V O R T E X
Contents Art N.Y.P.D., Hayden Pickens........................................................ 8 Genderfluid, Adrienne Thompson.......................................... 57
Fiction Greetings from Loxon Corp!, Ashely Nicole Hunter................... 4 The World Ended on a Tuesday, Hayden Pickens....................... 7 Legion of Honor, Audrey Bauman............................................ 9 A True Story, Tyler Hauth........................................................ 11 Rations, Ashely Nicole Hunter............................................... 20 Coffee Talk, Kameron Morton................................................ 60
Nonfiction Lollie Bottoms, Ashely Nicole Hunter.................................... 29
Poetry Crown Royal, Kayla Carson.................................................... 27 Karma for the Lonely, Kayla Carson....................................... 38 Afterthought, Kayla Carson................................................... 58
Script Fixing the Unfixable, Kameron Morton................................... 41
Cover Art Disambiguation #7, Georgie McCarthy 2
Vortex Staff Editor-In-Chief | Hayden Pickens Assistant Editor | Ashely Nicole Hunter Layout Editor | Alicia Brautigan Assistant Layout Editor | Araya Pomplun Copy Editor | Michael Willis Assistant Copy Editor | Lauren Goff PR Consultant | Ashley Nicole Hunter Faculty Advisor | Garry Graig Powell
Editor | Georgi McCarthy Judges | Elinore Noyes & Haley Schichtl
Fiction Editor | Kameron Morton Judges | Audrey Bauman & Sophia Ordaz
Nonfiction Editor | Tyler Hauth Judges | Samuel Myers & Monica Sanders
Poetry Editor | Craig Byers Judges | Dani Decker & Kaitlynn Williams & Shauntel Creggett
Scriptwriting Editor | Carli Hemperley Judges | Latavian Johnson
Greetings from Loxon Corp!
Ashely Nicole Hunter
Please be sure to read the following statements thoroughly and comply with all instructions. By voluntarily touching this Hexagraphic Paper and providing Loxon Corp with your thumbprint signature, you agree to be responsible for any and all damages, up to and including death, which may result from improper procedural behavior, faulty equipment, neurowave termination, and partially digested Hexagraphic Paper. Loxon Corp cannot be held responsible for unsatisfactory sensory experience, partial reboots, or missing neural data following the use of PsystemVerse 2.9 Beta. This written signal marks the first in a four signal series which Loxon Corp has designed to remove you from the interactive experience of PsystemVerse 2.9 Beta with a minimum of stress and discomfort. To indicate you are receptive to receiving a second signal and progressing towards termination of this simulation, it is imperative that immediately following your thorough and complete reading of this missive, you carefully cut out and remove the BLUE happy face printed for you on the box below. Once the face has been removed, it is required that you roll it up into a tight cylinder and carefully insert the paper into your LEFT nostril before bed. This will enable the second signal to load properly into your neural pathways, at which point you will be given another set of instructions.
If, and only if, the BLUE happy face is not sufficient to trigger the arrival of the second signal between the hours of 1am and 4am (CST), Loxon Corp advises that the PURPLE happy face be carefully cut out from its box. Exactly as you were directed with the BLUE happy face, please carefully roll and insert the paper into your nostril, this time your RIGHT. 4
It is IMPERATIVE that the BLUE happy face not be removed prior to inserting the PURPLE happy face, and that the BLUE happy face has been inserted BEFORE the PURPLE happy face is inserted. Inserting the PURPLE happy face without the previous and ongoing use of the BLUE happy face could result in time jumps, nausea, incest, a long-distance relationship with Carrot Top, and inability to disengage from PsystemVerse 2.9 Beta. In rare instances, correct insertion of both the BLUE and PURPLE happy faces printed on your Hexagraphic papers may lead to vomiting, tremors, tunnel vision, and/or failure to disengage from your historical simulation. If this occurs, there is no need to panic. Simply remove both rolled cylinders from your nostrils and flush them down the nearest toilet. A team of technical assistants will be alerted to your difficulty and will attempt to bypass the system protocols to assist you in disengaging. In order not to damage your psyche by completely breaking immersion in the historical simulator, technicians may appear as squirrels, agitated elderly gentlemen, and small jars of mustard. It is imperative that you work with the technicians to the best of your capabilities and provide all necessary assistance so that they may safely retrieve you. The second signal emitted by Loxon Corp has been tested and verified to be highly enjoyable for our users. Please be sure to be outside between the hours of 1am and 4am in order to properly count the number of exploding pterodactyls you witness overhead. You will need to enter that precise number into your microwave after filling it with packing peanuts in order to have a schedule made for your disengagement. Failure to properly input the correct amount of deceased vertebrates could result in a delay of up to two months to process your request and lead to significant shrinkage of your anal cavity due to prolonged exposure to PsystemVerse 2.9 Beta’s patented neural waves. If you have chosen to remain a short while longer in the Moments in History: 2016 historical simulator, please be aware that PsystemVerse 2.9 Beta will only provide two further signals to alert you to the optimal time for neural recovery. After the fourth signal it may be difficult, if not impossible, to satisfactorily disengage all neural pathways without experiencing severe and possibly crippling trauma. Loxon Corp wishes to minimize the possibility of lasting neurological harm, and for this reason signals three and four are categorized “insistent” under the revised Medical Ethics and Standards for Non-Compliant Consumers Act of 5
3166. Users who remain in the historical simulation until the progression of the third signal will begin experiencing incontinence in their artificial bowels, usually triggered in public places, followed by a level of abdominal pain which has been approved for use on mammals intended for consumption. Regrettably, users who progress to the fourth signal may be submitted to procedures designed to minimize their mobility within the simulation in order to aid technicians in their retrieval. Though this is usually restricted to illnesses such as the flu, syphilis, and rectal prolapse, some extreme cases have warranted the use of large vehicles and unfortunate camping incidents. Loxon Corp is quick to reassure its users that almost all fourth-signal recipients have regained use of their extremities following a mild period of recuperation after their simulated experience. Once safely immobilized, users will be collected within nine to twelve months by a special unit of technicians. Again, in order to minimize the trauma to our users, these technicians will be appearing in a form which makes the most sense to your historical simulation. These appearances may include, but are not limited to: Joe Biden, The A Team, a warm tuna sandwich, six nuns in a rowboat, and Sylvester Stallone’s chest hair. Loxon Corp must stress that any and all force necessary to safely remove the user from their neural entanglement will be pursued, up to and including bareback riding. Please cooperate fully with the technicians at all time. In rare instances, some individuals have reported being unable to detect any of the four signals in Loxon Corp emits for neural retrieval, and several have reported being so deeply immersed as to be completely unaware that they were participating in an experimental neural imaging gateway device. If you are worried this has occurred in your situation, check for the following anomalies: • Has the David Bowie simulation crashed and failed to reboot? • Is the Morgan Freeman narrative function working properly? • Is the political system glitching into the reality television system? • Do you still possess residual feeling in your secondary mandibles? In the event that any or all of these critical malfunctions has occurred, Loxon Corp advises the user to attempt to perform a hard reset of the entire system with a spork and a can of Spam using the standard procedure found in your operating manual.
The World Ended on a Tuesday
John didn’t notice when the world ended. He was at home in bed (he liked to turn in early) when Tuesday night at 10:37 everything stopped. If he had watched the news he might have seen the evening reporters vanish, not in any kind of holy rapture (Sandy Boone behind the anchor’s desk was a devout atheist,) or even in a flash. Sandy, along with the rest of the channel 11 news crew, and the whole world (save John) was simply gone. John did not feel like getting out of bed on Wednesday. He buried his head in a blanket and waited for work to call and fire him. When the knot in his stomach and the pounding behind his eyes diminished, John realized he had not yet received the dreaded call. He began the challenge of making his way to his kitchen, bedsheets wrapped about him like some slow, unwilling mummy (John did not know that even the corpses of those pharaohs, buried so long ago, had also vanished.) A single egg, scrambled with great effort made up John’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Thursday John had planned to go to work. By 8:56 he was out of bed. By 9:07 he had managed to drag himself out of the shower. By 9:48 he was ready to go out his front door. But he had received no calls from his boss, about his absence the day before, or his tardiness today, and if he hadn’t been missed Wednesday he wouldn’t be missed Thursday, either. He went to bed still dressed in his work clothes. By Friday, the power was down. With no one to maintain the plants their automatic safety measures had kicked in and John’s power was abruptly shut off. He tried to call for repairs, but there was no one to call. On Saturday, five days after the world had ended, John left his apartment. He wandered the city streets, confused. The knot ever present in his stomach tightened with each empty street, and each moment when he could find no life left him as nauseous as the egg he had eaten four days earlier. Finally, overwhelmed by the enormity of the end of the world, and his lone role as the survivor of the species, John went home and went to bed early.
