Vortex Spring Online Edition (2020)

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Spring 2020 Online Edition


Staff List Faculty Advisor - John Vanderslice Editor-in-Chief - Araya Pomplun Associate Editor - Jack Mitchell Barr Fiction Editor - Riley Hope Fiction Judges -Gabrielle Elaine Thurman -Kaitlyn Bannon -Emma Lassiter -Brenden Kosters Nonfiction Editor - Ari Gray Nonfiction Judges -Brooke Brasel -Morgan Wilson Poetry Editor - Allison Canty Poetry Judges -Thomas Douglass -Brooke Brasel -B. Bertrand -Eddy Guinee

Script Editor - Quade Reed Script Judges -Cody Tigue -Nicholas Walters Art Editor - Maegan Wise Art Judges -Julian Ellis -Emma Lassiter

Copy Editor - A. Vansickle Layout Editor - Emily Gist

Table of Contents Fiction


Emily Gist

Emily Gist

The Gathering............................................................................... 28-32

Dear Grandpa................................................................................. 5-6

Annie Grimes

Annie Grimes

Charlie’s Mind(s).......................................................................... 34-37

Fictional Existence..........................................................................40

Patrick Hackney

Starr Osborne

Lives Lived or the Slipping of Cash Bracken.............................. 16-23 Visit Earth Today!......................................................................... 25-26

Betrayal............................................................................................33 Fade.................................................................................................15

Stephanie Meador

Angela Randolph

Birds................................................................................................ 1-4

Keri Rider

Breaking News................................................................................27 Untitled............................................................................................39

They Will Be Okay......................................................................... 13-14

Nonfiction Emily Gist A Frozen Mourning........................................................................ 8-11

Art Lilah Chesne-Williams Disintegrate [Cover Image].............................................................41

Emma Lassiter I-70 Diner.........................................................................................24 Maroon Bells.................................................................................... 7 Monochrome...................................................................................12

Arjun Saatia Behaviorism.....................................................................................38


by Stephanie Meador


I bite my lip as I feel the cool needle press into my skin. While closing my eyes, I remind myself that the pain is temporary. Needles pale in comparison to the heartache I felt as I watched my mother take her last breaths. “You are impressively calm Amara, especially since this is your first time.” The artist’s raspy voice seems out of place with her gentle smile and youthful eyes. “It doesn’t hurt much,” I respond quietly. The fluorescent lights dangling above my head emit a quiet hum that pesters my ears. I ask if the volume of the radio can be raised to drown out the unwanted sound. Lyrics from George Michael’s “Faith” fill my ears. Colorful feathers begin to take shape on my exposed chest. Extreme focus decorates the artist’s face. Unlike many other tattoo artists, she only has four visible tattoos. A music note on her left wrist, a sequence of roman numerals on her collarbone, a sunflower on her ankle, and on the upper part of her right arm, a baby elephant. The elephant is different. It has color. A blend of blue


and gray fills its plump outline. Big, green eyes full of wonder sit in the center of its round head. Its trunk is coiled around a flower. Below the baby elephant is the word “soar.” “Why is the elephant in color, but not the others?” I point to the vivid picture that decorates her arm. “That’s my most recent addition,” she steals a quick glance at it, “I decided to have it done in color because the person that inspired it was such a light in my life.” A shadow of sadness falls upon her face. “Did you lose them?” The question seems to catch her off guard. I immediately regret asking, afraid I’d overstepped. “Yes, how did you know?” “I could hear it in your voice, and I saw your face change. Unfortunately, I am no stranger to loss.” The vibrations of the needle cease. The artist sets the instrument aside. Without a word, she stands up and leaves the room. A rush of remorse floods over me. I had not intended to upset her. Moments later the woman returns holding a small photo in her hand.


“This is my daughter Elle,” she places the picture in work. Each stroke brings a new part of it to life. I my hand. I notice the young girl’s dark curls and green admire the mixture of blue and lavender that fills the eyes. She resembles her mother greatly. “This was bird’s feathers. Once the shading is finished, the taken on her first birthday, just weeks before she was artist cleans up the final product and takes a picture for diagnosed with leukemia.” A tear slips down the artist’s her portfolio. I now wear a permanent reminder of my cheek. “She put up a good fight, but eight months after mother and her love. her diagnosis she was gone.” *** “Cancer sucks,” I mutter. The artist sniffles and nods. My feet burn as I trudge through the white sand. I “I chose an elephant because of her name, and find the lounge chairs my husband James has claimed because her favorite movie was ​Dumbo​. with our towels and relinquish the pails and Whenever she was scared or sad, I would It was her favorite shovels that fill my arms. Squeals of sing to her ‘Baby Mine’.” bird. She viewed it as laughter fill my ears as I watch my husband “That’s really sweet.” I hesitate to tell my a symbol of love and play with our girls in the water. He holds story, afraid to come across as insensitive. persistence. their hands and as each wave begins to Once the artist has wiped her tears, I feel crash on the shore they jump over the crest. comfortable sharing. I pull off my cover-up and begin to put on “My mom passed away last month from breast sunscreen, taking extra care to cover the little bird that cancer. This hummingbird is for her.” I point to the rests underneath my collarbone. incomplete drawing. The artist smiles softly. Fifteen years had passed, but I’d never felt my “That’s beautiful.” mother’s presence more--from the hummingbird cake at “Thank you. It was her favorite bird. She viewed it as my wedding to the twin girls, each with bright blue eyes a symbol of love and persistence.” that sparkled like their grandmother’s. “Sounds like your mother was very wise.” I smile and The girls notice the toys I brought and abandon the nod. waves to play in the sand. I struggle to reapply sunscreen The artist grabs the tattoo machine and continues to to their chubby cheeks before they immerse themselves


into a whole new world of play. Thankfully, they brilliant blend of pink and orange. Once the darkness inherited their father’s dark complexion rather than my settles we grab our flashlights and search for crabs. The ivory skin, so I worry a little less about them burning. night air is cool and still. At this moment, the chorus of “Alright, your turn to chase them around; I think the life quiets to a gentle hum, and I hold my greatest three-hour car ride left them with even more energy treasures just a little closer. than normal,” James says breathing heavily. He stumbles *** through the loose sand and flops into one of the lounge I step carefully through the thick grass that fills the chairs, scattering water and sand into the air. graveyard. The bottoms of my jeans become wet with “Maybe we should have taken your mom up on her morning dew. As sunlight breaks through the clouds, I offer to tag along, another pair of hands reach the center of the cemetery where the chorus of life quiets to to try and keep them out of trouble.” three marble stones rest. I split the a gentle hum, and I hold I take the empty seat beside him. He bouquet of flowers in my arms into three my greatest treasures just a small bundles, and gently lay them across reaches over and places his hand on my little closer. belly. each of the stones. My sleeve slips off my “Soon we are gonna have another shoulder, revealing the colorful collage of little energizer bunny to keep up with. birds that decorates my collarbone. Thirty I don’t think I’m ready to be outnumbered.” He rubs the years after I added the little hummingbird to my chest, I small bump under my bathing suit. now have three sweet feathered creatures decorating my “Baby boy is the size of an avocado this week,” I say as collar bone and the upper area of my chest. Each bird I place my hand over his and draw smooth circles over was born from loss. my tummy. “Girls, do you want to come give baby The second bird to land was a Phoenix. At 20 weeks brother kisses?” They scamper over from the hole they I miscarried in my second pregnancy. I felt empty and have dug and smush their sandy faces into my belly. broken. I felt like a failure, like my body wasn’t good We spend the evening building sandcastles, watching enough, and it was my fault my precious boy didn’t get to the sun fall below the horizon and the sky blurs into a experience the world. James and I had been struggling


