2020 Cotton Alley Writers' Review

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AWA R D S & C O N T E N T S 4 Letter from the Board President 1st * 2nd 6 3rd 16 HM 26 HM 36 1st 2nd 3rd HM HM

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A D U LT S HO RT STORY Joey’s Gift by Joseph C. Shields Melting by Julia Brietkreutz The Ground Before Zero by Craig S. Faris Sugar Magnolia by Susan Demchak Call Me Old-Fashioned by Leslie A. Patterson A D U LT P O E TRY What We Got to Be Scared Of by Jessica Mueller Old Frog by Bonnie Stanard A Real Life by Dawn Woods I Ran My Cursor Over Your Name by John M. Starino Cleaning House by Joy Colter

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YO U TH S HO RT STORY Alien Brain, Human Heart: My Life with Eddie Venus | Excerpts from the Entirely True Memoir of Astrid Doyle by Jessica Branham Companions by Emily Rushing Fish by Megan Andrews Control by Layla Brindisi Tales from Little Man Island by Ashley Donaldson

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YO U TH P O E TRY Whatever Happened to Yesteryear by Margaret L. Rosinski In His Accord by Madeleine Jones The Death of George Floyd by Jaelyn LaSalle Foster To All the Bullies by Lilliana Albert Moments by Harlen Rembert

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* Not Included The Arts Council thanks the Perihelion Book Club for underwriting the awards for the 17th Annual Literary Competition.



Welcome to the 7th volume of the Cotton Alley Writers’ Review. As we publish this edition of our journal that features the award-winning short stories and poetry from the 17th Annual Literary Competition and the 9th Annual Youth Literary Competition, we are facing the 8th month of our new normal. An unprecedented time for most in our community, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a profound moment that has altered our reality in ways that we are still discovering. "Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of chaos, and sometimes in the middle of chaos, you find yourself." — Boonaa Mohammed, spoken-word poet We now find ourselves living more simply. We live with intention and take measured risks. We have given ourselves permission to slow down, look inward, and reassess how we live our dayto-day lives. Many have turned to writing to retain or discover their sense of self. The creativity contained within the pages of the 2020 Cotton Alley Writers’ Review reflects these struggles and metamorphoses faced by the artists and society today. The Arts Council would like to thank the Perehilion Book Club, the jury, staff, and to all those who submitted to this year’s competitions. We hope you enjoy the works contained within the 2020 Cotton Alley Writers’ Review. Priscilla Nealy Arts Council of York County Board President


The Cotton Alley Writers’ Review is an independently published annual journal founded in 2014 by the Arts Council of York County. The winning poems and short stories from the Arts Council’s Annual Literary Competitions comprise the writings contained within.





Melting by Julia Breitkreutz

Her mother scrutinized the contents of the fridge, throwing away the package of sliced ham speckled in mold and scanning expiration dates on yogurt cups. Meanwhile, Martha sifted through the mail that lay scattered on their small kitchen table. Red, angry letters printed across the folded-up catalog for Goodman’s Furniture declaring EVERYTHING MUST GO, a warning from Real Simple magazine informing her mother that her six-month subscription would be ending soon. Looming amongst the flashy advertisements and coupon deals, the formal white envelopes of the hospital bills grabbed Martha’s attention. “He got into the ice cream again?” she asked Martha as she held up a carton of mint chocolate chip, the lid missing from it and the sides bent inwards, as if someone had tried to squeeze out the contents. “I guess so,” Martha replied, organizing the mail into three neat piles in front of her — urgent, semi-urgent, and junk. Everything in her life had turned into neat stacks. The laundry in the hallway, the notes on her desk, the wrinkled bills in her top dresser drawer, the dishes in the sink. They never seemed to shrink or grow taller, but rather stood stagnant, taunting Martha. “You have to keep a better eye on him, Mar. The doctor said we need to wean him off the sugary food.” She went to the sink and rinsed out the sad remains of the carton. “Okay,” Martha said. “And where the hell are all the bowls?” Her mother searched the cheap, wood-laminate kitchen cabinets in a frenzied manner, taking out the plastic plates and cups, determined to find bowls that weren’t there. “Mama.” Martha got up and approached her mother. She placed her hands on her bony shoulders, hidden beneath the green sweater, and pulled her away from the cabinets. “The bowls are in G’s room. He has been taking them, okay? I’ll grab them later.” She stared at her mother, who had her wet hair wrapped up in a faded purple towel. Underneath the harsh fluorescent light of the kitchen and with her face clean of makeup so early in the morning — her thinning eyebrows almost white above her sunken eyes — Martha tried to recall a time when her mother had not been in a hurry. In the creases of her mother’s pale skin, Martha saw the worries of the past few years accumulated and wished she could wipe them all away. A door creaked open and the slow shuffling of slippers making their way across the hallway carpet followed. Martha peeled her hands away from her mother’s shoulders and reached for the coffee pot on the counter. She rinsed it out with warm water as her mother ventured into the dimly lit hallway. “Morning, Dad. Mar is making you some coffee now. Doesn’t that sound good?” her mother said in a low, steady voice. Martha measured out the coffee grounds, keeping her eyes


trained on the heaping tablespoons she dumped into the machine, waiting for the familiar outburst to happen. None came. Still, she held her breath as the smell of brewing coffee permeated the space of the small kitchen. He shuffled in, wearing his blue bathrobe splayed open at the front. They could not find the belt for it anywhere. Guided by his daughter to the table, G stared down at her hand on his right arm and swatted it away. Martha strode towards him with a big mug that had an image of Garfield printed on it. The cat was grinning as he held a cup of steaming coffee in his paws. Sometimes, he would reach for the mug as Martha approached him, but today he stared at the freezer door, not glancing up at his granddaughter at all. “Who drinks coffee in the evening? I want ice cream,” he said, sliding the mug away from him as she set it down. He looked at Garfield with disgust, his droopy lips shaking as he mumbled to himself. “Do you want some scrambled eggs? Or how about a bagel?” her mother asked as she leaned in towards G and placed her thin hand on the back of his own. Martha winced as the shouting began. “I want my damn ice cream! Now get your hands off me, woman.” He pushed the wooden chair back and stood up. Martha, who had been leaning against the counter with her cup of coffee, strode towards him as she noticed him wobble. His whole body trembled. G looked down at the mug, towards his daughter, and back towards his mug. After a few moments, during which the shaking subsided, he sat back down and cradled the mug with both hands. He sat staring at the yellowing floral wallpaper on the opposite wall, the unreachable thoughts whirring around inside of his mind. They all sat in silence with their coffees in their hands. It could have been worse. It had been worse. A mug full of hot coffee could have been thrown, skin could have been scratched, the yelling could have escalated and brought a startled neighbor to their doorstep. Out of the corner of her eye, Martha watched her grandpa’s shaking hands as he wrapped them around the mug. The hands that once pushed her on the tire swing hanging from the maple tree in the backyard. He would chuckle as she screamed through the air to him, “Higher, G! I want to fly!” The firm hands that used to take hold of Martha’s hand as he walked her to elementary school, pressing three tight squeezes into her small one at the front office, a silent reassurance given to her that served as a promise of his return at the end of the school day. The same hands she used to watch flip the pages of the Sunday paper as she ate a bowl of Fruit Loops, waiting eagerly for him to lay the paper down between them so they could read the comic section together. These hands that she once believed could hold anything now trembled — purple veins pulsing underneath the papery skin — as he brought the mug to his droopy lips.

*** Martha squinted at the wrinkled sticky note as she pushed the cart down the frozen

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food aisle of Walmart, attempting to decipher her mother’s small, hurried handwriting. Except for one large woman on an electric scooter who wore a brown t-shirt with a realistic image of a chihuahua printed across it, the aisle was deserted. The scooter woman’s thick, white ankles were exposed and as she glided by with a wide smile across her round face, Martha could not help but notice how petite her feet looked and found herself fascinated by the anatomy of this woman. The low hum of the scooter carrying the woman down the expansive concrete floor and towards the next aisle grew fainter until Martha stood alone. At the frozen dinner section, Martha piled her cart with Hungry-Man meals, a Buy 2 get 3 FREE deal happening. She selected some with chicken tenders and others with the Salisbury steak, the kind that always reminded her of the cafeteria food she used to eat in elementary school. At first, Martha had disregarded her mother’s warning and let G prepare his HungryMan meals by himself. She showed him where they were in the freezer and gave him a quick tutorial on how to use the microwave. G had studied his granddaughter with wide eyes as she cut the slits in the plastic, placed the meal in the microwave, and pressed the buttons. Then one afternoon, Martha peered in his room and saw him in his bed with a frozen Hungry-Man meal in his lap. She watched, with a mixture of fascination and horror, as he tore off the plastic covering and proceeded to consume the uncooked meal. Martha had silently crept to her bedroom, shut the door behind her, and slid to the ground. The ugly crunch of her G biting into the frozen steak rung in her ears and nauseated her. Since then, Martha or her mother had been preparing the meals for him and bringing them to his room. Twenty meals were piled high and divided into neat stacks in the shopping cart. As Martha closed the freezer door and pushed the cart forward, she noticed a woman bending down in a blue work vest, adjusting a bottom row of items near the frozen breakfast food section. Behind the glass freezer door, Martha glimpsed the thick, gold hoop earrings and the line of smaller studs snaking up her ears. The woman, with her winged eyeliner, stood up and closed the door, wiping the backs of her hands on her khaki pants. She turned to her own cart, piled with frozen pizzas and Stouffer meals that needed to be put on display, and glanced at Martha. “Martha?” she said, tilting her head to the side as she approached Martha. She gave a wide grin that revealed a prominent gap between her two front teeth. “Oh my god, how are you?” Martha stepped to the front of her cart in an attempt to cover the piles of Hungry-Man and tried to recall the name of this girl from her past as she stood there. “God - it’s been like, I don’t know, a year? Whatcha been up to?” The girl’s deep, raspy voice and the way she smacked her gum as she spoke reminded Martha of her name — Luna. They were both in American Government with Mr. Myers during their senior year. Almost every day, Luna would arrive to class a few minutes late and would have to go to the front office to get a pass, or else Mr. Myers would not open the door for her. Luna would return with the pass and thump her bookbag down at the desk next to Martha, smacking her gum

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as he lectured in his dull, monotone voice about the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens. She would talk to Martha in loud whispers, laughing in her raspy way whenever Martha said something remotely funny. When Mr. Meyers yelled at her for disrupting the class, Luna would stare at the wall behind him until his shouting gradually faded out. Still smacking her gum, she would smile at Martha when the class was dismissed. In the hallway outside of Mr. Meyers classroom, Martha used to marvel at how Luna could drift towards a group of people and laugh amongst them with such ease. She wondered what it must be like to be able to carry oneself through life like Luna did. “Yeah, almost a year.” Martha smiled, still standing in front of her cart. “Most people I see from high school, I want to forget about, ya know? But you were always cool, I remember.” Luna smacked her gum as she adjusted her thick, brown ponytail. “Yeah, I feel that. I don’t really run into people from then, though,” Martha said. “Really? I see people all the time. I guess that’s what I signed up for, getting a job here and all,” Luna said, staring at a point beyond Martha’s — lost in thought. “So, what do you do now?” she asked, returning her gaze to Martha. “Not much, really. Still with my mom, just helping to take care of my grandpa.” “Oh yeah? That’s nice.” Luna glanced at the cart behind Martha and then back at her. “Hungry?” she asked with a playful smile, adding, “I’m just messing with ya.” Martha’s felt her face turn warm and she gave a short, awkward laugh. The silence stretched between them. “I better get back to work,” Luna said, walked towards her cart and then turned back to Martha. “Hey, me and some friends are getting together tonight, if you want to join. It’s at my boyfriend’s apartment.You should totally come. I’ll give you my number.” Luna reached for her phone in her back pocket and passed it over to Martha, who typed in her number. “Thanks, I’ll try to make it,” Martha said, and she meant it. *** Martha arranged the last frozen meals into the crowded freezer, hiding a carton of mint chocolate chip behind boxes of Hungry-Man. When she closed the door, Martha noticed the torn piece of yellow notepad paper stuck between an old crayon drawing of a purple giraffe and a stick figure one above which “G and Me” was written in clumsy green letters. On the notepad paper, Martha recognized her mother’s handwriting. Covering for Becca tonight. Be back late. Money on counter for pizza. No sugars for G. An anger rose within her as she read the note over for the third time. She imagined her mother hastily tying her black waitress apron around her thin waist, twisting her tangled hair into a bun, and scribbling the note as an afterthought. The sliver of hope that had begun to take form inside of Martha upon talking to Luna had been stolen away from her in the span of half an hour by a situation which she had grown all too familiar with. In a swift movement, she moved towards the table and scattered the neat piles of mail she had made that morning. With clumsy

