennies I’ll need to buy him back; I’m guessing more fifty, because that’s how much I bought my fish Abel for and Dad is much less boring than Abel is. Abel just swims around, and Dad can find pennies. So now, I don’t really feel like listening to Mom since Dad’s not here. Plus, it’s hard to do things the way Mom wants them, so I usually just do things the way Mom doesn’t want them, it’s much easier like that, and sometimes it’s funny when she gets mad. Last year, I told Mom that I hated Ms. Jenny because she looked like a witch, and Mom told me not to judge a book by its cover, so since
10 “Parents wonder why the streams are bitter...
then, I’ve been trying very hard just to judge books. The good thing is that by not listening to Mom, I’m not missing Dad, and I’m also listening to Marie. I promised that I would never read a book in my whole entire life, I figured that titles don’t really count, so that’s what I do to judge a book by its cover—reading the titles. It’s like hitting three stones with one bird. The best way, I have discovered, is to run around the library in a zigzag. I started in the A’s last year, but the top row is hard to reach because it’s taller than the bathroom sink, so I’ve decided that when I am twelve and can reach the spare change box on top of the refrigerator to look for pennies, then I will come back to the books at the top. For now though, I’m on the second row of the D’s, and Marie says that I have probably judged about a gazillion million books by their covers now. Most of them are pretty straightforward, like Beowulf which is probably about being a wolf, but I think they spelled it wrong; adults are always sticking their nose in the air, except Dad, but that’s just because Dad was so tall that if he stuck his nose up it would just hit the ceiling. Anyway, their secret is safe with me, I think Beowulf looks much cooler than Be a Wolf. Another books is Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I’d imagine is about the adventures of a fish called Huckleberry Finn. I feel kind of sorry for Huckleberry, because that’s an even worse name than Herman. I bet the other fish make fun of him for his
name and he probably cries in the painting corner, which is what I do sometimes so no one can see me, because I hate being called names that aren’t mine. The thing about running around judging books by their covers is that after a while, my head gets sort of heavy for my neck, like it’s going to roll off my shoulders and someone is going to play wall ball with it. See, all the books are always propped up in stacks, but horizontally so that the title is sideways. Then I have to crane my neck to the right so that my ear is pressed into my shoulder, and after three hours of doing that, it gets very tiring. But Dad told me once that if I work hard, I can make my dreams come true, and my dream is to read all the books in the library. Their titles, I mean. So whenever my head feels like it is going to fall off my neck, I say “I can make my dreams come true” and my neck gets better, sort of. Then I wake up, and I guess I was asleep because Mom is yanking my seatbelt out and saying, good Lord, Herman we’re late and it’s all your lazy stupid fault, or something along the lines of that, and then she charges again and my neck feels like it’s going to snap any minute now. Then, I squeeze my eyelids together and cover my eyeballs and whisper to myself, “I can make my dreams come true” to make my neck feel better, but I remember that I am outside a doctor’s office and not in the library. And then Mom tells me to stop talking to myself, because then people will think I am crazy. But Mom doesn’t talk to herself, and I think she’s crazy. When Mom charges into the doctor’s office, a man with no hair shakes my
hand and asks me what my name is, but I’m not supposed to talk to strangers so I say, hey man, none of your beeswax. He straightens up and laughs, which sounds like a cow dying; then I see that he has a nametag that says “Hello, my name is Dr. Miller,” so I ask him if he is knows Arthur Miller who wrote Death of a Salesman, and if he knew why the salesman died. I was judging the D books by their covers today, and it struck me as miserable that someone would write about someone’s death. Once during Dad’s funeral, I asked Uncle Freddie if he was dead, and he told me never to speak of death, and that Dad passed away and was with the angels, whatever that means. If he really is with the angels, then they are probably mad at him because he used to play tic-tac-toe with me at church. Dr. Miller, no relation to Arthur Miller, tells me that he doesn’t know, but then I’m wondering, if he doesn’t even know that, how is he a doctor. Whatever. I’ll just ask Marie when I get home. Marie knows everything Then, Dr. Miller takes my X-Ray, and him and Mom talk about life and their children and the migraines that they get from their children. I am about to say that Mom gives me migraines to and secretly picks her nose to boot, but then I don’t really feel like making Mom nag so much, so I slouch a little to keep my thoughts from sneaking out of my mouth. Dr. Miller disappears for about a hundred years, and then Mom wipes off her mile-wide smile that she uses when she talks to people who know everything, and tells me to watch the way I sit because frankly, Her-man, she is getting so tired of the way I cause so much trouble for her. She thumps my back a little like she is hammering it out to make me sit straight, which I do. Then Dr. Miller comes back with some X-Rays 11
...when they themselves have poisoned the fountain.” — John Locke
tucked under his armpit, and Mom asks him in this syrupy chirp that spews from her mile-wide smile how my neck looks. He says, Mrs. Lotova may I please speak with you privately, so they disappear for another twenty decades. I am looking around, and I see that there is a bookshelf in the corner of the room, so I go over to read some titles. I tilt my head a little bit and boy does that hurt like a stubbed toe, only in my neck. Unfortunately, my efforts go unrewarded because the only words I can pick out from the titles are “the” and “a” and “of ” and “spine” and “neck,” so instead, I lie down on the floor to take a nap. That’s when I see something shiny beneath the shelf, so then I lie down on the ground like I am taking a nap, and squash my cheek against the ground, and huzzah! I see five pennies—no, six! It is, as Marie would say, a one chance in one lifetime. This is exciting, I have never found four pennies at once! There was this time when I was pulling up the sofa cushions to
12 “All change is not growth...
throw them at Mom, and I found three— but never six! That means I can get Dad back soon, so I won’t have to watch Abel swim in circles and listen to Mom tell me, Her-man do this, Her-man do that, for the rest of my life. When I get Dad back from the angels, he can help me find even more, and then maybe I will be able to buy the whole library, or maybe find a cure for cooties. Or he can just read to me in his velvet voice, I would like that too. So I stick a hand under the bookshelf, and hooray! It just fits under the shelf. I jerk it around a little and then the pennies all whiz out from under the shelf, along with some fluffs of dust and a breadcrumb. I scoop the pennies and then hold them to the light, like Dad used to do for good luck. But then one slips out and rolls away from me, and I am kind of upset because how am I supposed to get Dad and his hot chocolate voice back? I chase after it, and it rolls right into the hinge of the door. So I roll behind the door too, and I’m glad I chase after it because this is an especially shiny penny. I stick my fingers between the hinges and yank it out, and I look at the man on the penny—he looks just like Dad! And the house on the back looks just like a library. So I make a wish, but then Mom and Dr. Miller are coming back and chattering so loudly that I can’t hear my own wish. But before I can whisper it a little louder, the door opens, and I guess they can’t see me because I feel my shoulders being mashed together, and something clomps on my finger, and something else is pushing my neck to the left, and I hear Mom cry out something, but it is too late because I hear a snap, and the last things I see are the pennies spilling out of my palms and rolling away, away, away.
restoration by disha banik
Lately I feel stillness, perhaps an occasional tremor but mainly stagnant, turbid waters of a drying lake resting in me. My parched bones rattle, discontent with the reticent wrinklesâ€” instead thirsting for midnight, convulsive seas to unfurl, to pound and reverberate in my thinning bones; for inky swells to rupture the ivory chambers and erupt entirely. I yearn for the exploding overwhelming passion of those rampant tides I wish to return to the surging avalanches and churning liquid, that once outpoured from me. So I beg, I beg for tempests and monsoons to thrust the clanging ocean and its irrepressible mounting waves, back down the rivers, back down the channels of my bones, back, back, back into me.
13 ...as all movement is not forward.â€? â€” Ellen Glasgow
wATCHMAN by jessica kim
Down by the street light, clothed with a starstrung robe of white, I see you, You with your rose-tinged halo of tear-rimmed sorrow-clad ache, brought forth into the night with a stroke of a match— You stand with your hands clasped like a prayer, drawn tight and taut, unmoving but your eyes paint a picture into the sated silence, of belated sighs and halfhearted pleas for a yesterday not so far and lucid. Eyes black and lost you raise your hand, counting ten with each pearl-ringed finger, grabbing each tear each wish, letting go, each fear each kiss down and out across a nameless wishful sky, up and down a broken aisle of here, I wish you were here, here, near, where the lingering notes of your smiling laugh fill up the growing lack, the senseless nonsense of a restless n— Eve— Still?— waiting from that window I can see it all, I can see you, every tear rimmed with sorrow clad in ache, with hands clasped like a prayer, painting pictures into the beaten silence, for a tomorrow not so far and lucid. Waiting, waiting, still.
14 “Hope is the worst of evils...
15 ...for it prolongs the torment of man.â€? â€” Friedrich Nietzsche
onightâ€™s the night. The stars above are shimmering, cars are howling off into the distance, and I stand, because the time is now. For the first moment in so long, things feel right, as if I am in some sort of grand spiritual union with the universe at large. Of course, that is not the case. Not in the slightest.The thought makes me smile, though. Itâ€™s always the little things in life, after all, and I certainly am not complaining. False peace is a sentiment worth relishing, and this is precisely what I do, basking in the momentary relief, tranquility seeping through me like wine through a nice dress-shirt. The best of us are stained by the best of things, or so my mother would have me believe. I wonder if that was her way of justifying herself to me, but I doubt it would have mattered enough for her to do so. It was just a simple thing, really. When I stop to think about it, I suppose everything is. I like to think that that will change, now, with this. I like to imagine a world suddenly aglow, set alight, burning and blazing into something new. More than anything, I like to picture my hands, one gripping gasoline, the other, the torch. Setting everything in motion again, setting everything right. Is that not what life is all about? And this will make things right. I can feel it, from the tips of my toes to the edges of my eyelashes, all the way down to the marrow of my bones. This is not right, but it will make things so. They would always say to never leave a job half-done, both my father and my mother. How ironic that is, now, I think, taking up her unfinished task, bringing it to fruition, holding tight through the kicking and screaming and pleading. I think she would approve, were it that
16 â€œEverything has been figured out...
she were less attached to the situation at hand. My mother, strong woman thought she is, has never been able to separate her emotions well from the important matters in life. In this instance, though, I could not say that I entirely begrudge her that. It would not be easy to remain stoic in the face of flames, but panicking does make such a mess of things. And she always kept the house so nice and tidy, too. What a shame. A part of me thinks that this should be done cleanly, with more finesse, more forethought. But then, of course, she did not provide my father with such considerations. So doing for her would thus be naught but pointless effort. I believe I have managed to keep things even enough in my plans, so far. Fire for a needle might be something of a stretch, yet I think it will be worth it. My father was more of a romantic than my mother,
by beth hightower after all. It would be such a disappointment for him if I simply turned her clinical hand back upon itself. Finesse, perhaps, but where is the style? I have, however, made an effort to match my mother more evenly in other respects. To begin with, I took out an identical insurance policy. It just would not do to let the apparent motives for our deeds differ so significantly. I neither care for the monetary payout nor need it. This is not about something as trivial as that. This is about righting my world again, about tearing asunder the second of two bookends, the first of which was destroyed long ago and left everything toppling in its wake. This is about creating order and balance in a universe devoid of both. This is about symmetry. For all her neatness, my mother has never expressed a word of care for such elegant concepts. How sad it must be, liv-
ing with no thought of the world beyond the self, with no appreciation for abstracts, with no sense of existential longing or purpose. I pity her. Perhaps some deeper contemplation will pass through her synapses as she catches her reflection in the glint of the axe. Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part. After all, old women can’t be taught new thoughts. So said my father, at any rate. But his words hold little weight with me now, assuming, of course, that they ever did. It is not for him that I act. Neither is it for justice, or to retaliate against any sense of loss I felt for him as a person. I think it is quite a shame that people are only ever killed for such terribly petty things. If only people had more sense to them, and sensibility, to boot. And I suppose a predisposition for thought would not hurt, either. Something I clearly have in abundance. Thinking, for all its many virtues, does not do the deed. The clock ticks, the stars dance, the world is askew. There is so much to be done before the night is through. I look out the window and down the street, letting my eyes trace out the neighborhood house by house, until at last they light upon that of my childhood. Its windows are dark, but the streetlamps cast a glow into them. I can see the outlines of the old furniture: here, the dinner table covered in worn stains and minute cuts; there, the bed where my father breathed his last. It is the same as it has always been. But tonight, I know, tonight, something will change. After that, who knows – anything could happen, and it would be right, and it will be, soon. So soon I can feel it. The starlight, shining so very bright, marks out my path along the pavement. Tonight’s the night. 17 ...except how to live.” — Jean Paul-Sartre
waiting by emily su
In an ocean, shoulder deep, you waited.
Your heartâ€™s shudder drowns in the murmuring waves and you, with your graying patience, plunge into warm waters. The taste of white air has always been your buoy as you resurface and sink, resurface then sink. You are one with the tide, gasping arctic, foggy breaths waiting wishing waiting. for a sign.
18 â€œLove one another, but make not a bond of love...
winter At last, the pearl finds its way into your palms. It splits open into the waves your eyes gleaming as the sounds, the sea freeze over, as the endless waters recede until all is ice. You blink and then the arms of winter greet you envelop you in a long lost embrace, and somehow, you feel it’s time, time to fly the white flag and let winter finally take you home.
19 ...let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” — Khalil Gibran
Digging Up by jeffrey yang
treetlights hung over the street like tired arms, bathing the asphalt in yellow light. Gray buildings cast dim shadows across the narrow sidewalk. A man hurried down the street, clutching the pockets of his coat. His long shadow swayed with each step. His footsteps were indistinguishable from the rain. He splashed down the line of buildings, until, panting, he reached Complex 407. Huddling under the dripping overhang, he extended a bony hand and knocked on the door. “Go away,” a voice wheezed from inside. “It’s me,” the man said. The door opened. The man blinked at the darkness inside. “Got the goods?” the man asked. Henry dropped a plastic bag into his hand. The man pulled out ten filthy bills. “Party tonight?” Henry asked, folding the bills into his pocket. The man nodded. “Make it a good one.” Henry closed the door, shutting out the yellow glare from the streetlights. He reclined in a chair, staring up into the pitch black ceiling. “You can almost see the stars,” he whispered to himself. Then he realized why he had kept the
20 “I can only write...
lights off for the past month, why he kept the blinds closed, why he spent every waking hour in the hole of his apartment room. It was not the light he feared, but what the light would show. In the darkness it could not be seen, but he knew precisely where it lay and every moment of that knowledge burned. That moment the only part of the world that existed was the space under the mattress he was lying on. But he forced himself back to the room, the pitch black reality. Laying his head on the pillow, he closed his eyes, but could not banish the thought of what was lying just a few inches below. He struggled for such a long time against the thought that he did not realize when he drifted away to the soft pattering of rain around him. His surroundings were bathed in a harsh light. It illuminated the entire room, jutting forcefully into his eyes, shining most intensely on the bed. Henry wanted to scream, to throw himself onto the bed to cover it from the light that made it seem naked, exposed. But he broke into a cold sweat when he realized that the light was not pointing to the bed. It was coming from it.
“You seem lonely,” a voice behind him said. “You again?” Henry turned around. It stood on the bed, its tail swishing back and forth, smiling. Its smile always drove Henry mad. It gave him the feeling that it had what he wanted, and knew it too. “Of course,” it said, without breaking the wide smile on its face. “I couldn’t leave you alone, seeing you suffer like this.” “Well you better learn how to leave me alone.” The light bounced off the white walls, surrounding him, encasing him. “Why do you have to be so curious?” Its smile widened, cutting into the sides of its face. “I am a cat, after all.” “What do you want from me?” Like a wound, the smile gouged deeper into the gray fur, gums like raw flesh, yellow teeth a sign of an infection. “Why bombard me with such pointless questions?” Henry leaned against a wall, trying to pretend that the light meant nothing to him. The cat leaped onto the floor. “Why hide from it, Henry?” it asked, its tail still swishing, its maddening smile etched on its face. “Why hide from the light, like a primitive, subterranean creature, frightened of your own shadow, when you can rise up and bask in its glory?” Henry moaned, clutching his shoulder with sweating palms. The cat’s smile grew wider, rending deeper and deeper into his face until it seemed it would split in half. “I can see it in your eyes,” the cat said. “You hope that if you wait long enough, you’ll wake up, just like Alice. But there is no escape. When you wake up in your room, no matter how safe you feel, it will still be with you, waiting...” Gray fur faded into white walls, and the cat was gone. But its cursed smile was still etched in Henry’s mind like a red hot brand.