to pick a name, but the bad news gave me clarity. I buried my son Phoenix James in the grave next to my mother. My decision to get the tattoo was instant. I returned to the shop where I had ventured as a heartsick 15-year-old, and I grieved the loss of my baby by giving him a permanent place to rest on my chest. The artist was a young man, covered head to toe in ink of all colors. I explained my vision, and he brought it to life. The brilliant orange and red feathers on the bird shimmer in the light. When the grief became too much to bear, I would simply rest my hand on the glowing bird, and pray for a renewal of strength. The third great loss I suffered was not unexpected. My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 67. At first, his inability to tell the twins apart and occasional failure to remember to do the dishes seemed like nothing to worry about, but once he began to forget where he was going while driving, and didn’t seem to recall the events of the day before, we all became concerned for the worst. Once his memory had faded, Grandad didn’t remember anyone except his wife. We would go to visit the two of them, and she would reintroduce us every time, but he wouldn’t engage with us or see us.

Until his death, he loved music. My grandma would turn the record player on and he would sing along to hits from the early 70s, he could recall the tunes and some of the lyrics. A delicate mockingbird completes the feathered trio along my collarbone. Primarily gray with specks of brown and white wing bars, the little bird poses as a subtle contrast to the vibrant characters around it. Whenever I take walks in the neighborhood and hear the mockingbirds sing, the gentle melodies resound in my chest. My trio of tribute reminds me to cherish both the living and the dead. As I continue my walk through life, I fear the moment when another person will be stolen from me, and my heart will shatter once more, but I keep moving forward. With each unbearable loss, I hold my husband and daughters closer, and with each loss I learn the impermanence of life has no effect on an everlasting love.


Dear Grandpa by Emily Gist

Sometimes, I see you through the looking glass ghosts of my dad’s language that curls in the air into ones and zeros like the smoke of your pipe. When my dad tills the string theory land of logic that coats the world like patchwork farmland with his fractal physics. It reminds me of you. I imagine your tool shed cluttered with hoes and hammers and mechanical parts of the farm equipment. But your hands were sure, navigating the ordered chaos of the shed just as your neurons navigated the ordered chaos of your mind. My dad said your rocking chair creaked to cover your arthritis. My dad said your back ached to cover the cancer. My dad said you joked to cover the pain. You were gone before I opened my eyes. I cried. Your cells mutated faster than my cells formed, and now all that’s left are your buried, burnt remains.



My tear ducts are dirt dry. I try to see you in my mind’s eye. My fingers trail through smoky language, grasping at who you were. I can’t smell your smoke. I can’t see your shed. I can’t hear your joke. You are merely a memory of someone I will never meet, yet still I miss you. Love, Me


by Emma Lassiter

Maroon Bells



by Emily Gist

A Frozen Mourning

While the cold nipped at my fingers and toes through my hand-me-down black-quilted winter jacket, the white snow bleached my surroundings as I stared at my grandmother’s ashes. Her ashes were placed in a rectangular box. When I first saw it, I thought it was a gravestone. Her ashes weighed five pounds, the same as her birth weight. Coincidences no longer surprised me. I was vaguely aware that my entire family surrounded me in that 23-degree weather. My air puffed in front of me, obscuring my vision in short, rhythmic breaths as we all stared at the casket. I was vaguely aware that my grandfather lay buried beneath my feet. My second cousin, Lara-Leigh, stood in front of me, but not directly to obscure my vision. Her hourglass form in her red coat clings to my memory like the snow clung to my eyelashes. “What was her most useful piece of advice, Roger?” Lara-Leigh’s husband, Dan, asked. We all looked to my uncle Roger, grandmother’s eldest son and the one who shared the most stories about her an hour prior. He


stared at the box pensively, his bushy eyebrows furrowing. He stood still as the air for a moment, frozen like our breathing. “To be honest, I probably didn’t take it,” he said. We all chuckled. I wondered why. After another moment of silence, Roger spoke. “If there’s one thing I can say about mom, it’s that she always kept Christmas well. We will miss you.” That was the end of the memorial service. We all crunched through the virgin snow to our parked vehicles. Within five minutes, the graveside service was over. But the gravesite wasn’t where the memorial had begun. *** Instead, the service began in the church where my parents had their marriage after-party. My family walked through the doors at 11:59 am and were greeted with a room filled with white, circular tables. I wore a fancy, teal shirt and black everything else. I was told not to wear all black as the occasion was meant to be sweet. So, I wore mostly black.


My mom commented that she and Dad had sat in a The scene replays like a sped-up video in my mind. chair beside the door for their wedding’s after-party. The The blur of the women in the family speeding in and hideously floral chair looked like something out of the kitchen, salvaging some frozen chicken in grandmother would have in her apartment. the freezer. The food spanned the long table: chicken, Upon entering, no food spanned the central table, lettuce, some fruits of some kind (I don’t remember. which was highly uncharacteristic of my extended No one in our family really likes fruit.) With the meal family. I had expected a banquet considering the event salvaged, we were told to dig in, and had I not been was to start at noon. My aunt-in-law Frieda talked to my told, I wouldn’t have suspected someone had stolen our mom and I overheard snippets of their planned food. It felt like we were all back conversation, but none of it made sense. at Uncle Roger’s house, lining up in the It felt like we were all Someone had stolen our food? cramped, box-like kitchen, surrounding the back at Uncle Roger’s “Several people use this space for long table in the middle and picking out house, lining up the events,” my mom told me when I asked some green beans here and some mashed cramped, box-like what was going on. “The family before us potatoes there. We were a real southern kitchen...We were a must have taken our food as leftovers.” family. real southern family. “That’s annoying,” I said. “Did they just It was wonderful. think it was theirs?” While we sat at tables and ate, my dad “It was labeled with our last name.’” My mom said, stood in front of everyone. He held a microphone and setting her jaw. I wanted to complain but decided there cracked a few jokes, so I could tell this was all ad-libbed. was no reason to. If it was worth complaining about, “I’ve set up a slide show here, but I wasn’t expecting Mom would have done so. to commentate. We’ll see how this goes.” Dad gestured to “Now what?” I asked. the back of the room where Jonathan, my lanky cousin, “We’ll have to figure something out…” she said. I handled the projector. A picture showed on the screen: followed my mom’s gaze to the kitchen where the a picture of a baby. She was adorable with big, chubby women in my extended family sped in and out. cheeks and a round body, like a pumpkin. It was hard to