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hands, Martha ripped up the envelopes and shoved them all into the overflowing trash can, burying them underneath take-out boxes and coffee grounds. In her room, Martha threw herself face down into the bed and lay there, unmoving, for some time. Her phone buzzed and she dug it out from her jean pocket. Hey.The address is 136 Sparrow Dr. Apt. 24. See u @8. Xo, Luna Martha slid her phone to the edge of her bed and stared up at the popcorn ceiling. She peered at the small holes where she had pinned up a map of the world that her G had found inside of a magazine and given to her when she was in the fifth-grade. She remembered how he had pushed it across the kitchen table towards her during breakfast one morning so many years ago. A smile had formed on his lips as he observed her unfold it. Before she hung it up, Martha had put star stickers on all the places she wanted to go, decorating various places on almost every continent with them. After her mother had tucked her in at night, Martha would take out a flashlight she kept on her bedside table and point it up at the map — gazing at the stars with a deep longing — until her eyes grew heavy with sleep. Martha had ripped it down sometime in high school, but that longing to be somewhere far away from all that she knew never went away. A low groan from G’s bedroom led Martha to peek her head into his dark room. Sunlight streamed in through a thin crack in the heavy curtains, creating a diagonal line of light across the room. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, Martha noticed the scattered bowls, spoons sticky with week-old ice cream. “G?” Martha used her phone’s screen for light as she drew near the figure laying underneath the thick quilt. The floor was scattered with pages torn out of old editions of National Geographic magazines. As she stepped over the magazines, Martha recalled the hours spent pouring over those articles with her G when she was a young girl. For thirty-five years — right up until the sickness had begun to deteriorate his mind — G had worked as a security guard at the local hospital. At the end of every month, he would bring home a stack of expired National Geographic magazines that he had grabbed from the tables in the waiting room. Their covers were often torn and stained from the many waiting hands that had flipped through them. He had accumulated an impressive collection from this practice. In the evenings after they had eaten dinner, Martha and G would sit together on the living room couch. As G read to her the articles that revealed new discoveries about ancient civilizations, Martha would lean her small body against his arm and peer excitedly at the pictures. Sometimes, Martha would read the captions printed under the pictures of the various wonders of the natural world or the intriguing customs of distant cultures. “G, how many places are there in the world?” “That’s a funny question, Mar,” he had said, stretching his tired feet on the coffee table in front of them. “More than one person can visit in a lifetime, I’ll tell you that.” “I am going to go to all the places and wear other clothes and eat all the weird foods when I’m grown-up. Then, I’ll come back with all these pictures for magazines to use.”

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With his head leaned back against the couch cushion, Martha remembered how the skin around his blue eyes crinkled as he smiled at her. Near the side of the bed, there stood an old Victorian style cast-iron safe about two feet high that seemed out of place in his messy room. Inside of the safe G had stored an array of legal documents which he collected over the years. He had not been able to get into it for some time, having forgotten the combination lock’s password, much to the dismay of Martha’s mother. An assortment of pants and dirty socks lay piled in a stack on the foot of his bed. Amongst the array of drool stained pillows, Martha located her G’s face. His thick lips hung open and a low, squeaking noise emanated from him. His thin hands rested on top of a magazine flipped open to a section about tree frogs in the Amazon. With delicate hands, Martha picked up the bowls from around the room, careful to avoid stepping on the magazines. When she left his room, Martha set the small digital timer that sat by the coffee machine for two hours, knowing that she would need a reminder to wake G up and prepare his HungryMan dinner later. As she began scrubbing the ice cream bowls with scalding water, Martha felt the tears coming and scrubbed harder, her hands turning a bright red. She finished the dishes and wiped her face with a paper towel before reaching for her phone on the counter, its screen lit up with a message from Luna. Are u coming? Can u bring some food maybe? As she read the text, Martha could hear Luna’s raspy laughter and imagined a group of people sitting around a living room in a dingy apartment, drinking beers and perhaps smoking weed, herself sitting among them, unsure of how to participate, yet comfortable all the same. The crisp twenty-dollar bill lay untouched on the table. Martha grabbed her hoodie, tucked the bill inside her back pocket, snatched up the keys to G’s old 1997 Dodge Ram they used to haul their garbage to the dump with, and left without glancing back. *** “There you are!” Luna stood in the doorway, holding a beer in one hand and taking the pizza boxes from Martha’s hands with her free one. In the carpeted foyer of the apartment, Martha slid off her sneakers and followed Luna into the kitchen, where empty Red Bulls and open chip bags lay scattered on the small island in the middle. A line of dead succulents stood in a neat row on the windowsill above the kitchen sink that overlooked the darkening parking lot below. “Oh, yum, you got the meat-lover’s pizza. My favorite.” Luna placed the pizza boxes down on the island, throwing away empty cans and stray napkins to make room. “Yeah, I thought cheese and meat-lovers was a safe way to go.” Martha smiled; her hands hidden in the pocket of her hoodie. “Grab anything you like. There are beers and some Coke in the fridge. I’m going to go tell the guys that the pizza is here.” Luna wandered through the door on the other side of the island, where the muffled sound of laughter spilled from. Martha grabbed a red cup from a stack by the

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pizza and filled it with water from the sink. The sound of footsteps approaching made Martha stiffen and lean, unnaturally, against the countertop as Luna came back, a group of four guys and one girl following behind her. “This is Martha, everyone.” She gestured towards her and the others gave a nod of acknowledgement or a small wave before surrounding the pizza. Luna waved Martha towards her. “We all need to thank Martha for the pizza since none of y'all cheap asses wanted to bring anything!” Luna put her arm around Martha’s shoulders and pressed her close. The others lifted their Red Bulls or beers in gratitude, one guy passing her a large pizza slice on a plate, smiling at her as he took a swig of beer. They made their way back into the living room, where dark blue shades were drawn over the windows and an episode of Rick and Morty played on the flat-screen opposite a cracked leather couch and a big, burgundy bean bag. A small coffee table stood in front of the couch, on which there were two bongs — one with an intricate green, floral pattern on the glass and another clear one with brown residue collected on the inside — standing like trophies amongst the empty Red Bulls and greasy napkins. Martha sat down between Luna and a guy named Marc on the cracked couch. At first, she held her body close by pressing her knees together and leaving her hands crammed in the warmth of her hoodie pocket. The haze obscuring the faces of the strangers scattered around the dim room and the remarkable softness of the couch took hold of her, however, and soon Martha’s limbs released their tension as she began to feel at ease. “You smoke?” A guy, Eric, who wore a snapback with a cosmic design on it, asked Martha. “Yeah, sometimes,” she said. Her response wasn’t a complete lie. She had smoked once in the tenth grade, at a concert she attended with Samantha — her former neighbor — who happened to have an extra ticket. She had told Martha she didn’t want to let it go to waste. They had met up with some of Samantha’s friends from school and smoked in the backseat of a car before entering the venue to listen to a band Martha hadn’t heard of. Smashed between sweaty strangers, Martha soon found herself separated from Samantha and the others. She had peeled away from the mass of bodies and went outside to wait by the car. The high dissipated as the muffled sounds of cheering from inside reached her while the sky darkened. “Hell yeah, here.” Eric passed Martha the dirty bong and she balanced it carefully in her lap. She felt Eric’s eyes on her and as she reached for the lighter on the coffee table, the sound of high-pitched dings coming from the microwave in the kitchen seized Martha’s attention. Her mouth felt dry and her heart pounded in her ears. Martha watched as Luna jumped up off the couch and glided towards the kitchen. She imagined the beeping sound of the timer she had set hours ago filling the empty house and envisioned a disoriented G stumbling about in the darkness. Luna returned, carrying a bag of popcorn delicately between two fingers, and collapsed into the cushions once more.

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Martha glanced back at Eric and observed his glazed over eyes. He gave her a toothy, far away smile. The dings were over yet they still resonated in Martha’s head. She wanted to rid herself of the noise and wanted to smile like Eric was. Martha sat up straight and grabbed the lighter, pushing the thought of G into the back of her mind as she lit up the bong. She took an ambitious hit that ended in a bout of uncontrollable coughing. As her eyes watered, she felt Marc pat her back. Luna passed her a cup of soda and she drank the warm liquid in one gulp. “Damn girl, that was one badass hit,” Eric said, still smiling at Martha as she passed the bong back to him. And then Martha sunk into the leather couch, gazed up at the brown stained ceiling and discovered that she was unable to detach her limbs from the couch. Her head felt heavy as she turned to face Marc. She took in all the details of his face — the dents on his cheeks serving as the remains of a battle with acne, the thick eyebrows above his heavy eyelids, and the thin lips that she studied with intensity as he asked her a question. His voice seemed to be coming from somewhere far away. She stared at his lips — the ones that seemed to be forming words which crawled towards her ears at a sluggish pace — for some time before turning her attention to the TV, a motion which made the room and all its contents blur into one bleak image. Only when her eyes were focused on the cartoon characters did the slow-moving voices begin to reach her. “She’s really gone,” Eric said, taking another hit of the bong. The smoke from his exhale danced over the bright TV screen and Martha followed its movement up into the ceiling, where the fan dissipated the smoke until there was nothing left. “Where did it go?” She gazed down at Eric, her hand unglued itself from the leather and pointed to the ceiling. “Where did what go?” Luna leaned towards Martha, a smile on her lips. “The smoke. Where does it go?” “Where does the smoke go, Eric? Do you know?” Luna asked him, leaning back into the couch cushion and placing her bare feet on the ledge of the coffee table. “I’m not sure where it goes.” He gazed at Martha and offered her the bong again. “I’ll pass.” Martha melted back into the couch and began to laugh. Starting as a small giggle, it gradually escalated into a loud sound, forming deep within her so that she soon found it impossible to control or stop. The others had joined in and the dark living room filled with the warmth of their laughter producing one big sound that made Martha feel even lighter. As the night dragged on and the weed ran out, Martha found herself laying on the crumb-laden carpet, her long hair fanned out a foot away from Marc’s head. “Would you rather,” Marc began his next question, “Be chased by a swarm of bees or a swarm of toddlers?” “Bees, of course. How about you?” Martha asked back, closing her eyes. “Toddlers. I’m allergic to bees.”