“Even when you wake up,” the cat’s disembodied voice said, “you are still in wonderland.” The light from Henry’s bed went out, leaving him in darkness. Soft streams of light struggled to squeeze through the blinds, expiring before they could reach the floor. Henry got up, turned on his dingy computer, and made the bed while it booted up, neatly folding the filthy sheets. He sat down on his chair and put his hands on the keyboard. And then he remembered that he hadn’t made the bed in many years, that he hadn’t written a single word since that time. Henry slowly rose from his chair, walking up to the wall. He wished that he could be like it. Blank, dead, perfect. He saw bright cars streaming down the road through the tiny slits of the closed blinds, saw a man walking briskly down the street, realizing that he had once walked like that. The tears were a current, streaming down his face. Memories fell, like tears, into his mind. His blue notebook, filled with crooked, ripped pages, filled with words, his words, the words that he had seen and felt and touched. He remembered the shining white pages of his first manuscript, the denial letters from the publishers, the soft light of the sun he had since forgotten. But when the eyes ran dry by the afternoon, the hunger began. Not for food, for he could no longer keep anything down. Hunger for what lay under
21 ...what the muse allows me to write.” — Ian Hamilton Finlay
his mattress. But he forced himself to stop, to remember the words of GrandDaddy Wilson. When he took the job, starving for cash in his pocket, he had asked the GrandDaddy, the chief, whether or not any of his dealers did what they sold. The GrandDaddy chuckled. In his calm yet powerful voice, he told Henry, “Always that question, eh? Always that question.” Henry waited while the GrandDaddy took a long drag. Exhaling, the GrandDaddy shot pale smoke over Henry’s head. “People tend to think I worry about the stock that’s lost if my dealers get hooked. But it’s not that at all. Not that at all.” He took another drag. “I have so many joints running from here to the coast, so why should I care if a few pounds get lost to dealers here and there?” He looked at Henry with his solemn gray eyes. “Listen, Henry. Don’t ever tell this to your buyers, but that stuff’s terrible for you. One hit and you feel real good and you take another. And another. Eventually the only thing you’ll think about is the next hit, and then you stop dealing. Now you see what happens if everyone stops dealing, don’t you? There’s no rule about it. Shoot up on a bit if it’s really been one of those days. But keep in mind that if you fall tumbling for that stuff, you will lose your job.” Night had begun to fall, and with it came the business. The first one arrived, a toothless man with glazed eyes, who had probably lost sight of everything but the next hit a long time ago. Then another. 22 “Excessive fear...
And more. Henry hated them. They didn’t care if they lived or died; their only worry was whether they would still have some left when they came out of their high. He hated them because he envied them, envied the indifference with which they threw their lives away. And he hated himself for envying them. But when the last buyer had left and the streets went quiet, Henry realized that he would rather have them knocking on his door. Alone, the itch of temptation exploded into a searing pain. He sat down against the wall opposite his bed, willing himself to stay still, but the blood inside him screamed for more, until he couldn’t stand it. Striding over to the bed, he threw the mattress off, spilling the folded sheets over the floor, and reached for a plastic bag. He couldn’t remember much after that, only the sound of a razor chipping on a wooden table, again and again. And now he was free, soaring through the air, lying against his bed in his apartment room.The cat emerged from his chest as it always did, swimming through the air like a seal, smiling, but its smile could no longer hurt him. In an exalted rush he threw open the switch on his computer, and with the cat at his side, dictating, he spun out a miracle of words, his hands typing furiously, and with each word he knew that he was unraveling the nature of existence, discovering why the sun rises in the east. A bright light slowly encompassed his vision, and he was flying, free, toward the sun, until it became so bright
that his vision grew pitch black. Henry did not realize he was awake or that his eyes were open, until he noticed bright lights dancing in the ceiling. He sat up from the bed. A sharp ringing pain in his ears made him blink, and the lights disappeared. With a shaking finger he turned on his computer. Nothing. Henry rose from his desk. He turned the doorknob and left the room. The pale light of an overcast sky cast faint shadows against the wet asphalt. Few were out at that hour, and the occasional automobile whispered by. But all Henry saw were the dead lampposts passing him by, one at a time. He had no destination in mind, but found himself stopping in front of a peeling green door. Above it hung a blank sign. He walked through the tiny bar to the counter, stepping over white tiles stained with grime and spilled drinks. “A glass of water,” he told the bartender. The bartender opened the door to a back room and let Henry in. A single lamp lit the room, placed on a desk in the center. Henry sat in a chair in front of the desk. “Henry,” GrandDaddy Wilson’s grave voice resonated throughout the room. “How are you?” “I can’t perform this job anymore. I resign.” Henry’s voice drifted into the dark corners of the room. Another point of light appeared in the room, an ember at the end of the Grandaddy’s cigarette. “I see.” The GrandDaddy offered no other reply. “I just can’t take it anymore!” He
screamed into the silence. “You don’t know how it feels, living every day, living with what you can’t touch but you just have to touch, every hour of your goddamn life!” “I don’t know what it feels like?” the GrandDaddy mused slowly. “What makes you think that? I’ve never touched the stuff?” He burst out into wild laughter, shocking Henry into silence. “Oh I know what it feels like, I know, don’t get me wrong there Henry. I know, just as sure as I know I have every one of you dealers in my pocket. Why do you think I let you snort it anyway, huh? It’s a trap. One hit and you’re as good as mine. You think I’ve never had people like you, yapping their ears off about how they can’t do it? Well, guess what—they come running right back to me like whipped dogs, with their tails between their legs. “You think you’re special because you had that novel thing going on? Do you think anyone would read that trash? Look at you now. You think you mean anything more to me than the other hopeless crackhead of a dealer because you come running up to me with a sob story about how you can’t write anymore?” Henry stared at the spirals of smoke curling upwards. “Get out of my sight,” GrandDaddy Wilson spat. Henry saw the rusty door, then bright light refracted through his tears. He kept walking until he felt pavement under his feet and heard the cars rushing by. Only when he dried his eyes did his surround23 ...is always powerless.” — Aeschylus
ings return to him—the clouded sky, the gray building that he leaned against. The GrandDaddy was right. He was always right. The cat was right too. It was hopeless, all from the start. He would never be able to wake up from his nightmare. His eyes traced the path of a red leaf, spinning across the air, blown on by a current that controlled its every movement, dictated its path, tumbling helplessly across the ground. If only it could stop, resist the force that dominated it. Why couldn’t he? It was fall again.Years had gone by. And though he had endured through every single day, he had never lived a moment. Where was he now? Watching the leaves fluttering around like the empty pages of his blue notebook, pages that should have been filled. The cat was right. He couldn’t sit waiting for the dream to end. He had to climb out of the rabbit hole. He began walking, each step with purpose, confidence. He remembered the dark, smoke filled room. It must have been even worse for the GrandDaddy than it had been for him.Waiting every day in that dark room, seeing nothing but the hopeless faces that came, seek- ing help, yet each believing that he was beyond help—Henry knew now that the GrandDaddy was trying to make him realize his plight, his own way of crying out at the hope-
24 “It takes three...
lessness around him. The GrandDaddy was trying to help him. He strode up the stairs into his home, walking like those he saw on the street carrying briefcases, walking like how he had years ago. The pale sun still shone through the blinds, but Henry found himself stricken with exhaustion, the exhaustion from a day’s honest work. Falling on his bed, he let his surroundings drift away with the faint beginnings of a smile on his face. Henry stood in the room, facing the glaring light that emanated from his bed. He blinked, and the cat appeared, the same smile etched on its face. But Henry smiled along with it. The cat saw his smile. “You know, don’t you?” it asked. “Yes.” Henry pointed at the bed. “There’s no light to be found there. “And where would you find the light?” “Anywhere but here.” The cat disappeared, and with it the light from his bed. The harsh light drained out of the room, leaving nothing but the soft light that slipped in through the blinds. Henry opened them, threw on a coat and reached for the door when he felt a faint feeling in the back of his mind, some lost feeling from long ago. He slipped a faded blue notebook into his coat pocket before he left the room. He stood in front of a grand building. A sign in front of it read St. Russel’s Drug Rehabilitation Center. He took in the soft scent of the air after a rain, the skies blue, the leaves rustling in the wind. He thought of all days that had gone by, the days that had been wasted, and found himself filled with a wistfulness that left him feeling emptier than ever. But holes could be filled.
Footprints in the Sand
by kimberly tan
Lying on the crooked spine of the wilted oak, tears spill from my amethyst eyes and shatter beneath concrete skies. Nine months you bore a rustling heap against your spine, waiting with fervid eyes and flushed cheeks, until one morning you snapped, and I listened to your screams A haze of smoke and tears pierce the air like the scalpel at your side, clouded the fire of your eyes, your trembling wrists laden with sweat, languid strands replacing golden, as you tried to quench the torches crescent locks, budding violets blossoming blazing against your hips. on your unmarked skin, I tried clasping onto your withered palms Your Sahara lips twitched and massaging life back into your graying with pleasure and relief fingers, as you cradled him against your bosom, but one slip-— but once your eyes raked over and your hand twisted free. his limp white body, his motionless chest, your smile faltered and slipped away— And now, with glassy beads trickling down I never saw it again. rivulets on my ashen skin, my hands reach for your weathered wrists, We wrapped him lovingly but only clench on thin air, in expensive laces and mahogany and I’m left with just memories and blessed him with eternal peace, fading away like footprints in the sand. you collapsed but wouldn’t release his icy hand. 25 ...to make a child.” — e. e. cummings
speechless by emily liu
oday marks one year of sessions, and yet every time she comes, she is never comfortable enough to lets herself in. She always knocks, two small, bird-like taps, and then opens the door tentatively. “Come on in, Ellen,” I say with a smile, gesturing at the disarray of seats before mine. She sits in the stiffest chair, the crooked back leg clinking against the tiles, and looks down at her knees. A woman in her thirties reminiscent of a seventeenyear-old. I never fail to notice how the chair she chooses is the stiffest and fur-
26 “Every man is guilty...
thest, and try not to sigh. “How are you?” “Fine,” she says automatically. One word replies should be expected, as well as the slight Silent accent, but I had hoped we were past those; she actually opened up last week, but according to her husband, Blake, she withdrew back into herself at home. His worry and frustration and helplessness are apparent even in the impersonal text of his emails. It’s understandable, though, seeing as Ellen is the only one who has lived in that country all her life and neither of us could ever un-
derstand the life she knew, the mentality such as careful sight and word economy. she grew up with. She refuses to let him But I have to steer the wandering converattend the sessions with her. sation back to her, seeing as she’s the one “That’s good,” I reply easily. We ex- who needs the therapy, and eventually, she change small talk for the first few minutes talks. of the session, as per usual, waiting for The first thing she spoke about was her her to find her tongue. I’ve told Blake to parents. It’s easy to see, in the wistful tone do his best at coaxing her to speak and go and misery in her eyes, that she misses out more. When they left her country to them. “What upsets me the most is how return to his, the unfamiliar surroundings we separated,” she confessed. “It was so paired with the removal of her wristband confusing, there was no way to find them shocked her into sifor a proper goodlence for a few weeks, She sits in the stiffest bye.” up until Blake took “What was so her to my office. She chair,the crooked back confusing?” I asked is the first I have ever her. legs clinking against worked with from the Ellen hesitated. Silent World, as we went to the the tiles, and looks “We call it here, and my capital, for an asbiggest challenge. down at her knees. sembly. It was the I have diagrams and first of many, beblueprints, but I still asked her to draw cause we were in the First Sector, and I’d the wristband out; she would know its ap- never been to the capital before, especially pearance—but more importantly, its con- downtown where the City Hall was. I filed strains, its effects—better than anyone in with my parents and we took our seats. here; I pick out the familiar, digital face Alec’s family wasn’t there.” where the numbers are shown, the thick Seeing as I could count how many times band wrapping tightly around the wrist. she had mentioned this Alec person on Without it, she often touches her bare one hand, I kept quiet and let her talk wrist, clearly surprised to find warm skin without interruption. I knew that they instead of cold metal: “For some reason, had been childhood friends, that he had it’s cold. It’s always cold.” been extremely important to her, and that My job is to talk things out, but in gen- something terrible had happened to him. eral, I’m such a talkative person that I They had grown up together and, judging could never live like she did: 150 words from the little Blake had managed to tell a day, then one is mute until the counter me about him, Alec was her husband’s opis reset. The differences between her and posite. He had also been involved in the a person from outside the Silent World rebel movement against the government are subtle, but definitely there. Her clear, for imposing the word count. attentive eyes miss nothing—more than “In the days before, when we went for once, sessions have been diverted from her our daily scannings,” Ellen continued, but to me, because of a tiny scar she pointed I stopped her with a question. out or bad habit I hadn’t realized I was do“What are the daily scannings?” ing. Without freedom of speech, all comShe blinked at me, taken aback. “I forgot munication must rely heavily on things you don’t... have them here. Everyone has 27 ...of the good he did not do.” — Voltaire
a scheduled time and we report to stations placed among the city. They record our remaining word counts for monitoring purposes. Alec and I always went together. I met Blake there.” As always, when she speaks for more than a couple sentences, her eyes dart down to her wrist and pause when there’s no number to check. I nodded and gestured for her to continue. Instead of filler words, she always paused to gather her thoughts. “Alec’s wristband kept causing malfunctions in the scanners. They gave him another warning tally for that.” The tallies were something she had explained, black, long tattoos that tapered to points, positioned vertically in parallel to the veins of the other wrist. “I met Blake when waiting for Alec to pass the scan.” She told that story before, too, but Alec was such a sensitive subject that she could only speak about him recently. Despite Blake’s urging, I wait for her to approach the topic first. She never finished speaking about the assembly. Now, she eyes me and says, “I
know you want me to talk about something in particular. What is it?” “Insightful as always!” I laugh. Blake told me about the newspaper clippings and website printouts she keeps, stored away in a drawer in the study. Every time the Silent World makes it into the news-headline or irrelevant column—she cuts it out and hides it away. The ones about the now exterminated Soliman Rebels are on the very top, as well as a list of their deceased. And, he confessed, he found the dried impression of an imperfect circle of water beside the name Alec Soliman. It’s this person that I want her to talk about. Ellen doesn’t reply, waiting expectantly. The only sign of her apprehension is her fidgeting fingers, worrying the hem of her shirt and threading them together only to separate her hands again in a flutter of movement. As always, it’s me who caves first. “Can we talk about Alec today?” Her eyes widen, pupils dilating, and for a tense heartbeat, I think she will flee the room. “What about him?” “Who is he to you?” I ask first, putting down the folder in my hands onto the table and giving her my full attention. Unfortunately, that makes her withdraw further. “I don’t know,” she breathes, a caged bird. “I still don’t know!” “What do you mean?” “Blake asked me that before. Exactly that. I couldn’t answer him then, and I still can’t tell you now. Even though he’s dead,” she cries, and bursts into tears. If there’s one thing I know
“Some of them were at the Soliman how to deal with, it’d be crying. I immediately pass her the tissues and let her cry house, hacking into the government computers and breaking their wristbands. It herself out, waiting patiently. Ellen had been so long since the restriccries softly and delicately, hiding as tions were imposed and everymuch as her face as she can in one was used to not speakthe tissues, but with a level ing that the brewing of sadness and despair rebellion took us all by unmatched by all of surprise. Only the new my previous patients. people gave the sysRed blooms around tem trouble, and with her eyes and nose, and so few of them, they along the crescents of were easily dealt with. her fingernails digging A rebellion of that scale into her palm, red and magnitude nearly as a robin’s breast. “I destroyed the country. should have gone back The government went for him. Blake was to take care of them, right, he had chosen but...” a hopeless route and Ellen falls silent, unrunning was the only able to finish, the skin way out. The house around her eyes tight was much too far to with distress. She refusget to from the capital. es to finish, but we all know how it ends. But I should have gone back.” Newspapers across the world reported it, “What happened?” I prod gently. “P-Partway through the assembly,” she bold, blaring headlines about the “Fall of chokes out, “during the President’s speech, Silence”—the rebellion of the Soliman the alarms went off. They’ve never gone Rebels, their detached and speedy eradication, the frightening off before. And then political discontent guards came in and Here it is. that spread through everything fell apart, The moment we’ve the nation and caused people screaming and change the rebels running and trying to been working toward the had wanted all along. get out. They said... They said that the rebfor an entire year. She and Blake left early enough to survive els had revolted. Some of them were attacking the City Hall and it, but she has not completely escaped its damage. some of them...” Before I can speak, the bell to signify the I wait as she blows her nose loudly. A surge of adrenaline makes countless tiny end of her session pings. She picks up her goosebumps rise on my skin, my heart jacket, shrugging it on and leaving with a drumming in my ears. Here it is. The mo- hasty goodbye; Blake is always punctual in ment we’ve been working toward for an coming to pick her up, and there’s no use entire year. 50 sessions of small talk and trying to keep her to stay any longer. After all, there’s always next time. reassurances, all for this. 29 ...is a rope that wears thin.” — Ayn Rand
aya’s first order of business in her day was to smooth out the creases in her red bed sheet. Next came 20 circles per each tooth with her brush, 4 different face routines, and a shower that lasted exactly 10 minutes. 1 hour of exercise to burn exactly 250 calories and 1 glass of nonfat smoothie for breakfast. Satisfied, she looked around to make sure her house seemed perfect to the outside eye. The messy handwriting of her checklist caught her eye, and she had to stop in order to rewrite the paper. Today would be the day to cross out the last accomplishment on her checklist when she finally gained that last promotion. She could imagine the sickening sight of those envious glances from her overlyperky colleagues. She would have to face them—a party was being thrown in her honor, of course. Her fists clenched, and she walked out of the house with the click-clack of her heels following her. The shoes seemed to be making a slightly squeaky noise, and Naya couldn’t imagine why. She felt a hot flash run through her, but any attempts to drown out the noise failed. As she walked out to her red convertible, Naya could feel her throat constrict as if she had gone swimming and had forgotten how to breathe. Someone had smashed the window! The glass pieces splattered the backseat of her car, creating a mirage of clear blue in a sea of red. 1, 2, 3, 4, she counted in her head to control herself. But the eerie silence was shattered by her shriek. 5, 6, 7, 8, the moments passed. A new found frustration ignited her, and she dove into her vehicle to drive to the car wash in an attempt to wash away the imperfection on her car. It was 7:01, the first day she wasn’t at her desk at precisely 7:00. But she didn’t care anymore—it was an
emergency. Naya whirled her car around to go to the other car wash—it was huge and out of place, an antique in the city of new buildings. As the robotic machine ordered Naya to keep her windows down, she smiled at her tiny form of rebelling. Why did that moment give her more happiness than that last checkmark ever could have? A wave of sadness filled her heart and created a hole so big that she would never be able to fill it. She was searching, longing just to feel. But Naya couldn’t understand—she had accomplished all of her innermost desires, kicking away others to climb painfully to the top. Somehow, writing that last checkmark didn’t satisfy her fiery desire for more. Somehow, the spark in her heart that she had created for herself had been washed out by crashing waves of depression. She entered the car wash, not knowing what to do about her sudden epiphany. The car wash reminded her of her days in high school, where she would enter with all the windows open so that the water would drip down her face and make her feel anew. All at once she could feel the blissful memories returning. Whenever she used to feel stressed out from school’s or life’s troubles, she would return to her car wa s h , all alone. The relaxation calmed her ach-
30 “Desire is the starting point of all achievement; not a hope, not a wish...