pinpoint her as my grandmother until my dad introduced her as such. “I tried to put these all in order based on how old she appeared in the picture. Some were harder to figure out than others,” Dad said as pictures cluttered the screen in no particular order. One flashed from her teenage years. I immediately noticed the resemblance, as did everyone else in the room. “She looks a lot like Lara-Leigh in that one,” Roger said. Everyone laughed, the resemblance was uncanny: she had the same nose, the same slightly off-center eyes, the same big ears and toothy smile. I may be imagining this, but I remember my mom nudged me. “She looks a lot like you,” she said. Or maybe that’s merely something I wished she’d said. My dad continued through the slideshow like he was walking through the house blind. He knew where he was going, he just stumbled a few times. After the slide show ended, the family gathered all of our chairs to form a circle in the room and we all told stories about Grandmother. One story, in particular, stuck out to me. My step grandfather’s daughter, who I’d never met before and was unable to make the funeral, wrote a story about her first meeting with Grandmother, which her sister read. It was

the day of her wedding. She was a lesbian and she was getting married to her ex-wife (the two were divorced by the day of the funeral.) The far-reaching family member was in the bathroom, terrified about how the wedding was going to go. She was undoubtedly wondering how the extremely religious and extremely southern extended family on Bonnie’s side was going to react. When she exited the stall, an elderly woman stood at the mirror. The elderly woman looked at the bride-tobe and immediately smiled warmly at her. Grandmother asked the bride’s name. When the bride told her, Grandmother immediately said. “I’ve heard so much about you. Welcome to the family.” My mom mentioned the story later in the car. “When [your step grandad’s daughter] and her wife first got married, Corky was beside himself wondering how to handle the situation. At one point, he’d asked Bonnie, ‘What do I do?’ and you know your grandmother’s response? She said, ‘You love her unconditionally.’” That moment made me proud of my grandmother. It gave me hope in her; that despite her rare, innocuously racist use of the n-word, my grandmother had a kind soul. She truly cared for those around her, which made me want to be like her. Grandmother was complicated, but no matter what she said or how she said it, her heart


was pure.

from the curb and I looked out the window. Just then, two *** giant, white rabbits hopped into view and posed next to When the family gathered back in the car after the the gravesite. two-minute graveside service, the double doors to the “Those are big rabbits,” I said, and I craned my head to van closed slowly and, as soon as they shut, I heard a stare at them as we drove out of view. stuttered breath beside me. I looked to my right and my *** sister was in the seat next to me, tears running down her When I saw those rabbits, I imagined them as Bonnie face. and RB. Now that they were finally together, they could “I was alright when we were all telling stories about be reborn together. Rabbits are symbols of rebirth and her, but seeing her ashes, that’s it. That’s all that’s left,” resurrection. Some might call it dumb luck or consider Alaina said through sobs. Maybe my it completely unrelated to the situation. Now that they were finally heart was calloused over, maybe I’d shed Some might call it a coincidence. I can together, they could be as many tears as I had while in Conway, hear my dad’s voice in my head now in an reborn together. but I remember sitting there trying to imagined conversation. understand why it was so sad. If anything, “Hey Dad, I know this sounds weird, the stories were the most difficult aspect of the memorial but I think those rabbits meant something. I think they service. Her ashes were just ashes. It was just her body were a sign that grandmother and grandfather are still burned, essentially, into dust. I had no memories or alive, in one shape or another.” feelings attached to whatever was in that box outside. “Or, they’re just rabbits that happened to be at the “Hug your sister,” my mom said from the front. So, gravesite.” I opened my arms and hugged my sister. I tried to be But I don’t care. Call me crazy, but I think those rabbits warm, but I suddenly felt as cold as the snow billowing were a sign from God, letting me know that Bonnie and outside; not once during the memorial service did I cry. RB are together again. And they’re happy now, in heaven, My sister pulled back, sniffling and rubbing her eyes in our memories, or wherever they ended up going after with her nice jacket sleeve. The van began to pull away Bonnie met RB at the end of the wedding aisle.


by Emma Lassiter




By Keri Rider

They Will Be Okay


My feet fall silent on the wooden creaky stairs. They have a big day tomorrow.” He kisses her forehead for a are sleeping and snuggled in their cozy bed. I find long time before rolling back over. myself drifting towards their bed wanting to climb inside Tomorrow​. The day I will be put into this gray-black and be with them. I go to her side and find her face is world and locked inside a box for good. Of course I can’t distorted from a nightmare. My hand floats towards her leave them. They blame themselves for the car accident, to brush her hair out of her face. I find my hand being but I just want them to heal. able to actually touch her. She stirs in the sheets; A little “I love you, please know that. I never wanted this to tear trails down her cheek. happen; it wasn’t your fault, please.”​I sit on “Is that you, my sweet?” She looks in my the floor at the end of the bed. I find myself Tomorrow. The day I direction before her eyes wander past me shaking from how things have turned out. will be put into this and stare at the wall. I just want them to be okay. I glance at my gray-black world and “Mom it’s me!” I try shouting again to mom to find her sitting up and scanning locked inside a box see if she will hear me for once. My shouts the room. I go to her cheek and kiss it with for good. fall on deaf ears. I can feel my eyes begin to as much love as my body will allow. She swell with tears. I see the old man reach up smiles softly before slumping back down to rub his eyes before sitting up and comforting mom. into the comforter. She will heal. I know she can help His eyes lost their bright blue color; they were lost to dad. He hates to show his soft side but here he laid guilt and emptiness. I go to his side and stretch for his sniffling and wiping his tears. arm but my hand goes through. I haven’t mastered how “I’m sorry dad. I wish I talked to you more and to connect with him. opened up to you more.” I find myself wanting to be “Honey, he’s not here. Just try going back to sleep. We closer to them. I climb to the end of the bed and wiggle


my way in between them. They both fall back asleep in the hour. Their snores fall into a pattern and I stare at the ceiling again for the rest of the night. I know they will be okay with time.

“I love you, mom and dad.� My voice gets lost in the corners of the room. The words join the other whispers and cobwebs buried in the cracks of the oak floors. They will be okay.




by Starr Osborne

I remember when I was younger. I remember the cool breeze that greeted my face after a long day of running in the summer heat. I remember my mother. I remember her young face, and a smile as warm as the weather in which I ran. But time has passed us. Bright eyes become hollow. Things change when you can’t find happiness in running any longer. Now, I see the bags that sway under my mother’s eyes. I see the graying roots, invading the beautiful shade of brown in her hair. I see pain. She walks like her bones are shards of glass, I close my eyes and try to block out the fear that the warmth is gone. My mother, too, was once a child. She ran through the summer days as I did, and now she fades into the calenders, withering away. Perhaps she, too, watched her mother fall with the dust of the earth. And perhaps she, too, clings to the hope that I will not notice.