N.Y.P.D. Hayden Pickens
Legion of HonorAudrey Bauman I sit in the Legion of Honor counting heads. One: a preteen girl wearing a leather jacket and boots, her mom’s arm around her shoulders. Two: a couple of artists sitting on a bench and comparing sketches. The guy’s sketchbook page is filled by the rough image of a crow, which I can see if I crane my neck a bit. Three: the old guy who just unknowingly leaned against the frame of a priceless painting, and the security guard frantically running over to tell him to move. It amazes me how pastel walls and tall ceilings can contain the world. In the art installed on the walls, yes, but also in the guests who show up every day, with different lives and for different reasons—not always because they love art. It could be for a date. A class. Because their family dragged them here. Or even because they want to feel closer to God. Perhaps I’m the last kind. Vast spaces containing wondrous things always felt like church to me. I sit and I watch while the rest of the people move around me, some sitting by me on the bench (but none too close). I don’t change rooms—why would I? I sat in the room next door all yesterday, watching people, watching paintings. I still adore the paintings—I’ve memorized every brush stroke—but I find myself more captivated by the people now. Some are familiar, but most are new, and unlike the paintings, they do the funniest things when no one’s looking. They make this place come to life. That’s why I stiffen when the security guards tell the guests only half an hour remains, why I try to make that last half hour count. Because after that all people must go, and I’ll be alone, alone, alone, and it will be dark. They’ll shut the doors to my church, but church doors were never meant to be shut. Fifteen minutes remain and I drink in humanity. Fourteen minutes remain and behind me someone clears her throat. I turn around, and a girl stands there. She stares me dead in the eyes. I stare back. I can’t remember the last time someone saw me. 9
“Excuse me,” she says. Her lip quivers. “Have you seen my parents? My dad is wearing a red sweater, and I think he and my mom came in here, but—but I don’t know where they are.” I think back to the guests today, to the man in the red sweater and his petite wife with the same colored hair as this girl. I think back to what direction they went. I stand up. “Follow me,” I tell the girl. I lead her through a doorway, and she follows. The Legion of Honor isn’t as big or as labyrinthine as the Louvre or the British Museum, but the rooms can get tricky if you’re a child who’s never been here before. I take the girl to the place she’ll most likely find her parents—the entrance and exit, the reception desk. When they see her, they leap up and run over, giving her a hug. “We sent security to find you,” says the mom, her eyes brimming with tears, and I can’t help but smile at her concern. Even if the museum isn’t the largest, the danger relatively low, and her fear somewhat irrational, it’s touching to know she feels so strongly. What a beautiful spark of humanity. The girl points at me. “That lady brought me back,” she says, flashing me a shy smile. “She knew where to find you.” “What lady? Don’t be silly, sweetheart,” says the father, turning the girl toward the exit and leading his family outside. “There’s no one else in there.” No one else. He’s right, I think, as the museum staff sweeps the floors and locks up the building. No one is here. The security guards, the receptionists, and the janitors leave, but I stay, walking the halls and watching the silent paintings. No one in the building, for I am no longer someone.
A True Story Tyler Hauth This story begins how a lot of my true stories begin. I was on a hunt with my dog, Fang, and I was sixteen years old. We’d been camping out for a few days, making fires and hunting small game and doing all that which a boy turned loose in the woods is likely to do if he knows how, when Fang started whining like there was something around he didn’t like. It’s important to note where we were, I suppose (setting is important in fiction after all). So, I’ll impart that relevant information on you plainly: We were deep in the northern interior of Alaska, mostly unchecked wilderness in every direction, and three days deep on a hunting trip. And it was just then, three days deep and far into the cold interior, when as I said, Fang let out a low little growl. Now, I’d grown to trust Fang, to trust not only in his instincts but also in his judgement, and so when he started backing away from where he clearly heard whatever it was that he didn’t like, I grabbed my bow and quiver, leaving everything else in the camp, and backed away with him. It’s important to understand that Fang was a massive, beast of a dog, well over a hundred pounds and absolutely fearless. In fact, this is the first time I’d ever seen Fang scared. He’d never backed down from anything before. Not wolves nor bears nor elk nor moose (we’d encountered all of those and more). So, while I trusted in him, I was also powerfully curious about what it was that he smelt or heard. So once we’d backed away a good distance, I grabbed him by the ruff of his neck (Alaskan Malamutes have great, big, meaty necks covered in thick fur) and told him to sit down. And like the good dog he was, he sat down and looked up at me with a bit of an irritated expression. At this point we’d walked about a hundred yards from camp, through some thick trees and brush, right through the snow and over a fallen log. I knelt down and, opened up my ears and peeled my eyes, as they like to say. All the while, Fang was looking off into the distance, beyond our tent and into a thick clump of the wild that you could hardly see through for how unkempt and free it had grown all these years. So, I knew from how he was looking, turning his head back and forth in the way he always had when he was confused, that whatever it was that he didn’t like was coming from that way. 11
The weird thing about it is that, deep in the Alaskan brush, you can hardly move quietly unless you’re the size of a fox or rabbit. But nothing small would ever scare Fang. The stillness and silence of the wild in places like this, where there might not be another person for a hundred miles in every direction, where there might have never been another person in a hundred years, is absolutely serene. And it was in a bit of that stillness and silence that Fang and I found ourselves in now, so real it’s just about impossible to describe to anyone who hasn’t heard it before. I like to say that a true silence is the loudest thing I’ve ever heard. And at that moment, the silence was roaring like a freight train in our ears. It was a few minutes after we’d settled down when a bit of movement flashed in the distance. Fang made a little noise in his throat, not unlike a growl, and I hardly held in a gasp myself. It was an erect, upright figure, beyond our tent and through the trees, jerking its way toward us in an odd, shambling way that I’d never seen in any creature before. Now if this were a real story, here’s where you’d lose belief in me as a story-teller and insist I was pulling your leg. But this is what really happened in the story, so you’re just going to have to believe it. I don’t scare easily, especially not when Fang’s with me, but this thing gave me the chills. The way it lurched through the trees in this jumpy, disjointed way, truly like nothing I’d ever seen, struck me as wrong. Completely and totally wrong. And it made its way, this figure that I could only see flashes of, but was tall and thin, about as tall as a man and in the shape of a man, right toward our tent. Like it knew right where it was going. It was a good hundred or maybe even hundred fifty yards away when I fit an arrow to my bowstring, quiet as I could be. Now, I was only accurate with my bow up to about forty yards, so I had no intention of shooting. I just felt, in that moment, like Fang and I were somehow in serious, real danger. And right as I fit my arrow to my bowstring, the figure stopped. Just like that. As if I’d called out to it. In a good story, a real good piece of fiction, I’d have channeled my inner Robin Hood and taken this threatening, curious creature down in a heroic, hundred plus yard shot. Since it was fiction, no one would question why the main character was accurate with a recurve bow at one hundred yards. No one would point out that no hunter in his right mind would ever practice at such an absurd distance. But at the time, I had no idea I was in the midst of a story (especially that it was fiction!) so Fang and I sat there, with our tails between our legs and stared at this thing for what must have been two or three minutes. It was just beyond our tent, obscured slightly behind a few branches but 12
visible in its general shape. It stood there, frozen like ice, still as if it knew Fang and I were beyond and was afraid or trying to hide. And then I must have blinked, because suddenly it was a few paces away from where it had been, but still in the exact same position, frozen like a piece of iron. The rapid movement, so fast I didn’t even see it, sent a bit of a shock through me. It was completely unnatural. And I knew it, at that moment, when the figure, standing stiller and straighter than anyone I’d ever seen before, and for no good reason that I knew of, jumped a few feet forward with no explicable motion. I knew this wasn’t a non-fiction story, but a non-non-fiction story exactly then. It’s been about seven years since this happened. The only explanation I have for what happened next is that I blinked each time the figure moved. It began to jump forward, a few feet every time, and yet it didn’t move its limbs even a fraction of an inch. And it did this until it came out from the wood and stood, stock still, next to my tent. This was the first chance I’d had to really get a good look at it. At first I took it to be a man—but he was stark naked, with skin so pale that pale didn’t at all describe it right. Its skin was white as snow, or the moon, and stretched thin and taut over his frame; a frame that looked like a patchwork mess of sticks rather than a skeleton due to the awful, pointy nature of all its ends. He had his back turned to us, awful sharp shoulders pointing like two chainsaw blades, and I had the peculiar, odd sensation that he knew we were there, behind him, hiding in the brush. Anyone who has ever stalked someone or something will know what I mean, when your target suddenly becomes aware that they aren’t alone and they know you’re there. But he didn’t turn to look, nor tense and bolt off, screaming, like a little doe might do. He stood there with his sharp, awful shoulders pointed our way, facing our tent as if studying it, and for a wild moment I considered getting up and calling out to him. Maybe something’s wrong with him, my rational mind said. Maybe he needs help. And just when I’d about convinced myself to get up and call out, he began to convulse. As if with laughter, his entire frame started to shake and tremble, his shoulders rose up and down in this sick undulation of pain or glee or some other emotion altogether. I took in what the thing was doing, frozen with anticipation, and I was as glad as I’ve ever been in all my life to have kept silent. The truestory version of events are that my entire body was covered in chills that had nothing to do with the snow, and my balls about sucked up all the way inside my chest. But the non-non-fiction version of events is that I stared on with an icy 13
confidence, and wasn’t at all scared or nervous. But that’s bullshit, more bullshit than this whole story, so I won’t even pretend that happened. You’re probably wondering what Fang was doing in all this. It’s important in fiction to give a good description of everyone and everything that’s involved, I know. In true stories you’re able to get away with shoddy detail sometimes, because, after all, you simply can’t remember everything in the heat of the moment! But this isn’t a true story so I’ve got to tell you what Fang was doing. The truth is, all the while Fang had been completely silent, just staring; completely still as if he was enraptured. And something about his utter stillness struck me as odd; something about it all added up in that moment as the creature was shaking and convulsing like it was having some sort of seizure. A wave of fear swept over me and I did the one thing we humans have done for a hundred thousand years. I turned and ran (and that’s the truest part of this story. If you don’t believe a single bit of anything else believe that—I turned and ran, and Fang leapt up and kicked snow hard behind him and ran right after me). And we didn’t stop running for a good thirty or forty minutes, and when we stopped running we maintained a brisk walk, looking back over our shoulders from time to time to make sure that whatever that thing was hadn’t followed. Of course each time I looked back it was only Fang that I saw, and so after a while I began to feel a little silly about it all and my mind; that rational mind created in the lower 48 where civilization is around every corner and nothing at all like this can happen because you can hardly go anywhere that there isn’t people all around, began to explain away all the very peculiar and weird things that the figure had done. That rational mind told me this wasn’t a true story because something like this can’t actually happen. Right around this time is when I heard the voices. Men were talking in the distance. I started making calculations in my mind a moment after. I realized with a start that I’d actually been running away from the land that I knew, toward the unknown, deeper into the unchecked wilderness of Alaska. I wasn’t lost, far from it—I could have gone a hundred miles in any direction and still known roughly where I was and how to get back to where I needed to be. But I wouldn’t have expected to find anyone out here. Much less a group of people. A little bit of my earlier fear returned. I was very glad to have Fang with me. There’s nothing like a hundred pound hound to make you feel safe. Except for maybe a good firearm. The voices began to get closer and, after a moment of indecision, I decided I’d just wait around with Fang and see what the people the voices belonged to 14