ing spirit and strength of desire, while allowing her to swim, to float, to heart’s delight. She could bathe under the covers of the night, never choosing accomplishments over happiness. Naya used to envy those girls with no desires, no stress, no grades or clubs to constantly worry about; she used to tell herself how much more successful she would be than them, but it seemed silly now. Beneath the shield of liquid love, she could finally see the truth of vision that was planted in her brain. Her regrets burned like silent raindrops - those drops etched across her car window, slowly drifting upwards. Where is the water going? she wondered. It runs, runs, runs, only to end up as running pools in the gutter. She could relate, she thought, as she lovingly traced those silver rain drops. She inhaled and quivered with the bliss of ut-
ter radiance. Finally, she began to feel the numb happiness that clawed at her heart—sometimes it didn’t take accomplishments, but rather fond memories to brighten up one’s day. But at the same time, the car wash was nearly over, and she had no choice but to return to the life she had been living. Consumed by the fire, Naya once again let her ever-burning infatuation for success become the passion that she was known for. She was drowning, yet living all the same. It was time to make a new list.
Stress by nikita gourishetty
...but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.” — Napoleon Hill
the color of love by marian park
32 â€œNo matter what a waste one has made of oneâ€™s life...
bright pink balloon floats towards go to the soup kitchen. There are five lines me as I tap my fingernails impatiently stretching from the door all the way to the against the smooth surface of the laptop end of the block. People stand hunching keyboard. I roughly push it away. together, shoulder to shoulder. The brims It comes back. I push it away. It comes of their hats are pulled over their eyes. I back. I push it away. unfold the collar of my coat and stare I growl angrily as the balloon innocently down at the ground. My face starts to get drifts back to me. hot, and I tell myself it’s because of the sun I pop it with a pen, but at that same peeking out from the clouds. I’ll bring a moment, Jane skips into the room, and hat next time. her eyes widen when she sees what I did. “Thank you,” I whisper as I reach out “I’ll buy you another one,” I say quickly. to receive the loaf of bread and the can of “Promise?” She offers me her pinky soup a man is handing to me. “Thank you, finger, and I hesitantly intertwine my thank you so much.” pinky with hers. Though my legs ache and tremble after “Yes, yes, run along now. Daddy is standing in line for hours, receiving my working.” first free bread and soup for my family “But you’re not. You’re reading makes me fly back home. I continue going something. I want to see.” there three times a day for a couple of She cranes her neck to see the laptop weeks, devouring the lunch and saving the screen. I slam the laptop shut. breakfast and dinner for Carla and Jane. “Jane, please. Daddy’s very busy. Daddy * * * has to go to work now.” The free meals keep our stomachs full “Aww, can’t we just play? Do you have for a few weeks until the soup kitchen to go to work?” runs out of money. My I tighten my lips and hands are empty once I tighten my lips manage to force the dirty again. There is nothing lie out of my mouth. else I can sell that Carla and manage to “Yes, I’m going to go to won’t notice missing. work now.” I’ve lied that I force the dirty lie Already, I put on my coat and moved the lamp, desk, head for the front door. and computer out of my mouth. printer, “Phillip, are you to my office. My eyes leaving for work?” Carla dart desperately around eagerly opens the door for me. my room. It’s pretty much bare. “Yeah,” I say slowly, avoiding her eyes. Carla enters, and her eyes glimmer “Could you buy some groceries on your slightly with confusion. “What’s going on, way back for dinner? I have to go to Jane’s Phillip? Your last trip to the grocery store school for a parent conference.” was two weeks ago. I thought you said “Carla, I—” I stop and hesitate for a you were going to go there every week.” moment when I see Carla’s face darken. “Don’t we have some food cans “Never mind. I’ll buy the groceries.” leftover?” I look away from her, not wanting to see “We have two more fruit cans. We had the smile I brought back with a lie. the last can of soup for lunch today. If Instead of going to the grocery store, I you’re too busy, give me the money. I’ll 33 ...it is ever possible to find some path to redemption, however partial.” — Charles Frazier
go buy some food.” “No! I’ll... I’ll go buy some right now.” I pick up my coat and leave the room. I see Jane in the kitchen, sticking her hand into a can of peaches. She smiles apologetically. “I was hungry.” I nod. Inhale. Exhale. “Phillip.” Carla gently places a hand on my shoulder. I jump and turn around, nervous. “What?” “If... if there’s anything wrong, just tell me. It’s going to be alright. We’re a family. Don’t put all the burden on yourself. That way, you’ll have time to spend with Jane... Money isn’t everything. Remember when we were in college—” “I have to buy the groceries before the store closes.” I don’t look back. It’s already dark. The sky has turned into a mysterious shade of indigo, sprinkled with a cupful of dim tiny stars. I stop in front of a pawn shop. I put my hands against the display window and stare at a pearl necklace, pink milky beads glowing in the starlight. That necklace. Carla’s necklace. The necklace I stole from Carla. My hands tremble at the memory of Carla on her knees, crawling around the house, searching for it. When she asked me if I knew where it was, I only shrugged my shoulders, telling her that she should have kept it in a safe place. “But I did keep it safe,” she told me. “It was
34 “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds...
always in this box.” Jane ended up getting in trouble for it. Before I know what I am doing, I find myself standing on shattered glass with the necklace in my hands, and the sound of the alarm screeches in my ears. As I turn to flee, the flash of a camera blinds my eyes. I search the darkness for the source of the light and see an old man shaking with fright. His camera rests in his trembling hands. “Look,” he says hurriedly, “I don’t know who you are, but if you don’t drop that necklace—” I grab the necklace display stand and throw it. Silence. I stare at my hands with disbelief. * * * The once lonely shop is now buzzing with people and the sounds of sirens. “Assault,” people whisper, stealing both fearful and loathing glances at me. “Head injury.” When Carla’s blue car pulls up, I start to panic, and I wipe off the perspiration on my forehead with the back of my sleeve as a policeman explains to Carla and Jane what happened. “Is Daddy a bad guy? Why is he in the police car? Mom!” Jane tugs at Carla’s coat furiously, but Carla, still as a statue and white as snow, refuses to answer. Jane attempts to run to me, but the policeman holds her back. He kneels down in front of my daughter, holding her by the shoulders, explaining something that brings tears into Jane’s eyes.
I put my hands against the display window and stare at a pearl necklace, pink milky beads glowing in the starlight.
And even Jane refuses to meet my eyes. She looks at the ground, staring at her hand, probably remembering my promise to buy her another pink balloon.The policeman grins at her. I don’t hear what he tells her, but just looking at that sly grin on his face makes me so... so angry. He has no right, no right to tell my daughter what her father is. No right! I furiously pull the locked door handle, pound hard on the window, and on the window, I see my reflection – those dark, wild eyes and ashen cheeks. I look at Carla pleadingly. She refuses to meet my eyes. “I could explain,” I whisper as the police car takes me away from her. * * * “Hey, Shoe.” The jailor greets the policeman who shoves me into a jail cell. I look at his shoes. There are nothing special about them. Dusty leather black shoes. Not too big, not too small. I look around the cell. Thin lines that are scratched into the cement walls. A bench broken in half. Splinters all over the ground. My eyes rest upon another pair of eyes. Wide eyes that are engraved with anger and self-loathing. My heart jumps for a moment, thinking that those eyes are mine, but I see that they belong to a man crouching in the right hand corner of the cell. I continue to stare at those eyes, and they continue to stare at me. I notice the
man’s s h o r t cropped hair, his grime-covered face. He watches me sit down on the other side of the cell. “That’s. My. Side. Of. The. Room.” He abruptly stands up and shoves me. “Sorry, sorry.” I rush to a different corner. Lunch comes in two unwashed tin trays, one for me and one for Lion - that’s my nickname for him. I stare at my lunch, a burnt muffin and mashed potatoes with gravy. I see Lion eagerly eating his meal with his fingers. I push my tin plate away after tasting a bit of the mashed potatoes. “You don’t want that?” Lion licks some gravy off his fingers while glaring daggers at me, but I don’t even have the strength to be scared. I slide my plate to him. Lion starts to come to me for food after that, and I don’t eat for three days. On the fourth day, before taking my food, he asks me why I wasn’t eating. “I’m fasting.” “Fastin’?” His eyes narrow suspiciously. “Yeah.” I look away from him. “Just fasting.” “You gotta religion?” “No, but I have a family.” I don’t say anymore, feeling those tears swimming in my eyes, and Lion pushes the plate closer to me. “Eat. Break off the burnt pieces and eat the muffin with the gravy. They don’t taste bad that way.” 35 ...on the heel that has crushed it.” — Mark Twain
For the first time, he doesn’t growl at muffins. In a way, I’m better off in jail me as he walks away to his corner, and I than they are in the outside world. I stop see that there is sadness behind the anger eating again. in his eyes. One day, Lion announces that he has a * * * surprise for me. He takes me to his corner “What do clouds look like?” Lion sits and carefully removes a poster of the down beside me hesitantly. beach on the wall. “Kind of fluffy at times... they “There was a poster here?” come in streaks, too. Why?” I turn “Yeah, but you can’t really see it from away from him and close my eyes, your side of the room ‘cause it’s dark here remembering a trip Carla and I took to in the way back, and the cot covers it. Do a lake. I remember how Carla pointed at you see it?” the sky that morning, telling me that she “See what?” My eyes try to focus in the has never seen such gorgeous clouds. dark. “Had a dream last night.” “Here, feel this.” Lion places my hand “About what?” on the part of the wall that was hidden “My kid and me.” behind the poster. His I open my eyes. “You eyes dance with delight The clouds have a kid?” and excitement. “Had one. Died years I feel a hole in the sometimes turn a ago.” wall, and a slight chill soft pink at sunset runs through my body. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” “Do clouds look “What in the—” even though the beautiful when they’re “It’s a hole. I started white?” the wall with a sun’s not pink. diggin’ “Well, yes, but I piece of metal since my like them better when second day here decades they’re orange. It seems ago. I broke it from the like there’s a fire in the sky. My wife and cot. I’m gonna run away someday and go my daughter like them when they’re to the beach.” a creamy pink shade. My wife said she “Are you crazy? Why don’t you just wait likes pink better because the color’s soft a few more years until you’re released and and powerful in it’s own way. The clouds then go to the beach?” sometimes turn a soft pink at sunset even “‘Cause I can’t! I’m stuck here for my though the sun’s not pink. My daughter whole life! ‘Cause I—” loves everything that’s pink. Pink clothes, “Keep your voice down, will you?” pink paint, pink... balloons.” Lion sticks the poster back on the wall “Go on, go on.” Lion closes his eyes. “I and arranges the cot back in place. “I have can just see the clouds.” to be in prison for my whole life.” Lion “Haven’t you seen clouds before?” buries his head into his hands as he slides “Years ago, yeah. Tell me more.” down to the ground. “I’m a bit tired. I’ll tell you tomorrow.” “I’m so sorry.” I close my eyes. Do Carla and Jane have “I can never smell that briny scent of the enough food? If only there was a way I sea again. I can never see the foggy clouds could send them my mashed potatoes and kissin’ the waves early in the mornin’ 36 “You don’t have to go looking for love...
again. That is, if I don’t start runnin’.” “What did you do that made you come here?” Lion jumps up and starts to punch the walls. “I killed him! I said it! I killed my son! And I don’t care!” Lion puts his face close to mine. “Do you have anythin’ to say? Huh?” I stumble backwards and stare at him, shocked that he even thought about running away from his sin instead of repenting. “You’re... you’re a monster.” I roughly push him away and go back to my corner, thinking about Jane and Carla even in my sleep. * * * “I’m leavin’ soon,” Lion announces to me one night. “Do you want to come with me?” I shake my head as I give him some of my mashed potatoes. “I’m gonna see the clouds. I’m gonna swim in the beach, and I’m gonna lie down under the sun in the sand. Do you still want to stay here?” “Yes I do. Don’t you want to visit your wife and see how she’s doing first?” Lion snickers. “See how my wife’s doin’? My wife? Why would I want to do a stupid thing like that for? She ran away like all the other prisoners’ wives!” My heart stops. “Why... why would they want to do that?” Lion laughs bitterly. “Why wouldn’t they want to do that?” I collapse onto the cot. Lion sighs and sits down beside me. He puts something in my hands. I look at it—an old quarter. “I was goin’ to use that to call my wife when I get released.” Lion stares at the ceiling. “But then an old friend of mine visited me and told me that she left without a word. She just...
disappeared. My friend told me that the only things left in the house were my clothes and her... her weddin’ ring. She didn’t want to live a life that was... that was... stained with a jailed husband.” Anger flashes in his eyes. “So now, I don’t care about forgiveness. I want freedom! Right after I found out that my wife ditched me, I found out that I wasn’t ever gonna get released! I’m stuck here, and I’m tired of it! I deserve to enjoy my life, don’t I?” He waits for me to answer. I remain silent. He continues, “Well, I’m gonna enjoy it now. I’m gonna be free. I’ve been caged here for a good thirty-five years. I’m gonna be free from my past the moment I’m outside.” He offers me a hand. “This is your last chance. Choose the quarter or choose freedom and rebirth.” My hand closes tightly upon the quarter. “Good-bye.” Lion stutters as if he is surprised. “Well... all right then. Good-bye.” I watch Lion disappear into the hole,
37 ...when it’s where you come from.”— Werner Erhad
and I don’t have the strength to pull him back. The next morning, I hear noises. I expect to see Lion in hand-cuffs or something, but I see someone else. Carla. “Carla,” I whisper. I jump up from the cot and grasp the bars. “Carla!” I start laughing and crying with joy. She came to forgive me! “Oh, Carla, I missed you so much! I thought... I thought something happened. I’m so glad you’re alright! Oh, come here, come closer. Please!” Carla doesn’t come closer to me. I desparately shake the bars. “Carla, please! Am I dreaming? Let me feel you!” Tears are streaming down my face, carrying dirt with them. I slip my arms through the bars and try to hold her, but she steps back farther away from me. “Carla, where’s Jane? Why didn’t you bring her here? Is she alright? When I’m released, I’ll earn lots and lots of money to make up for it. We’ll be so happy! I’ll earn so much money that—” Carla turns to the jailor by the door. “I don’t think I’m ready yet,” she whispers to him before stepping out of the room. She looks at me. “I don’t think he’s ready yet.” The jailor smiles at her. “That’s all right.” “No! Carla! Wait! Please!” I groan with agony as the door closes. I bang on the walls the way Lion once did. * * * “Shot him good, sir.” A group of men enters the room and one man unlocks my cell. “You.” The man points at me. “You knew Liam right? He was your cellmate.” “Yes, sir.” Lion’s name is Liam? I was close enough. “How did he escape?” “He went through that hole. The hole behind the poster.” I point to it.