Lives Lived or the Slipping of Cash Bracken


By Patrick Hackney

I’m sort of an asshole. I’ve always been sort of an asshole, I think. Not the anal, uses-my-blinker-forevery-occasion-even-parking type of asshole. The alluring, charming kind of asshole. I’ve found it has a type of allure and charm associated with it, at least, in certain times of your life. Like if you’re a young, discount-Ryan-Reynolds college professor, or a not-tooold-yet soccer mom living in the wine riddled suburbs. The certain time of your life I’m talking about here is the young part. I was sort of an asshole when I was young, although that is a disingenuous statement because I haven’t seemed to grow out of it yet. What is growing, anyways? This one time, I was 9, 10 maybe. My aunt was a big-shot in the community at the time, she ran the nicest nursing home in the city and set up all these charity events, you know the deal-- big faker stuff. They had a “most influential women in Cold Streams” section in the city newspaper. We were eating breakfast. I had cereal. My Aunt only got an honorable mention, and she was not happy about it: “Honorable mention, can y’all

believe that? Like I’m an old hobbled thorough-bred that should’ve been made into dog-food years ago instead of racing.” (That’s what dog food is made of, believe it or not. They grind them up and make ‘em into little doggiebite-sized-chunks down in Mexico.) She ​just kept going on about it: “Honorable mention! Can y’all believe that? Just like an old racehorse!” I was 9 or 10, I’m just trying to eat my cereal but this lady won’t lock it up, so I say, quite casually: “Don’t worry, we can believe it. None of us had money on you.” See? Told you- asshole. I got in trouble for that one, it was the Holidays, so everyone was real wound-up already. They all got pretty pissed. I got a spanking and a talking to. My aunt didn’t send me birthday cards after that, so I wouldn’t have had money to bet on her even if I’d wanted to. My name is Cash, Cash Bracken. This story is about my first summer in college, that scorching summer I made the same mistakes I’ve always made. Do you ever feel like you’re on a treadmill? You just keep moving, sometimes you walk, sometimes you sprint, but mainly


you jog. It doesn’t matter though, you’re not getting anywhere. I. I ​sat in my truck, air conditioner struggling against the natural furnace that is an Arkansas August. I watched the cars pull through the ghetto KFC drive-thru from the back of the parking lot. My dealer (his name was B, and I liked to think it was short for Betty or Beverly or something severely detrimental to a gangster’s reputation) had said he was ‘on the way,’ there was no telling how long that meant, but then again- any amount of time is too long when you’re waiting on drugs. I sighed, unlocking and locking my phone for the seventeenth time since I’d been sitting there. I was out of mobile data. A text popped up on my phone, it was from Katya-she was asking where I was. I was supposed to be picking her up from work, as of the moment I was already 15 minutes late. “Bad wreck, be there soon” I texted back. A few seconds later she called me. “Baaaaby,” she said, excitement in her voice. She was always so damn happy, I didn’t understand how anyone could be that happy all the time. It was one of the

reasons I liked her, and one of the reasons I hated her. “Hey, Kat.” “Are you okay? I miss you.” “Yeah, it’s just a fucking truck wreck, caused a pretty big pile up, they got ambulances out here and everything.” “Oh no! I hope they’re okay!” “Yeah, me too.” “What do you want for dinner?” A white Tahoe was pulling into the KFC, and heading towards me, it was B, or one of his ‘bitches’ as he called them. ​‘Y​ea, onenamuh bitches’ll be up there’ that’s the kinda shit he said, no joke. “Baby?” Katya was still on the phone. “I don’t care what we eat, Kat. Whatever you want, I gotta go, I’m trying to navigate this traffic so I can get to you. Love you.” “Oh, okay boo. I love you t--” I clicked ‘end call.’ A light-skinned black girl had rolled down her window and was holding out a balled fist towards me. So he did send ‘onena his bitches.’ I honestly liked dealing with them more, they never talked. B always complained about some kind of nonsense. I handed her the money, and she gave me the pills. She backed out and drove off, but I barely noticed.


My hair was standing on end, my stomach was to get going. ​I tried to sit up, but some miracle of physics doing flips-- I hadn’t done any Oxys yet today. I pulled an was pulling me back. Waves crashed down on me, old ‘Alice in Chains’ CD out of my center console, hands pushing me into the seat, ​through the seat, but not all of shaking just a little bit. I closed the compartment and me. A whole bunch of mes were being ripped out into laid the CD down on top of it, hesitating for just a somewhere else, fractions of my consciousness moment- thinking - before placing all three pills on forcefully stripped away, and then I was gone, into the it, then began crushing them under a six-year-old I.D. deep black. I’d slipped again. while I rolled up the powder-coated dollar bill I always used with my other hand. II. It was ready. Most people might be excited to get home from work and see their kids, or O​kay, so I haven’t mentioned this yet, A whole bunch of mes to go have a decadent dinner, or maybe because I try to avoid even thinking about were being ripped out they’re stoked on a trip they’ll be going on it. into somewhere else soon. Not me. Every morning I wake up, Sometimes I ‘slip’ when I do drugs. I this is all I want, all I want, all day until call it ‘slipping’ because I don’t know what I get it. If I miss a day, my bones start to the fuck else to call it. No slip is ever the ache, I can’t eat, my limbs shake, and I can hardly stand same, it’s always a ‘me’ in different realities, sometimes the smallest of social interactions. But this wasn’t one of people who are dead in my normal reality are alive, and those days. sometimes people who aren’t alive yet in my reality are I bent down over the center console and sucked those already there. I don’t know how it started happening, but crushed pills up my nose with that Ole’ Faithful Dollar I have a hypothesis, and I call it a hypothesis because Bill. The warm tsunami flooded through me, the tension there’s no way I could ever prove it. in my limbs ripped away by the crashing waters of I did DMT once at a music festival, and I broke out of euphoria. My neck became jelly, eyes fluttering as my my body and went down to visit the Fractal Elves. I didn’t head came to rest against the seat-back rest. ​Okay, time know what the hell they were saying, but the next time