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“Oh. That makes sense then.” She opened her eyes and turned to look at Marc. He was staring up at the ceiling, his hands folded behind his head. “Where would you be if you weren’t here?” “I don’t know. Probably at work or at home. How about you?” “Nowhere. I don’t know.” She turned her attention back to the ceiling, unsatisfied. The high had begun to fade the longer they talked. The crevices in Marc’s face that had seemed intriguing earlier on now appeared harsh and ugly. His gestures — the way he stared so long at nothing — all of his movements bored her. As she lay there, the realization that they were all stuck dawned on Martha. The vastness of the world that existed beyond this town could not be obtained by her or anyone around her. The glossy magazine pictures she had poured over with G many years back, the holes in her bedroom ceiling where the map used to hang, and the ever-present longing to leave this place — these images danced through Martha’s mind as she stared up at the ceiling in the dingy apartment. She felt the weight of these recollections and their impossible promises like a rock inside of her, pressing her down into the dirty carpet. While the last remains of the weed smoke lingered around the dark objects and bleak faces of the inhabitants of the living room, the fog clouding Martha’s thoughts dispersed. A sudden terror seized her body when her mind conjured up the images that the weed had helped to push away. Martha was shaking as she pushed herself up off the dirty ground and pressed her palms hard against her temples. An image of G — trembling in his bed, calling out to someone for help, asking for his food — had moved to the forefront of her mind. She pictured him getting out of bed and shuffling towards the kitchen, only to forget why he’d gone in there. The thoughts grew more harrowing the longer Martha sat there and so she stood up quickly to try and stop them. “Hey, are you good?” Marc asked. “No,” Martha replied, without glancing down at him. She made her way towards the kitchen, stepping over an empty pizza box and a pair of outstretched legs. She did not look back as she stumbled out of the dark living room and into the brightness of the white kitchen. After splashing cold water on her face at the sink, Martha left the apartment, the cold air awakening all her senses and brushing away the last traces of her high. *** The beeping screamed at Martha when she entered the house — a sharp, consistent shriek that penetrated the darkness. The freezer stood ajar, a rectangle of light revealing boxes of Hungry-Man meals scattered on the tile floor. Martha drifted through the darkness towards the timer, gliding her hand on the cold countertop, the shrill beeping nagging her on. After shutting off the timer, Martha kneeled among the strewn meals and picked them up — the boxes soggy. Her hands shook as she pushed them back into the freezer, the terror

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causing a tightness in her chest to form as she entered the hallway. Pressing her hands against the wall to steady herself, Martha made her way to the open doorway of G’s bedroom. A thick liquid composed of a dark red and light green color leaked over the magazines and towards her. Martha’s eyes followed this trail to the cast-iron safe, where the dark figure of her G leaned against. His pale legs splayed out in front of him and his hands lay concealed inside of a container she could not make out from her position at the door. She flicked on the light switch and stood still — taking in the scene as if she were observing animals at a zoo from behind a thick sheet of glass. The papery skin above his right eye had been ripped open when he tumbled down and smashed into the corner of the cast-iron safe. Martha imagined the falling as a slow movement, envisioned his thin arms flailing in slow circular motions. She felt her own blood move slowly through her veins as she stared at the dark, red liquid that stilled oozed out from the gash. In the light, she saw that the container cradled in his lap was the mint chocolate chip carton she had bought earlier that day. His crooked fingers were covered in the melted ice cream. Martha watched as her G scooped up the milky mess and brought it — with trembling fingers — towards his parted lips. Unaware of Martha’s presence, he continued the process of shoveling the minty sweetness into his blood-stained mouth. She stood there for a few moments — transfixed by the movement of the sticky substance as it snaked down the sleeve of her G’s blue robe. And then Martha backed out of the room. She kept her eyes trained on her G, scared that if she looked away, he would shuffle towards her and drag her down with him into the melted ice cream and blood pooling beneath him. When she felt her back hit the wall of the hallway, Martha turned and ran.

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The Ground Before Zero by Craig S. Faris

May 2006 My wife, Beth, was driving as we neared the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge upper roadway that crossed the East River. Just prior to reaching the first tower, I caught my first clear view of lower Manhattan’s financial district where only five years earlier had stood the twin towers of the World Trade Centers. Once again, as it had so many times, my mind drifted back to that crystal clear September morning. Standing before my desk on the eighty-fifth floor of the South Tower, looking out towards the Southeast at the shape of a jet airliner, its left wing tipped down in a slow arch as it began its final approach directly towards our building. Seeing it come right at us, growing larger and larger, and then that terrible ripping sound, explosion, and searing heat of the fireball. “Why you?” Beth said, snapping me out of my trance. “Did you even know this person?” “No, not really,” I said glancing down at the summons lying in my lap. Other than basic details, for years I had remained virtually silent on what happened that morning in the South Tower. But now I needed to picture it once again in my mind, since my account would surely be required if I needed to testify. Our relationship had improved greatly since both Beth and I realized how close we came to losing each other. But now, due to this summons to appear before an arbitration hearing, all of those terrible memories came flooding back. Beth knew that I didn’t like to talk about it, and for the most part, she understood. * * * 9/11/2001 The alarm that morning woke me from my dream at the worst possible moment. I rolled against my wife’s back and reached for the snooze button. The clock displayed 5:01 a.m. I was already running late and needed to leave the house in twenty-six minutes, to catch my train. It was Tuesday, not even the middle of the week yet. Beth murmured something. “I’m late,” I said. “Go back to sleep.” My wife of eight years was dressed in flannel pajamas from neck to ankle. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen her completely naked, but as a full-time mother of two, most days we were just too tired for romance. “Be sure to kiss the kids before leaving,” she said. “Ok,” I replied from the bathroom door. “Steve,” she added, “it’s important to them.” “Okay!” I closed the door and switched on the light. The shower was cold, but it had the desired effect of clearing my head. I tried to remember the dream, where I had been sitting at a


bar with that pretty blonde from work. I couldn’t remember her name, but our knees had been touching when she had leaned over to whisper in my ear Let’s get a room. That’s when the alarm had gone off. Just my luck, I thought. Stepping from the shower, I toweled myself in front of the mirror, and examined my body. A slight bulge around my waist, but I still looked pretty good for fortyfour. It took less than ten minutes to get into my work clothes; a starched white shirt and blue suit. In the kitchen, I threw a piece of frozen strudel into the toaster, put a cup of day-old coffee into the microwave oven and checked my watch. It was 5:20. A quick check of my briefcase confirmed that my laptop was still inside. I poured the coffee into an insulated cup, clamped the strudel between my teeth, grabbed my briefcase, and was out the door. My new Lexus was already backing out of our garage when I remembered the kids, and their forgotten kiss; another broken promise to Beth. At least she’s asleep, I thought. I’ll give them an extra kiss tonight.” I made the train at Bellarose Terrace station for the ride in from Long Island and switched to the Path Train in New York, which stopped directly beneath our office in the south tower of the World Trade Center. Up the escalator to the main concourse, I waited for an elevator. At the forty-third floor the clear morning light streamed through the windows and reflected off the polished marble floors. While waiting to switch elevators, I spotted the blonde from my dream and she smiled at me. She was dressed in a red blouse, and a dark blue, pleated skirt. We both worked on the eighty-fifth floor, she for an investment firm and I at a financial law firm. She often stopped by my office with legal documents requiring a notary seal. Lately, it was nearly every day. I returned the smile and let my mind drift back to the dream, our knees touching under the bar, my hand on her thigh. When I opened my eyes, she was standing beside me. “Good morning, Mr. Mobley,” she said. “Good morning, Miss uh—” “Moore,” she interrupted. “Delia Moore. I’m with KB&W’s loan underwriting.” “Uh, yes,” I said as if I didn’t already know. “Beautiful morning, isn’t it?” “It’s called severe clear in the airline industry,” she said. “My dad is a pilot with United. He says it’s the kind of morning that makes you glad you’re alive.” The elevator opened and we stepped into the rear of the car. The passengers packed in and I felt her body pressed against mine. “Sorry,” she said. “That’s ok,” I replied with a smile. Press a little harder, I thought as I breathed in the scent of her perfume. My cell phone vibrated in my pocket. It was Beth. No doubt fully awake and pissed. “Hello.” “Steve!” she said. “Did you forget to kiss the kids again?”

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“Uh, well—” “You did, didn’t you? Since you forgot mine!” Her voice was angry. “Is a kiss goodbye too damn much to ask?” “I was running late, Beth. I’m sorry.” “You’ve got that right!” The line went dead. “Trouble?” Delia said. “Yelp! Perpetual trouble.” “Some girls don’t realize what they have,” she said, and I felt her hand caress the small of my back. * * * May 2006 We exited the parking garage onto Essex Street and Beth asked, “Would you like to talk about it before we go in?” Since I was about to be questioned at the hearing, now seemed as good as any. “Ok.” “Where were you when it hit?” Beth asked. “I was in the South Tower,” I said. “I remember the elevator doors opening on the eightyfifth floor and everyone spread out toward their respective offices and cubicles. There was this one lady I chatted with on the elevator. I think she worked in the investment firm on the north side of our floor.” “What was her name?” she asked. “I think it might have been Delia something. Their company used our notary services.” “What did you talk about?” “Oddly enough, the weather,” I said. “She made a comment about it being severe clear. It’s what pilots called super clear weather.” “Did she survive?” “I don’t know.” “What happened next?” Beth asked. “I was talking with someone in my office when there was a distant boom. It vibrated the windows in our building. Everyone got up and looked around. Then, I saw a flash and a huge fireball erupted from the North Tower about ten stories above our floor. Burning debris flew past our windows. The air was full of paper, some on fire, swirling around like a ticker-tape parade. Smoke poured from a gaping hole. My supervisor was in that building and called his cell phone. There was no answer.” “You must have been terrified,” she said. “Everyone thought it was an accident. A small plane,” I said. “But it was so clear out. I couldn’t imagine how a small plane could cause that huge fire ball. We debated on what to do and most of our employees started down the three staircases. We opted to use the elevator.” “Who was with you?”

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“The company president, the CEO, and the human resources director joined a few of us on the seventy-eighth floor and we proceeded down to the main lobby. There, we encountered a security guard.” “So, this was before the second plane hit?” she said. “Right. The guard insisted that it was a small plane that hit the North Tower, probably the result of the pilot having a heart attack. He was just guessing but assured us that the accident was confined to the North Tower and that our building was secure. He asked that we please return to our offices because of debris falling in the courtyard outside.” “He sent you back up?” “Yes. I can’t imagine how many lives he cost by saying that. But, at that time it seemed plausible, so I went back up to get my briefcase and laptop.” “All of you?” she asked. I thought for a second before responding. “I think so. Maybe not everyone. I remember the CEO joked that it was time to move to a new building.” “So, if you suspected that it was a bigger plane, why the hell did you go back up?” Beth asked. “To get my stuff. That’s why I was on the eighty-fifth floor when you called.” “Oh, God,” she said. “That was so stupid! I was scared to death. I couldn’t remember if you were in the North Tower or the South. I was so thankful that you were ok. And then the TV showed that other plane circling in from New Jersey.” “I had just closed my phone when I saw the reflection of the other plane across the Hudson Bay. It was coming right at us.” “No, Steve, don’t you remember? I had just said that there were reports of planes being hijacked, and that’s when you saw it coming at the tower.You said you loved me, and seconds later the line went dead.” “I guess I dropped my phone when I crawled under my desk. I curled into a ball and thought about you and the kids left with no kiss.” She hugged me and I drew a sigh of relief. * * * September 11, 2001 My office was against the windows on the southwest side of the South Tower, looking down on Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty. My email indicated that my supervisor was attending a meeting at the Windows on the World restaurant in the North Tower and would return at 10:00 am. Then I checked my phone for messages. The latest was from Delia. “Hi,” her message said. “I was just wondering if you had plans for lunch.” There was a Bible on top of my desk, and suddenly the dust on its cover caught my attention. I kept it there as a reminder that I was a deacon in our church, but it was more of a prop since it was never opened. Beyond it, was a desk clock that read 7:59. I called her back and

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left a voice mail. “Miss Moore, this is Steven Mobley. If you get a second, could you come by my office, please?” At 8:03, Delia appeared at my door. “Mr. Mobley?” “Yes,” I said. “Would you mind closing the door?” She did, and then she said in a low voice, “I want to apologize for intruding into your conversation this morning. It was inappropriate—” “No, that’s fine, and I appreciate your concern.You mentioned lunch. Well, I have a question.” * * * May 2006 New York Court of Mediation Moore versus the New York Port Authority Steve, Delia had said, I’m ready when you are… “Mr. Mobley, are you ready to continue?” the lawyer asked. I blinked from my trance. I had just returned from a bathroom break and focused on the attorneys across the table from me. “Yes, I am.” “Now in the case of the estate of Ms. Delia Moore versus the NYPA, you have testified that Miss Moore came aboard the elevator when you and the aforementioned company executives boarded it on the seventy-eighth floor. Is that correct?” “Yes, sir. That is correct.” “Did she say why she chose to take that elevator when the rest of her colleagues at KB&W Investments exited using the stairs?” “No. I can only assume that it was because this was the express elevator that went down to the plaza level. It was the quickest way down, and at that time, all of us were unaware that both buildings were targeted in the attack.” “Did you have a conversation with Mrs. Moore earlier that morning?” I hesitated and glanced at Beth before answering. “Uh, yes, her company had some documents that needed a notary seal. She was at my desk when the first plane struck the other building.” “What time was that?” “Uh, I think it was shortly after 8 a.m.” “You mean 8:46?” “Oh, that’s right. It must have been shortly before that.” I smiled at Beth across the room. She now knew that I had neglected to mention my conversation with Delia at my desk and that she was aboard the elevator. * * * “How well did you know Delia Moore?” Beth asked, her voice calm when we were alone in the hallway.