The jailor is exasperated. “Why on earth didn’t you tell me?” “You never asked,” I say acidly, remembering the way he smiled at Carla. “You’re going to be moved to a different cell.” A policeman holds me tightly by the arms and leads me into a cell nearby. “What happened to Liam?” I nervously turn around to face the policemen. A policeman grins and puts his hands on his hips. “I shot him,” he says proudly. “This morning, I shot him with an aim as good as...” I look away and refuse to listen. * * * “You, out.” Shoe unlocks the cell door. “Go to the bathroom and wash up. There’s some clean clothes in there, so change. They were donated this year.” I take tentative steps towards the bathroom, wondering what Carla will think of my release. I wash my face with cold water, and once I take my first step out of the jail building, I breathe in as much air as my lungs could hold. My pace quickens when I see a phone booth, and I quickly insert Liam’s quarter into the slot. Nobody picks up the phone. Carla must have left already. But there’s still a chance. I decide to leave a message. “Hi Carla. It’s me, Phillip. How’s Jane? I... I’m out of jail, and I honestly... I don’t know... I...” I take a deep breath, not wanting to burst into tears. “If you’ll give me a chance, I swear by you, by Jane, by our family, that I’ll make up for the times I wasn’t there for you and Jane. Jane, she spent most of her childhood without her father... I’m sorry I broke my promise to get you that balloon... I’m so sorry, Jane.” I sadly shake my head, remembering the times when Jane begged me to play with her. I never did. If Carla will forgive me and accept me as part of
38 “The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself...
her family, I’ll beg Jane to let me play with her. “Carla, we’ll work something out, you and I, and we could be the family we always dreamed of being. I’m so sorry for making money a priority over you and Jane. I... I called because I wasn’t sure if you’re ready to forgive me. I... understand if you’re not. It’s my fault after all. It’s... it’s all my fault. But if you’re ready though, Carla, if you think I’m worth being forgiven... release a single pink balloon at noon from your house.” Time runs out. I sigh and gently place the phone back. * * * I start walking home, passing by the dark, isolated soup kitchen building, passing by a dogwood tree Jane used to love climbing. I remember how she plucked off a thin branch embellished with delicate pink blossoms from it years ago. She offered the branch to me, but I shook my head, saying that there were tiny bugs in the flowers. A tear slides down my cheek and drops onto a flower, and it sparkles in the sunlight like morning dew. I turn my head and see my house. “It’s been so long,” I whisper. I start running towards it, and I notice the peeling blue paint. I’ll repaint the house pink if Carla would accept me as part of her family, if Carla would release one, single pink balloon at noon. I stop at the driveway. I don’t belong. It’s not my house,
anymore. After I imagine Carla slamming the door in my face, I go back to the dogwood tree and sit down. I should wait for the sign first. I look up and gaze at the sky, painted a deep cerulean blue—the color of the sea, and I can’t stop staring at it. It’s a color I haven’t seen for a long time. I restlessly search the sky for a different color, though. I turn my head and strain my eyes to see the clock tower. It’s noon. No pink balloon. Five minutes pass. My eyes eagerly dart around the sky, but it is still deviod of pink. I get up, only to slide back down to the ground. I hug my knees and bury my face into my hands. Fool. “Mom, look!” A little boy jumps up and down, pointing at me. I can’t blame him. I probably look just as helpless and defeated as a beggar. As he continues to point at me, I glare at him, irritated by his constant screams of delight. But I notice that he is pointing at something else. Something behind me. Something in the sky. I turn my head slowly and look up. The cerulean blue sky is no longer blue. It is covered with hundreds of pink balloons.
39 ...unless you realize that that situation is over, you canot move forward.” — Steve Maraboli
by john park
Until Memories Fade T
he warm, salty Mediterranean wind blew across the trade winds of the East. Seagulls landed on top of the tallest mast, waiting for the wind to die down. Shipmates hauled off extra ballast water to keep the ship from getting laden with seawater. Laughter echoed from the galley as tipsy sailors bantered about the latest plunder. “I reckon we got o’er fi’ty thousand pounds from that one,” said one, pointing to a briefcase. The peculiar briefcase had inscriptions of a foreign language, most likely from a tourist heading toward the Middle East. “Say, ya never tol’ me the reason behind yer name,” said a scrawny man to a welldefined one sitting across from him. The smaller one fiddled around with a knife, carving out what seemed to be arrows. He gestured over with the half-finished arrow to his companion, who seemed to be fast asleep. “The reason behind my name? Why do you even want to know?” He lifted his head and glared at Devron. Undeterred, Devron responded, “Well, yer name don’t seem to suit ya.” Slightly wounded, Warren replied, “What do you mean Warren doesn’t fit me? I’ll fight you if you want a piece of my mind.”
40 “A woman knows the face of the man she loves...
Devron probed further, unconvinced, “Ya don’t say? ‘Ow come all yer records don’ say Warren? E’en the cap’n says so.” Warren slowly got up and stretched. Walking over to his journal and reading it, he frowned reluctantly. So much for being covert. “Well, fine. You were right; I wasn’t always Warren.” Devron’s eyes lit up. Warren ignored him and continued, “They used to call me Lucas. Luke for short. Had to do with some Catholic guy or something, I suppose. I didn’t really care.” Devron cringed as he tried to comprehend what Luke had said. “’Ow come ya ain’t Luke no more then? Tha sounds better than Warren or what not.” “Well, Dev, things happen. Unpleasant things happen sometimes, and you just have to run away from them. Else, you’ll get caught up in the midst of them and forget who you are. I used to have someone call me Lucas… She’s long gone by now.” Luke finished looking through his journal, closed it, and put it down on the table next to his ruffled bed. Seemingly satisfied with the response he had given, he walked off and left Devron alone to finish fletching his arrows. The stars shone dimly in the sky, illuminating the deck partly. The calm
sea made the boat rock back and forth slightly. Forced laughter erupted from the galley—the sailors were too apprehensive to banter. Tonight would only be a small dinner for the sailors. “Aye, there’s a beaut,” said the captain. In the distance was a barge, headed for the Sea of Crete. Licking his lips with delight, the captain ordered his men together. “Head her o’er to the treasure. We’ll be there in ten. Assemble the torches.” Men murmured, both reluctant and excited for the adventure to come. Devron spoke up. “Ay, Conrad, how ‘bout we plunder her now? Them cannons can shoot that far.” The captain covered his head with his palm. “Dev, dem cannons aint made for long range. An’ e’en if we sink her, we can’t get the booty. Now head off.” Still sore from the brawl two nights ago, the sailors made their way to their cabins, gathering themselves for the upcoming battle. “Head out, matey’s,” yelled Conrad. Switching his left eye patch over to his right eye, Warren ran past the bridge over to the victim ship. Devron threw torches into cabins and let out a cry to wake the sleeping sailors. Disoriented by the light, they stumbled
to get their guns. Warren and Devron made their way through each passenger’s cabin, disarming a potential enemy here and there, disposing of dangerous ones and taking others hostage. In the starry night sky, a light flickered overhead. Conrad smiled; the deck was secure. Strutting with pride, he made his way to the captain’s cabin. He grabbed a torch from the wall and aimed his gun at the doorknob. With a quick, continued motion, Conrad shot the knob and knocked it off with the butt of his pistol. Conrad opened the door and knocked quietly. “We meet again, Hodge,” he laughed. “How did you find me?” asked the captain in disbelief. “I thought you wouldn’t plunder any of my ships again if I let you go.” Conrad lifted his pistol and aimed it at the captain’s face. “No one’s here to save you now, unlike last time. With unfortunate luck, you were able to get the Embassy to fend off my crew. This time however,” Conrad said
41 ...as a sailor knows the open sea.” — Honore de Balzac
as he cocked the gun, “You have no one to help you.” Hodge looked around nervously and swallowed. “Wait. How about... We make a deal.Yeah, a deal. Like last time.” “I’m sick and tired of your tricks, Hodge. I’m here to loot your ship and nothing’s going to stop me.” He let out a warning shot that grazed Hodge’s cheek. Wincing, Hodge replied, “You don’t want to be doing that, Conrad.This boat is carrying innocent people. After we reach land, I can give you whatever you want. Just let the people go.” Conrad frowned slightly and lowered his gun. Looking around warily, he leaned over. “You see Hodge,” Conrad whispered. “It’s not the money I want. I know you’re keeping something. Someone, to be exact, who is useful to me.” Hodge’s eyes widened in horror. “You can’t have her. I promised to keep her safe. Please don’t—” Conrad fired his pistol square into Hodge’s forehead. “Now, I said I was going to, didn’t I?” Picking up Hodge’s key ring from where he dropped it, Conrad wiped his hands on Hodge’s tunic. He then flipped through the logs and smiled. “Cabin 327, time to say hello.” “I’ll break down the door and head in first, Dev.You follow behind and make sure
we won’t have any visitors,” said Warren for what seemed like the hundredth time. Devron nodded in response, and they headed inside. Warren’s left eye, already accustomed to the dark, made out a cloaked figure in the corner, grasping a naked blade. “You won’t take me alive,” the figure hissed. Something clicked inside Warren, Could it be? The figure jumped in the air and brought down the blade. Distracted, he had barely dodged the blow. It couldn’t be true. Warren drew out his knife and parried the incoming blows. Devron watched dumbfounded. Never before had a passenger fought back so viciously. The figure feinted left and jumped at Devron. “Hey Dev, watch out!” Warren yelled. Snapping back to reality, Devron gave a puzzled look at Warren. Noticing the figure lunging at him, Devron rolled away from the attacker. Gasping for breath, the attacker crouched down, preparing for another assault. “Who are ya,” Devron asked, intrigued at the dexterity of the figure. Taking a chance, Warren sneaked behind to wrestle the attacker to the floor. Sensing his approach from behind, the figure turned, slicing Warren’s left cheek, and dashed out the cabin. Alarmed, Devron went over to Warren. “I’m fine Dev. Go get that brute. We can’t let him escape,” babbled Warren. Slightly dismayed, Devron reluctantly chased after the escapee with a mace in hand. The escapee turned the corner and hurried down the corridor, head pounding with blood from fear. “I have to warn Hodge before it’s
“How about we make a deal? Like last time.” 42 “True love...
too late,” thought the escapee. A shiver ran down its spine as it heard footsteps behind. Sprinting down the hall, Warren caught up to the lumbering Devron and yelled at him for being so slow. “There he is,” yelled Warren. “Quick, Dev, give me your mace,” he commanded. Devron handed Warren his weapon and slowed to a halt, panting. He aimed as carefully as he could while running. “ Y a h ! ” The escapee staggered as the mace swung through the air and grazed its calf. Wild with excitement, Warren ignored the beads of sweat running down his face and the heavy pounding of his heart. He quickly gained on the critter, stride by stride. Step by step it lost speed and began stumbling, using the wall support. Despite the crimson blood oozing from its torn ligaments, it was determined to warn the dead captain. Blood crazed, Warren yelled, bounding the last few yards and jumped on the prey. They were shaded from light by a nearby cannon. The figure struggled, punching at whatever it could, trying to free itself. “Get me some light, Dev. We’ll see who this is,” panted Warren. Devron scrambled to look for a torch in the hallway. Handing it over to his partner, Devron couldn’t help but notice that the figure was smaller than he had originally thought. Warren lifted up the torch and almost dropped it.
It couldn’t be. “Sally,” Warren spat. “What are you doing here?” Sally looked just as surprised as Luke did. She couldn’t form words with her mouth. Finally, she managed, “I was heading over to Turkey before you took over our ship. Unlike you, I have business matters to take care of.” Wa r r e n felt insulted. “We weren’t supposed to see each other again. You said so.” Sally slapped him. “You know as well as I do that my father owns this boat. Why would you even bother to plunder it?” A voice echoed through the hallway and grew louder with each footstep. “What a pleasant surprise, Warren. You caught my prey for me. Extra wages for you when we get back,” Conrad said. To himself, he muttered, “This was supposed to be a secret. Warren and his friend will pay dearly.” The keys on his belt jingled with each step he took toward Warren and Sally. She gasped and turned to Warren. “You’re helping him?” Conrad raised an eyebrow. “Oh, you two know each other? Interesting. Well, no matter. Hand her over, Warren; she and I have matters to discuss privately.” His eyes glinted with delight. Sally pleaded, “You can’t let him take me… Lucas. Please.” Conrad grabbed her and pried her from 43 ...conquers all.” — Virgil
Warren. “Very interesting indeed,” he said as he took Sally. “Help me, please,” cried Sally as Conrad began to carry her into the darkness. Her cries for help ignited the smoldering flames inside Warren. He grabbed the bloody mace and lunged at his captain. With a thud, Conrad was knocked out and Sally let out a sigh of relief. “Lucas… I can’t believe you betrayed your own captain to save me,” stammered Sally. “I’m sorry Sally, for hurting you. I didn’t mean to,” replied Warren. “We’re going to have to go before Conrad comes to.” “But, wha’ about the crew, Warren? They gonna get us for attacking Conrad,” said Devron. “There’s a boat in the back that we can take to escape. We can load it now,” reassured Sally. The three agreed to meet back with supplies in a few minutes and hurry off. As they left, Conrad stirred. The three’s luggage lay piled in the cramped getaway boat, with barely enough room two grown men. As Warren put the last bag into the boat, Devron said,“Warren, there ain’t room for the three of us. I guess I’ll stay back and tell the crew wha’ happened.” “No, you can’t do that Dev. They’ll make you walk the plank. We’re sticking together through this,” said Warren. “But Warren, the boat will sink if we all git on,” argued Devron. “Too bad you won’t be leaving,” said Conrad, rising up. “It’s about time I shut you two up and take my prize. You know too much.” He reached for his gun and 44 “In a time of universal deceit...
cocked it. “No!” Sally jumped off the getaway boat and knocked Conrad down. “You’re not going to hurt them! Lucas, get on the boat with Devron. I’ll hold him off.” “I can’t leave without you Sally. It’s not right,” he replied. Sally struggled to stay on top and began pummeling Conrad’s face. “Just do it now! Hurry!” Reluctantly, Warren got on the boat with Devron and took out his gun to shoot his captain. As soon as he and Devron got on the boat, however, Sally brandished her knife and cut the ropes holding the getaway boat. “What are you doing, Sally? You have to get on,” Warren yelled. Sally hurriedly pushed away from Conrad and ran to the side of the ship to jump. Before she reached the side of the dock, however, her leg buckled from the wound Warren had given her earlier. She fell hard onto the oak wood floor, struggling to get to the edge of the boat. Seizing this opportunity, Conrad lunged and pulled her away from the edge. “Looks like I have my prize, Warren. Hopefully the sharks will dispose of you.” Eyes wide in horror, Warren gazed hopelessly at the plundered ship as he and Devron drifted farther and farther away. The ship became a dot in the horizon, and the boat continued to float along the Mediterranean Sea, destined for nowhere. The night sky grew darker and darker, leaving Lucas exhausted with worry for his true love, Sally.