I did Oxys afterward I slipped for the first time. It wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t the worst one I’ve had. I woke up in a me that was sitting in a dirty cargo car on a train sharing a bottle of Jack with a guy named Ben and a girl named Olive. We were hitching through Kentucky, I had a guitar strapped over my back, Ben had a banjo and Olive had a fiddle. We were a folk group called The Broke Strings. We played bars. III. I ​came to bend over a bone in the sand, with a dustcovered toothbrush in my hand. I could feel sand all over me, and my knees, ribs, and elbows felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to them. “Doctor Bracken?” I heard a feminine voice, somehow I knew it was Blair, a chubby intern. I was a Paleontologist-- this was a Diplodocus dig site in Colorado. “Doctor Bracken,” Came Blair’s voice again. “Yeah?” “Are you going to get that?” She asked, and then I heard the ringing. It was the default iPhone ringtone, which was why I had ignored it. ​This is a fucked up

version of me who likes Apple products I​thought, pulling the buzzing device out of my pocket- then almost dropping it. The caller I.D. said “Jay.” My father, Jay Bracken, had been dead for almost 12 years in my reality. My knees felt like spaghetti, my head swam. The phone rang again and it was louder than possible, beating my eardrums like a Chinese Gong. I slid my finger across the screen and slowly put it to my ear. “Cash?” The speaker projected the voice and I struggled to stay standing as my knees gave. “Dad?” He laughed, that old goofy high pitched laugh. “You haven’t called me that in a while, Buster Brown. I was scared you wouldn’t even pick up. Listen, it’s about your mom. She’s-” His voice became faint, and I felt myself beginning to slip again. “Dad-- hey, I--” “Cash? Son? You’re cuttin’ out.” And then I was back. I was laying on my couch with Michelle, my entire time with Katya had slipped away, even though I’d only been on the slip a few minutes. Michelle was pressed up against me, we were watching


some ridiculous conspiracy video, the type of shit we hooked up back in May, and I was happy for it. She was liked to watch when we were stoned, to shut our brains 19, and Katya was 29, but somehow Michelle was more off after a day of class. mature- I guess a Boomer would call her an ‘Old Soul.’ Michelle was everything Katya wasn’t, and more. She Just for another contrast, on the third or fourth date was long, thick, clever, quick and the funniest person I’d with Katya, we got back to her apartment during a ever met. Her golden skin always seemed to shine, and summer storm. I convinced her to strip down and jump she had an ass that would make a rap video model want in the complex’s pool with me, so we swam in the rain. to beat her own mother. It was very Rom-Com ‘B’ movie romantic. We went “Are you okay?” inside and took a shower together to warm up, and I said I realized I’d been looking around like I was lost, and “Let’s wash each other” so she grabs a bar of soap and then she caught me with those eyes. She starts dutifully scrubbing me like I’m a It drove me crazy, that was always looked deep into me with those naughty pet that’s been rolling around not who I was, but that’s all big brown eyes, shuffling around in the in the mud. I don’t know if it was just a she could comprehend, so file cabinets of my mind. I was back. ​ culture thing, her being from Russia and I fell into the mold. Fuck. I​was back. all, but that kind of thing is par for the “You passed out there for a minute.” course with her. “Yeah, just the drugs I guess.” Don’t get me wrong, I liked her, she “Okay,” she said casually and laid her head back on was kind and caring and thoughtful, but that was all. Her my chest. personality was just ‘​nice.’ Like a non-player character She was so cool, so smooth. She was going to school that had been designed for a video game to sell the for sports medicine. She didn’t push, or question, or beg protagonist clothes or something. I didn’t treat her badly, like Katya, and I loved her for that. but I didn’t ​love​her either. It was like her niceness had Michelle was sexy like the sea is salty. It was just pulled me in and so my personality became simply ‘kind’ effortless for her, and the amazing thing was that she when I was with her. It drove me crazy, that was not didn’t even know it. She’d been glued to me since we who I was, but that’s all she could comprehend so I fell


into the mold. I’d settled, and I ​had ​to be some kind of intoxicated just to be around her.

had recently expelled hot bile. I looked down at myself and saw a shrunken body, my skin stretched over the bones like a child’s small shirt on IV. a bodybuilder. I managed to stumble to the bathroom and saw my sunken, pick-marked face in the mirror. I I​t was near the end of our summer class, Academic turned to hurl into the toilet. Writing, together, and we still had some absences left so I heard keys clatter against the front door as the lock Michelle and I cut and went to get high. I called B to tell clicked open. I stumbled into the Hall and in time to him we wanted to meet up and he garbled out his usual watch Katya walk in. She did not look happy, she did not unintelligible nonsense. “Comena Jin look kind, or excited. She looked drained. Farrow.” Big, purple, bags sat beneath her eyes like Katya looked as if she I didn’t need to ask him what the fuck might explode, and then fleshy mud puddles. Her eyes were filled that meant with red streams, pooling into ponds in she did: “That’s your because I was used to it by now. The guy places. She was hardly holding back tears daughter you fucking was always zonked on Codeine syrup and shaking violently. Junky!” and I’d learned to translate Syrupese. We “Where is the rent money, Cash?” She headed back to the KFC and soon met B asked, voice quivering like an out of tune himself. piano. I crossed my fingers as Michelle broke down the pills “Kat, I don’t--” for us and prayed I wouldn’t slip. In a couple of minutes, “Go to our room, Vera,” Katya said softy, and that was I knew it had been pointless. the first time I saw the small figure huddling against the I came to in Katya’s one-bedroom apartment, and it back of her legs. felt like death itself had his skeletal hand on me. I was The little girl came out and walked quietly passed me, in the worst withdrawal I’d ever felt. My skin was on fire, twirling her fingers and staring at me wide-eyed. She my head thumped like a bass drum, my throat felt as if it was beautiful. She was perfect. And she was terrified.


“Who’s that?” I asked. Katya looked as if she might explode, and then she did: “That’s your daughter you fucking Junky! What is wrong with you!? How fucked up are you!? Is that what you did with the money!?” Her voice cracked on the last word and the outburst cut off suddenly. She was hugging herself, shrinking to her knees. “Oh, Cash, tell me- please tell me you didn’t spend the rent money. Please, Cash” She sobbed. I ignored her, leaving her crying and spun around to walk back towards the room. Then I remembered, we had a daughter together, Katya and I. How the fuck had that happened? I was never serious about this girl. Things flooded back to me this me - her name was Vera Hackney, she was four years old, and I hadn’t been around for most of that time. I was always fucking off to drug dens to shoot up, or out on the streets pulling scams for cash. The little girl -- my little girl -- sat on the floor picking the strings on a toy guitar. “Hey,” I said, not knowing what to say, I never knew how to talk to kids. “Do you know any songs on that?” “No. Momma always says you’ll teach me, but you’re always too sick. Maybe when you get well.” She said, looking at me so sincerely, with so much genuine love, I felt something in me snap. Then I slipped away.

V. I​woke up sitting on the couch with Michelle, I had been nodding and she was on her phone. I looked at her, sitting there next to me, putting up with my bullshit, and I lost it. “Oh fuck, oh shit, we gotta stop Mics, we gotta fucking stop this shit. You can’t end up like me, ​I can’t end up like me.” “Alright, calm down.” She whispered and that’s all she said, as she took my head against her chest and steadied me. She didn’t say much, didn’t ask any questions, that’s what I love about her. We laid there all night, Michelle holding me while I leaked out the years of toxic lifestyle. I called Katya the next day and told her that I couldn’t do it anymore, we weren’t good for each other, the usual stuff. It didn’t go over well. She really loved me. She showed up at my place trying to understand like everyone does when they’re grieving. She understood when she saw Michelle there. I went out to her car and talked to her, and didn’t change my mind, not after what I’d seen. She almost ran over me when she drove away. That’s life, I guess. Sometimes it sucks.