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“I told you. Her company used our notaries to seal their legal papers.” “Then why would they call you to testify about her?” “I don’t know. I guess because she came to our offices.” “Why didn’t you mention that she had talked with you that morning?” “I talked with a lot of people that morning. Most of them didn’t make it, but I failed to mention them, too. I didn’t even know her last name until—” My eyes began to well up with tears. “It’s hard to remember that day. All those friends and colleagues were gone in just an instant.” Beth took my hand. “It’s ok, Steve. At least you came back to me.” * * * May 2006 New York Court of Mediation Moore versus the New York Port Authority Afternoon Session “Mr. Mobley, you said the security guard specifically told you and the others to return upstairs to your offices?” The attorney representing Delia’s estate asked. “Yes,” I said. “Why?” “He said there was debris falling from the North Tower and it was too dangerous to exit the building.” “Would you have left the site if he had not instructed you to do so?” “I’m sure we all would have,” I said. “No more questions,” he said to the arbitrator. The plaintiff’s attorney stood for a follow-up question. “Mr. Mobley, how well did you know Miss Moore?” “The company she worked for was on the same floor as ours. She would regularly come by to have my notary seal on legal documents.” “So, your relationship was strictly professional?” “Yes.” The attorney put on a pair of rubber gloves, opened a plastic bag, and placed a dark burgundy-stained, badly scorched object on the table in front of me. “Do you recognize this?” It was very difficult to tell what it was. “No, I do not,” I said. He handed me a pair of rubber gloves, which I put on. Would you please open the cover of the book and read the inscription?” I did and, despite the dark burgundy stains, I saw my name printed on the inside cover. It was the bible that collected dust on my desk. “Oh, my Lord! This was on my desk,” I said. “How did it survive?” “It was inside the remains of a human torso found on the south side of the South Tower.

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“My God!” I said. My hands recoiled as I realized that the burgundy stains were blood soaked into the pages. “DNA samples identified the victim as Ms. Delia Moore and, given its location, it looks as if she may have either fallen, or jumped from the South Tower while holding it. Do you have any idea how it might have ended up in her possession?” “No, I do not.” I said. “The last time I saw it, it was on my desk on the eighty-fifth floor of the South Tower.” “You were not with her?” “No!” “Did you give it to her before she fell? Or, was she pushed?” “Of course not! I barely knew her and I never saw her again after leaving the building. I can only assume that she grabbed it for spiritual comfort, and fell, or jumped to avoid the flames.” “Why don’t you tell us exactly how you escaped from the building that day?” the Arbitrator said. * * * My Testimony It was basically the same story I had told Beth in the car that morning. “When I returned to my desk on the eighty-fifth floor, I closed my laptop, and my cell phone rang. It was Beth, my wife. She said, “Thank God, Steve, you’re ok.” I told her it was only a small plane and that I was fine. Then, she interrupted and said, “No, it wasn’t! The news just reported that commercial jets have been hijacked. Get out of there! Now!” I heard some people in the next office yelling, “Oh my God!” Then I looked across the Hudson Bay and saw a large airliner arching its way toward our tower. Beth screamed into the phone. I was motionless as I watched it come; it seemed to be headed right at us. I told Beth I loved her and dropped the phone. There was no place to go, so I dove under my desk and curled into a ball. The explosion threw my desk, with me under it, across the room and pinned me against a wall. An intense wave of heat passed through the room, but under my desk, I was shielded from the flash. The black smoke was so thick I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. Some of the windows in my office had blown out, so a lot of the smoke was being sucked out of those. Wreckage was piled up around me; ceiling panels, sheetrock, twisted metal studs, wires hanging everywhere and heaps of splintered wood furniture still on fire. I crawled out from under the desk, but the floor was nearly too hot to touch. I saw areas of the carpet steaming as it melted. I tried to make my way toward the staircases but with all the wires, wrecked walls, and smoke it was nearly impossible. After climbing over a fallen wall, I saw a mangled piece of a wing that was on fire. I climbed and crawled my way around it and spotted a light through the smoke. It turned out to be a crack in the sheetrock of one of

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the staircases. I could hear voices yelling in the stairway beyond it. I kicked at the three layers of sheetrock until I could squeeze my way through. Once inside the stairway, I saw a man and a woman climbing toward the roof. She said it was better to go up, because there was too much fire in the staircase below to get past. I figured the roof doors were probably locked, so I broke off a big piece of sheetrock and used it as a shield as I made my way down past the inferno. After I got below the sky lobby, I was able to run down the stairs until I reached the main lobby. Bodies, paper, and wreckage littered the courtyard, but I didn’t care. I ran out the south side and kept running toward Battery Park. After the collapse of the towers, I began to walk home and was finally able to call Beth once I was in Brooklyn.” The Arbitrator suggested that we take a break. * * * The Same Day, Fifteen Minutes Later “That’s a pretty interesting story, Mr. Mobley,” the Port Authority attorney said. “Where, exactly, was your office in the South Tower?” “It was in the southwest end of the eighty-fifth floor.” “You said you saw a section of a mangled wing in that end of the building?” “Yes. It looked like part of a plane, near staircase A,” I replied. The lawyer held up a photograph of the damage, showing an outline of where the plane struck. “As you can see, the angle of the impact clearly shows the wings at the time of impact were at a thirty-eight-degree downward tilt toward port or the left side of the jet. The left wing entered the building approximately at the seventy-seventh floor, the fuselage at the eighty-first, and the right wing entered at the southeast corner at about the eighty-fifth floor. That was the opposite end of the building from where you were located. Can you explain how the left wing might have ended up in a section of the building eight floors above where it struck?” I studied the photo. He was right. “Then it must not have been a wing. I said the object was a mangled piece of metal and I just assumed it was a wing.” “You also said that the windows in your office were blown out?” “Some of them,” I said. “It was difficult to see with all of the smoke.” The attorney held up the photo with the floors labeled. “Do you see any windows broken out near your office?” “I can’t really tell,” I said. “Something was sucking the smoke out.” “You said you had to kick your way through three layers of sheetrock to reach a stairway, that you spoke to a couple going up those stairs, who advised you not to go down, and that you had to climb over a wall,” the attorney said. “Do you realize that parts of your story almost exactly mirror well-documented accounts that the other South Tower survivors have written about?” “Ugh,” I shook my head. “I’m sure many of the survivors had similar experiences.”

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“Shall I cite the exact passages you used? After all, there were only fifteen survivors who made it down from above the impact zone.Yours seems to indicate a sixteenth.” “I never testified before the 9-11 commission,” I said, “so they didn’t know.” “Did you burn your hands crawling across the hot floor or while holding that piece of sheetrock in the stairway as a fire shield?” “I assume so, I don’t remember.” “You can’t remember any burns? Were your clothes burned, or your hair singed?” “I’m not sure. I was covered from head to toe with dust.” “You dropped your phone on the eighty-fifth floor yet you called your wife from Brooklyn. How?” “I guess it was into my pocket.” “Mr. Mobley. Why did Miss Moore use her credit card to reserve a room at The Marriott World Trade Center at 8:25 on the morning of September 11, 2001? Were you having an affair with Delia Moore?” I closed my eyes and remembered Delia saying, Steve, what the hell was that? She had just emerged from the bathroom and was completely naked. My lies, all of them, were falling apart. “Mr. Mobley?” “No,” I said, my eyes closed. “But that was only because we were interrupted by the jet hitting the North Tower.” * * * The Same Day “What really happened, Mr. Mobley?” the Port Authority attorney asked. “We didn’t even know each other that well, but I could tell Delia liked me because we had been flirting for a while. I had been neglecting my wife and my kids for far too long. That morning, my wife, Beth, simply asked me to kiss the kids goodbye, but, of course, I forgot. I saw Delia in the elevator on the way up and she overheard our conversation when Beth called and blessed me out for forgetting, again. When I got upstairs, I was angry, not only at myself, but with Beth for pointing it out. That was the first, and only time I had even considered having an affair. I wanted to strike back, so when I got an email from Delia asking if I would like to have lunch and talk, I suggested, we go have a drink at the lounge at the Marriott.” “What about your boss?” the attorney asked. “He was at a meeting at the Windows on the World restaurant until 10 a.m. So, we took the express elevator down. We were alone and kissed in the elevator. We didn’t even make it to the bar. Delia got us a room on the first floor. I got undressed while she was in the bathroom and climbed into the bed. She said, “I’m ready when you are,” and when she came out of the bathroom we heard a huge boom and saw pieces of metal falling into the courtyard outside. She turned on the TV and that’s when we realized what had happened.”

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“Did you leave the hotel together?” “Yes. We got dressed and rushed back into the South Tower. She had only taken her wallet to the Marriott, so she wanted to go back upstairs to get her pocketbook. The security guard assured us that the South Tower was secure and when the elevator arrived he told those aboard to please go back to their offices. Delia and I were just about to step into the elevator when I got the second call from Beth. I told Delia that I would see her upstairs in a few minutes. I walked out the south side of the tower and answered Beth’s call. She told me about the hijackings and then she screamed that there was another plane. I looked up just in time to see Flight 175 plow into our tower. By then, I knew that Delia was already on the eight-fifth floor and I could only hope that the jet had hit much higher.” I ran across Liberty Street into another building to avoid the wreckage falling all around us. From then on, the firemen wouldn’t let anyone go near the Towers. I watched from a window and began to see people falling from the South Tower. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever witnessed. At one point, I thought I saw a figure falling, turning red and blue as it tumbled downward. I couldn’t watch, because I knew Delia was dressed in a red blouse and a blue skirt that day. So, I left and started walking toward Battery Park where we were all engulfed in the dust cloud of the South Tower collapse.” I looked at Beth. “I want to apologize to my wife and my children, for continuing this ruse all of these years, and to the family of the late Delia Moore, for not coming forward with the truth sooner. That’s all I know, and it is all true.” * * * Aftermath Today Beth filed for divorce the following week. She said she could never trust anything I ever said again. I don’t blame her. I told the worst kind of lie, just to protect that one indiscretion and to make myself look less like the coward I was. I gave her full custody of the kids and they moved to New Hampshire the following year. We talk every now and then when I see my children on holidays. She has moved on, but I can’t seem to get beyond that lie that I wove so tightly around me. I feel as if I am buried under all that steel and rubble that destroyed all those lives. I want so badly to fix it, to go back to that day, to kiss my wife and kids that morning, to hold my head high as I blow the dust off that Bible, and finally begin reading its bloodstained pages. But I can’t. No one can ever return to the ground before zero.

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Sugar Magnolia by Susan Demchak

I was conceived at Woodstock. Seriously. My parents met at Woodstock and my birthday is May 2, 1970. Do the math. Anytime I meet someone new, it almost always comes up, sooner or later. It’s just part of who I am and I feel like if said person is going to be able to “get” me, this is important for him or her to know. Or maybe it’s just important to me. My parents were flower children, all grown up to be hard working sensible people. My Dad was an insurance adjustor, who was good with money. He has suffered the moral injury of wanting to be a nomad and a free spirit but also enjoying the comfort and the security of a steady paycheck and disposable income. He coached my little league team and led my Scout troop. My Mom stayed home with me until I went to school, and then worked parttime teaching art and yoga and volunteering in soup kitchens. They were always the first to volunteer to chaperone field trips. They told me I could do anything I wanted in life and that it was important to find something that made me happy. I went to the College of Charleston and majored in Psychology, but then changed my major junior year to Philosophy with a minor in music. I started 2 different Master’s programs, then took some time off to try to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. They were still pretty supportive, but I was starting to sense little more angst about my making some kind of decision about school and a career. They were both BIG fans of the Grateful Dead. My Dad owned all of the albums. When Jerry died this past August, I thought my Dad would be crushed, and he did seem sad. But he just said, “Well. Jerry didn’t take very good care of himself.” He was right about that. I had seen an interview with Jerry on TV, I don’t know… January? It occurred to me, if I wanted to see them in concert again, this was the time. The tour kicked off in Philly in the Spring, and I didn’t make it to that show, but when the tour came to Charlotte in March, I scraped up the money for the show, some gas and stuff to make tee shirts out of the trunk of my car. My dad loaned me a tent and some camping equipment. “When do you think you will be back?” he asked. “Well… when the tour’s over, or I run out of money.” He reached in his pocket and took out some money. He counted out 10 twenties. They were generous with me. And not too strict. The one time they had caught me with pot, I didn’t get in trouble. The unspoken agreement was that I would make good grades, stay out of trouble, and though they hovered a little, they generally kept their mouths shut. I always believed they had smoked my pot, but could never prove it and they never admitted it. Despite their anxiety about my under-employment and lack of a plan to finish my education, they admired my freedom to pick up and go. It’s the Grateful Dead! They had followed them too, once, before jobs and kid and responsibility. They always told me to travel before life got too complicated. I wondered if they regretted saying that.