by jenny liu
he night air was colder than I expected, but then again, nature never bent itself to fit the needs of the people. The moon shone above the town, several phases after its fullest point. The light it reflected would have been enough to illuminate the silhouettes of every citizen and every object. Yet still, torches were set around the town square, as ordered by the king himself. The castle loomed over the town beneath it, everything from the largest scale to the finest of details changed on the whim of the monarch. As the fiery pins were set carefully into their iron posts, their existence fiercely beat back the shadows and overtook the pale moonlight. The
bright was brighter, the dark was darker, creating a contrast painful to the eyes. The civilians had gathered barely an hour before, and some grasped candles or lanterns to lighten the area further. They hovered as far from the center of the plaza as they could manage. A wooden stake stood high upon an elevated platform. Stiff straw, its golden color fading, piled high at the base of the stake. Dozens of guards were milling around it, hands curved around the hilt of their swords. The prisoner had gotten away once, defying the kingdom in all of his treasonous might. He had made a crack in the unfaltering power of royalty, and the nobles would not allow the trai45
...telling the truth is a revolutionary act.â€? â€” George Orwell
tor to repeat the instance. If the guards failed their duty again, heads would roll and bodies would burn. I scanned the area, studying those around me. My fingers, numb at the tips, brushed over the smooth white wax of a candle, held lightly in one hand. I calmly gazed at every face, catching and losing the ember eyes of the townspeople as they moved around me. Some tried to find a better spot while others desired to distance themselves from what was to happen. My feet stayed firmly rooted, unafraid at the front of the crowd. The tension clogged the air, and yet my own muscles were relaxed, my own mind free. It was understandable, of course, why the fear in the air was so strong. Here were the people, loyal to the king and all he stood for. And there, there were the people who simply believed that no leader could ever have their undying loyalty. As the minutes dragged on, however, the anxiety continued to press down, discriminating against no one. Their murmuring and shifting grew to an audible buzz, punctuated by the sizzling and crackling of flames. The ignorance that dwelled beneath the anger and anticipation was astounding from my view, and no doubt any who rose above the mind of a sheep. The king knew this as I knew, as the prisoner knew. It was the lack of understanding that fueled the flames of injustice and distrust that were so prevalent within the kingdom’s borders. It was the kindling, lacking any nourishing drop of knowledge, that gave visionless revolutionaries motivation and mindless defenders heart. But I knew and the prisoner knew that the same kindling, just scarcely damp with revitalizing knowledge, smoked and drew attention. It powered the royal families’ own fires and by default, the prisoner’s. The only difference was how quickly they 46 “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer...
consumed it and how much attention they gave. The king who was raised by the king before him, knowing only to hold the kingdom together and break down all resistances, could not be blamed. Nor could the prince be forced to claim responsibility. Raised by a tyrant of a father, it was only logical he would look to seek an alternative, no matter how drastic. It was he who broke free of the inattention that so seemingly ran through his bloodline. Yet still, inexperienced as he was, he became entranced by the rebellion, where nothing could be taught and nothing learned. If anything, the rebels that turned to violence flung the oils of self-righteousness into their flames, unknowing and uncaring if they burned up too swiftly. But he proved to himself and all those anxiously watching that he wasn’t the same. Perhaps he saw one too many fires burn through its tinder in a desperate blaze of glory. Perhaps he saw the wax melt away when the candlewicks could have been saved for so much more. As the one who walked alongside his footprints as a guiding lantern, I had to give him credit for having realized this and escaping their clutches as well. Only then did the prince became enlightened of the world, or so the people whispered in the
dead of the night. Only then did he confront not only his father, but the heart of the kingdom itself, its morals, and everything the world knew. But whether smoke was given as a flare of safety or a warning of danger, the attention it grasped is nothing but negative.The flames will be eventually stamped out, the smoke torn apart by the passing breeze. Why, after all, would the powerful allow smoke to dirty the air, when dry kindling gives life without life, bliss without knowing contentedness? The captain of the guard called for silence, his voice whipping out across the disgruntlement, striking it down in hopes that it would not get up again. A few low moans, echoed by more widespread whimpers, wavered in the atmosphere, a feeling of foreboding and pre-emptive mourning captured within the sounds. The plaza soon quieted, however, as the captain stepped forward, his sword halfunsheathed. All eyes were on the prisoner now, even mine, for there was no reason not to watch the proceedings. A man stepped up in front of him, beginning a list of the crimes against the kingdom. Giving critical information to the enemy. Battery of noble persons. Escaping imprisonment. Abandonment of royal duties. It was only the tip of the iceberg, the light of a candle
to a bonfire, and the list went on and on, framed by the chopped, cold tones of the speaker. At long last the speech faded, leaving echoes vibrating across the town square. The speaker paused, purely for theatrical effects, perhaps to judge the mood of the civilians as well. There was nothing but frozen silence. My head tilted just the barest of degrees as I stared up at who could have been the heir to the greatest kingdom in history. With riches at his fingertips, servants and soldiers that danced to his every wish, he had rejected it all and sought for the moral truth. His gaze fell to meet mine, mine out of all those tearing into his very existence. The light glinted off of his eyes, hiding whatever knowledge and heartfelt emotion he possessed, masking it with cold determination and the warmth of understanding. Here he was, unable to gift the world with what he found, unable to pass it on to any of us, and yet still he stood, bound and marked for death, challenging in the silence of knowing for me, for all the people, to follow his footsteps. Never breaking eye contact with him, I lifted a hand slowly. I covered the light of my candle, pinching out the flame in between my fingers. The heat stung yet gave feeling back to the chilled skin, gave back its life. With impeccable casualness, I held out the faintly smoking tip to him, an offering. With the odd contrast of torchlight and night, it almost seemed as though he smiled. A final sentence rang out seconds before a single torch fell, the shadows recoiling from its path, twisting and turning to find another place of comfort. The burning light hit the platform, the clatter drowned by a rush of flames, wiping out the darkness and the enlightened. 47
...nothing more difficult than understanding him.â€? â€” Fyodor Dostoevsky
Waiting by catherine pugh
er footfalls echo off the tunnel walls in the quiet, every scuff of her sneakers on the rock rasping hollowly. Somewhere, water is dripping, that plop… plop…plop setting a rhythm to which she unconsciously matches her steps. Her breathing is a whisper wet with tears, her red-rimmed eyes seeking, staring blindly into the darkness. Her fingers are alive as they skip along the wall, fingernails snagging in the crevices; she grits her teeth as a rough patch in the rock scrapes away the delicate skin of her fingertips. She follows the convolutions of the passage as it turns inward and down, boring into the heart of the caverns. ***
48 “Sadness flies on the wings of the morning...
She smiled as she walked into the restaurant. She knew her happiness sparkled like a beacon in the dim lighting, but that was fine. She wanted everyone to look at her radiance, to see the reason she shone so brightly. As she reached out one thin hand to Tobias, she turned her light-filled gaze on him. He smiled that sure, confident smile she knew so well… but did not reach for her hand in return. Her light flickered. She fluttered her fingers where they were, outstretched at her side, asking him.“Tobias?” “I dunno. Isn’t this place kind of… public?” For a second, the light went dark, and she tasted heartbreak. But then he grinned at her again. The flame roared up inside her, and everything was all right. She laughed as he doffed an imaginary hat, pulling out her chair for her.
*** lower ground. It smells of darkness and She knows where this tunnel ends in the life, and colors bloom in her head as she same way she knows the cadence of her recalls moments past. own breathing, familiar as an oft-repeated *** story. A cool wind caresses her face, the The day he gave her the ring was the best breeze sending wisps of hair to tickle her day of her life. The air was crisp, the colors in nose and cheeks. She licks her lips; the air the autumn air sharp and vivid. He knelt under tastes wet, and cold. the old apple tree and “In that moment she felt offered There is a sense of up the velvet box, safe, guarded from waiting here, she and she felt the light can feel it in the blue everything in the world. swell inside her, filling fingers of cold that She was safe in his arms.” her with a brilliance so spiderweb across her tangible the rest of the tongue. She closes her mouth, preserv- world was thrown in shadow. All she saw was his ing that precious breath of chilled air, and face, illuminated. He opened his mouth. moves forward, toes inching ahead for “Yes,” she said. the gaps in the rocks she knows are there. *** She steps carefully over them, as if she can She submerges her hands again, cupsense the dark fissures gaping downward ping them and bringing a handful of freezinto the warm center of the earth. When ing liquid up from the river. As always, her heel settles on the ground, she skids, she can almost taste its sweetness, and has but she reaches downwards for balance, to resist the temptation to drink, though the slick stone rising to her touch, greet- she wants so badly to lift the water to her ing her as an old friend. Her feet know the lips, feel its cleansing cold run down her way as she steals down to the lowest place throat. She has the sudden thought that the in the cavern. water is humming, so subtly she cannot *** sense its vibration, and yet it is there, in He asked her where she had been. She bit her her hands, waiting. It wants her to drink, lip, thinking. Of course he would understand, and she wants to do it. This simple desire wasn’t she supposed to trust him with her se- creates a small burning flame inside her, crets? So she told him about the caverns, the and it is so simple compared to the swirllabyrinth of caves and passages that was hers ing complexity of her other emotions that and hers alone, though she did not speak of the she smiles through her tears. It feels shaky, safety that lay in that darkness. Even so, his face unfamiliar, but her lips still remember was blank. Perfectly blank. how to curve. And she grins in the dark*** ness, even as a single salty teardrop traces She kneels there at the bottom of the in- down her face. It falls without a sound. cline, reaching down and letting the cold *** water flood around her fingers. The rushShe leaned forward and took a bite of his ing, gurgling sound of the river echoes cotton candy, grinning at him as they hung back to her, creating a film of gray noise poised at the top of the Ferris wheel. For a moat the edge of her hearing. She withdraws ment she felt a flicker of darkness inside. All the her hand and wipes it on her jeans, breath- other couples she had seen were sitting next to ing in deeply, smelling the freshness of the each other. Was it odd, that he—Tobias leaned river, its neverending journey towards forward, speaking to her in a low voice. She 49 ...and out of the heart of darkness comes the light.” — Jean Giraudoux
laughed with him as the wheel lurched downward again, and watched the shadows of the wheel struts flicker over his face. *** The memory makes the world around her seem unreal and she is, suddenly, dizzy. One hand finds the stone behind her as the cave holds its breath. She is perfectly still there for a long moment, the rock’s mossy surface grounding her in this place. This is her place, she reminds herself, and she is safe here. Swallowing against the sharp anguish in her chest, she reaches for her jacket pocket, her breathing choked and hoarse. The zipper at her fingertips grinds, and then the object is in her hands. She holds it on her palm, looking down as if she can make out its shape in the blackness. In a way she can. *** The design is simple: tiny rubies set in a gentle spiral of gold. It has always looked natural on her slender hand—she had cried when he first slipped it onto her finger, overwhelmed by Tobias’ care and thoughtfulness in choosing such a beautiful piece of jewelry. He just hugged her to him, arms warm and comforting as they wrapped around her. In that moment she felt safe, guarded from everything in the world. She was safe in his arms. *** She clenches her fingers around the ring and lifts her arm, holding her fist above the water, the band cold even in her icy hand. The breeze stirs up again, a wind blowing from nowhere to nowhere, the eddies of air swirling around her like she belongs here. She feels the cold inching in, from a coolness on her skin to ice winding its way towards her heart. It dissolves something
50 “The dreams of the broken are mightier...
inside her, something that has been there for months, and with every tear that flows down her face, she is lighter somehow. Released. *** She entered the theater with her head held high, the ring cool and light as a wisp of air on her finger. She glanced at him with eyes full of love. And maybe… maybe the slightest bit of doubt? It was always there, that doubt, no matter how many times he reassured her of his commitment. She reached for his hand, feeling a sudden chill.“Tobias?” He looked back, smiling, but the smile faded ever so slightly as he saw her extended hand. “Are you sure? It’s so… public here.” Her heart froze over and shattered. As the tears welled up for the thousandth time, she looked away.Tobias didn’t like it when she cried. But the taste of heartbreak was there in her mouth, bittersweet and cutting as broken glass. *** The uncurling of her hand is like letting go of a dream. There is hardly a sound to mark the moment, just a slight change in the sound of water gushing, and then it is gone. She kneels there by the river for a long, long time, staring into the darkness, watching things that only she can see. *** “But what if—” Tobias holds a finger to her lips, his face intent. “Don’t say anything. I promise I’ll come back. I’ll be there when you need me. I promise.” So she nods and their fingers untwine and he walks away. And she stands there under the old apple tree, waiting. Waiting…
the oneeyed stuffed bear by christine wang
o matter what happens just don’t move, okay? Don’t make any noise.” Tightly, she hugged the shivering child, too afraid to close her eyes to enjoy the moment, every sense painfully aware. Her bony hands clasped at the child’s shirt, her eyes blood-shot with exhaustion and the fire of maternal instinct. Like a mother bird protecting her babies from the hungry eagle, nothing else mattered
at this moment except to protect and to survive. If anything, at least for now they were still alive and together. With a frantic breath, she struggled to register that these were the last moments with the loves of her life. Before she could, she heard faint footsteps a few rooms down. Tired eyes wide with fear, she grabbed her child by the shoulders and shook her. “Take care of your sister. 51 ...than the wishes of the dead.” — Dodinsky
Do you hear me? I love -” Suddenly, the scream of another mother a few rooms over rung out in the air. Gasping, the woman hastily shoved her two sobbing children towards a secret pathway in the floorboards. Sasha, the eldest sister, clung onto every one of her mother’s words, sobbing silently as she was herded away, but her little sister refused to be as obedient. “What’s h-happening?” Broken questions tumbled out of the little girl’s mouth, “Mommy?” But before any questions were answered, the doorknob rattled furiously and there was a heavy crash of a body against the door. The two sisters were quickly silenced with an embrace and pushed into the hole. The crescent of dim light waned in front of their eyes. As they sat, acid adrenaline coursing through them, they felt the warmth of their mother’s gaze for the last time as the heavy lid clanged shut over their hiding place. They heard loud steps
52 “Hope is the dream...
of a couple of people running into the room as the numbing darkness closed in on the girls. Frozen with fear, they realized it was too late for answers. They heard the sounds of a wardrobe being pushed onto the ground and glass shattering and suddenly two sounds jumped out from all the others. First, there was a gunshot and following was a sound Sasha had never heard before, but recognized immediately. Their mother’s high-pitched scream. *** “Why are we doing this?” “Shh.” “Where’s mommy?” “I don’t know.” “Is she okay?” “I don’t know, okay? I don’t know.” “You do know! You - “ Sasha reached down with a cold hand and covered the younger girl’s mouth. The younger girl clung onto her shabby stuffed bear their mother gave her when she was young. The bear was dressed in a tattered, brown dress much like her own. Teary trails were evident against the grime of the younger girl’s cheeks and with every breath, her frail frame shuddered. Violent sobs had left her feeling dizzy and sick, and lacking the energy to fight the grief any longer, she let her tears flow freely. The Magistry had been chasing their mother for a very long time now. Sasha grimaced. The Magistry was what the government called themselves. The governors called themselves Elements supposedly representing purity or something of that sort. Sasha knew that Father had done something to anger Neon, the
head of the Elements, but Mother never talked about it. Yet, suitcases were packed at all times and when their mother didn’t come home at night they were supposed to hide in this secret hiding spot. Whenever Sasha asked about reasons, it was always the same excuse. You’re too young, Sasha. Life is about doing what the age calls for and at your age you are not supposed to worry about grown up problems. Both she and her sister knew something was wrong, but with her Father gone and her mother struggling what else could they do but keep their mother happy? After all, Mother sacrificed all her time and effort into raising her children, dedicating every ounce of love in her to being a perfect mother. Sasha hugged her sister closer and gathered her thoughts. Mother told her that Father left because he found a better job, yet, by the way her Mother flinched at the very mention of her Father, Sasha knew that was a lie. Was he dead? Had he been dead all these years? Shivering, Sasha blocked out the rest of the speculations she had. Right now she needed to focus on what she was going to do to escape. After a long silence had passed, Sasha muttered, taking her hand off her little sister’s mouth, “Can you get rid of that bear? How are you going to keep balance if you
There was no Mother now, but someone still had to protect her little sister.