VI. T​he first couple weeks were the hardest, but Mics saw me through. She basically did all my school work for me. It got easier after that, the physical part at least. The

psychological effects of being a junkie asshole for years don’t dissipate overnight, but it gets a little better now and then. I haven’t slipped again, and I hope I never do. One life is hard enough.


by Emma Lassiter

I-70 Diner



Visit Earth Today!


Your Intergalactic One-Stop-Shop for Every Sensation! by Patrick Hackney

Standing out like a Gas Giant in an asteroid field you can see our little blue marble from lightyears away, and if you think the view from outside is swell, just wait until you come on in! We have something for everyone here on Earth. We are host to billions of species of carbon-based, oxygen-breathing lifeforms* that you can slaughter to your delight! We pride ourselves on our historic tradition of killing on our charming planet, and don’t assume that only means non-sentient lifeforms! We have a little thing called ‘war’ that we’ve practiced for millennia, on your visit to Earth you’re welcome to start your own! Are you a fan of virology or pathology? You’ll be like a kid in a candy shop, (or depending on where you’re from, a ‘gleeb in a flexmock’ shop) when you reach Earth! Our wide range of diseases and viruses will have you occupied for years! We haven’t figured most of them out ourselves! The 2019-nCoV is our newest addition to our plethora of plague, and we are very excited about the rollout. Have you ever felt the urge to harass, condescend, or victimize other members of your species, but your society has advanced past needless cruelty? With our long and rich history of blatant hatred, Earth is the place for you! Heck, you might even be discriminated against yourself during your stay! Excited yet? Has your civilization established a functional government? Ever wondered about the chaos, mayhem, and mishaps that brought your world’s government to its current well-oiled state? Earth is the place for you. We’ve


had them all: democracy, communism, socialism, monarchy, oligarchy, anarchy, colonialism, and more! No matter what system of government we utilize, there’s corruption at every level. We just can’t seem to get ​any of them to work! No matter what your interests are, Earth is the place for you! Be sure not to miss these other attractions, for a limited time only: • • • • • • • • • •

Pizza Reddit Spelunking Art Pandas Literature Extreme Ironing Friendship Tom Hardy Music

• • • • • • • • • •

Chuck-E-Cheese Hugs The Lord of the Rings Dogs Ice cream Stickers Kung Fu Empathy Soap Carving Love

Welcome to Earth. Welcome to Fun. *We are currently working on an atmospheric upgrade in order to accommodate carbon dioxide breathing guests.


Breaking News


by Angela Randolph

You scream in Morse code to us, like bothersome grasshoppers croaking in Brioni silk ties As people we tickle ourselves with secret and hushed revelation “CNN reported Tuesday that the whistleblower’s legal counsel wrote to the Acting Director of National Intelligence to request specific guidance as to the appropriate security practices to permit a meeting, if needed, with the Members of the Intelligence Oversight Committees.” If you really want the people to run alongside the frantic and temperamental headline you’d elevate commonness for the common good you can’t turn the tide with “privileged communications” For now, we close our windows turn on our fans and try to get some sleep


by Emily Gist

The Gathering


Sam joined the mass of people before she saw the expensive outfits and advertising a slew of products: eyeplaza. People, young and old, all conglomerated in a color changing drinks, skin darkening and lightening hectic swarm. The Gathering ebbed and shifted like sprays, and height-modifying pills. Sam remained lost billions of plankton floating atop an ocean wave. The amongst the crowd until a large bell sounded and the plaza itself was entirely filled, straining to contain the mass, like a single macro-organism, pooled into the massive crowd. Finding no room, people leaked into the complex. narrow streets surrounding the plaza. A loud chatter, Upon entering the golden gates, the macro-organism like that of a swarm of locusts, emanated split apart instantly, as smaller and from all attending the event as they smaller units ran in separate directions. a large bell sounded and waited impatiently for the gargantuan, Most sprinted for the elevator that cut the mass, like a single locked gates to open. Sam sighed in through the center of the building’s spine macro-organism, pooled exasperation, the sound pushed away by that lifted at least thirty people at a time. into the complex the incessant chatter of the onslaught of Others pushed and shoved as they ran up people, and she seamlessly joined the the wide, spiral staircase that wrapped crowd. around the rim of the cylindrical building. Sam waited A fifty-story building stood over the massive for the elevator alongside a group of teenage girls, all crowd, blocking the measly sun as it stole everyone’s dressed in the same basic outfit (puffy skirts and shirts attention. Bright, colorful images slowly circled around with long sleeves delicately attached at the shoulders the outside of its shimmering panes, projecting the with strands of cloth) and entered the elevator as it same advertisements strewn around Sam’s street. The ringed them inside. Sam pressed the third-floor elevator ads depicted beautiful men and women adorned in button that lit up among the other fifty-or-so lit-up


buttons around it. The third floor housed the female products. Sam waited, tapping her foot impatiently and closing herself off from the rest of the people in the elevator to dissuade conversation. When the doors opened, Sam sauntered out, keeping herself purposefully apart from the crowd but watching intently as the other women sprinted towards their respective stores. Whole storefronts were reserved for nail polish, shoes, makeup, purses, body-enhancing products, and anything else a girl could want. After standing back, Sam took note of the shops that housed the most bizarre products. Over the course of three hours, she picked out the oddest puffy skirt, a long-sleeved shirt with a zebra design (the fashionable sleeves were just barely connected to the blouse), and some diamond-embedded cufflinks. As Sam carefully organized the objects in her bag, a loud, highpitched voice bubbled above the chatting shoppers. “Oh my Gathering! I absolutely adore your ankle bracelet!” Sam peered over her shoulder and saw another teenager, the same height as she and with the same hairstyle. However, this girl’s hair was blonde and inlaid with a blue stripe whereas Sam’s was brown and inlaid with a rainbow one (the more expensive kind).

“Thanks…” Sam said slowly. The other teen stood idly, a smile plastered on her face as if she was waiting for Sam to say something. There was a moment of awkward silence when Sam said, “Uh…I like your skin enhancement.” “Thanks!” the girl said giddily, twirling and admiring herself. I decided to mix things up a bit. Yesterday, pale was ‘in’, but today ‘the thing’ seems to be dark skin!” The girl looked up as if taking note of Sam for the first time. “Nice to meet you…?” “Sam” “I’m Trixie!” she exclaimed abruptly, and walked the other direction, almost robotic in her movements. When Trixie was gone, Sam rolled her eyes. Unlike her, I would never conform to the common ideals of beauty she thought acerbically, stowing away the same basic outfit that everyone else bought. Trixie skipped from shop to shop. Her mind, though numbed due to the constant suppression, offered quiet, muffled protests as Trixie picked out conventional outfits and vapidly talked to people, complimenting them and allowing them time to compliment her back. Eventually, Trixie grew disheartened by the plethora of products available only in her section and decided