looked like. I realized around the time that I made that decision that the speakers, whoever they were, weren’t speaking English. And right as this dawned on me, and I realized it must be some natives, a group of four men came into view, making their way in my general direction and talking, talking, talking away in a fast, fluid language I’d never heard before. If this was a true story I’d mention how their words came out of their mouths in white puffs of hot breath, and I’d mention how what I took to be their consonant sounds were sort of “clicky” if you get what I mean. And I’d mentioned that their voices were raised in excitement or anger. But you don’t want any of that detail because it’s boring compared with what’s coming. Now, if you know anything about hunting or about the woods, or really about approaching strangers who probably have weapons, you know to call out to someone long before they come upon you suddenly. If this was a true story I would have mentioned that Alaska has the highest gun-to-person rate in the United States and that this kind of thing (while breeding a polite society) has a tendency to bring misunderstandings to sharp and sudden ends. I’d already sort of failed in making myself known, so I called out a loud hello and waved my arm to get their attention the moment I came back to my senses. Their talk stopped as suddenly as they did. All four of them, walking surely forward and talking animatedly, and then completely silent and still. It was a good ten or fifteen seconds later, a long pause in a situation like that, when they called back in words I didn’t understand. “I’m friendly,” I called, because the tone of the man who called out had a weird edge to it. “English?” The same man called, in a voice that seemed friendlier than before, but still had an edge to it that made me careful. “Yes,” I agreed. “English.” They said a few things to one another, I didn’t have a clue then what and I have less of a clue now. Since this is fiction, I guess I could make it up (what they said to each other then) but I’m not sure how I’d explain my understanding it. So, I’ll tell the truth and admit I stood there like an idiot all the while, no idea what they were discussing. After a minute they walked toward me and called out again in English, asking, “Are you a hunter?” “I am,” I called back lamely, floundering a bit because I knew they wanted some kind of explanation for what I was doing this close to their territory, but I really didn’t want to try and explain myself. 15
The littlest, oldest man in the group was the speaker, I saw, when they walked close enough for us to all see one another clearly. He motioned toward Fang and smiled, saying, “a fine dog.” “He is,” I said, relieved that the man seemed friendly, and that we could relate to one another on something. If it hadn’t been the dog, he might have mentioned my bow (which was an extremely fine bow that I still own and hunt with today, and hopefully still will when I’m that man’s age). People have a tendency to do this, especially when they’re very different and meeting on sudden terms (assuming they’re both friendly). They size one another up and if they want to be friends almost at once one of them will say something that they think the other can relate to and if they’re right—well that’s how you get married. Now since this isn’t a true story, details matter, so I should mention something about the men who were with the old man. The boring truth is they were of varying ages. Two seemed just a few years older than I was, and the other might have been their dad. The speaker was probably about my grandpa’s age, maybe seventy. The second oldest man spoke in their native language to the oldest man, and they had a short conversation before going back to English. This time one of the younger boys spoke. “There’s something out here. You should be careful.” “What kind of something?” I asked, thinking at once of the thing Fang and I encountered back at my camp. “An animal,” the oldest man interjected quickly. “Just be aware.” “What kind of animal?” I asked bluntly. “I saw… something… not long ago.” Hearing myself say ‘something’ was wrong. It was beyond unusual, after all. But I didn’t know how else to explain it. The reality of these situations is that you aren’t likely to try to convince a group of strangers something spectacular and unusual is going on right under their noses, because they’ll think you’re crazy or drunk and ignore you. They started talking to one another again. That’s always awkward. It gave me the “parents discussing important information while you wait expectantly” feeling, except I couldn’t understand my parents in this situation. But eventually, after a good amount of back and forth, they came to some kind of resolution. The old man invited me to spend the night at their cabin. “It’s getting late,” he offered, “and it’s not safe out here.” I didn’t think the offer over much really. I don’t remember what went 16
through my mind, or what the others in the woods looked like at that moment (if their faces betrayed their thoughts toward my having been invited to stay the night). That’s the nature of true stories (I know I’ve told you this isn’t true) but if I’m to remain totally honest, which is important in a true story, I do have to admit these things. I just don’t much remember the next few minutes. By the time we got to the cabin, it was about an hour to evening. The younger boys went straight inside, and their dad (after a word with the old man) followed soon after. But Fang was sniffing all around the snowy clearing, and investigating everything for us, so I decided to stay out with him for a while. The old man stayed to keep me company, and after a little bit of awkward silence he spoke up and said, “There’s dangerous things in these woods.” “Like bears?” I’d asked dumbly. I remember saying that specifically because it was a really dumb thing to say. I mean really, I couldn’t have said anything else to make me seem like more of a dumbass. It was another one of those “not aware I was in a story” moments. Anyway, I said that dumb thing and the old man started to say something else when there was a sudden, hoarse, blood-chilling scream from inside the cabin. Now ‘blood-chilling’ is a cliché and I know you should avoid those, but this scream really was blood chilling. I mean it. My blood turned cold. My heart skipped a beat. My stomach lurched— the whole thing. The old man was fast on his feet. He cried out and took off to the door and started trying to wrench it open. But something on the other side was holding it fast. He wasn’t about to give up though. He started ramming into the door with his shoulder, a determined look on his face. I pegged him at 70 earlier but now I thought he might be more like 50. He started trying harder when the sound of a serious struggle inside the cabin became audible. A scrambling, banging, fighting sort of noise. Like people were wrestling. But there wasn’t any screaming, no more shouts. Just a struggle. That’s the reality of things like this. You don’t have time to scream when you’re scared and fighting hard. At this point, the combination of screaming and commotion had really riled up Fang. He was at the door with the old man, jumping and looking serious, turning his head this way and that. I was a little bit further back, trying to think of something useful to do, very nervous. Around that time I decided I might help with my hatchet, so I dropped my bow in the snow and pulled out my axe from my belt and called to the old man to move out of the way. It was a very rushed 17
thing, all breath and heart and worry. He got out of the way when he saw me coming, though, and I started smashing into the door with the heavy blade at once. All the while I tore into the door the commotion inside kept on keeping on. It sounded like utter mayhem. The old man was shouting and crying out, urging me on, and his cheering must have helped because in no time at all I’d hacked the door into a splinter and with his help we managed to kick it down. What we found when the splintered, broken door fell I’ll never forget. A lot happened all at once. Fang barked out a booming bark and took off, away from the door and toward the back of the house. The old man screamed a choked cry of a scream, an anguished, shocked cry. And I took a step back, trying in vain to process what was before me. The cabin had been ransacked. Fragments of chairs and tables and pictures and loose pages from books and food and cloth from blankets or a couch and cabinet doors and even a stove top were scattered as if there’d been a tornado. But that wasn’t really the worst of it. Everything— every page, every piece of wood, every loose cloth, every picture—was covered in a coat of glistening, bubbling blood. And among all the ordinary household rubble, there were limbs. A foot here, a hand there, an arm over there. A torso, limbless and waist-less and headless, up against the far wall. It was impossible to tell who it had belonged to. At this point I had a quick decision to make. Fang had taken off around the side of the cabin and the old man had ran inside. The grisly reality of what had happened just on the other side of the door helped me make up my mind. I turned and ran off after Fang, following his prints around the side of the cabin and to the back. I came around the corner and pulled at once to a dead stop. The sickly white, naked creature from before was climbing from the window, slick with blood. Its back was facing me, sharp, hard shoulders sticking out in a grotesque, creepy fashion. Fang was before it, just at the base of the house, but he wasn’t barking or jumping. His tail was between his legs and his ears were slicked back and he was looking down at the ground as if he were being scolded. And as I took all this in, the bloody, pale creature slipping out of the window, Fang cowering beneath it, I realized I’d left my bow out front. All I had was a stupid hatchet. There wasn’t any time to go back. There wasn’t any time to consider. There wasn’t any time to do anything other than act on the most basic instinct we have when we’re in danger. Fight or flight. And this is the difference between true and 18
untrue stories. In a spot like this, a life or death spot, where you have to act or die, you don’t think much at all. You don’t have time to calculate. You don’t have any time at all to make a decision. You just act on the very first instinct you have and follow through with all the might and wit you have. You give it your best shot. In reality, no time passed between me rounding the corner, seeing the creature climbing from the window, and rushing forward to attack it. It all happened at once. I took it all in at once. And I swung my hatchet in a great overhanded slash right into the creature’s back, right between its chainsaw blade shoulders. The heft of my steel sunk itself deep into the spine, splitting the tissue and the bone and the muscle with a happy ease; a satisfying, rewarding ease. It’s what the blade was made for after all. The creature’s hands let go from the window sill. It fell back, nearly on top of me, but I managed to side step it. It let out a wheezing death rattle. And then nobody made any noise—not it, not me, not Fang. Even the old man had stopped wailing and screaming. All the world was as deadly silent and still as in the earliest hour of the morning before even the bird’s wake. I guess the interesting thing about this whole event is not that it happened in Alaska, or that it happened to Fang and me, or that I encountered indigenous people, or even the bit about the creature. It’s that unchecked wilderness is just that—unchecked. Nearly unexplored. Very little is known about it. There could be all manners of things out there living in the cold woods and dark caves and at the tops of mountains and deep in the crevices of ravines. And even when people had an encounter with them and wanted to tell the story, they’d have to put it forth as fiction.