don’t have any hands to support yourself?” The young girl considered it silently, but the sadness in her eyes was evident. Her small hands clung onto the toy bear. “Please, can I keep her?” Sasha sighed, but nodded. There was no Mother now, but someone still had to protect her little sister. Her sister shouldn’t have to worry about things not suited to her age anymore. When the cries of violence had subsided and the ground no longer rumbled of footsteps, only then did they begin crawling out of the small wooden hiding 53 ...of a soul awake.” — French Proverb
space into a gutter-like tunnel. The slosh of nauseating soup lapped at the younger girl’s feet. Sasha could not fit on the dry sides of the small space and was forced to wade in the stream of garbage beside her sister. A half eaten dead rat floated along and Sasha shuddered as she watched white maggots and a few flies consume the rest of the carcass. As the sisters struggled forward, the younger sister stumbled and slipped on the slimy walls, her one-eyed stuffed bear rolling into the water. Plop. The little girl froze, too exhausted to cry out or even attempt to retrieve the toy. The putrid current swallowed the bear and, when it resurfaced, pulled it farther and farther away. The little girl, after watching the toy bear vanish among the bobbing pieces of trash, looked at her sister with a quiet whimper. Turning her watery eyes on Sasha, she begged for answers and comfort that the older girl could not give. The young girl tugged on her sister’s sleeve, her voice a desperate plea. “She’s g-gone. She’s gone f-forever, isn’t she?” Sasha closed her eyes and looked away. “I’ll buy you another bear.” But with a quick glance back at her sister, she could see that she had made a mistake; it wasn’t about the bear. It would never be about a stuffed bear again. Giving her sister a small hug, she said, “Mommy will be back.” The lie echoed accusingly in her mind as she said it, but it was necessary. It was the hope the young girl needed to keep fighting and Mother would have wanted
that. Sasha grimaced. Besides lies and toy bears, what did they have left but each other? Her mind ached with memories of her parents. She missed the times when they would drive out into the woods in their beat-up red convertible, belting out songs all the way, and fall asleep together under a starry sky. It seemed as if they could easy go back to the time when they would gather as a family to sit drowsily on their creaky rocking chairs and watch the sunrise. Sasha cast a bitter look at their surroundings; it would never be about stuffed bears anymore. Her little sister turned to her again. There was a terrible hope in her young eyes, a naive trust that her big sister could make everything right again. Sasha frowned, running a grimy hand through her disheveled locks. She was responsible now, and whether she was ready or not; she had to keep moving forward.“Mommy will be back, right?” “Of course she will.” Her little sister nodded trustingly and moved closer. Looking up at Sasha, the younger girl slipped a small hand into Sasha’s and gave an affectionate squeeze. Gently, Sasha turned to her sister and brushed the tangled hair away from her hopeful eyes. Her little sister didn’t move or say a word, but her smile spoke for her. It was only a small smile, but it was enough. Sasha looked down at her sister and, without fully realizing, she smiled back. If anything, at least they were still alive, together, with the memories of Mother’s love to keep them warm. Sasha sighed. Perhaps it was never truly about a stuffed bear.
There was a terrible hope in her young eyes, a naive trust...
54 “And now there is merely silence, silence, silence...
Your Frozen Eyes by darya charkashyna
your Icy stare, it does not merely pierce through outer core, but pierces past my skin to strike my fluctuating heart. my shaking voice says maybe, possibly, we could start over, forget all the harsh things we said that foolish night? a cool chill travels from your lips and forms one fateful word, No. this one word, No. cold silence follows. your unforgiving eyes stare back at me. there is no feeling, no emotion, nothing is left to live inside those eyes. I try to muster up a word, a single word of protest yet, words fail to leave my quivering lips, a single tear escapes my trembling eyes. reflected in my tear are your eyes, gray and blue. how cold my tear now feels upon my pale cheek. this silence hurts my ears. I tried to make you feel some pity for me, standing here in front of you, broken I look into your eyes again, Alas, your frozen Eyes still have nothing in them, I realize it is too late to bring the feelings back. They are so cold, your eyes. the memories have disappeared from them. You leave, yet eyes belonging to you stay, they glower at me, imprinted now forever in my mind. My body quivers at their stare, my eyes cannot look at them, instead they gaze on the cobalt-ashen tiles of Our floor. more tears fall on the tiles and shatter with the sound of a cracked mirror. and then, my eyes have no more tears to spill, and only silence, painful silence, is here to comfort me. 55 ...saying all we did not know.â€? â€” William Rose Benet
m a e
by christina zhu
Slowly, the memories returned to her. They came quietly at first, small and flickering; then in a tidal wave, thundering and terrifying and all at once. Ah, yes! Her last view was the view of the brightest boat as she was lowered ceremoniously into the depths. The proud smile of her parents as they held her hands for the last time, the tears, the happiness! The whole village giving her the sacred seashell necklace to celebrate the honor of being chosen! The shocking realization that at last, she could see her brother again in the land of dreams! But as she gazed blearily around her, the surroundings seemed to only grow darker; her hands instinctively clenched her seashell necklace–perhaps the only thing that still kept it’s brilliance in the fathoms and fathoms of water. A merman came and swam close to her, smiling all the while. In the dim luminescence, his smile seemed sinister and disturbing; his blue eyes had a parasitic redtint to them, and his veins throbbed with an obscene color of ash. The girl found herself being just a little bit alarmed. He swam hypnotically around her, gradually floating closer and closer. “The dream is collapsing.” He whis-
he woke up suddenly with the taste of salt in her mouth. Her hair floated in front of her in what seemed to be slow motion, and bubbles escaped from her mouth. There were blurry shapes flitting in and out the edges of her vision. Here in the depths of the sea, light filtered through weakly, and nothing grew upon the cold crags of the ocean floor. Her normally bright blond hair appeared a lifeless gray, and her dress did nothing to protect her from the prevailing chill.
56 “Evil endures a moment’s flush and then leaves...
pered. The words blended in unnatural ways and clouded the young girl’s mind in ways she did not like. “I have seen it before to the other children. Did you get what you wished for?” “No,” cried the girl, a sudden terror seizing upon her. What little color she had left in her cheeks quickly drained away as she recognized the futility of her fantasy. “Who are you?” “But don’t you recognize me?” “I don’t know you,” she mouthed, but deep in her mind, his words struck a chord of terror for a reason she could not quite place. He laughed jeeringly and ripped the necklace away from her neck. She screamed as the dank fingers scrabbled over it, violating it, turning the sacred seashell into an item worth less than nothing; a piece
“The dream is collapsing.”
of trash, a dead dream. The merman laughed and dropped it into the chasm below. But suddenly, a new seashell came floating up in front of her face. Her eyes focused on it, and recognized it; it was not her seashell, rather; it was old and worn. She had seen it somewhere before. Somewhere in a ceremony long ago, bouncing proudly on the chest of… He saw the look of recognition flit across his face, and his smile grew even larger. She screamed and screamed. “Your turn.” 57 ...but a burnt up shell.” — Elise Cabot
Waiting for a Train by jeffrey yang
re we there Why was there so much dust? It yet?” Mollie covered the windshield and blocked asked for the third my view. If the dust didn’t let up, I time. would crash the car. I chose not to answer. Martie. I glanced to my right, “Are we there yet?” she the seat that she would have been repeated in a peevish voice. sitting on, should have been sitting “Soon.” on. The car turned a little, then I watched the dusty road. righted itself. I couldn’t stop thinkTwenty miles, and nothing but ing about her. the straight road. When Linda, “Is Mommy coming back?” I Mollie’s grief counselor, told me glanced into the rear view mirror, the canyon would be a fun, edu- startled to see her face streaked cational experience for Mollie with tears. that would take her mind off my I tried to keep my voice steady wife’s death for a while, this was for her sake. “No, Mollie, Mommy’s not what I had had in mind. never coming back.” Two hours of driving, and alDamn it. This wasn’t working at ways the voice asking, all. Linda was wrong. It would take “Are we there yet?” much more than just the prospect “Almost,” I said, fidgeting in of a trip to get her mind off her my seat. There was a time when I mother. would have laughed at this, along “Look, Mollie,” I said, watchwith Martie. Beautiful, glowing, ing the road. “We lose some things smiling Martie. Why did it have to in life. Things that can never be happen? Why did the lights mal- replaced.” I took a long, hollow function, why did she have to have breath. “But we have to try. We gone forward while the train sped can’t stop living just because we along? Why? In a single day, my lose something.” world turned upside down. But at Aside from some snuffling, Molleast I still had Mollie, thank God, lie was silent for a long time. After at least I had Mollie. a while minutes, I heard her voice And here we were, driving along again. “Are we there yet?” a dusty road, when we hadn’t paid I looked into the rear view mirour respects to Martie yet. ror. No tears. Good, good. “Not 58 “We must embrace pain and burn it...
quite.” Forty miles now, and nothing but the dusty road, the dry fields and the occasional decrepit farm building. Horrible scenes shoved their way to the front of my mind. I remembered the day of her death. The day everything went wrong. I had just left my office cubicle when the phone rang. An officer told me the news. Martie had died in a train crash at the St. Walker railroad intersection. The officer told me she was sorry. I didn’t remember clearly what happened after that. I got out of the building, out into the pouring rain. I stumbled across the lot to the car, and jammed the keys into the ignition. The windshield wipers weren’t even on when I left the lot, but nothing mattered then. I arrived at the scene, blocked by a line of waiting cars, their lights dim in the rain. I sprinted from the car toward the wreck, oblivious of the rain, oblivious of the onlookers. Somewhere I must have tripped. The rain made it dark, but a flash of lightning revealed all. The grim, soaked faces of the police officers, the rubble lying about the road, and God, the remains of Martie’s car. I ran towards it, and when the officers tried to pull me back, I screamed, “She’s my wife!” and they backed off reluctantly, compassion on their faces. I reached the car. I searched for a trace of her, anything, but there was nothing left. Nothing. Just
cold, twisted, wet, metal. As I stood before the wreck, I felt the droplets sliding down my cheeks, one by one, some hot, some cold. I didn’t remember much after that. An officer pulled me aside and told me that there was nothing left for me here, that there was nothing I could do, that I should go home. He showed me to my car, and I drove back to my house, my hands shaking on the wheel. Slamming the door, I stumbled inside and made straight for the kitchen cabinet. When I opened it, I recoiled at the mirror. I looked like a monster. Red, swollen eyes, sopping wet hair, face contorted in silent grief. I dumped them into my hands. The white circles. Perfect, white circles. I didn’t even need to count. I couldn’t have counted them. Then at the last moment, I remembered Mollie. I remembered her fourth birthday, when she hugged me, and I swung her around the house, with Martie laughing and putting up the balloons. The memory just brought more tears. No. I couldn’t. Mollie still had a life, a future. I couldn’t take it all away. To do it now would be murder. If only there were a way… *** Slowly, like a puzzle coming together, my vision of the road returned. I shook myself from my reverie, and when my eyes focused back onto the road, the car was on the wrong side. I pulled the wheel
59 ...as fuel for our journey” — Kenji Miyazawa
to the right, a little too suddenly. The car jerked to the right, and for a second, drifted, but it steadied and continued on the right lane. Looking back at Mollie to see if she’d been surprised, I found her busy humming to herself and gazing out the window at the rolling fields. Where was the next stop? My thirst was starting to get a little distracting, and the light. I hated how the sun hovered directly over the dusty road, hurling its rays straight into my eyes. Why didn’t the damn car have tinted windows? I squeezed my eyes together to look past the glare to the road. Through all the dust, I made out a hazy figure. My heart stopped. It looked all too familiar. I blinked, and the image disappeared. There was only the road. “She’s dead,” I whispered to myself. “She’s not coming back. Get that crazy thought out of your head, Adam.” But no matter what I told myself, I couldn’t. The glare, always in my eyes. I needed a break. There wasn’t a single place to stop, but there were no other cars on the road. I stopped the car. Mollie yawned behind me. “Are we there yet?” “No. We’re just taking a stop.” I got out of the car, and shook myself. This trip wasn’t a good idea. We still had a long while to go, and I was slipping away. This wasn’t good at all. I needed a breath of fresh air, but it was too dry, too dusty. I walked around, stretched, and got back into the car. 60 “Everything one does in life, even love, occurs in..
There was nothing I could do but keep driving and hope we reached it soon. The canyon. It had a river, and Linda told me that it shone a pure blue in the sunlight. Clear, sparkly blue. That’s what I needed. Not this dusty road. There was a speed limit, but then and again, no one would be there to see me. I put pressure on the pedal, and the car sped along. All these miles, and nothing to keep me interested. My mind inadvertently wandered back to the thoughts that had haunted me for the past three weeks. I looked in the back seat, hoping to occupy myself by talking with Mollie, but she had fallen asleep. I narrowed my eyes on the road, trying to focus on every insignificant detail to keep myself from drifting away. But the glare kept interfering with my vision, and I found it easier to stare at the dashboard and let the memories take control… I forced my vision back to the road, but up ahead, I could see a figure--the figure of a woman outlined by the sun. She held up a stop sign. I blinked. The figure was gone. When was the last time I had seen her before it happened? It seemed like a world ago. A lifetime ago. And it was. Everything changed that night. I focused my eyes back on the road, and shook myself clear. “I’m just getting a little drowsy, that’s all,” I said to myself. “I haven’t gotten much sleep these past few weeks.” The engine of the car grumbled in re-
sponse. But when I looked at the road again, I saw the same figure, hefting a yellow sign. On it big black words read “YIELD.” When was the last time I saw her? I had never given it any thought. I thought hard, and it came back to me. We were eating dinner together while the rain pattered on our roof. We ate in silence, both of us weary from work. Martie looked up, smiled, and asked, “Remember what you said when we first met? That you’d wait for me no matter what happens?” I cracked a weary smile. “Yeah.” “Do you think I’d ever wait for you?” I stopped eating and looked up. She was giving me one of those strange looks, as if she were trying to gauge my response. “Of course,” I said, and went back to my spaghetti. “Good answer.” She smiled and left the dinner table. The next morning, she was gone for work. I never saw her again. It just occurred to me… She never did wait for me. She was gone, and I was still stuck here. A screech brought me to my senses. The wheel was scraping along the edge of the road. I swung the wheel to my left, but I overreacted. The car flew over the mound of dirt that lined the road. As the car flew down the hill, the ground loomed closer with each passing second. I braced for impact. A ripple of force rocked the car, cracking the windshield. Pain shot up my
leg, crushed by the impact. I couldn’t even scream. Through the splintered windshield I saw that the car was tipping, about to fall backwards. I ducked my head, put my hands over it, waiting for the blow to strike. A brief sense of vertigo, and my back smashed onto the top of the car. Pain raced up my spine, but before it even reached the base of my neck the car started sliding down the steep hill… Sliding, tumbling. Mollie screamed every time the car crashed into the ground, but I could hardly hear it through the deafening sound of breaking glass and screeching metal. But when we were smashed against the cabin again, the scream was cut short. We were falling towards flat ground, some sort of ravine between the two hills. Here was our chance. “Get out!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. “Get out, now!” I felt something hit my shoulder. It was Mollie’s hand. I grabbed it, and reached out with my bloodied hand towards the door. I struggled to pull the tiny lever, struggled to force my broken fingers into a grip before we hit the ground. The force launched me out of the car, with my hand still gripping the severed car door, the other holding Mollie’s limp arm. As we flew backwards, I could see everything. Mollie’s hair streaming back, the car shuddering as it bore the impact, flying aside, the disturbed soil sifting down the hill as the grass swayed slowly. I fell, hard, hugging Mollie. Her back was bent in a wrong way, and her left arm 61 ...an express train racing towards death.” — Jean Cocteau
was dangling, useless. I tried to get up, but the car door pinned me to the ground. Then I noticed the tracks. Steel tracks, crisscrossing right under me. I heard the horn, the roar of the engine, the clicks of the wheels sliding across the tracks, coming from a tunnel up ahead. I looked back at Mollie. Her eyes closed tight, tears streaming down her face, she whimpered in a small voice that I could barely hear over the roar of the train, “Are we there yet?” As it came into view, its headlights glowing like overhead light fixtures, its engines running at full speed, I answered, hugging her tightly. “Yes. We finally are.” *** The investigator entered the lab. “You got them prepped for the autopsy?” he asked the officer. “Yeah, and it’s pretty gruesome.” He slipped on his gloves and examined his subjects. “You can leave now,” he told the officer. He walked out, obviously relieved. The investigator examined the corpses. No visible flesh wounds, yet a deluge of blood and bile dripped from their mouths. It all reeked of overdose. The investigator took a blood sample, and tested it for the common toxins from standard over-the-coun62 “When you are guilty, it is not your sins you hate...
ter pharmaceutical drugs, the only ones found in his house. He only went through five different chemicals before he hit a match. “Damn,” he whispered. “Tylenol.” The investigator brought up the investigation notes. The two were found dead over the dinner table with half eaten food, with no apparent cause. He looked at the item list. An empty Tylenol pill case with the man’s prints was found on the kitchen counter. He took the blood of the girl, and the results were the same. A scenario formed in his head. Both corpses showed the same stage of rigor mortis, so they had died at almost the same time. The man had mixed a fatal overdose of the drugs into the food to kill himself and the child. It all made sense. He typed up a report and sent it on to the forensics team so they could dust the pill case and the other items for the prints. As he stood to leave the room, something stopped him. “Why?” he asked himself. “Why would a man do this? What did he think he would get by committing suicide?” But thinking about these things wasn’t what he was paid for. He took one last glance at the I.D. of the man still up on the computer--a healthy, happy looking man, with a wide and friendly smile--and left the room.