to begin her journey back home. She placed herself in the elevator, purposefully shaking hands with everyone and introducing herself. While doing this, she prodded her exhausted mind to pick out details. She noticed a girl with bright green eyes and another girl with a violet stripe in her hair. Green eyes, violet stripe she thought to herself as the elevator descended. Green eyes, violet stripe. When the elevator glided to the bottom floor, Trixie walked off with the rest of the teenagers she’d chatted with. As she compared her purchases with the girl to her left, someone shoved into her right shoulder and Trixie briefly lost balance. She staggered several steps before quickly righting herself. As she regained her senses, Trixie scanned the crowd behind her for the person who bumped into her. As she searched the crowd, a young teenage man caught her eye. He was a tall, blond man with a brown leather jacket and black boots. She recognized his outfit and hairstyle as similar to those of the men in the ads strewn about her section of town, (the lower-class sector). The young man shifted his shoulder, glancing off to the side in either embarrassment or apathy. Trixie pulled her eyes away and turned her attention back to the exit. She started walking, but her mind

tugged at her attention and replayed images of beautiful women flirting with beautiful men in movies and TV shows. Trixie recalled her practices in front of the mirror; how she’d mimicked the facial expressions and gestures of similar actors, and despite herself she turned around to catch up to the young man. “A-Are you okay?” Trixie asked him as she caught her breath, consciously brushing her hair behind her ear. “Fine,” he said. “Thanks.” He continued walking back towards the elevator at a faster pace. Trixie matched his stride quickly. “What’s your name?” She asked. “John” he responded, without stopping. “John?” she asked, forcing a cute chuckle. “That’s funny. You have the same name as that male model.” John shrugged and stepped into the elevator. Trixie was slightly confused at his lack of enthusiasm but followed him in. She waited next to him as the elevator rose, purposefully allowing her arm to brush his. “Where are you going?” she asked him, keeping her face slightly turned away to perform shyness. John turned to her, an annoyed expression on his face. “Up.” Trixie laughed, filling the elevator with a bright, vibrant sound. “You’re funny. I meant which floor?”


“Which do you think?” he asked, staring straight would bring in more ladies, John picked the first one he forward as the door opened to the “Boy’s Floor.” John could find. He knew he couldn’t get away with buying stepped off. Trixie looked admiringly at the floor, and nothing, so he had to choose one. John purchased the once again had the strange sensation of wanting to belt and placed it in his bag. He followed his friends out explore it. With a strong will, she forced the feeling aside of the store. Outside the store, a poster of a famous male and stood stiffly. The door closed in slow motion and model wore the exact same belt John had unconsciously her mind muffled a cry when the doors painstakingly purchased. shut. As much as she wanted to explore it, she couldn’t The day crawled to an end. John and his friends had be seen in the boy section. Trixie quickly brought her gone to the watch store and the video game store. They mind back to the important matters, those involving all decided to leave The Gathering early and each began the cute boy. She grew disheartened. Why did he ignore their long walks home. John first followed them to her? She had done everything right. Was their houses, in the middle-class section she so strange that, even at her best, it As much as she wanted to of town. He waited for all of them to wasn’t possible? She looked down sadly, disappear inside their houses before he explore it, she couldn’t be her long hair hiding her face. I just need cautiously walked to his home in the poor seen in the boy section. more… She thought to herself. She then section of town. The ads that blinded the remembered what the other girls had city lighted John’s way as he navigated done to look so perfect. Green eyes, violet stripe. She back to his house. John chose to ignore the ads as thought while mouthing the mantra once more. background noise, but he still took notice. John kept to himself, merely following the motions. He went directly to the store with the belts, where he knew his friends would be waiting as they did at every Gathering. When he met up with them, they first began perusing the belts. As his friends debated which belt

The next day, Sam dressed in her basic outfit (the puffy skirt and the long-sleeved shirt), but this time, instead of dark skin, she decided to spray on extremely pale skin. Satisfied that she was not conforming, she exited her house. Trixie, when she awoke, remembered


to don her green eyes and violet stripe. She followed her usual routine; she looked in the mirror to check that everything looked perfect and normal and rehearsed her smiling and laughing. She knew this would allow for new compliments, which she would take to heart. John awoke and dove into the closet, throwing on some

torn jeans, a baggy shirt, and his new belt. When he left his house, he looked exactly like the male models along the street ads. They all left for The Gathering, the large building in the plaza, and waited for the golden gates to welcome them inside once again.


by Starr Osborne

Betrayal Conversations are prized possessions. If I could, I’d bottle them up place them on the shelf like fine china. Priceless possessions, pieces of everything we are everything that we will ever become. I only wish you wouldn’t gift them to others, as though you could take them back. I watch as they crack and rust, under outside interpretations. I want to lock our cabinet, fall victim to solitude, keep you, too, on those shelves. Perhaps them, they’ll remain priceless, a safety to myself. Can you promise when you hold each cup you’ll never share its ink? The printed flowers, careful cursive is of our own lovely making. Bless your mind over the wrath of my heart when I see someone tainting our pieces to complement her own excitement.



by Annie Grimes

Charlie’s Mind(s)

Every Sunday morning Cathy does the laundry, and every Sunday morning her son can’t find his socks. “Mom!” Charlie screams from his upstairs bedroom, “where is my other Spiderman sock?” “I told you that when you take them off you should put them in the hamper right away, that way you don’t lose them. Right?” “Where is it?” Charlie asks again. Cathy sighs as she regularly does when her son ignores her advice. “What’s wrong honey?” John asks, strolling into the kitchen and taking a swig from the coffee she had waiting for him. His presence suffocates the room, and Cathy has to work to fill her lungs with a reply. “Nothing,” she mumbles, continuing to fold her husband’s white buttondowns. Bentely jumps on Cathy’s legs, ripping her from her concentration. Ever since Charlie forced him to the top of the tree in their backyard, he hasn’t quite been the same puppy they bought 3 years ago. The incident left him knocked out cold for a couple of hours afterward,


and when he woke up, he was paranoid. Even now, one year later, he barks at walls and gets startled at silence, and perhaps most worrisome, every time Charlie comes within his view, he whimpers and runs away with his tail between his legs. “It’s clearly not nothing,” John prods, bringing his hand to cup Cathy’s chin. She curls her lips up begrudgingly and ducks out of his grasp. “Well—” “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. I have a meeting with Mr. Monroe today. He’s narrowing down candidates for Branch Manager. I have a feeling it’s good news.” “That means we’d have to move to Maryland?” Cathy asks, tossing one of his shirts to the side. She tries to casually state the question, but she can’t hide the disappointment in her voice. Staying with John in Colorado was one thing but picking up and moving halfway across the country sounded more permanent somehow. She felt selfish for wanting to stay behind, for potentially agreeing to put Charlie in a 2,000-mile tug of war, but John doesn’t know