Ashely Nicole Hunter
There were two cans of creamed corn, a half a pack of cigarettes, and most of a jar of peanut butter on the kitchen shelf he had designated as his part of the pantry. The other shelf, in contrast, was laden with dusty graham cracker boxes, ramen, a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, cans of spaghetti, and a box of powdered milk. Brett was proud of this…he was a former marine, and knew he could survive on very little as long as he made sure his daughters had something to eat. The cigarettes were the one vice he allowed himself, and only if he didn’t have to pay for them. The girls were asleep now, but they would be awake soon, and he knew they needed to eat at least once today. He was more fortunate than most because he worked at the warehouse, the place where his town had stockpiled their food when the Troubles began. The contained every edible thing that had existed in the town at the time, all of it recorded down to the last grain of rice in a large ledger the mayor’s aid kept chained to his wrist. People in the town, Carlisle, had to go to the warehouse in order to petition for enough supplies to last them for just one week. They would turn in documents signed and stamped by the mayor detailing how many people they had in their family, and the mayor’s aide would use this to determine how much food they would be given. Six weeks ago, Henry Filinger was caught trying to pick up rations for a family of five, failing to divulge that his wife and youngest son had died. He was sent away without food, and the woman who reported him (Gina Dermot, single, rumored to have once been Henry’s girlfriend on the side), had received his rations for the week as a reward. They hadn’t seen Henry or his kids since, but someone drove by his house and reported that the windows were completely boarded up from the inside. God rest their souls. Brett had been hired as a security guard due to his military background, and because the work was considered so dangerous he received hazard pay. Sometimes this meant cans of tuna (he saved these for his girls), bottles of shelfstable juice, or sticks of margarine, but this week, when the town of Carlisle was receiving its first truck delivery in over four months, he and his girls were marked to receive a whole frozen chicken. There was some anger and protest over this… not because Brett didn’t deserve the meat. He was a good man, and on more 20
than one occasion had volunteered to walk a citizen home if they didn’t have a family or guns of their own to protect them. There was safety in numbers, even in the middle of the day. Most of the unrest came because the last shipment that had made it through, carrying cases of spam and boxes of Ritz crackers, had only been halfway full and contained substantially less food than the shipping manifest had stated. Everyone had known the truck drivers were crooked and selling some of the food on the side to corrupt city officials and the rich, but nobody dared lay a finger on them…Carlisle had only existed as long as it had because of the trucks. However much food made it through this time, the townsfolk knew it wouldn’t be enough. Still, no matter how little there was, Brett was certain to receive a chicken…it was part of his hazard pay, and the town needed Brett if it was to survive, too. After checking on his sleeping girls and making sure all the locks in the house and backyard were secure, Brett climbed into his attic and up through the hatch he’d cut into his roof. He pulled himself up out of the hole, gripping the rough, gray shingles on the pinnacle of his home for balance, and did a scan of the neighborhood. Down the street, near the ruins of St. Paul’s church, he could see a car on fire and a few hostiles shuffling around the house it had crashed into, waiting on the fire to go out before they looked inside for scraps. He hated to think of the resources that the town would lose if the house caught fire and burned down, but he would have preferred it to the hostiles getting in and losing anymore to them. They had already taken so much. As he descended back down into the house, working out a new route to work in his head that would take him away from the worst of the ruin and minimize his chance of combat, he caught the thin, high wailing sound that echoed from the wreck down the street and smiled. So the house had caught fire. Those hostiles would go hungry today. He kept his van in the garage, both to minimize the potential for theft and to prevent the possibility of a hostile hiding beneath the car and grabbing his legs when he tried to get in. They had lost Marco that way, and Nathan. Electricity didn’t work anymore, not in a town the size of Carlisle, so he improvised by unlocking the garage from the inside first, then using a long rope attached to the top of the garage door to pull it up so he could ease his van out. Afterwards he would lower the door and then drive off. He was never worried that a hostile 21
could get into the garage and then into his home…the door that connected the two inside the garage was steel, was in turn supported by a steel frame and had four locks on it. Any hostile he found in his garage he could simply deal with by crushing it with his van, which the town had fitted with a police barricade-buster to aid him in getting to work. Normally the first to arrive at the warehouse (it was too dangerous to stand outside and wait for it to open), he was surprised to find that this morning Oscar Callahan was already there, and having scaled the side of the warehouse by crawling up the drain pipe, was waiting for him on top of the metal building. He waved down to Brett as the burgundy van pulled up, and began to shimmy back down the slick, green steel pipe. Oscar had enlisted straight out of high school alongside Brett, but his drinking problem had proved to be too much trouble for the marines to deal with. He had been discharged, returned home, married, and been discharged from that, too. Before the Troubles began he had made a living doing odd jobs around the town and a little light burglary. Now, he competed against his former brotherin-law in the sale of bathtub liquor and over-priced, off-brand cigarettes he’d salvaged from a dead man’s home. Oscar knocked on the driver’s side window, and Brett took the safety off his gun before turning the crank on the van’s door to roll his window down a little. “Rations don’t go out for four more hours, Oscar. Truck’s not even here.” The wiry man reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded up pack of papers, stamped and sealed with shiny gold foil. He fed the papers through the crack at the top of the window. “Got a job. Mayor says I’m s’ppose ta help unload the truck.” Brett opened his glove compartment and took out his reading glasses, put them on and carefully looked over the papers. “Seems he did. Alright, take five steps back.” Oscar blinked at him for a moment, uncomprehending, but when Brett didn’t open the van he heaved a sigh and took five exaggerated steps backward. “Jesus, Brett, I’m not going to jump you. I don’t even have a gun.” This did not matter to Brett, who had seen Mary Bradley beat in Susan Evans head with a brick over the last package of socks looted from the Dollar Store, but he didn’t say so. Instead, he kept his hand on his gun, got out of his van, and opened up the warehouse delivery door before climbing back in and driving his van inside. Oscar followed behind on foot, and after taking a quick 22
look outside, Brett locked the door and set about getting the warehouse ready for the shipment. Oscar was a help that day, Brett had to give him that. He worked twice as fast as the other men unloading the truck (pleasantly full, for a change), and even stuck around to help sort and stack the food into their proper bins. The mayor’s aide was so impressed, he gave Oscar an extra potato and signed off on allowing him to come back during the next delivery to work. When the last of the approved food was rationed out and the townspeople had gone, Oscar and Brett accompanied the mayor’s aide as he made the rounds of the warehouse, double-checking that everything had been accounted for. Oscar had asked Brett for a ride home, and the aide had suggested that if he was going to stick around he might as well put in a little more work and get paid an additional two cans of beans for his time. After finishing the inspection, Brett escorted the aide out to an armored vehicle that was waiting to take him back to the mayor’s compound, and went back inside to finish locking up. He walked into the break room to get his jacket, just in time to see Oscar stuffing a box of cornbread mix and three packages of hot dogs into his bag. “The mayor could have you hanged for that.” Brett said, hand already on his gun. Oscar jumped, then had the decency to look ashamed and a bit afraid. “Don’t you ever…?” He gestured to his bag, which he had dropped on the floor. Brett shook his head. “No. My girls depend on me. I can’t lose this job.” Oscar shifted his weight on his feet and bit his bottom lip. “Look, I’m sorry…please don’t say anything. It won’t happen again. It’s just…I’m trying to get Nancy back, now that her second husband’s dead, and…I just thought if I looked like a good provider…” Brett was quiet for a long moment. He looked at Oscar, then down at the man’s bag, and back again. “I understand. I won’t say anything.” “Really?” Oscar’s eyes were wide, and his mouth had dropped open a bit. “You…you really won’t say anything?” Brett shook his head and picked up his own bag of food. He had the sense to check the contents before jerking his head at Oscar. “Let’s go. My girls are waiting on me.” Oscar moved quickly, his fear transitioning into a giddy energy at his narrow escape from the hangman’s noose and the uncharacteristic generosity 23
of a man he had once accused of having a stick so far up his ass you could hang a bird feeder from it. When Brett unlocked the warehouse door, Oscar took the lead on checking for hostiles outside, and even waited to lock the warehouse door behind the van after it had pulled out, carefully returning the key to Brett after he had climbed into the passenger side of the van. As Brett drove, his high beams illuminating the debris he swerved to avoid on the road, Oscar took the liberty of turning up the radio a bit to drown out the hungry wails of the hostiles they drove past. “I really appreciate it, man.” Oscar kept his eyes locked on the window, scanning for anything that might come at the van from the darkness that surrounded the road. His hands fumbled about in the pocket of his jacket, retrieving a lighter and a pair of crushed cigarettes, one of which he lit. “Don’t mention it.” Brett took the other cigarette that Oscar offered him and tucked it into his front pocket to keep from losing it. “Hey, how about you come home and have dinner with me and the girls? There’s a lot of meat on the chicken. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste. We can take it out back and cook it over the fire. Fence is high enough to keep out the hostiles.” “Yeah?” Oscar turned from the window just long enough to smile again at Brett, a large smile that carried hunger, desperation, and a growing friendliness for the other man in it. “Thanks, buddy. I’d really like that.” It had been years, almost a decade, since Oscar had been by Brett’s house. It was still painted the same shade of sunny yellow that Brett’s wife, Glenda, had painted it before the cancer took her. Oscar had come to visit when she was sick, had brought daffodils, and a card, and a tub of chicken he’d bought from the town’s KFC that closed down a year later. They had been friends in high school, the three of them, but life had pulled them down different paths. Brett didn’t even think Oscar had seen the girls since they were two and three years old. They certainly wouldn’t recognize him. Nodding towards the garage as they pulled into the driveway, Brett indicated the end of the rope that was sticking out from under the door. “Get out and pull that rope, it’ll lift the garage door. Back up inside, and I’ll ease the van in.” Oscar hopped out and did as he was told, laughing as the garage door rose up as smooth as if it still worked on electricity. “You always were a smart son of a bitch,” he called as he walked backwards into the garage. Brett pressed down hard on the accelerator, sending the van shooting 24
forward and up to Oscar, who had been startled and let go of the rope. The door crashed down behind the van just as the van crashed into Oscar, smearing his hips and legs against the back wall of the garage. Oscar screamed, then slumped over the hood of the van, pinned in place. Easing himself out of the van, Brett took his time locking the garage door carefully (you couldn’t be too careful) and then opening the locks and the door itself to his home. Once the way was clear, he leaned on the hood of the van, pushing it back just enough so that he could jerk Oscar free. The man cried out as he hit the hard concrete of the floor, then again when Brett shoved his hands into his pockets, first one and then the other, finally pulling out the rest of Oscar’s cigarettes. Brett put them into his own coat pocket, then took hold of the front of Oscar’s jacket and began pulling the other man into the house, pausing only long enough to relock the house door once they were through. “Cigarettes? You broke my legs for cigarettes?” Oscar’s words came out in a high, keening wail. “No.” Brett’s own voice was quiet, subdued. “Not for the cigarettes. Those are just a bonus. To make it bearable.” Inside, the house was cold and dark, the only sound coming from Oscar as he sobbed at Brett’s feet. “You bastard,” he choked out. “You bastard…” Then no more words, just crying and shrieking as Brett pulled him through the house and into the backyard. There, he took up the kerosene lamp he kept on the back porch in his free hand, and began to pull Oscar the short distance across the yard to his tool shed. Not for the first time, Brett was glad he had built the pine fence that surrounded his back yard as tall as he had. “You crazy bastard…you lied to me!” Oscar tried to twist his neck around and bite Brett’s hand, who in turn kicked him once in the shattered remains of Oscar’s hips, causing the wiry little man to vomit on the ground. Brett looked away while his friend was sick, lit one of the cigarettes he’d taken and inhaled deep before speaking. “I didn’t lie. My daughters have been waiting all day for this.” Brett tugged Oscar the last few feet to the shed, the door of which was covered in chains and locks, and hung the kerosene lamp by a hook. “It’s been a few years since you seen the girls, buddy. They’ve changed a lot. Gotten real picky about the things they’ll eat.” Brett unlocked the padlock and unwound the chains that kept his tool shed 25
closed. Inside, there was the sound of stirring, of heavy things rustling newspaper or piles of leaves. He kept a firm grip on Oscar, who was again struggling and trying to pull away, to crawl on his broken legs across the grass and away from the stench of the place his friend had brought him. Then the shed door was open, and two pairs of glittering eyes locked upon Oscar. His resistance poured out of him along with his blood, and Brett saw that he had wet himself. “Girls, Daddy’s home. Dinner time.”