My Mom hugged me and arranged my belongings in the trunk. “I wish you had a car phone.You know they have those bag phones. It’s like a brief case with a phone in it.You charge it on the cigarette lighter. Oh! And your father bought stock in one of those companies. Was it Motorolla, Honey?” “I hope not too much. I hate those things. It’s a fad. It’ll be over in 5 years. People will get tired of always being reachable.” “Peter. “ (In her mother voice.) “Please call. Find a payphone.” I agreed. I was going 15 miles up the road from our house but I think they knew they wouldn’t see me again for months. I was almost 26 years old and I had followed the Dead a few times. Not my first time at the rodeo, but I sensed that my life was about to change. Something was about to happen. I had an apartment in Charleston, but my roommate was good about covering rent andI would pay him back. Life was a series of feasts and famine lately but he was cool about it. He had a steady, good paying job but hadn’t gotten around to wanting a grown up place yet. The show in Charlotte was good. Bruce Hornsby played the piano. I sold Tshirts and grilled cheese sandwiches and made the money for gas and tickets in Atlanta and off we went. Memphis, Birmingham, Tampa. All of the East Coast venues I was either there or working to get there. I made enough money to move to the next town and then put some away to pay the roommate back in Chuck or for an emergency. I did have that much of my dad in me. Anyway, the summer melted away and before I knew it, we were at Soldier Field. The last song of the encore was Box of Rain. Phil wrote and played it for his father on his death bed, and it turned out to be very appropriate. I will never forget it. No matter what happened to me, no one would ever be able to take it away. I imagined it as part of the end of life montage that would play in my head right before I died…. Such a long, long time to be gone and a short time to be there…. I drove straight through back to Charleston. I was pretty tired and who knew when was last time I had a shower. My roommate seemed relieved and a little irate. He was pretty cool as usual. I had a wad of cash in my pocket and I paid him back rent and utility fees for the last 3 months. Mark and I had been friends since freshman year. He was a little bit preppy and was on the sailing team at school. He came from money, but didn’t really seem to care about it. He majored in accounting and had found a civil service job. He liked the Dead and had gone to a few shows with me. His taste in music was eclectic. He liked everything from Lynyrd Skynrd to Metallica and I had even found a mix tape with some Duran Duran on it, but that may have been given to him for all I knew. I wasn’t going to judge. Music was a personal thing and not everyone was brought up like me. He took time off and we drove out to Lalapalooza one year. He has always been a really good friend and a wingman. Since graduation though, and employment, we didn’t seem to have as much to talk about as before.

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He did introduce me to my girlfriend Lucy. They had a class together senior year. When a mutual friend got married, he escorted her to the wedding. It was just platonic though, and when I met her we hit it off right away and I asked her out. Mark was OK with it, said it was just a date to go to a wedding. Lucy was super smart and pretty, which means she could be a real pain in the ass. She was finishing a PhD in Chemistry and was amped all that spring. She had a business degree also. I thought she would end up in research and development of something not too awful. I hoped it was something that would save the environment. She was one of those people who looked really put together on the outside but when I saw her apartment it was a complete disaster. It made me wonder if she was OK. There were little piles of scientific journals and magazines and paper everywhere, and every drawer was a junk drawer. Somehow she made it work to the tune of Summa Cum Laude and thus far a 4.0 in grad school. Sometimes I thought I was the boyfriend equivalent of her apartment. Speaking of Lucy, she was pretty pissed that I had dropped out of sight for 4 months. But it was the Grateful Dead! She let me have it and really good when I called to let her know I was home. I thought she would be glad to see me. I bought her some flowers and made her dinner and tried to make it up to her, but she just kept getting mad again. She has screamed at me several times that my lifestyle wasn’t sustainable long term and why couldn’t I grow up? We were off and on, and off and on and then back off, and she was making sounds like this was it. She told me to pack up her stuff and she was coming by to get it. I had gotten a job at the Market Street Candy Shop when I got back into town. I had worked there a few times during my time in Chuck. They always needed help and didn’t seemto mind if I came and went. I came home smelling like caramel. On the night Lucy and I had it out I got home and Mark was already kicked back on the sofa, reading the newspaper and drinking a beer. He looked pretty tired as usual. Work sucked his brainpower without feeding his soul, but the income was comfortable and it kept his parents off of his back. He greeted me with a grunt. “I see you packed her stuff. She coming by tonight?” “Yeah. Guess she means it this time.” “Sorry man.” “Hard to believe. 5 years.” “Hate it for ya. But the writing was on the wall.” “Yeah.” “You disappear for 3 months.Your girlfriend is going to get worried. Then she’s gonna get pissed. She didn’t know where you were and couldn’t get hold of you.” “She knew I was in Charlotte, and Atlanta, Memphis-“ “You might consider getting a cellphone.” “That’s what my mom says…She could have found me. Where ever the Dead were, I was there or trying to get there.”

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“Peter. She had school and teaching. And writing her paper. And defending her paper?” “Can you believe that? A PhD. My girlfriend's gonna be a PhD. Dr. Lucy Pratt. “Ex-girlfriend.” “You know she still loves me. She's such a pain in the ass.” “Smart women always are.You find a smart one who's also pretty...You're royally screwed.” He took a draw of his beer and sank into the couch. How could I make any of them understand? This was my last chance. My last chance to see him. To tour with them! Jerry died almost exactly a month after I saw him at Soldier Field. “If I had missed out, I could’ve never gotten that back-“ Mark fired back “And you gotta understand, that you may not get her back.” He sighed. “ Yes, anyone who saw Jerry Garcia in the last, say 10 years, could tell he was probably not gonna be around much longer.You just happen to have been right. Heart attack, drug overdose... all of the above. It was bound to happen... eventually.” We had an answering machine and I noticed that the light was blinking. I hit the button. After message announcing one new message, I heard Lucy’s voice. “Hi guys. Peter... I don't know when I'm gonna be able to get over there today. Something's come up... I'm sorry. The rabbit died and I have to make some arrangements. I'll come by as soon as I can. Bye.” Mark and I looked at each other. I realized we really did hear that. Mark spoke “Did she say that-“ “SSSHHHH-“ I rewound the machine. We hear the garbled sound of the voice rewinding. Lucy’s voice again “-the rabbit died-“ I rewound “-the rabbit died-“ Again “-I'm sorry. The rabbit died.” I listened a few times. It was the same each time. Lucy’s voice was clear as a bell but I heard another voice that sounded more like I was under water. “Peter-“ The machine repeated “-the rabbit died.” The other voice gets louder. “PETER! “ I looked up. Mark was standing next to me. “You can rewind it all you want. Its gonna say the same thing. We stared at each other. Finally Mark said ”Where I come from, that means that-” “Somebody's uh, you know-“ “pregnant-“ I said “Yeah. That.” “In a family way-“ “Uh huh.”

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“with child-“ “Yes.” “Got a bun in the oven-“ What is his deal? “YES! ALRIGHT! I think we're on the same page!” “Sorry.” He headed back to the sofa and his beer. The reality sank in. “Oh my God.” “I know... I'm sorry man…Or well... maybe congratulations. Whichever way you want to go.” I paced around. “Hmm. Well.” I had not really ever thought about having a kid. But I had never really thought about not having a kid either. “Congratulations.Yeah, of course its congratulations.” “All right then, congratulations.” I paced the floor some more wringing my hands. “What does it mean? Are we still breaking up? Do you think she'll still want to break up?” “I don't know.You'll have to ask the lady herself.” Of course we couldn’t break up. “We can't break up now. I mean. A baby's a lot of work. She's gonna need help. “ Mark eyed me cautiously. “Be careful, Peter.” “What do you mean? She's got to let me be part of this. I mean... there's a baby. My baby. Unless...” “Unless what?” “Oh no...You don't think she would... She said something about making arrangements. She wouldn't!?” “I don't know. “ “Well... I hope she would at least talk to me about it first.” “It’s her decision. She probably would.” “She would. Well, we can't break up now.” I had packed her belongings into an overnight bag. Absently I dumped it out. I picked up her fleece pajamas, bedroom slippers, a paperback novel, some lacy underwear and a toothbrush and took it back to my room. Mark called to me. “What are you doing?” “Putting her stuff away.” I returned to the living room. Mark was still on the sofa. “Why?” I told him I figured if we didn't break up, then she would still want to keep a few things here. He sat there silent but there was something hanging in the air. “You're thinking something. Just say it.” “Do pregnant women usually stay out all night at their boyfriends’?” Good question. “I don't know.” I really didn’t know much about pregnant women.

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Anything in fact. I knew nothing of the activities of pregnant women. And I had not wanted to know. They were as alien to me as Quakers. Or vegetarians. “I think she'll need a lot of rest, so she'll want to stay at her own place. “ It sounded right. “Hmm. And after the baby's here, she won't be able to go out, because there will be a baby. We probably won't be able to go anywhere for a while. I guess I'll be moving to her place! I'm sorry man.” “Peter. Just slow down.” Oh my goodness. This again. “What do you mean slow down? Look, have I stiffed you on any rent? No. I'll pay the rent until you find a new roommate.” “I'm not worried about the rent.” “Then what is it, man?” “I think you may be jumping to conclusions.” “What do you mean? You heard the message.” “I can't believe she would leave you a message like that... on a machine.” “Hey, I was fired from my last job on that machine, AND a girl dumped me once. Nothing surprises me.”\ He looked like he thought I was right. Something dawned on me. “I'm gonna have to get a job. A real job.” “What? Are you admitting that selling t-shirts and grilled cheese sandwiches out of your trunk for 3 months isn't gainful employment?” “I made a boat load of money!” He made a sarcastic comment about my entrepreneurial prowess. It seemed like jealousy. “What is with you man? I mean it! You've changed.You didn't used to be like this.” Mark took another draw from his beer and placed the bottle on the end table, which was a card board box turned on its side and covered with a pillow case. “Maybe... maybe Lucy isn't the only one who is mad about you being gone all summer. “What?” “Nothing. Forget it.” “No, man.You've been acting like some... pissy woman for weeks and I want to know. Just say it! Out with it!” “OK! I don't appreciate you just up and leaving for 3 months! “ “Dude-“ “Don't ‘Dude’ me-“ “DUDE! Last I checked, we aren't married.” “You said you were going to the Dead show in Charlotte! The next I hear from you is... a message ON THE MACHINE, saying” in what I guessed was his dumb loser Peter Furr voice, "Hey dude, me and Ashley and a few more numb nuts are gonna camp for a few days and see a few more shows. I'll see you in a week or so." In his Mark voice- “Three months later, you came