what happened with Bentley last year, and Cathy feared he scoffs, nonchalantly leaned against the pristine he wouldn’t be caring enough to Charlie if he found out. granite of the countertops. She needed to be with her son every single day. Cathy glances in the hamper and spots the sleeve “Yeah, isn’t it great. I’d be getting a raise, we could poking out from beneath the pile. Her heart falls from get an even bigger house,” John says, waving his arms to her chest and rolls like a stone along the tile. Her late signify the already harrowing space of their two-story bedtime last night—staying up with Charlie during home. his night terrors and cleaning up after John and his The floors transitioned seamlessly from the marble colleagues—must have left her drowsier than she tile that adorned the kitchen to the cherry hardwood realized. She never made mistakes like this. in the living room, the full-length windows “I put it in the wash.” allowing the summer sun to fill every corner Sometimes, she As Cathy retrieves the blazer her hand of the house with light. The open floor plan shakes, causing the fabric to sway back and can’t help but think made Cathy feel small, as if she could get forth. Charlie was never lost in the space she was supposed to feel John storms toward her, dropping his supposed to exist. comfortable in. She grew up in a one-story mug, which shatters against the ground. box with her mom and sister, and now her Cathy snaps her eyes up and spots Charlie. bedroom was almost as big as their entire house was. He is peering into the kitchen from behind the door After folding a few more garments, Cathy hears her frame, his eyes burning a hole through John’s scalp. Fear son’s footsteps patting down the staircase. Bentley leaves washes over her features and she snaps her fingers in her side and scratches in terror at the back door. As Charlie’s direction. He doesn’t budge. Cathy turns to let him out, John’s voice cuts through the Sometimes she can’t help but think that Charlie was breeze. never supposed to exist. That he was the product of two “Where’s my blazer?” people who were never meant to have a kid together. It “Which one?” was the only way she could explain away the things he “What do you mean which one? My father’s old one,” could do.


“I’m sure it’s fine,” Cathy says. room, Charlie grabs his exposed forearm. The contact Charlie lifts his hand and begins to stalk toward John. sends a shock through John’s flesh and he stumbles back Cathy’s eyes plead with him to drop it, and he scurries a few feet, crashing against the dryer. Cathy is already into the laundry room with a scowl. on her knees, carefully wiping up the coffee and glass. “You know this is hand wash only!” John yells. Wrapped in her own thoughts, she doesn’t notice the He brings the silky fabric from the 60s to his eyes, noise from the other room, or that John is crying into skimming every thread for signs of damage. his hands, or that Charlie is behind him with his head “I’m sure—” pressed to his palms. “Look!” John interrupts, shoving the blazer in Cathy’s “When I hear you guys from my room, I get scared,” face so it’s just inches from her eyes. She John says. He turns toward Cathy with an spots a small tear on the cuff. It could’ve urgency in his posture, like he has been “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, been from the washer. It could’ve been waiting for a long time to say it. Or maybe I tried to control it. I there for years. like he had finally found a way for her to only do it to squirrels “I can sew—” and birds like you said.” listen. “You can’t fix this,” John yells. “Sometimes I sit just outside the door He stomps in the laundry room and to make sure you’re okay, but when you’re tears another blazer from the rack, its hanger bouncing not I don’t know what to do.” noisily upon impact with the ground. Charlie bends Cathy drops the rag and meets her husband’s eyes. down to pick it up, but John swats his hand away, leaving His expression is panicked, but his face is more youthful a red mark across his son’s skin. With each passing than it has been in years. Realization washes over her, second anger boils hotter inside John’s veins, as if his and she turns her gaze toward her son. As Charlie rises tolerance threshold had been passed earlier than most and begins to walk toward the kitchen, so too does John, days. his feet landing a few tiles ahead of his son’s. With his fist clenched around the blazer, he swivels “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I tried to control it. I only do it on his feet toward Cathy. Before John can leave the to squirrels and birds like you said,” John says, his voice


getting higher with each word. He steps toward Cathy softly, lighter than his shoes have ever landed in his house. “But it just builds up inside of me, bigger and bigger, and I have to let it go somewhere,” John says, “and he makes me so mad.” He reaches his hand toward Cathy’s face and she flinches, but instead of making contact he rests his head on her chest and wraps his arms around her neck. When he brings his knees up, Cathy’s arms slide under him and his weight feels familiar. Charlie sighs a question into the tile and John’s breath slides across Cathy’s cheek. “What are we going to do now?” “I don’t know,” Cathy replies, her vision blurry and wet. As she lifts her head, Charlie rises from the floor, causing her arms to buckle toward the ground, her husband’s returned weight pressed over them like cement. She pulls herself free and John’s body rolls limply over the glass and coffee he spilled earlier, his arms askew to either side. His mouth hung open with unfinished words. She’s seen him in this position many times, when she would drag him to bed and flick off the lights. Sometimes she would leave immediately, but

other nights she would stay and look down at him; Look down at the man she once knew. When he was asleep, he looked young again. When he was asleep, she forgave him. Now when she looked at him, all she could see was her son. John would wake up soon, just like Bentley had, and Cathy decided that she didn’t want to be here when he did. “Mom?” Charlie asks, “Can we go now?” Cathy stands, her knees shaky. She wraps her arms around John’s torso and drags him to the recliner, laying his body against the leather backing. After all he has done, she can’t seem to leave him in the position he often left her: on the floor, motionless. She gives one last look to John then grabs Charlie’s outstretched hand, his little fingers sliding through hers. “Yeah,” she says. “We can go.”


by Arjun Saatia




by Angela Randolph



When like a whirlwind he came. Eyes silent and listening, voice like my own echo surprising me. “Hey so uh, I was wondering if-- you wanted to go get coffee sometime?” “If you want to open the door to my heart, you’re gonna first find its sheltering place. Where flinching memories built brick refuge within. Like wounds that scab over to protect the blood flow. And If somehow you get through, you’re gonna need to run fast. Zipping past misconceived notions, flesh sizzling fear, hurdling over treacherous pits of hopelessness. You’re gonna need to fight. With soft words and a safe spirit. Shrewdly with sharp wisdom and potent precision. If by then you are tired, and you should be, you’ll see steps and a wooden door. You’ll hear me exhaling. Then you’ll knock and wait.”


by Annie Grimes

Fictional Existence


I save everything for another day, until my heart boils over in my chest and insecurity cascades from my rib cage. I hide everything under my tongue until it’s 3 a.m., my mother asleep miles away, until I call her crying because my lungs are so full of the air I took in months ago that I can’t breathe anymore. I submerge my worries under smiles until they get denatured, until they pry my teeth open for light, until they are about more than what happened yesterday, until they are an amalgamation of my entire life. During the conversation, I realized that the failed assignment was just a catalyst, that my tears were a well of the decade I spent in front of the mirror constructing a corset out of my hands, I spent in novels fantasizing about the love within their pages, I spent in headphones imagining the lyrics were written for me, I spent in the shower pretending the water could wash my skin down the drain. Being a woman, I wonder if I will always feel inadequate. If I will always press my emotions to my feet and drag my limbs through doorways and duck my head at men’s eyes. No pair has seen me in the way that romance novelists write.


Disintegrate by Lilah Chesne-Williams