Crown Royal Kayka Carson I sit on a tattered stool In a room that is as faded as my mind An L.I.T., a tall Miller, a shot of Cuervo “What’ll it be today?” The project at hand is a royal pain in the ass; Crown it is
Tonight I am attempting to forget the already blurred face of a man I don’t know This shouldn’t be as difficult as I’m making it Another shot and the fog clears I’m forgetting why I’m here, but remembering why I’m here
I want the clarity [shot] to come..fastrr
My tattered stool has become a throne
Tonight I am reigning over you
Tnigt Im Fnding mysel
in an empty tub trying to wash away the prints you left on me
Crown gives you a false sense of power.
Lollie Bottoms Ashley Nicole Hunter I was not “from” anywhere until I was seven years old. That is not to say we were homeless…our dad hung sheetrock for a living, and he moved us to the best places he could find work. He and mom also frequently split up and then got back together “for the kids,” but honestly I think it was because they loved and hated each other in equal measure. Each time they split up, or our dad found new work, or they got back together, we moved. My earliest memory is admiring the picture on the side of a U-Haul. Usually our parents were very considerate. We moved only during the summer, when the school year was over. Kids would invite my sister and I to go to their homes for sleepover parties, or away to summer camps. We smiled, told them we didn’t know what we were doing that summer, but it sounded like fun. This was a polite lie to avoid awkwardness. We had a pretty good idea of what would be happening for us during the summer, but most of our school friends, who had grown up in their towns and lived there all their lives, would not have understood. I tried to explain once, when I was in first grade, but my that-yearbest-friend had laughed at me and called my family “hobos.” During the middle of second grade, our parents had the ‘Big Fight’. It happened unexpectedly over breakfast, when our dad, who had been working evenings in order to care for my sister during the day, came home early one morning. He discovered our mom had been seeing a Special New Friend she called “James” each night after she put us to bed. Our dad did not want to be friends with James. There was a lot of shouting, and my sister and I hid in our room beneath our stuffed animals. Police were called, and it was discovered that our mom’s name was the only name on the apartment lease. My dad, little sister, and I were told to pack our things while the police watched us, and then leave. My sister and I wanted to hug our mom goodbye, but she ignored us. She was busy hugging James. For about a week, we slept in a motel room. My sister and I were excited; this was the longest we’d ever spent in a motel in the same place. It was too cold for the pool to be open, but I didn’t have to go to school during this time (my sister was just barely too young to attend), and this meant we could spend all day playing with our toys on the floor. We would imagine the new place we were 29
going to live, and the people we would meet there, and whether or not we would be kidnapped by evil fairies and rescued by knights on horseback. We had always been a family that drove to new locations, but when our dad announced it was finally time to move, we were in the car a long time. During previous moves we would go to a different city, maybe one state over, but this time it was different. Dad drove mostly at night, leaving Virginia, where we had lived in various places since my little sister turned one. He told my sister and me that we were heading to Arkansas, where our dad knew some people we could stay with until he found us an apartment. We slept most of the way down there, unconcerned at the idea of leaving Virginia. We weren’t really “from” there, after all. It turned out that the people our dad knew were his sisters, aunts we had never met before, though our dad insisted that I had when I was two. As if meeting someone at two was supposed to leave a profound impact on a child. I discovered that south of Virginia “aunt” was pronounced “ant”, which seemed strange to me. Who wanted to be called a tiny insect? Our aunts were nice for insects, though; they shared a fairly large, old house in what they proudly told us was “Queen Anne Revival” with its stuccoed walls and dark wooden beams, and my sister and I shared one exceedingly cavernous guest room while our dad was given another. Our room had two little single beds separated by a nightstand with a colored glass unicorn lamp, and our aunts said that we could take the lamp with us when we found an apartment because it was our lamp, a gift from them. This delighted us immensely. The bedroom had large diamond-paned windows with yellow and pink cushioned seats in them, and it looked out over the dark green woods that stretched its leafy fingers right up to the edge of the house. Grass, our aunts told us, was for front yards, but back yards should be wild and untamed places to have adventures in. This “yard”, which looked as tree-filled to our young selves as a national park, was rife with bird feeders and wind chimes. Every breeze sent a tinkling through the trees, and we were convinced it was fairy music. We were in love with that old house, and its trees, and most especially the newness of it all. Our dad slept all day and most of the night, but when he woke up he took us to a tiny restaurant and we ordered biscuits and gravy, which is what our mom usually made for us when we moved all together as a family to a new place. My sister said it tasted better than when mom made breakfast, and this seemed to make our dad really happy. He said it was now going to be “our spot,” and he 30
would take us here if we made all A’s at school or had a birthday. After breakfast, we performed the only other ritual my family has ever had: driving around a new place to get a feel for it. That’s where you’re going to go to school, dad would tell us, or that’s where we’re going to go grocery shopping. We would seek out less practical places, too—parks and upscale neighborhoods which were sure to have the best Christmas displays, bowling alleys and pizza places. Towards the end of the day, when the sky was blazing in shades of orange and pink and purple, we drove down the road that led us into the Lollie Bottoms. I didn’t know what they were called, then, and I wouldn’t for many more years, but they made a strong impression on me. Fields and tiny, almost shacklike houses gave way to a murky swamp, the water so choked with vegetation and tree stumps that it refused to reflect the sky. It seemed as if light went into that water and never came back out. I was certain it was filled with alligators, venomous snakes, and bottomless quicksand pits. Ideas that were exotic and thrilling to my young self. We didn’t drive very far into the Lollie Bottoms that second day in Conway, but I took part of it home with me, obsessively drawing its dead trees and green waters. It seemed like such a mysterious, unnatural place, and I was in love with it. It became part of who I was. While my friends were discovering they had exceptional athletic ability, or could create magnificent works of art, or play musical instruments, I was slowly learning that I had a super power. Every road, no matter what it was, took me to the Lollie Bottoms. It was not a conscious thing on my part, especially as I had (and continue to have) no concept of road names or directions. To this day I cannot give you directions there, or identify what it was near. It simply was. I made my way where I needed to go in the same way that pigeons and herds of bison do; I simply followed my instinct and began to walk, either to home or to one of the nearby stores I frequented. When I was in a car, however, something else took hold of me, and I would be pulled inescapably, like a migrating bird, to the distant Lollie Bottoms. There was nothing particularly special about the Lollies that might attract a person, unless you had an urge to duck hunt or purchase drugs. The Lollie Bottoms were partially fields and farmlands, cleared in 1880 by J.E. White, sharecroppers, and whatever prisoners White could rent. White had named his plantation for his first wife, Lollie, and set to work harvesting cotton on 150 acres of land which he made farmable by drainage efforts and the construction of levees. A substantial part, however, had been reclaimed by the levees breaking 31
during the Great Flood of 1927. Then the Arkansas River’s waters had come rolling back in, the Tupelo Bayou had expanded, and Conway was returned to the swamp and muck it had been wrestled from. Over the years new levees and drainage systems had once again birthed dry land, but the Lollie Bottoms remained; a last bastion of nature in a city that had dreams of expansion and prosperity. The first time I went to the Lollie Bottoms by myself was the weekend I had just earned my license. I was sixteen and ready for a taste of freedom, and in a town as small and without entertainment as Conway, that meant the Lollie Bottoms. It was rare that I was able to talk my dad into driving out to the swamps, as the droning noise of the insects and the stagnant green water held little appeal for most people, so this first trip alone was nothing short of intoxicating. Being able to drive meant that I was suddenly able to escape to my sacred space without having to ask anyone’s permission, and that first time I spent four hours alone out there. I just parked my car in a lot set aside for launching boats, and I stared out into the waters. I’ve never been very good at meditation, but this, simply sitting and being in the murky dark of the half rotten trees…this was as close to serenity as I have ever found. I was just discovering myself as a writer, and as a woman, and I drove to the Lollie Bottoms alone or with friends whenever I needed a calm place to think and sort through troubles. It was a source of inspiration, too, in the same way that some writers make women, liquor, or drugs their muse, and I could think up a half dozen different stories just by parking my car and listening to the frog songs. The Lollie Bottoms were where I went when my cousin died in a truck accident, my mother came back to us and then abandoned us again, and where I experienced my first acts of rebellion by drinking and trying weed. When I struggled with the knowledge that I wasn’t a Christian, I drove to the deepest part of the Lollie Bottoms I could reach. The gravel road, so narrow that cars would have to move off to the shoulder to let oncoming traffic (what little there was of it) past, ended abruptly in a patch of cattails. Trees with thick, low-hanging branches which would have been chopped off like gruesome arboreal amputees were plentiful around the road, and the honeysuckle was ripe in the bushes that grew in the shallow ditches. I rolled down the windows of my dad’s beat-up old van, wondered how the natural world could be “sinful” and “flawed” when this place could make me feel so peaceful and still, and decided that there was more truth to be found in my gut feeling than in a heavily revised, patriarchal anthology. 32