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home! Smelling like some god- awful combination of patchoulie, body odor and... what WAS that?” “Curry man.” He groaned. “There was this Indian chick that we camped with, Lakshme, she could do some amazing things with Curry and a charcoal grill. “ He just groaned again and rolled his eyes. “I can't believe you don't get it.” “Get what?” “IT! You used to understand. Its the GRATEFUL DEAD!” “What can I say? I grew up. Having money to pay rent and food to eat became important.” “Did I stiff you on any rent? No. I paid you back every penny!” “Yes, I know.You made a boatload of money.” “Don't knock it. It was a great time.You're jealous.” “I am not. I'm just... making a life for myself. “ “Some life. Since you took this soul crushing bureaucrat job, you just seem so... right!” “I am not RIGHT! I voted for Bill Clinton and will do it again!” “Oh whatever! I mean you're always right.You're like the Establishment. The Man.” “What is this? The sixties?” Mark used to be so much fun. Just the summer before, I caught him making out with the bass player in L7. I reminded him of that. I went to the fridge and helped myself to one of his beers. He didn’t say anything so I guess it was OK. “So.You think she'll marry me?” “I don't know. Do you really want to get married? “ “Yes. Its the right thing to do. Mrs. Peter Furr. Dr. Furr.” “Never figured you to be so traditional. She'll probably want to keep her name.” “You think so?” “I would if I were her. “ “You would? Never figured you to be such a feminist.” “Say it three times fast. Lucy Furr.” “Lucy Furr. LucyFurr. Lucifer. Oh... yeah.You're right.” Truly. I had never considered this. “Uh huh.You don't have to get married, Pete. And she may not want to. “ “Wow. I mean. I'd be a great dad.” I had never even considered it before, but suddenly I was certain it was true. “I'm sure you would.You'd love the kid to pieces.” “I'll go back to school. I almost have two Master's degrees, you know.” “Yes, and I still maintain that actually having one is better than almost having two,

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or ten for that matter.” “You’re right. It’s time to get on with my life.” “Really?” It all seemed clear. “ Yes. I think that's been what this was all about... I know in ten years, I'm gonna be going to work everyday. Sitting behind a desk pushing a pencil, or worse, in front of a computer. This was my last chance to be a kid...” Mark shrugged. The doorbell rang and we heard Lucy’s voice as she let herself in. She put a key on the table next to the door. Her key. “Anybody home?” And there she was. My Sugar Magnolia. Takes the wheel when I’m seeing double. Pays my ticket when I speed. “Hi guys.” I rushed to her and tried to take her in my arms. She awkwardly hugged me. “How are you feeling? Are you OK?” She looked tired, but pretty as always. She was just cute. She could make tired wearing a flannel shirt look good. “I'm OK. Its been a rough day. I got stranded in Summerville.” She looks around. “Where's my stuff? Did you have time to pack it up for me?” “Just hear me out. We can't break up now.” “What? Why?” “Listen, I know I hurt you when I took off this summer. I thought you didn't need me and would be fine without me. I assumed you would understand, or just not care. I realize that I hurt you, and I'm so sorry. I want you to take me back. This baby changes everything. I want you to give me another chance. I'll take care of you and the baby. Let’s get married.” Mark opened his paper and tried to hide behind it. Lucy gasps. “PETER!?” “I know. I know. Just listen.You know I would be a good father. I haven't had time to think it through, but I could keep the baby while you do your post-doc, and I could have a job at night to help out. Or I could go to school at night. I'm going over to the school tomorrow to see about enrolling to finish my Master's. I'm not sure which one... but the point is, I have direction now. I'm gonna get books about parenting and babies and even pregnant women-“ “Peter-“ “And if you don't want to get married, I understand. I just want to be in this kid's life. I'm gonna bake cookies... and I'll coach little league. I don't know much about baseball, but I'll learn. I'll go buy a book tomorrow. And I'll teach him how to read and appreciate artwork and music, and I swear I won't take him to any concerts until he's at least 13, except maybe U2 and that's pretty family friendly. And I'll convince him that ‘Mulan’ is the best Disney movie ever, because I

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know you like it. And eventually you'll decide you can't live without me and we'll be together.” Lucy blinked. She looked at me like she’d never seen me before. “Peter?” “What, my Sugar Magnolia?” “What on Earth are you talking about?” Mark finally looked up from his paper and leaned forward. “The baby, baby.You're, you know... pregnant.” “No, I'm not, not that I know of.” “What? But you said that-“ “When?” “The message... on the machine...” “What message?” You said... "the rabbit died." “What? Oh yeah- my car.” She gasps. “ Oh my gosh! MY CAR!” Lucy drove a silver 1985 Volkswagon Cabriolet. Her daddy bought it for her when she got her license. It was even featured in her high school yearbook as all the other sweet, smart, pretty girls loved riding in it so much. It was always borrowed by the school to transport the Homecoming Queen in the town Christmas parade. The years in Charleston, the humidity and salt air in addition to spending time parked on the street during floods, had not been kind. The thing had been acting like it was going to die since I met her. Suddenly, I felt the breath leave me. I managed to say “What?” “My car. It broke down... in Summerville. I was going to visit my friend. My car just died.” “Car?” The world as I had briefly known it, with me as a father to this unknown dependent creature, who it turned out, didn’t exist unraveled a little. My hearing was underwater again and I heard Lucy’s muffled voice. “Oh my gosh, Peter! You thought-“ I heard my own bellow. “You DRIVE A VOLKSWAGON CABRIOLET!” Lucy giggles a little. “Well, you know, it’s a Rabbit convertible.” “No... its A CABRIOLET!... Oh my God.” Mark had been fidgeting for a moment, stifling a laugh. He jumped up from the sofa. “What’s that Jesus? Leave the apartment? OK!” I heard him clattering for the door. I remembered he had a wicked sense of humor, but didn’tmuch appreciate it right that minute. I heard myself exclaim again. “IT'S A CABRIOLET.” “OK, you're right. It was a confusing message.” “Oh my God!” “Peter?” Lucy’s voice was very small and I heard something in it I had never heard before. I growled. “What?” “Did you really mean that about wanting to get married?” Was it hopefulness?

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She looked at me and there it was. Expectation. Hope.Vulnerability. I glared back, speechless. Why would she even want me? But there she was, I knew, the best thing that ever happened, ready to take me back, but wanting something from me in return. Suddenly a few things came into focus. The distinction, that fateful turning point, at which my parents met at Woodstock and somehow changed from 2 young hippies tothe responsible people who were my mom and dad crystalized. I was born right smack in the middle of Generation X, a group of people who were never supposed to amount to anything. And if I was going nowhere in life, what was my hurry to get there? Suddenly it seemed possible that I could amount to something. This really cute scientist who was about to have a “Dr.” in front of her name seemed to want to be with me. The underwater voice. “Peter? Are you OK?” “Yeah. Just thinking about what I want to do with my life.” “You’ve been doing that since we met. Can I have a beer?” “Sure.You can have one of Mark’s beers.” “Thanks.” She went and found a beer. I unscrewed the top for her. “You know, I don’t think I ever told you, I am sorry that Jerry Garcia died. I’m glad you got to see him one last time.” It was one of those comments that didn’t really mean anything, but at the same time meant everything. “Thanks.” Life turns on a dime. Sometimes for better. Sometimes for worse. “You don’t really want to get married do you.” “I had not thought about it before today. But I definitely don’t want to break up.” “Well I guess there’s that.” And that I guess was the day I started being a grown up, which seemed to be a series of struggles and inconveniences, bookended by occasional triumphs. It involved planning for more than what was right in front of me at a given moment and considering the needs of other people. I guess if I had to point to the first day or night of my adulthood, it would be then. Because of a stupid message, left on a stupid answering machine, and this imaginary life that I immediately planned out with Lucy and our baby that did not exist. There were times that I wondered if she had done it on purpose. Probably not. Lucy was smart, but she was not calculating. We sat and drank our beer and discussed our future, which seemed like it would include each other. We made short term plans, and long term plans, and plans to make plans. I may have been conceived at Woodstock, but my life got started one fall day in 1995, with a failure of communication. Worse things have happened. THE END

35 Sugar Magnolia | Susan Demchak


Call Me Old-Fashioned by Leslie A. Peterson

Seventy-year-old Maggie found herself piloting a small plane when she’d only been a passenger before. She just couldn’t imagine how she’d managed to safely descend through a green valley and land in a lush pasture. But when she awoke from the dream in her bed next to her snoring husband, Darrin, the realization of what must have happened and its implications made her want to smash her phone. Devastated, she put her head under her pillow, barely noting the fresh scent of the fabric softener on the newly-washed sheets, something which usually soothed her. Her health band beeped softly twice and vibrated on her wrist, indicating her heart rate was up. This, she paid attention to. There was no need to make the situation worse with a heart attack. She removed the pillow from her head and took a couple of deep breaths. She imagined a happy, but peaceful scene: strolling along with Darrin and a black lab, her preferred breed, although almost any non-aggressive shelter dog would do. This was one of her favorite daydreams, but sadly, only a daydream because Darrin was convinced that a dog would be underfoot and cause dirt in the house. She felt her heart rate starting to slow. Maggie’s eyes searched the darkened bedroom for the poster her friend, Tendu, had designed for their church’s program last year: Inspiration 2031. There it was – she could just make it out – a wooden cross in the center, surrounded by smaller images: a nature scene with a doe and fawn in a forest, a book, a flute, a small group of people with a dog, a peach pie with a lattice top oozing out its juices and heavenly scent, and of course, a pink ballet slipper in the corner. She couldn’t see these details clearly in the dark, but knew them well from studying her friend’s artwork so closely many times. The poster both calmed and inspired her. She felt like she could handle Darrin’s reaction. Still, she said a quick prayer, wondering if it was selfish. Dear Lord, please do not let him see that dream! Earlier that day, Maggie had downloaded a new app to her phone that allowed her to order very specific dreams for herself or others in her pod of users. For Darrin, a former pilot who’d recently been grounded due to his failing eyesight and health, she’d ordered an exciting dream of soaring in his plane once again. For herself, she had planned a return to a memorable evening long ago with her previous husband, Clement, who had died in 2020. But somehow, when she had placed the order, she must have screwed up and transposed something because Maggie definitely didn’t get the dream she ordered for herself. She was afraid that since she’d had Darrin’s dream, he may have had her dream. She didn’t really know how the app worked, how much of the dream detail requested stayed intact for the actual dream and how much was determined by the dreamer’s subconscious. Why do you have to be so impulsive? she thought. She hadn’t done a lot of research – the app had intrigued her, so she’d bought it. Now, her only hope was to wake Darrin before his dream occurred.


But just then, Darrin rolled over and turned on his bedside lamp. Then he turned to face Maggie, looking even older than his seventy-five years. “Why would you order me a dream about you and Clement going out dancing? Do you think I want to watch you as a young, beautiful woman in another man’s arms? Why would I want to see you gaze into his deep blue eyes and hang on his every word? Did you imagine I would enjoy watching you dangle your shoe provocatively in front of your former husband?” Maggie put her arm on Darrin’s shoulder, but he shrugged it off. “Darrin, please understand that it was a mistake. I ordered you a flying dream, but I must have made a mistake in the ordering process and you got the dream I ordered for myself instead. I just have been missing Clement and our anniversary is coming up. That dream was a memory of a special anniversary night. Please try to understand.” “I don’t know if it’s worse that you’re sending me a dream about you and Clement or sending yourself one.” Darrin raked his hand through his disheveled white hair. “Either way, I think I’ll go stay with John for a while. Right now I don’t feel comfortable being here where you and Clement lived together.” He rose stiffly from the bed and headed to the bathroom. John was Darrin’s son, who was married with two pre-teen children. Maggie hoped he could talk some sense into his dad, but she knew how stubborn Darrin could be. Later, she called Darrin at John’s to apologize and thought maybe she could make up a little by sending him a dream from their honeymoon in Hawaii just five years earlier. She included images of the two of them walking on the beach in the moonlight, at a luau, sitting together on their private lanai, and admiring the colorful hibiscus and bougainvillea everywhere. The next morning, Darrin called Maggie. “The dream was… …uh,” he hesitated, as if searching for the correct word, “…nice, but I’m not ready to come home. I’ve sent you a dream. Set your health band for sleep, take a nap, and see what you think. Give me a call when you wake up.” Maggie put her phone down and looked at her schedule for the morning. She would have to miss her book club meeting in order to sleep immediately as Darrin had requested. What dream could he have chosen for her? She was very curious, enough that she was willing to miss her meeting. If it had meant missing volunteering at the animal shelter’s thrift store, she would have put the dream off, but the book club could be skipped for a month. Besides being curious about the dream, she realized this was the only time in their relationship that Darrin had left to stay with John over a conflict with her. Maggie felt she owed it to her marriage to do as Darrin had asked and experience the dream immediately. She set her health band for sleep and laid down in the recliner. This was where she liked to sleep during the day; she didn’t feel like she was going back to bed this way and it didn’t mess up the bed. In the moments before sleep came on, she felt a bit wary remembering Darrin’s tone when he’d said, “I’ve sent you a dream.” And then she was asleep. She dreamed of her best friend, Tendu, a former professional ballet dancer, who was now