The by jane jun
Entreating beaks and glossy fat an infant bird cries with eyes of glass reflecting the frigidity of love, deflecting Repulsive, this red-eyed parasite abandoned at birth to another’s nest each caterpillar and lizard stuffed into its mouth echoing the blood-price of shattered shells; shoved to death by she who chose her dreams over love, who had left her baby with certitude, looking only to the Moon, beckoned by the illusive light of crescent beauty but— only black-crisp feathers coiled down the liquid-silver sky. Adoring flutters caress the baby beast paternal wings fetch each morsel, flushed with the joy of blossoming young. but the infant: in each gobbling of love there is a pain, a burn, a bruise, a slice— a flabby worm and dripping fat that cuts the heart and steels the eyes
63 ...but yourself.” — Anthony de Mello
Rebirth by jefferine li
stared out the window, my body slumped in my chair. It was another tedious day of school, eight hours wasted learning useless information. What was the point? It was not as if I could ever become the innovative scientist they so longed for. Ten minutes of the day had not yet passed, but I was already counting the hours left before that final bell rang, a toll of freedom that released me from the teachers’ wrath and the students’ endless conversations which were really not conversations at all. They talked all right, about the latest styles, the fan signing events, the pop concerts; they got excited, but they all talked about the same things and nothing else. Never anything different. The vibrant colors outside seemed best suited to a canvas, but I squinted skeptically at the abrupt hues of crimson red, burnt orange, and goldenrod mingling together and the azure skies above. What were they so happy about?
64 “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen...
They would all die sooner or later. I had once adored the magic fall seemed to bring about every year, but not anymore. I used to be that hopeless girl who found her delight in dancing among the vibrant leaves and running through the wheat fields. On good days, I would sit under a large tree, a wide-brimmed hat on my head and time at my mercy, sketching flowers in my book. The flowering almond was one of the more difficult ones to draw. Each flower had ten, twenty, forty petals, each one a different shade of pink. Some petals—deep, rich magenta. Others— light, dancing pink. This, however, would not discourage me; I found, instead, that the difficulty strengthened my resolve to draw that flower. Each stroke of my pencil on paper brought me a tingling feeling of joy; each line of my colored pencil, a smile playing on my lips. But the other students were bored. They were hungry for grandiose, for destruction, for human sadness and desperation. They noticed my giddy joy and labeled me as a target. They trampled through the piles of leaves I gathered and crushed the flowers I drew under their mud-caked feet, imprinting black upon the once lively plants. Every day I ran home
and cried for hours in my mother’s lap… but I realized. The flowers and plants were never strong. People could easily stamp their lives out and crush their petals with the mere strength of a toddler. Why did I hold so much faith in nature? The teacher was droning on about the scientific method when a sharp rap and an authoritative voice startled the students awake. “Mrs. Caprioce! I’ve got the new student, the transfer from Kansas, with me. She’ll be a part of your class now.” “Ah, yes. Come on in! Class, make her feel welcome and right at home please. It would be wonderful if you guys could show her around and keep her company.” A girl stepped into view. As she placed one foot gingerly after the other, a slight breeze blew through the window, sending a wave of floral sweetness. It waltzed on my lips, strange and foreign but familiar to my taste. A rare ray of sunlight flitted through the window, beaming down upon the classroom with such intensity that even the murky, ashen walls seemed to burst with a new sense of gold. But the students
dismissed her aura and snickered at her disheveled hair and frayed, blemished clothes. They nudged one another, ridiculing the state of her feeble shoes that seemed too tired, and pointed brazenly at her weak figure. They laughed. Immune to the students’ deliberate exclusion of her from their group,the new girl approached me instead, where I was sitting alone under the oak tree next to the bench. She silently searched the meadow that spread around the tree, brushing her fingers against flower after flower until she picked one out and beckoned me to see. It was a jasmine, a gentle, pure white flower with a strong, yellow core. A symbol of cheerfulness. 65
...and waste its sweetness on the desert air.” — Thomas Gray
Friendship and laughter. Cordiality. brilliant hues of the plants. I reminisced Amiability. She watched me closely, about filling up my body with the scent pointing between the flower and herself. of sweet daisies and rubbing dandelions “Jasmine... is that your name?” under my chin to improve my luck. She beamed with pleasure and nodded. She continually communicated with She extended her hand and gently took me through flowers. She brought me bold mine in hers, tracing the inside of the French marigolds of electric crimson and flower. The soft touch of the petals met vibrant gold that licked of deep jealousy, my surprised fingers as she ran my fingers as well as shy peonies of lavender pink that d ow n the spoke of shame flower. She They had killed a part of her, and bashfulness. curled my Her morning the flowers that murmured glories with hand around the stem, streaks of fuchsia her stories and whispered the encourag ing on amethyst me to feel depicted her secrets of the world. its base, the instability, while flower’s beating heart. The sweet scent the delicate carnation pink marjoram of the flower wafted towards me as she flowers expressed her joy and euphoria. held the flower under my nose, nodding Our conversations were limited to the for me to breathe in its life. She pointed language of flowers, but then again, they all around, picking out the buds, just were not. When she showed me the barely there, but aspiring to be full bird of paradise flower, I thought of the blossoms one day. The buds that would word magnificence. However, her words one day carry on the legacy of its parents. pointed out the flower’s colors of rich Gradually, I began to remember Mikado yellow, flaunting mint, teal, and what nature was to me. I remembered French rose, as well as its rigid structure brushing my fingers against the smooth and distinguishing petal positions, underside of leaves and admiring the lending life to the word magnificence. 66 “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies...
She painted herself and the world through her flowers, which spoke what her voice could not say and transcended beyond what mere words could convey. * * * The sun stretched as it rose from its home in the mountaintops, yawning and grumbling about how early it was. It rubbed its eyes and slowly opened its arms wide out and hugged its child, showering light and energy upon the slumbering animals and earth. It smiled down at the beginning signs of life and spread its comforting fingertips further across the land, streaking the sky with brilliant amber. The sun, however, suddenly receded and withdrew its hands from the earth as a mass of murky thunderclouds, gray from the weight of the rain, overthrew the king and won over the sky. The thunderclouds spread across the sky within a matter of minutes, bearing the atmosphere down with its omens of misfortune. I knew it would rain today. I could hear the turbulent commotion from outside on the streets. As laughter reverberated in the wind and rang in my ears, a feeling of trepidation and anxiety bloomed inside of me and grew by the second. What was it? What had they done to her? As I ran to the school, I could imagine her quavering arms and legs, her ears wounded by the insults of the predators, but she would fight deliberately to hold her ground and stay strong. The ground was littered with flowers, brutally trampled to death by the feet of the predators. The once vividly colored flowers that had inhabited the meadow around the tree had turned black from
the cruelty of the students and no longer retained their original meaning. They had certainly found their mark. They had killed a part of her, the flowers that murmured her stories and whispered the secrets of the world. The flowers that were her companions, her solace, what she could rely on to always be there. The downpour came. Large droplets washing and cleaning the dirty earth. The sky was crying for her loss, but it would leave the earth fresher.The droplets would clear away the pain, her pain, and leave behind stronger resolve. I found her sitting, soaked, in the middle of the meadow, trembling from head to toe over the loss of her flowers. I firmly took her hands and led her to another field near the school. As she sat, oblivious to her surroundings, I searched for a flowering almond among the meadow. I enfolded her in my warmth and squeezed hard until she finally came out of her shock. I showed her the blossom of elegant amaranth pink. The symbol of hope. I smiled and pointed all around at the buds of flowers impatiently waiting for the chance to proudly display their exquisite petals. The rain would support their petals, supply them their needed growth spurt. The flowers would come back, again and again, their petals once again dancing to the hum of the earth.
67 ...but the silence of our friends.â€? â€” Martin Luther King Jr.
silence revisited by frances guo
warm stranger, this is your legacy: our bridges crimson with flame and the cinders of frayed ideals, feathered trees grounded by fury; we were clumsy and careless in love. I have wandered under the arches, seen fallen nests crumbling at my feet. but the cedar waxwings and sober crows do not condemn us, for wanderlust is burnished by the fertile ash. like their perished children, my lips are gaping parentheses (the past, an afterthought) with words cupped in my mouth but left unspokenâ€” perhaps this is the art of letting go.
68 â€œA story is told as much by silence...
look ahead by vivian chan
ou’re seven years old when your mother pulls out a photo album, heavy and mahogany. You’ve looked through the family photo albums before, on the lower shelf of the wooden bookcase located precariously near the piano, and you wonder why your mother is looking at you the way she is.You don’t like the way she’s looking at you, but you don’t tell her that. “Mama?” you venture timidly. Her dark brown eyes blink. “Shh,” she says after a beat passes. She opens the photo album and begins turning the pages. “Sienna, I have something important to tell you.” Something dark and fierce coils in your stomach.You know. “I know.”
“What?” Her head jerks. You exhale softly. “The other people at school,” you say evenly. “They’re always talking about it.” “Oh.” She stills her movements. “Oh. Sienna, I’m sorry. I should have told you sooner.” “‘Bout what?” you ask sullenly. But your mother shakes her head determinedly and gathers you up in her arms. You try to resist at first, but you’re only seven and you still blindly believe that your mother’s unconditional love can solve the problems of the universe. So you let her enfold you and your eyes happen to drop on an open page in the photo album. You’re a baby in those pictures. Your ...as by speech” — Susan Griffin
eyes are blue. friend. But she became afraid, thinking But now... that there would be a greater chance of But now. her eyes turning brown if she continued to Your mother never fully explains the be around you. That’s a lie, you had said— whole story to you, never sits you down pleaded. You know it’s a lie. But everyone and says, “This is what happened.” She knows that soul mates mean everything. A never tells you how she had watched you soul mate takes precedence in a person’s suddenly cry a long, drawn-out, despair- life, even if she hasn’t found that soul mate ing cry (you were only three, I didn’t know yet, so dumping a friend is nothing in what was wrong, what was I supposed to do Si- comparison. Worse has happened to Dirt. enna), before blinking harshly in the light, (Over a million people commit suicide tear tracks on your face. every year. Guess how many had brown She never tells you a lot of things, but eyes.) you piece it together with the pictures “You need to be more positive,” Sky and the cruel whispers in the hallways of huffs. There’s over a dozen different Skys school. in your grade because of parents who At the age of three, wanted to name your eyes turned their children brown, your soul after something You piece it together mate died, and your seemingly limwith the pictures and itless and blue, life changed. (Not necessarily in but this is your the cruel whispers in that order. You must Sky, the only one remember that.) who really talks the hallways of *** to you. Not like In high school, you’ve let anyone school. you’re Dirt. Literelse try. ally. “Why?” The kids with blue “Your thoughts eyes—Blue Eyes— are so depresswon’t let you forget that. It’s a habit of ing,” she responds, sitting next to you on theirs to take mud and smear it over the the ground. The ground is cold and dirty, lockers of known Dirt, early in the morn- but she doesn’t flinch. That’s one of the ing before the janitors and teachers are reasons you like her so much. about. There are the names, the sneering “What’s your definition of ‘positive,’ glances, the physical assaults. But Dirt then?” you shoot back at her. It’s lunchpeople retaliate. “Blue Eyes, hey Blue time and you’re hungry, but you don’t Eyes,” they say, “heyyy.” Faux politeness want to eat. You hate eating. It makes you that contain underlying insults; it’s the feel alive. tone, not the words, that matters then. “I don’t know...” You think that mankind’s too old for “Liar.” Your voice is calm, but your lips petty insults. But mankind has no lasting twitch. “How many guys did you flirt with age. Ice Age, Dark Ages, this country’s or this past week?” that city’s Golden Age, et cetera. “I don’t flirt.” Sky sounds aghast, but her There is a girl who used to be your eyes are dancing. She looks beautiful. “I’m 70 “The eyes of the soul of the multitudes are unable...
just... playing.” “Playing,” you repeat flatly. “Well, I know for a fact that my soul mate’s not in this school.” She tosses her hair back with a slender hand, but she can’t hide the disappointed shadow that crosses her face. “I’ve eyeballed every single guy I’ve run into and nothing. Nada.” “I’ve noticed.” To your amazement, your response comes out sincere rather than dry. You look over her face, noting her blue eyes. You smile. “Blue Eyes.” “Don’t call me that,” she moans, slapping your shoulder half-heartedly. “I’m just saying that since I’m not going to find my soul mate here, I might as well have fun. Things don’t have to be so serious and
depressing just because...” She stops and raises her hand to cover her mouth. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.” “Doesn’t matter,” you say with a shrug, and you mean it even if Sky doesn’t look convinced. She won’t understand, not as long as she has blue eyes. She’s not the only one, though. Plenty of people have relationships, casual or not, in high school. Obviously it doesn’t matter for students with brown eyes, but it’s almost as futile for the other side. The casualty is almost childishly cruel, a mockery, but the serious ones tend to end badly. People want to be sure, to see the end, endgame,
fin, and most won’t find their endgame in high school or anywhere else. The whole thing seems tiring and sad to you. You’re not the only one, though. There are those who drag themselves through life, bristling at everyone else, sullen and resentful. Then there are those who have to see the silver lining because they won’t know how to live with themselves otherwise, and it’s true that it can be a blessing, not having to be so frantic about a soul mate. Occasionally, there’s a Dirt who cares about none of it, the whole mess and eyes and romance business. No matter what kind of Dirt you are, though, there is always opposition, conflict, tension. You don’t tell Sky that sometimes you hate brown so much that you can’t stand yourself and you end up doing something stupid, like defacing the dining table at home. What happens is that you take a knife from the kitchen and you lie underneath the dining table so that you can see its brown belly. You hate brown at that moment, and before you can stop yourself, you begin to scratch at the table with the
knife. Dust falls into your eyes and you ultimately end up blunting the knife, but when you are finished, you survey the crooked “B” you have carved on the un71 ...to endure the vision of the divine.” — Plato
derside of the table. The sight almost makes you laugh. Instead, you stare at the “B” for a long minute before rolling out from underneath the table. You throw away the knife and no one else notices the carving. *** There are two people who don’t have blue or brown eyes in your school. One of them is a freshman girl, Celeste. You’re a TA for one of her classes.You hear the whole story as you’re marking papers. She’s surrounded by girls, some who are her friends and some who are not. She’s pseudo-shy, speaking in a hushed voice but unable to hide the brightness of her hazel eyes or the extravagant hand gestures as she tells her story. “I met him at the mall,” she says, blushing with pleasure at the attention. “When I saw him... I felt all warm and everything was tingling and I could tell that he felt the same. I just knew, you know?” Her
He leaves without looking back at Tanner, who is surrounded by cigarette butts and silence.
adoring crowd nods in agreement even though you notice that they all have blue eyes. They cannot possibly know.You can’t begrudge them that fact, and you even understand. What Celeste has experienced is rare, even exotic. Luck, they call it. Fate. Blessing. Curse. “How old is he?” “He’s a college student,” Celeste answers, her face now flush with pride, and she brings her hands down to fiddle delicately with the hem of her sweatshirt. (You hate her voice.) “We’re going on a date this weekend.” “Your parents let you?” “Of course,” she says with surprise. “He’s my soul mate.” Her face lights up. “We love each other.” Is that it? You stare over at Celeste and her gaggle of fans. Is that the answer to the meaning of life, to the secrets of the universe? You think back to Sky and her various exploits, and then look back at Celeste with her red cheeks and satisfied aura; the means and the end.You think of the trashy magazines that feature love stories of soul mates who find each other against all odds. Touch of the magic wand and all is well. You think of the movies, books, advertisements with desperate people looking for other, even more desperate people. Is that all there is to having a soul mate? You know better, though. The other person with hazel eyes at school sits next to you in math. Tanner smokes—you can smell it on his breath—and his eyes are usually vacant during class, only sharpening whenever the teacher wanders dangerously near. He barely speaks to you and you do the same, only glancing at him sideways when he isn’t paying attention. He doesn’t talk to anyone else, so no one knows his story yet. There’s one day when you stay late to work on a group project.The sky is
72 “The contemplation of things as they are is in itself a nobler thing...