I saw beauty in the things that others might find repulsive, such as the knobby knees of the cypresses as they lurched out of the water, or the haze of mosquitos that rose into the air like a fog. My unicorns were rare sightings of white egrets stalking through the shallows, my dragons were the water moccasins that slid through the stagnant water, seeking drying land to sun themselves. I found horror in the Lollie Bottoms, too, in the forms of the half-rotted houses that rose up out in the waters during dry seasons, so far you would need a boat to reach them, filled with things that belonged to people long dead. Sometimes my friends and I would drive out at night into the Lollies and stare out at the houses, creating myths and fantastic stories about people trapped in the flood waters when the levees broke, of how many bodies must be languishing under the mud, forever a part of Conway. We went to Lollie, my friends and I, for the quiet and the solitude, as much of it as you could have, anyways, with a car of two or more people. We had all of our best conversations there, lost our virginities there, made promises and built trusts there. Each trip to the Lollie Bottoms was like taking a sacred pilgrimage, and a ritual had to be followed. You did not make any other plans that day. You told no one where you were going, or how long you would be gone. You took a bottle of cheap wine, a light snack, and a rock that you would toss into the water as soon as you arrived, objectively attempting to hit a submerged log with a lucky shot, but more as a way of letting the Lollies know that you were there. The Lollie Bottoms felt like sacred ground. I felt connected to that place in a way I never had any other before, partially because of the amount of times I had been there, and partially because of the memories I had built up there like rock cairns over the years. More than any other place, in Conway or otherwise, it held all my memories and senses of self. It was Conway, to me, but it was also who I was. I was a priestess, sharing its perfect spots only with those who were closest to me, who I felt could appreciate it, and could appreciate me. Much in the way that some people would judge others based on how their dog reacted to them, I judged people based on what reaction they had to the Lollie Bottoms. With one car ride I could tell whether we would be close friends or bitter enemies. In my junior year of high school, I thought I was in love. I thought I had found a person who really understood me, and who I could be myself with. He said all the right things, was sweet, and gentle, and made lots of little romantic gestures, like picking me flowers. I took him out to the Lollie Bottoms with me 33
one evening, wanting to share my special spot with him. When we arrived, he wrinkled his nose at the smell of the water and complained that we were going to get eaten alive by mosquitos, even with the van windows rolled up. He didn’t want to listen to the sounds of the swamp birds, or smell the honeysuckle, or admire the ruins out in the water, which he called “gross” and “creepy.” I don’t think he ever understood why I drove him back to his house and stopped returning his phone calls, but as far as I was concerned, someone who couldn’t appreciate Lollie couldn’t really appreciate me, either. The Lollie Bottoms were also where I took friends that were going through a rough time, whether it was school, or a breakup, or problems at home. I wanted them to get the same sense of comfort from the place I did, the same sensation of nature slowly taking back everything that belonged to it, of how tiny and insubstantial our own problems were compared to the pull of the water and the thick growth of the vines. Not everyone found the same sense of peace I did. One friend, Luke, used our time spent there to talk about wanting to travel and see the rest of the world. He didn’t just want to look at a swamp all his life…he wanted to see mountains, deserts, live on beaches and plains and travel to exotic cities. He wanted to save he lived in fabulous places, was from all the most interesting places. “Don’t you ever get tired of sticking around Conway?” he asked one day. I stared out of the windshield, into the black waters that spread out beneath the gravel parking lot. “This is it, for me. This is where I’m from. All my roads lead to the Lollie Bottoms.” Luke accepted this. He knew what I meant in the deepest sense…not in the living, but in the being. It was quiet, and then, “Where does the road take you if you’re leaving Lollie?” And suddenly it felt like all the world was rushing in on us in that car, and preparing to carry me off with it, down unknown roads and into new and strange lands. I was from somewhere, and now, I was free to go elsewhere. I wondered if I had been holding on too tightly to the Lollie Bottoms, to Conway, afraid of losing the first real sense of home, of being from ‘somewhere’ that I’d ever had. What if I got lost out there in the world? What if I was never able to find my way back, and never again felt the same sense of peace that I did when I used my super power to find my way to the swamps of Lollie? What if I thought I was home, but I was actually trapped? I saved my money, decided that I had travelled all my life, and that even 34
though I wasn’t aware of it, I probably missed it. Could I really say that Conway was home, that the Lollie Bottoms were where I belonged, if it had been years since I had been anywhere else? I was eighteen. I was ready to prove that I could do anything, be anywhere, experience anything. That I was an adult that wasn’t going to be held back for anything. And so I left Conway, left the Lollie Bottoms, and deliberately chose not to say goodbye. My friends wanted to take me out for pizza to our favorite parking spot in the Bottoms, to wish me well and tell stories about days gone past. I lied and said that I had a stomach ache, afraid that if I went back to the Lollie Bottoms I would swim out to one of those half-submerged houses and never leave again. I moved first to Springdale, Arkansas, towards the northern part of the state. It was like getting my toes wet, going out into the world again. Not so scary this time, not so uncertain. I had a home to go back to, I had a place of safety if things got to be too much. Emboldened by the world not ending, I moved further, this time to Memphis. Having lived away from Conway for several years at this point, I began to wonder if I couldn’t create “home” anywhere I was in the world. I hadn’t attempted it, yet, but Memphis was a big city, and so felt more like the “real world” than other places I’d been in my life. Feeling brave, and full of hope, I got married to a wonderful man. I pushed my luck further, thought “here I will create a life for myself”, and purchased a home. It was a disaster. I had lived in Conway so long that I saw everything through the eyes of a small southern town. Drive-thrus that stayed open all night were mind boggling to me. People that cursed and spat and begged on the street corner confused me. I had never seen a city so dirty, so full of broken things and bits of trash and graffiti in all my life. There were no smiles from people at the grocery store, no friendly cashiers who learned my name. Everyone was a stranger, and with the high rate of crime in Memphis, everyone was likely a step away from robbing you. It was being robbed, in the end, which convinced me I didn’t belong in Memphis. We were robbed three times in one month, and on each occasion the police would shrug and advise us to make a claim on our insurance. It did not matter that we had suspicions about our next door neighbors, or that we had seen them moving about on the side of our house. File an insurance claim, we were told. The third time, when we found that our neighbors had brazenly run an extension cord from our bedroom, out the window, into their backyard and up inside their home, the police admitted that yes, it was possible our neighbors 35
had been inside our home. The television, PlayStation, and clothes they had in piles on their living room floor, however? It was our word against theirs that these things belonged to us. In the end, they were only charged with stealing our utilities, not even breaking and entering or theft of possessions. We were advised to file a claim on our insurance. My husband was from Mississippi originally, a town less than a quarter the size of Conway, and if I was shaken by the way things had turned out, he was outright disgusted. He moved us to his hometown, Senatobia, and suggested we make a home for ourselves there. But my bravery was gone. I had nightmares about break-ins, slept with a knife under my pillow, and only felt safe when our bedroom door was locked. I refused to grow attached to another place. I did not want to feel betrayed by another city again. I wanted to go home, to lose myself in the Lollie Bottoms and dream strange dreams again, to be swept up in visions of swamp water and mosquitos the size of my hand, not of people crawling through my window and tearing the siding off my house. My husband saw how unhappy I was. He asked me where I wanted to live, if I could live anywhere in the world. I told him where I was from, what it meant to me and the memories I had of it. Of late nights where the fireflies lit up the darkness as brilliantly as the stars did in Mississippi, of the stillness of plantchoked water and the way the empty ruins of houses rose up from the black swamps like restless dead. He thought it sounded like a horror movie, and that I was a crazy woman for getting excited over dirty swamp water, but he agreed to move, and we made our plans to go back to where I was from. Two weeks before we were set to move to Conway, my best friend forwarded the news article to me. It said that they were draining the Lollie Bottoms, that they were going to pave over everything and make a new airport for the city. Even the country road that I’d travelled down so many times was being moved, cast off in some new location. My stomach felt cold, and I was barely aware of my husband coming up behind me to read over my shoulder. “They’re even naming it Cantrell Field,” he read. “Will you still be able to find your way there if it’s no longer the Lollie Bottoms?” I didn’t know. If you took away everything about a place that made it what it was, could you even say the place still existed? And if it didn’t exist, where would my super power lead me? Where was I from? “Let’s try when we get there. Let’s see if you can find it,” my husband said, and I agreed, at the time. But once we were there, something always came up. 36
There was always something else to do. I made sure of that. As long as I didn’t see what it had become, the Lollie Bottoms would remain exactly the way I remembered it, unchanging and untouched by “progress” and “prosperity.” I refused to look at any more news articles about the new airport, and each time it was brought up by a friend or a stranger I would retreat inside my mind, clutching the memories tight to me like a security blanket. I wanted to will things to be the way they were, before I had left Conway. Before I had stupidly forgot to say goodbye to the place that had really made it mine. Ella Winter once said, “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?” I want to call her a liar, want to prove her wrong. I want to say that I carry home with me, inside, and that I can revisit it as often as I want. But I am afraid. I am afraid I will attempt to use my super power, to flex my invisible muscles and travel that unnamed road down to the watery fields of the Lollie Bottoms. I am afraid of finding dead trees replaced with telephone poles, of fetid water replaced by slick new tarmac, of dragonflies giving way to butterflies. I am afraid that if I can’t find Lollie, or worse, find it irrevocably changed, I will be lost. I will no longer be from anywhere.