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retired from teaching ballet, and was an accomplished watercolor artist. They had been friends for many years, and in different capacities. Tendu and Maggie had volunteered together for years at the shelter’s store, becoming fast friends and sharing books and starting the book club together. When Maggie and Clement had COVID-19, Tendu had delivered groceries and supplies for them. She had offered endless emotional support when Clement had passed away. She’d welcomed Maggie to her church after the vaccine was introduced, which helped Maggie through a difficult time, and was where she’d met Darrin. So when Maggie saw Tendu in her dream, she felt a sense of peace. Tendu, wearing a flowy green top over brown leggings, her legs still toned due to daily exercise, though Tendu was ageless, timeless. Tendu, walking barefoot through her black and white kitchen carrying two glasses of rose wine. Maggie thought she’s bringing me a glass of wine and we’ll sit and talk in her living room. I can tell her anything. But when Tendu arrived in the living room with the wine glasses, it was not Maggie seated on the deep purple velvet couch, but a younger-looking version of Darrin. Tendu set the glasses down on the glass-topped coffee table, gracefully slipped in next to Darrin and placed a tender kiss on his waiting lips. Darrin picked up his wine glass by its delicate stem and waited for Tendu to join him in a toast. “To our secret love: may it endure as does your beauty.” They clinked their glasses and sipped the pink liquid. Even in her dream state, Maggie was aware that Tendu was a loyal friend and would not betray her or would have told her if this had happened in the past. She felt bold and stepped into their midst and confronted them. “This is not real. This is a dream that Darrin concocted when he was feeling vengeful or wanted to teach me a lesson. Darrin, you need to leave now so Tendu and I can talk. Tendu, may I please have a glass of that rose your’re drinking?” Darrin and Tendu rose from the couch and Maggie sank into her usual, comfortable position at the corner of the couch. Darrin left and Tendu brought a glass of wine for Maggie. Maggie took a sip of the wine and set the glass down. “Oh, that’s good; thank you. So how has your week been so far?” Tendu smiled and her one crooked tooth showed. “Really well. I finished a painting of a toad looking up out of his burrow. I was inspired by the one that lives in my backyard. Would you like to go see him?” “Maybe later. For now I need to wake up and talk to Darrin.” Maggie awoke in the recliner and her neck was sore from lolling to the side while sleeping. She did neck rolls while contemplating what she should say when she called Darrin. Darrin answered right away. “So, what did you think?” he said. “It doesn’t feel so good, does it?” His tone was a little tentative, as if he were worried about her reply. Maggie sighed. “I miss you, Darrin. Please come home and we can talk about it here, faceto-face.” “I miss you, too. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Maggie heard Darrin enter the front door after the ride service dropped him off. She called to him from the patio. “I’m out here. Pour yourself a drink and join me.”

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At this time of day the patio was in shade, but later in the afternoon, the various potted plants would get all the sun they needed to thrive. Across the yard, the swimming pool sparkled in the sun, surrounded by an assortment of lounge chairs and tables. Somewhere in the distance a dog howled and Maggie smiled, picturing a beagle with his nose in the air. Maybe he’s smelling those steaks grilling, too she thought, referring to the savory smoke drifting over from her neighbor’s yard. Darrin sank into the cushioned patio chair with just a small table separating him from Maggie. His eyes were red and there were shadows underneath them. He had not shaved. Maggie was surprised to see that his hair was in place, but just then, he started raking his hands through it, messing it up as he did when he was upset. “So, Daring,” she started, using her pet name for him, “how was it at John’s house?” “Just awful,” said Darrin. “I was in the way. Mountain and Coral barely spoke to me. And you know, they don’t…” he hesitated, searching for the correct word, “…eat anything. They had nothing, no snacks or anything at their house. They just take those odious ‘nutrition capsules’. I still prefer real food. Call me old-fashioned; I don’t care.” Maggie laughed. “You’re not old-fashioned. Lots of people still like food. I just like having options for busy days. “So, about the dream you sent me. Obviously, it never happened. I trust both of you too much to believe that you never would have told me about it before this. So I can only assume that you were so hurt that you wanted me to be hurt in the same way. Again, I apologize for hurting you. Can we please put this in the past and move forward?” Darrin sat forward with his elbows on his knees, hands clasped. He faced Maggie with a determined look on his face. “You’re right. Tendu and I never had a fling or anything. But it’s not as simple as you apologizing and us putting this in the past. Here you are, wanting to dream about Clement, not me. Do you still love him?” Maggie’s eyes grew wide and she gasped. “Of course I still love him! We were married for thirty-three years and raised two children together.You don’t stop loving someone when they die. Imagine if you were to pass away and I was to remarry. I’d still love you and want to dream about you, too.” “Hmm… that’s a comforting thought: my widow wasting no time remarrying.” “I think you missed the point I was making.” “I think I got the point perfectly. At any rate, you need to make a choice, is it me you love or Clement?” Maggie sighed and sipped through the straw of her raspberry iced tea. “I love you both in different ways. Clement I love through memories.You, I love through our current daily life and memories. I guess I’m more in touch with my love for you because you inspire my love each day.” A peaceful look on his face, Darrin said, “Alright, that’s good enough for me. I’m sorry for my part in all of this. Let’s put it all behind us now.”

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“With pleasure,” said Maggie, feeling relieved. Darrin rose from his chair and Maggie stood to accept his embrace. They shared a brief kiss. “I need to shower and shave. I’m going in,” he said. “It’s your day to make lunch, but I’ll switch with you,” said Maggie. “I’ll get something ready while you clean up. Then tonight you can make dinner for me.” Darrin gave her a thumbs-up sign as he passed through the patio door. Forty-five minutes later they sat at a table under a green umbrella by the pool eating tuna melts. Looking dapper and cool in his pressed khakis and combed hair, Darrin seemed to be a new man. “Maggie the Magnificent, you made me my favorite lunch! I feel like a kid eating a tuna melt, but boy, I love ‘em.” “I think maybe you’re just happy to be eating some real food again after a couple of days on nutrition capsules,” said Maggie, but she smiled at his use of the silly nickname. “You might be right.” He wiped his mouth with his linen napkin and set it in his lap. “On another note, John had some advice for me, for us, I guess. If you want to hear it, that is.” “By all means. John is a sensible man, a doctor; I’d like to hear what he had to say.” “Well, he suggested that we find more things to do together. He knows that you’re busy with your different activities, but now that I can’t fly I’ve kind of lost my purpose. I find myself a little at loose ends when you’re away from home.” Darrin started to rake through his hair with his hand, then, stopped himself. Maggie had asked him repeatedly not to do this at the table while they were eating. Maggie swallowed a bite and wiped her mouth with her napkin. “Huh, sounds like good advice. Do you have any ideas for what we could do together or what you could get involved with on your own?” A bluebird swooped low over the pool and landed on the back of the third, empty chair at their table. It glanced from Darrin to Maggie, chirped, and then, flew off. “It was actually your idea originally, but now I’m finally ready to agree to it. I think it’s time for us to adopt a dog from the shelter.” Maggie reached over and hugged Darrin. “Wow! That’s great news; I’m so excited to do this with you!” “If your afternoon is free, we could go to the shelter today.” “I have no plans this afternoon, except with you, my dear.” She had realized through this mishap that she should make more time for Darrin and make him feel more secure in their relationship. Darrin picked up his fork, ready to continue with his lunch. “By the way, I almost forgot to tell you, John and Monique were both fascinated by the dream app…” “Hmm…” said Maggie taking a sip of her raspberry iced tea. “I’ve actually decided to delete the app. I just think natural dreams might be better all around. Call me old-fashioned; I don’t care.” She winked and smiled at Darrin. THE END

40 Call Me Old-Fashioned | Leslie A. Peterson






Old Frog by Bonnie Stanard

When the sun slips behind the pines and sets in the west like a muggy stone and the moon arises over gray ground, over gangly oaks getting frosty in the roots, finches and wrens peep from their perches, the earthworms get down to digging tunnels, and owls shiver in their hidey-holes, and foxes curl up in their burrows. That’s when Old Frog, a leader of a band of forest dwarfs, watches and listens from his den in a hollow tree. People say that members of his tribe are miners who work in tunnels under the earth in search of a buried star. Only after a while, the dwarfs wanted to hear the sound of wind and the smell of pines, spruces, and furs. So they set aside some time to come up to an old forest when the weather was December. Some people say they’ve seen them, seen their flat heads and bulgy eyes. They have really thick necks and stooped backs and such strong legs they jump saplings in a single bound. Old folks say their loud snores can be heard if a fog is in the wind. On nights when there’s no moonlight when clouds shiver in the sky and the wind turns wet and soggy and murmurs, Old Frog


rallies the dwarfs from their sleep. They awake and tumble out of their hollows in the midst of a drizzle and scramble far into the foggy forest, each one to his own neck of the wood. There they prop in the cradle of trees and wedge their boots against the boughs and take a slippery needle from under their tongue. What? you may say, their tongue? Well, they have lips of leather and tongues tougher than bark, they’re not like you and me. They roll cold rain with their fingers until it’s a silver thread of ice and when it’s right they thread their needle and stitch a coat over naked branches, twigs, stems, berries, and cones all the while rocking, rocking, back and forth, back and forth. From cedar to cypress to sweetgum they carry on with their work though their breath comes out like clouds, though their whiskers turn to icicles. And that’s the reason, some say, a lowing sound arises from their noses a sound of “elly-moze … elly-moze.” The story goes that they are ageless in the dark of night, but come the break of dawn their hair goes crispy, their joints brittle and their legs stiff and they get so solid they can’t move. So it is that at the earliest trace of morning light, Old Frog hails the wind to warn the dwarfs that the sun is creeping into the sky.

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They crack off their flinty thread to end their work and leap to the ground and hurry back to burrows that lead deep down into the underground. You can hear “elly-moze … elly-moze... elly-moze” in frozen forests late of a night and maybe it’s the wind in the trees, you’ll say to yourself, but then again maybe, just maybe, Old Frog and the dwarfs are busy stitching.

44 Old Frog | Bonnie Stanard



A Real Life by Dawn Woods

*He called it a disorder, and he meant it. They want outlets for cables and cords supported by dependable, electric currents. Dark bedrooms, with chargers pumping the glow of screens. Stale air, robotic noises, and the ping of another notification. Not us. We explored goldenrod fields just beyond the property line. We found soft stones to skip on the reservoir. We were on the hunt, always, for turtles, goose eggs, and signs of deer nearby. It’s true. We really did rake a pile of leaves to jump into before setting it on fire. We really did set traps, with long strings leading to steady fingers. We hid behind the bush to see what bird we could catch, only to set it free.


We really did chase fireflies before stretching out on the cold ground under shooting stars… competing with each other to find Orion’s Belt. We really did build a fort out of weed-entangled posts from an old, discarded split-rail fence. We really did design a secret room in the loft of the barn, with whatever we could haul up the ladder, as bats flapped and darted above us... We really did get called back indoors by a cowbell on the side porch, where we stocked the wood pile for winter. We really did stay out in the cold for hours, and ride our bikes on the frozen lake, engulfed in the silence of the snow. No one knew where we were. No one tracked us. We imagined stories and scenarios and we lived them. We daydreamed, and then we tried it. We explored in real time… the wind, rain, snow, and sunshine against our faces. We smelled the dirt, and tasted the stem of the honeysuckle flower. No one could diagnose us

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with Nature Deficit Disorder. There were no plastic playgrounds restricted by code. We didn’t lock our bedroom doors streaming Netflix in the dark. We felt the ground under our bare feet, and tasted blackberries off the bush. We lived out our days in the wonder of the earth while our bedrooms sat vacant waiting to give us deep rest and dreams of the sun rising, awakening us again to live.