Is that all there is to having a soul mate?
starting to darken when you exit the front entrance, and you decide to call your mother. That’s when you notice him. Tanner is leaning against the wall. Smoke from his cigarette rises in the air. You hide yourself behind a corner and watch because it’s obvious that he’s waiting for someone. That someone arrives on a bicycle, but the way he dismounts the vehicle and brushes the hair out of his forehead makes it seem like he arrived on a motorcycle. He’s wearing a pair of sunglasses, a ridiculous sight to see considering it is almost evening, and he’s taller than you—maybe older too. You watch as he smooths a hand down his black jeans and walks leisurely to where Tanner is. The two don’t exchange verbal greetings, choosing instead to slouch next to each other. Tanner passes a cigarette to the stranger, who takes out his own lighter and helps himself. They smoke quietly together for a long five minutes and you begin to shiver. At last, the stranger turns and gets back on the bike. He leaves without looking back at Tanner, who is surrounded by cigarette butts and silence. A minute later, Tanner leaves, flicking ash as he does so. The next day, you turn to Tanner and awkwardly try to make conversation. “Um, hi.”
His hazel eyes are ice. “What?” Your courage fails and the two of you never speak again. You tell yourself that it isn’t much of a loss as you’ve become very good at piecing the unspoken things together. *** “Lucia!” you yell, pounding on her door. “Sienna!” she yells back mockingly. “You’re not supposed to take my clothes without my permission.” The door’s locked and you slump next to it, scowling. “Especially not my blue dress.” “But you never wear it anyway.”You can hear the pout in her voice and it pisses you off. “That’s not the point! You have to ask in the first place.” “But it matches my eyes,” she snaps through the door. There are sounds of movement inside, rustling clothes and objects being dropped onto wooden surfaces. “It’s not like you need it anyway.” Hint of scorn, drop of pity, some regret mixed with it because she’s your sister but she’s your sister. It’s a low blow and she knows it. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but that doesn’t make it sting any less. So you snap back, “Well, fine. Fool around with a guy who isn’t your soul mate. Go screw yourself.” “Fine,” she echoes, affronted. “Fine. Whatever.” 73
...than a whole harvest of invention.” — Francis Bacon
“Whatever.” Silence reigns and the confrontation is finished. You think about beating back a retreat to your room, but you’re so tense and angry that you don’t. Instead, you get another knife from the kitchen and head for the dining table. You find yourself sliding underneath to look at the “B” you carved before, and your fingers trace the blunted scratches around the letter. You hate brown and you hate your sister, both at this very moment, and you begin to dig until you’ve etched a slashed “S” next to the “B.” S for sister, S for soul mate. Then you draw back and look at what you’ve done.You blink. “BS.” This time, you really do laugh. *** When you ask your mother about her history with your father, her mouth quirks and her eyes dart to the family photo albums on the lower shelf of the wooden bookcase located pre-
cariously near the piano. She knows that what you’re really asking about is the story behind your father’s blue eyes in those pictures, the older ones when your parents had still been in college. His eyes are brown now, and he never gives any sign that it was once different for him. “I was majoring in Business,” she says, arms and fingers spread on the dining table. “He was majoring in Intercolor Studies. He was doing a project and that’s how we met. “He was the one who asked me out. I think he was trying to get close to me during that project.” Insert nervous giggle. Fast forward a few years. “Your father was—and is—a serious man. But he never really tried looking for his soul mate. We were still dating when his eyes... well, it settled things and he moved on quickly. He said that he was glad he hadn’t invested himself in searching. It made things easier.” That’s how
74 “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows...
she ends the story.Your mother is a woman of detail. But you scan pictures of your father when he was younger and you read a few of the articles that he writes. You know enough to say that your father is a man who treats people equally, regardless of their eye color. In fact, you almost believe that he lives as though soul mates aren’t even a subject to consider. You meet who you meet and you love whom you love. Far from an uncommon point of view, really, as you know that a Dirt has no choice but to find companionship in others. It is clear that your father is deeply engrossed in the intricacies of intercolor dynamics. You’ve always been more fascinated with the hopelessness of it all. Race, age, even time period—nothing restricts who your soul mate is. Thus, so many are born with brown eyes because their soul mate has already been dead for years. And so many will always have blue eyes because they’ll never find their soul mate, because of location or time; the fault of the present and the future. Only one out of a million
blue-eyed people will see their eyes turn hazel. It’s despairing. Your father speaks of animosity, tension, bitterness that once split the world into two, before anyone understood the fragility of it all. He’s read the history books and so have you. He makes up more than a few terms, dividing Dirt into two categories of “hopeful mountain climbers” and “resentful rock dwellers,” and he creates subcategories for his categories. He applies the same categories to the other side, except in a different context, but it doesn’t matter much. His words contain an edge whenever they mention a Blue Eyes, like a leftover trace of what was has seized hold of his soul. He’s received a lot of heat for his provocative articles.You don’t mind the provoking so much; you believe that it’s a sign of attitude. What you care less for is the way he has a compulsive need to have a name or label for every single person unfortunate enough to grace the earth: There are those who accept and move on, and there are
75 ...but we can choose to live in joy..” — Joseph Campbell
those who do not. You’re not sure which category you belong in.You don’t like labels or categories to begin with. So you pretend that you’ve read nothing of significance and continue forging on, sparing nary a thought for your father’s articles. That’s a lie. There’s a moment that you remember, one of the only moments concerning your father that you can recall that doesn’t have him shut away in his room. There’s a park, the same park that you pass by on the longer route to school, and you were eight when he clumsily pointed out other kids in sandboxes, on the swings, all kids with blue eyes. “The same,” he had tried to explain, pushing you to make friends. He had been too insistent, too determined, too purposeful. “You’re all the same.” But I’m not, were the words that you hadn’t said. Instead, you hid yourself somewhere in your mind, too far away for your father to reach. You were too young and now you’re too removed. You don’t want any part of this, and now he doesn’t want any part of your apathy, fear, hesitance. No longer does he comment on your friends or lack thereof. No longer does he mediate the clashes you have with your sister. No longer does he look at you in the eye and attempt a semblance of understanding. Now your father writes
76 “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to find...
for the world—but he can’t even connect with his own family. He isn’t someone who goes back or starts over. He’s someone who keeps moving ahead.You have to admire that. (Sometimes your father watches you. The weight of his gaze on your person is discomfiting. His eyes are sad.) *** In college, you no longer deal with Sky’s various affairs or Lucia’s scheming plans. You’re freer, and it helps that intercolor tension mostly cools off after high school. Celeste and Tanner disappear into the dusty pages of your past as Russell, Sapphire, and Chester enter your life. There are the triplets Azuline, Azura, and Azure who love to steal your pens at esoteric hours of the day. Indigo, who saved a seat for you at a lecture the other day, smiles shyly every time he sees you. But the person who captures your attention is your roommate, Hazel. “Don’t call me that,” she says wryly. “Horrible, horrible name. Call me Quill.” Quill because she has a tendency to collect bird feathers. Quill because she’s an English major (what that has to do with anything, you don’t know). Quill because it rhymes with “Brill,” her favorite word to use and to say. “An abbreviated way of saying ‘brilliant,’ and because I can,” is her explanation. She tends to cram her lanky form into a chair before her laptop, typing furiously and often working on her so-called Thesis of Life, her magnum opus. Her space is surrounded by stacks of books and lollipop wrappers that you find yourself picking up if only to clear some of the clutter in the dorm. You try at least once a day to sneak a peek at her Thesis except she mostly waves you away with airy hands and distracts you with one of the many
lollipops lying around. interested in you.” So you never get a chance to look at her “Oh.” Thesis, but you know that it’s about inter“You should try to be happy.” colorism. It’s evident by the way she calls “And what would make me happy?” you out to you, “You realize that your soul say, shutting your textbook with more mate could have been born in any time force than intended. period? Any time period?” Again, she shrugs. “Some people don’t “Well, no—” form relationships because they don’t “He could have been Shakespeare, for want to. Some don’t because they’re all we know.” afraid of how they might be changed. “I don’t really like him,” you admit, “and There’s more, but that’s not important. you know, my eyes Figure out which catturned brown when I egory you belong to was three.” and straighten your“Don’t call “Technicalities,” and self out.” me that,” she she waves away your She sounds so protests. much like your father says wryly. You think it’s rather that you pick up your “Horrible, bad form to wave away textbook and wordanything that doesn’t lessly leave for the horrible quite agree with your quieter confines of name. idea of the world, but the closest library. you only mention it The Indigo thing once to Quill. She doesn’t end up golaughs at that. She aling anywhere. Indiways laughs whenever go’s eyes slowly pass you think you’ve said over you to another something particugirl and you’re only larly insightful—not a little sorry that because she disagrees, your unresponsivebut because of your ness caused him to “ridiculously serious give up. But you sit in expression whenever the library more and you look at me like more often, turning that.” Quill’s rather over the words of cruel in her own way your father and Quill and she’s also bad at taking criticism, but in your head, and you buy an expensive she can be eccentric and haughty and fun box of chocolates and a whimsically feathwhen she wants to be. ered hat for Quill on her birthday. It’s an She’s lounging in her chair as usual, lol- apology and a celebration, but also a dislipop in mouth, when she says in a muffled traction. voice, “Indigo’s interested in you.” Her smile is brilliant. “Brill,” she says, You look up from your textbook. patting your shoulder. “What?” Quill never does try to nudge you toShe shrugs and continues casually, “He’s ward other people again, and you for-
Call me Quill.”
77 ... all the barriers that you have built against it.” — Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
get about the incident for the most part. Meanwhile, a Dirt is beaten up on campus, her injuries so severe that her parents pull her out of the university. A week later, three students with blue eyes are attacked, all in rapid succession. The bigger cracks are mended, but you watch the smaller ones and wonder what to make of them. *** Azura’s eyes turn brown on a Tuesday. She and her sisters immediately quarantine themselves in her room for the rest of the day. Her roommate, Amber, camps out in your dorm. Luckily, she has a loose tongue that loosens even further with an eager audience, and she tells you all about how Azura had locked herself in the bathroom before her sisters had been able to coax her out.You want to think about how distraught Azura must be, how her sisters might have trouble comforting her because they won’t get it, and how this will change everything for her. But instead, you think that at least now you’ll be able to tell her apart from Azuline and Azure. “That’s an insensitive thought,” Quill replies, seemingly amused. She’s easily amused, really, as if she’s some upper-class lady in a classical novel, laughing at the antics and failures of the lowerclass cretins. Cruel as usual. (Does this make you the lowerclass cretin?) “Maybe,” you concede, “but I’m not very sympathetic. I don’t think you are either.”
“Brill, Sienna. Looks like I’ve taught you something after all.” “Hey,” you protest, sitting up in your bed to glare at Quill across the room, “I’m not stupid.” “No, but you’re very earnest. Good for you.” “I just... You know this is going to change everything for her.” “I wouldn’t know,” is the breezy response. She rolls over in her bed to blink at you, and you shake your head, wondering at it all. There’s a moment of silence, and you consider starting on some work that you really need to get done when Quill says, in a more subdued voice, “She’s the eldest, you know.” “By what, five seconds?” “Oh Sienna,” Quill sighs, “what am I going to do with you?” You remember the “BS,” still on the underside of the table at your parents’ house, and you realize that you don’t know what you’re going to do with yourself
78 “We must accept illusion when they collide with...
onnection’ c e s th Th e has ere to b v o l eg e ro
. s As alway
either. It’s not a very startling realization, less startling than it is hilarious for how it changes nothing. Azura’s eyes are swollen when she finally emerges from her room to attend classes. You say a few consoling words to her and watch as she struggles to brave a different sort of life from the one she’s used to. But you know that you will not see everything. So life goes on and you mingle with people whose lives barely touch your own. C’est la vie. *** “Finally,” Quill says when you ask about her story. You’re both sitting on the grass; Quill slouched against a tree and tip-tapping away on her laptop, and you lying on your stomach with a book in your hand. It’s about a dystopian society with a corrupt government and struggling protagonist, the works. You’ve already lost interest, but you feign reading anyway so that Quill won’t be disappointed. She’s the one who gave you the book in the first place. “There’s not much to say,” she muses thoughtfully, not even bothering to look up at you. Her unwillingness doesn’t deter you. “How did you meet?” you press on, almost doggedly. “Accidentally.” Her eyes skim over you for a moment. “It’s hardly worth recounting.” She pauses deliberately. The sunlight falls on her face and reveals shadows, contrasts, and secrets written on her skin. “I met him when I ran away from home.” That sounds like a story worth recounting, but you sense more. “So what happened?” “I met him, had a nice chat about the logistics of the universe, and then left because I didn’t feel like being a runaway for much longer.” Quill is a woman of detail. “You left
him?” “I did, and without looking back.” “Why?” The words spill out of your mouth. “Didn’t you feel anything for him? Didn’t it mean anything to you? He’s your soul mate. How could you hurt him like that? How could you hurt yourself?” Her glance is scathing and her voice even more so as Quill says sharply, “I hurt no one, least of all myself.” She waits for you to settle down and you eventually do, albeit somewhat mutinously. She painstakingly softens her voice as she answers, “I didn’t feel anything for him during that short moment. How could I?” “But—love?” “Oh, they’ve brainwashed you.” She lowers her gaze, smirking to herself. But she tells you gently, “A soul mate means as much as you want him to mean. And to me, he means almost nothing.” When it’s apparent that you don’t understand, she shakes her head and ends the conversation with these final words: “The connection’s there, but the love has to be grown.” As always. You mull over her words for a few weeks. Quill has always been expert in switching between the obvious and the subtle. But eventually you hear the unspoken and you stretch yourself on another grassy field at a later date, lazily eyeing the clouds that pass by. You close your eyes and think of the people you have buried in the past; your parents, your sister, Sky, Celeste, Tanner. And inexplicably, you wish for one of your father’s articles to pore over and reread, just once more. Maybe, you think, it’s possible to live as though soul mates aren’t even a subject to consider— —and be happy. (Now that’s a thought. Happiness.) 79
...a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.” — Sigmund Freud
each night, you reinvent language, your tongue carves history. bared white teeth and pursed lips—what new word is this, and who will listen you listen: disembodied groans beyond the fire-lit circle, clenches of primordial sound. your ears turn, pointed and animal as jackals’ howl moonward, emptying into the void. the moon is a new word, rising up skin iridescent, meaning obscured. who will listen— you rage, you seethe and pace and claw the earth, but the earth does not hold. and there are no words for this, elephantine fury rising up, ivory tusks, a great wrinkled expanse, this gray age. an elephant never forgets, you say—but each day, you forget. language. you stick out your tongue, pull painted faces at the great wide world. the past is yours. you speak wars into being, you are the wind that blows down thousand-year trees and sows their stillborn children. you will never know more—but in your languages, your million tongues, swollen and feral, you find future.
80 “Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall...
speak, savannah by ashley wu
81 ...but words endure.” — Edward Thorndike
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