Karma for the Lonely
I see Lonely girls pretending to love Lonely boys Because Empty-hearted boys were reckless with their hearts Rushing to Indecent girls, leaving only the smoke of infidelity Lonely girls with sad eyes look for a smile in places they donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t belong
They are afraid to get singed Because Empty-hearted boys made them feel too much I see Empty-hearted boys pretending to love Indecent girls Because Indecent girls make them forget their empty hearts But the Indecent girls remain indecent stealing love away from the Lonely girls
The Empty-hearted boys do not care The Lonely boys remain lonely The Lonely girls remain broken Two lonelys donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t make a match Loneliness is not that easy to cure
I see open hearts pass on the street Ready to be bruised by the already bruised hearts of others It’s a cycle of she hurt me so I’ll hurt her and he hurt me so I’ll never love again I see the spark of hope that ignites Lonely’s veins She tries to suffocate the flames but they grow stronger
Another empty-hearted boy falls into her flames Only to pour the cold drops of lust into her soul Leaving her in ashes of a one-sided passion A one-sided I’ll-do-anything-for-you So she keeps company with a Lonely boy A Lonely boy who does not want her flame, but can’t stand to see it burn out again
Two lonelys match the fire, but the fire is low and her heart is coddled in ashes Lonely will have to suffice for now Empty-hearted boy catches her smoky scent Empty-hearted boy’s heart feels a bit emptier now Indecent girl will learn that indecency gets you a forced romance
And a forced romance is nothing compared to the flame of Lonely girl
I see now that the Empty-hearted boy only pretended to be empty And that the Lonely girl filled him up too much Empty-hearted boy is lonely with his Indecent girl But Lonely girl is happy to be alone, letting her flame breathe in the freedom of loving herself Lonely boy follows after
Fixing the Unfixable
The screen is dark. The sound of metal clicking against porcelain is heard. ALICE (voice over) Fuck. We hear the sound of a toilet lid falling on the seat. On the screen, the top of a toilet suddenly comes into focus. Small hands with chipped red nail polish appear in the frame, lifting the lid of the top of the toilet. The hand reaches into the water and pulls one half of the metal chain, making the toilet flush. ALICE (voice over) Fucking chain fucking breaking. So fucking stupid. FADE IN: INT. BEDROOM - DAY Early morning light is streaming into a terribly messy room. The bed is unmade, clothes are all over the floor. Nothing is up on the walls, but the small desk shoved in one corner is covered in art sketches. A girl emerges from the bathroom wearing an oversized t-shirt and no pants. She has long hair that appears to be in rats. She walks over to her bedside table, tripping over a shoe on her way. She picked up a smartphone with a shattered screen and places a call. ALICE (into phone)
Hey, this is Alice Wiggins in Apartment 2121. The chain on my toilet broke. Do you guys fix that, or. . .?
She trails off, listening to a response. ALICE 41
It’s just a broken chain. It would take five
The person on the other end cuts her off. Alice starts to get irritated. ALICE (into phone)
I’m sorry, it just seems weird to me that it will take a week for someone to come in a fix the broken chain in my toilet.
The person on the other line speaks. Alice makes her way around the room, picking up clothes and sniffing them as she continues the conversation. ALICE (into phone) Can I just fix it myself then? Alice picks up a pair of pants and after sniffing them, determines them fit to wear and drapes them over her shoulder. ALICE (into phone)
That doesn’t make any sense.
Alice locates a shirt and rolls her eyes. ALICE (into phone) You know what, don’t worry about it. I think the chain is fine, just needs some jiggling. Alice hangs up her phone and dials another number. She picks up a nude front clasping bra and drapes it over her shoulder on top of the pants. ALICE (into phone)
Shit, did I wake you up?
She picks up a shirt, sniffs it, and tosses it away. ALICE (into phone) 42
Do you know how to fix the chain on
a toilet? Cause mine’s broken and the stupid apartment people aren’t going to fix it until next week.
Alice finds a shirt that she deems to be clean and adds it to the pile on her shoulder. ALICE (into phone)
I don’t want to have to stick my hand in the water. It’s gross. Look, if you come over I’ll make you breakfast.
Alice smiles. The expression makes her look almost pretty. ALICE (into phone)
Thanks, babe. I’ll see you soon.
The screen goes dark. ALICE (voice over) Shit. Shit shit shit. We can hear the sound of a toaster popping up. Next, we hear sizzling. ALICE Fuck. FADE IN: INT. KITCHEN - DAY We’re looking down at a stainless steel kitchen sink. Alice’s hands come into frame holding a skillet containing burnt scrambled eggs. They continue to sizzle until she scrapes them into the sink using a plastic spatula. The doorbell rings. ALICE
The main room comes into view, a combination kitchen and living room. Both spaces are surprisingly organzied. It is much cleaner than the bedroom, but that’s because it’s rarely used. Alice is dressed in the clothes she had picked up earlier;
acid washed jeans and a loose-fitting black long sleeve shirt. Her hair is now in a bun. She gets a paper plate out of her cabinet and drops the toast on it as the front door opens and Cody walks in. CODY
Why does it smell like burnt eggs?
Because I burnt eggs. Close the door, you’re letting the heat out.
Cody shuts the door and walks in, taking off his black coat and dropping it on the couch. He’s incredibly tall and lanky. His clothes accent this. CODY You told me I would get breakfast if I came over. ALICE You do have breakfast. She gets a jar of jelly out of her barely full fridge and a knife out of drawer. She sets these things next to the plate of toast on the bar of the kitchen. CODY Toast? ALICE Toast. CODY
This isn’t breakfast.
ALICE Sure it is. CODY Why don’t you try eggs again? I’ll help you. ALICE
I don’t have time to make eggs again. The deadline for the art contest is today and I need to finish my drawing.
It’s not my fault you procrastinated.
ALICE (Starting to look pissed.)
Please tell me you’re joking.
I’ve got shit to do today too, you know.
ALICE You mean sleeping? Cody half-heartedly opens the jelly and sets to work spreading some on his burnt toast. CODY Ha ha, very funny. No. I’m supposed to hear back from that job today. ALICE So what, you’re just going to sit by the phone? CODY That was the plan. ALICE You know, you could always change your mind about dropping out of school. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about getting a job because your parents would start bank rolling you again. CODY Explain to me again why it’s okay for you to drop out of school but it’s not okay for me to do it? Alice starts to say something but stops, closing her eyes and taking a deep 45
breath. When she opens her eyes again, she seems calmer. ALICE Just eat your toast and then fix the toilet, okay? Then you can go sit by your phone. I’m gonna get to work. CODY
You gotta take me to the store.
Cody takes a bit of his toast, crunching loudly. ALICE
Why would I take you to the store?
CODY (talking with his mouth full)
I gotta buy a thing for your toilet.
Why didn’t you do that on your way here?
‘Cause you need to pay for it.
Cody takes another bite of toast, the crumbs falling onto his shirt. ALICE
I would have paid you back.
Like you paid me back for dinner last night?
Last week was Valentine’s Day. I thought that
dinner was your gift for me.
When did I say that dinner was your gift?
ALICE (looking unsure) 46
I mean, I guess you didn’t. But you didn’t get me anything else, so I assumed.
Well, either way, you still need to take me to the store. ALICE (going into a panic)
But I have to do a drawing, take a picture of it, and send it to the guy at The Dallas Tribune today or I won’t get entered in the contest and I’ll never get a chance to—
CODY (interrupting her)
Would you chill the fuck out? God. I’ve heard the rant about the contest already.
You don’t understand! The winner gets featured in the museum—
Do you want your toilet fixed or not?
The screen goes black. FADE IN: INT. BEDROOM - DAY We follow a string of papers that once were on the desk. Half finished sketches in pencil, a few in charcoal. The trail of papers leads to the leg of a chair which we follow up to see Alice sitting cross-legged on the chair. She is drawing with a pen, fully concentrated. A loud clang from the bathroom makes her jump, messing up the line she had been drawing. ALICE (Furious.)
Cody, what the fuck!
It’s fine! I’m fine!
Alice gets up. We follow her to the bathroom, where Cody is sitting on the floor with all of the parts from the top of the toilet spread out around him. ALICE I feel like this is not how you fix the chain on a toilet. CODY
Sure it is. It’s just taking a bit for me to get it all put together.
Alice looks at the various pieces spread out among her floor. ALICE You do actually know how to fix my toilet, right? CODY
I mean, I know how to do it in theory.
You’ve got to be kidding me. I can’t get someone else to fix it for a week! What am I supposed to do, pee outside?
Calm down! I’m gonna fix it. Just—
A phone is heard ringing in the other room. Cody springs up and pushes past Alice. INT. LIVING ROOM - DAY Cody rushes in and grabs his cell phone. CODY (into phone) Hello? (His face falls in disappointment.) 48
Hey, man. No, I’m just helping Alice
fix her toilet. The chain broke.
Alice walks in and leans against the doorframe to her bedroom, looking exasperated. CODY (Turning to look at her.) She’s doing pretty good. Just using me as some kind of excuse to not work on this art thing. Alice glares at him before turning back into her bedroom. INT. BEDROOM - DAY Alice walks back over to her desk and her ruined drawing. She takes the paper and wads it up. She throws at towards the bathroom. She picks up her phone off the desk and glances at the time. ALICE (Mumbling to herself) One hour to create a masterpiece, get a decent picture of it, and e-mail it. Completely doable. Alice sits back down at her desk, arranges a new sheet of paper, and starts drawing. We get closer to peer over her shoulder as she sketches. Her phone is next to the drawing, and it reads 11:00 am. FADE IN INT. BEDROOM - DAY Close up on the phone. Alice’s finger appears and presses the home button. The phone comes to life, and superimposed over a picture of her in Cody is the time. 11:55. INT. BATHROOM - DAY The pieces that were on the floor have now made it back into the toilet. Cody is sitting on top of it. Close up on his hands. He’s trying to attach the chain. The sound of a phone ringing makes him loose his concentration and he drops the 49
chain in the water. Cody grabs for his phone where it is on the counter, nearly dropping it. He answers it in the nick of time, his hands still dripping. CODY (into phone) Hello? After a moment, Cody starts grinning. CODY (into phone)
That is the best news! Thank you so much, sir. I’ll see you Monday.
INT. BEDROOM - DAY Cody walks out of the bathroom beaming but stops when he sees Alice. She has her head down on her desk. CODY Babe? You alright? Alice lifts her head and looks over at him. She’s crying. ALICE Do I look alright? CODY
It’s this stupid fucking drawing.
Alice holds up a heavy sheet of paper. It’s a drawing of an old woman wearing a headscarf in pen and ink. It’s very good, but it isn’t great. CODY That looks really good. ALICE It looks like shit. CODY 50
No it doesn’t. You’ve still got time, right? I’ll help you take a picture in
good light so you can send it.
Alice drops the piece back on her desk. ALICE You’re kidding, right? Even if I did win by some miracle, I wouldn’t want this on display anywhere. CODY
Well, what else do you have?
Cody starts to pick up the papers that are on the floor, managing to pick out a few that haven’t been ripped or wrinkled. CODY What about this one, huh? This is cool. ALICE (defeated)
No, it isn’t.
You’ve got to have something. You’ve been talking about this contest for months, you can’t just not enter it.
ALICE Sure I can! I don’t have anything worth sending them. Cody looks around the room and all the papers on the ground. He picks up more and walks over and drops them on Alice’s desk. CODY Just pick one. ALICE
They’re all shit.
They can’t all be shit! Just pick one!
Shouldn’t you be fixing my toilet?
It’s fucking fixed already!
Well, I didn’t hear it flushing!
Cody rifles through the papers over Alice’s shoulder and picks up a drawing of a bird in colored pencil. CODY What about this one? It’s perfectly good, and you told me last week the judge likes nature shit. ALICE
I’m telling you, none of these are good enough!
Cody walks away in exasperation. ALICE
I don’t want some judge looking at my shit unless it’s good.
I get that, alright? But I don’t want you to regret not sending them something.
It’s too late anyways.
Cody walks back over to her and grabs her phone. CODY (looking at the time)
No, it isn’t. We’ve got two minutes.
No, damn it! Look, things might finally be
going good for us. I just got that job at the factory and—
A factory job? You consider that ‘going good’?
CODY Yeah, I do actually. And if you enter this contest, maybe things will go good for you, too. ALICE
Like you actually give a shit about me.
The fuck is that supposed to mean?
I’m almost out of money, Cody! My job at the coffee shop barely pays anything and I can’t find another job anywhere. If you would just let me move in with you—
CODY Not this again. Part of why I’m dating you is because you don’t typically act like some needy insecure bitch, so stop acting like it. ALICE (deadly calm) Get the fuck out. CODY
(realize he’s fucked up)
Alice, wait, I didn’t mean that.
Alice stands up and walks past him. INT. LIVING ROOM - DAY 53
Alice walks over to the front door and pulls it open. The wind ruffles her hair and
she shivers. Cody walks into the room and grabs his coat, taking his time. CODY (apologetic)
So, I’ll call you tomorrow?
ALICE I don’t ever want to hear from you again. Cody’s face goes from apologetic to pissed. CODY
You want to know why I think you didn’t enter that contest?
Cody walks up and leans down to get in her face. CODY
You’re a fucking coward. Gonna be hard to make a living selling art if you can’t face a little rejection.
ALICE Get out. Cody walks out of the apartment and Alice slams the door behind him. We follow Cody as he walks down the stairs and unlocks his car, an old Honda. He gets in and slams the door, then speeds out of the parking lot. Track up to Alice watching him from the window. INT. BEDROOM - DAY Alice walks into the room, looking surprisingly calm for someone who just dumped her boyfriend. She walks over to her desk and looks at the picture of the bird. ALICE
I’m not a fucking coward.
Alice picks up her phone. The time is 11:59. She opens it and snaps a photo of the drawing. We watch as she places it in an email and types in the right address. Her finger hovers over the word ‘Send.’ 54
I’m not a coward.
Close up on the clock changing to 12:00. Alice takes a deep breath and presses send. Her phone makes a swooshing noise. ALICE
See, jackass? I’m not a fucking coward.
She drops her phone back on her desk and turns towards the bathroom. INT. BATHROOM - DAY Alice walks in and looks around her bathroom. There is make-up spread out on the counter and a few stray pairs of panties on the floor. There are puddles of water on the tile where Cody set the pieces from the lid on the floor, and a few wet spots on the rug in front of her sink. She sits down on the toilet backwards backwards. We can see her face straight on as she lifts the lid up to glance at it. The chain appears to be in place. Alice sets the lid on the counter next to her and presses down on the lever to flush the toilet. It flushes, the sound of the water loud. She watches it fill back up slowly until it stops. ALICE
Who the fuck uses plastic for a chain?
Alice stares for a moment longer then reaches both her hand into the water. We follow her hands as she tugs the strand of plastic apart until it snaps. ALICE Oops. Alice gets up and walks back out into her bedroom, wiping her wet hand on her jeans. She walks over to her desk and picks up her phone, calling a number. ALICE (into phone) 55
Hi, it’s Alice again, from 2121? I
need you to go ahead and put me on a list to get my toilet fixed.
FADE OUT. THE END
We both liked Brand New And screaming the lyrics in our cars As we drove too fast down a one way street A blanket of black behind us and a silver moon in front We had smiles that stretched the miles ahead But incessant longings that created a void within us
We thought we could fill each other’s hollowness But our puzzle pieces never quite fit together We created a glowing image of a waterfall A blooming garden in front of a cabin Something my grandmother would piece together But there was always a small gap, a missing flower or Bead of water that completed the picture And we just didn’t have it We never did
And I’m sorry that my piece was saturated in blue While yours was immersed in gold But the two of us, we need to find the right one And scream out those words in the middle of the night Well if we take all these things and we bury them fast 58
And we’ll pray that they turn into seeds, to roots and then grass Or if the sky opened up and started pouring rain Like he knew it was time to start things over again With someone else
Coffee TalkKameron Morton Melanie likes to count the gray hairs on her husband’s head. She does it in the morning when he’s barely awake, his hands wrapped around his favorite coffee mug. Melanie stands behind him and combs her fingers through his coarse black hair while the bread toasts, half of a mashed up avocado waiting on a paper plate. “You’ve got a new one,” she says, running a finger over the out-of-place color. “That makes thirteen.” “Exciting,” Greg says. The toast pops up and Melanie pulls out the two pieces, quickly dropping them on to plates before she burns the tips of her fingers. She usesa a knife to spread the avocado, humming to herself. “I cheated on you.” Melanie stops her humming but continues to cut the pieces of toast at a diagonal, taking the time to sprinkle salt on top. She picks up the plates and walks back over to the table, placing one in front of her husband and the other in front of herself. She takes her seat and bites into her toast, the crunch loud in her ears. “Do you want a divorce?” she asks, dropping the toast back on her plate. “No,” Greg says, looking anywhere that isn’t Melanie. “Do you want to keep seeing her?” she asks. Melanie had suspected that Greg was sleeping with someone else, but she wanted to wait for him to be honest instead of bringing it up herself. In her mind she had rehearsed the ways this revelation could go, planning the perfect way to phrase her feelings. All of that planning seems pointless now. “She wants me to leave you and marry her,” he says, spinning his plate around in a circle. “Would you want to keep seeing her if she wasn’t trying to marry you?” Melanie says. “I don’t think so,” Greg says, never once looking Melanie in the eye. “She’s not very smart so it’s not like I can actually talk to her.” So she was just for sex. Melanie finds that comforting, in a way. At least she
knows that Greg isn’t tired of her as a person. It’s just her body that he’s become bored of. “Are you mad?” Greg asks, his eyes finally finding her face. “I’m not sure,” Melanie admits. “I should be.” She takes another bite of her breakfast, buying herself some time to try and decide what she wants. She and Greg have only been married for three years and they don’t have kids. A divorce wouldn’t be too messy. Or she could stay in this house in the town they picked to live in with the friends they made as a couple. She supposes there are other options they could try, a trial separation or a therapist’s advice, but those both seem indecisive, just putting off the pressure of choosing between packing or pretending. “Are you going to do it again?” she asks. “I don’t think so,” Greg says, frowning down at his forgotten food. “Eat,” Melanie says. “Your toast is getting cold.” Greg looks up at her and opens his mouth but nothing comes out. Melanie has trouble picturing him picking up a wanna-be home wrecker. “I love you,” he finally says, confident and cautious. Melanie smiles. “Of course you do.”