August 16, 2020 * Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods,The Nature Principle, and Our Wild Calling

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I Ran My Cursor Over Your Name by John M. Starino

A few years ago, I guess it was longer than that, I took a photo of The Wall predawn With the Washington Monument in the background. Some years later on a trip back to D.C. with my 4 megapixel camera I renewed that photo. Seems I had gotten there after a crew had Rinsed the Memorial down. Took a scattering of shots of which two became part of my repertoire, Trail of Tears and Avian Way in black and white. I didn’t wait around to see loved ones Of the over 57,000 find particular names in Optima typeface To make an etching with pencil and paper. I have written a persona piece Illustrating that technique, When The Wall. Now there are volunteers who make a rubbing of names which can Be ordered online for those who cannot make the trip themselves. We live in Coronavirus Wartime where sniper fire, a droplet, could Send one to a hospital or contract this at a nursing home Or one could take one’s last breath at home without ever receiving a swab of Determination that you, someone, anyone, For this virus does not discriminate, have been shot by this sniper. Today, May 24th, the NY Times front page listed a thousand of names who became America's Covid losses of this Pandemic War now approaching 100,000. I traced your name with my cursor Tim, yes, one small etching Timothy J. Liszewski, my friend, I found your name on The New Wall. And I shed my tear.



Cleaning House by Joy Colter

Mom, you’re gone to the facility I can put things back in their intended spaces without fear of you co-opting them as personal playground toys Bar soap and deodorant you sometimes used as toothpaste are home inside the bathroom My purple toothbrush that would tempt you need not by my bedside be The toilet paper’s out of hiding Three sit on the upright holder knowing they won’t be transported elsewhere The trash I redirected when I caught you sifting sorting and recycling is rerouted to the right receptacle Your car keys have resurfaced “Discovered” in the lies I told about their disappearance My memories – bagged, emotions – canned and stashed upon the highest kitchen shelf when I became your cook, your driver private shopper, nurse, and janitor are now in hand and open ready for their placement in my head and heart


I finally emerge - free to be the weeping daughter I’m supposed to be

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Alien Brain, Human Heart: My Life with Eddie Venus Excerpts from the Entirely True Memoir of Astrid Doyle

by Jessica Branham

25 June 1969 The rock stars of the 60s, 70s, and 80s are revered as celestial deities. We think of them as larger than life and otherworldly. Traditionally, these words take on a more metaphorical meaning. But in the case of Eddie Venus they are entirely literal. Contrary to his literal otherworldliness, I found Eddie Venus nearly unconscious in a dark, muddy alley way, right outside of a Looking Glass Records. I will never forget the early morning of the twenty-fifth. That night I had traveled from my flat in London to visit a friend in Brighton. Parking was hard to find, leaving me with no choice but to park a block down, in front of the record shop. The young Eddie was quite unaware of where he was and what had happened to him. He was also entirely nude. I thought he was just some wild bloke who had a few too many that night. It wasn’t until I walked past him and heard him call out for help that I turned around. There he was—his right arm in a puddle of mud and his left arm in a puddle of his own vomit. His hair was an unyielding gold. His skin was a white galaxy, glowing in some spots, dull in others. Initially, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me, but his eyes confirmed his complete otherworldliness. The left eye held a catlike pupil, set against a vivid green iris. The other was a regular human eye, but the color was that of a bright fire set on demolition. “Do you need me to call anyone?” I asked him. Eddie Venus sat up and rubbed his temple. “Call anyone?” He repeated, his accent unfamiliar to me. “Yeah. Wife, mum, dad, brother, sister? Someone to come help you out?” “Well, you’re here with me, aren’t you?” He seemed so confused by the fact that I was asking if he wanted someone else to help him. “I suppose I am. My car is just down the street if you’d like me to drive you home?” “Home? How could you possibly drive me home? Is your car a space shuttle?” His smile was entirely devilish. “Pardon?” “Oh, do walk me to your vehicle. I am quite cold. I’ll explain then. Mind if I have your sweater to cover myself?” Still entirely baffled, I helped him to his feet. Upon standing, he stumbled a bit, but caught himself and managed to stand upright. I took off my cardigan and he promptly tied it around his waist, covering his much exposed… nether regions. I had done everything I could to not look at it. “Would you mind if I held onto your arm? I’m not quite used to the gravity yet.” Eddie


Venus had a very proper way of speaking. He said “quite” a lot and almost always spoke in complete sentences. His accent was best described as “posh.” After assessing that he was too skinny and too weak to be a threat to me, we headed for the car. But there was a short detour on the way. In the window of Looking Glass Records was a multi-screen display of different live performances.You could see The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, and whoever else performing at any given time. The shop ran live performances and promotional videos 24/7. Eddie pulled me along with him, pressing his nose to the glass store front. “Oh… my.” His eyes searched, concentrating on each and every performer. “They are miraculous. Truly, spectacular—look at them!” “Yeah,” I deadpanned. “Are you not familiar with these people?” I asked, starting to really question his sanity. Everyone knew John, Paul, George, and Ringo and everyone else knew Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. “No, but I am amazed by them. Do tell me more about them in the car,” he said. At last, we were in the car. I assisted Eddie in stepping off the curb and into my car before walking around and hopping in the driver’s seat. “Now, tell me… who the bloody hell are you?” I will never forget what he looked like in that very moment. Eddie Venus turned to sit crisscrossed in the seat, leaning his back against the inside of the car door. He had that same smile and his hair fell down his chest. “I’m not entirely sure you’re ready for the answer.” “What the hell is that supposed to mean? I need to know so I can get you home and get you taken care of.” He laughed and said, “Well, I will start by telling you my name. Only, I can’t because your human ears simply won’t understand.” I blinked, pinching myself once. “But last time I vacationed here I took on the name Eddie Venus. I quite like the sound of it, so I’ll keep it.” “Eddie Venus,” I repeated. It was bizarre. Entirely bizarre. But if ever there was a rock star name… that was definitely it. By the 60s there weren’t many of those classic rock star names. The names then were just two first names put together– like George Harrison, Bob Dylan, or Jim Morrison. But Eddie Venus… that was it. That was the rock star name. “Yes. Anyways, I am from a planet far from here, in a galaxy far away from here. But don’t worry about where I’m from. The truly troubling matter is why am I here.You see, I come from a famous band. I was touring my galaxy and we had reached our vacation time, halfway through the tour. My bassist said, ‘Let’s vacation on Earth.’ But when we landed here, on the roof of Looking Glass Records, they stripped me nude and threw me out. As I fell, they took off, back to where we came from.”

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I looked at him, dubiously. “What is it, mate?” Eddie gave me a puzzled look, so I followed up with, “LSD? Acid? Dexy?” “I haven’t a clue what any of those words mean.” “Drugs. What kind of drugs are you on? How long have you been in that alleyway? Must have taken you ages to come up with that story.” “Oh, please, you have to believe me. I have no way to get home, no family here. I am not on drugs of any sort. I don’t even know what type of drugs you have here on Earth. Forgive me for not asking, but what is your name?” “Astrid Doyle,” I said in a low voice. “Well, Astrid Doyle, I hate to be so assertive, but would you mind if I stayed with you at least for a little while, until I get this whole earthly situation figured out?” I wanted to say no because I still did not completely believe him. But if he were a threat to me, wouldn’t he have killed me by now? Deep down in my gut, I felt that good would come from letting Eddie Venus stay with me. And I was entirely right. I looked out the front window. The stars looked different that evening. Brighter, more vibrant—like a kaleidoscope, set against a cobalt blue night sky. I studied the stars and said, “Sure.You can sleep on the couch I suppose.” Letter to My Mum from Early 1970 Dear Mum, How’s Liverpool? Everyone keeping well, I assume? You all have to meet Eddie soon.You sounded a wee bit concerned when I told you about him, so I want to clear things up. Words don’t do him justice. He truly is a kind, strangely intelligent individual. He can sew and design clothes like no other. It’s bloody marvelous! But I can understand your concern. Eddie is out at the clubs every other night, drinking and huffing and snorting. He clearly was not raised the same way I was. Way to go, Mum, you’ve made me a prude. Joking! I do not let him bring it into the house and he has complied with my rules. Currently, he’s working at the local Looking Glass Records, helping me out with the rent. Really, Mum, come join us for dinner one evening.You will absolutely love him. I am doing pretty well, job wise. Being a reporter pays, so can’t complain too much. I told you that I’m trying to move up as a columnist, right? Being a reporter is fine, but I write about what I thought of Led Zeppelin II, not what everyone else thought of it. I just need something bloody original to write about. Someone no one else is writing about. Wish me luck! Love you, Mum. I miss you and Dad dearly. Please visit soon! Love, Astrid 1971 Eddie caught on fast.

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Two years after living with me, he played me a tune called “Aurora Sunrise.” Despite the fact that an alien band wrote it, the song was incredibly relatable. It was about feeling so washed up and alone, moments before a sunrise, yet still feeling young and invulnerable. Truly, it was gorgeous, and Eddie’s performance was like nothing I’d ever seen before. He stood in my living room, wearing nothing but a cape of silver tinsel and red leather pants. (He made the cape himself with left over Christmas decorations.) His voice wasn’t just a voice. It was electric and hypnotic—pure power. Eddie finished, sliding my guitar to his side. “What do you think?” His voice was hoarse and raspy, like he had been smoking for a long time. But quickly, realizing how he sounded, he cleared his throat. I knew an aspiring music producer, Cliff Burnet, who knew some small-time managers and executives at Couture Records. “Would you want to record that song?” “Two things: One, that is not much of an opinion. Two, I’ve already recorded the song.” “Record it on earth, you alien-dumb-ass,” I said. “Well that sounds like a wonderful idea, but I don’t appreciate the insult, Astrid.” Eddie lifted his chin and frowned. “Get over it, Eddie.You’ve been living off me for two years now. I’m allowed to insult you.” That was one of the few times I made him laugh. Typically, it was the other way around. Few knew the humor of Eddie. Many would come to view him as lurid and darkly mysterious. Yet, at home he was absolutely hysterical, once I recognized that he was, indeed, an alien. “But seriously, Eddie. I know a producer—we can work something out and get you into the recording studio. Do you have enough material for an album?” “Of course! I have three albums in my galaxy,” he said. “Perfect.You want to reproduce one of those here?” “Yeah,” he said, still not seeming to care all that much. And that’s how it happened. He was glorious in the studio. We brought in the best yet-to-be-discovered session musicians and they played keys, bass, rhythm guitar, and drums while Eddie performed vocals and lead guitar. The producer didn’t have to do much work because Eddie led the band with each track. It was clear during the sessions how inventive and revolutionary Eddie was. Cliff Burnet turned to me during the recording of the second to last track, “Fall from Grace,” and said, “I feel completely useless. I’ve done nothing this entire time.Your boy is a genius, Astrid.” Eddie Venus released Lazerbeams and Lovemachines on May 4th, 1971. I described the album then as a space rock opera and that description will never change. It has epic, soaring numbers equivalent to what we now know as Stadium Rock and soft rock numbers full of despair and heartache.

55 Alien Brain, Human Heart | Jessica Branham

“Aurora Sunrise” was released as the first single. It cracked the top ten within the first two weeks of its release. Randall Keyes, the local rock station DJ, played the track three times in a row the second night of its release and then played it multiple times each day for an entire week. “Aurora Sunrise” was followed by “The Frozen Month” which was one of the more epic tracks on the album. It was experimental, but not so experimental that casual listeners couldn’t stick with it. While “Aurora Sunrise” only stayed at the number one spot for two weeks, “The Frozen Month” stayed there for a whopping eight weeks. Then we were touring all of Europe for the rest of ’71 and the first few months of ’72. It was a hot, glittery, and exhilarating beginning to Eddie Venus’s career. 1973 Eddie Venus’s second album, A Day Trip to Mars, was one of the fastest selling records in history. This was the album that made him a huge success in America. As soon as the American record shops reported selling out of A Day Trip to Mars, an American tour was scheduled for early ’74. After hearing the alien’s completely unmatched voice and his fully realized aesthetic, everyone was eager to get their hands on his sophomore attempt. He was even beginning to catch on in Japan. And by then, glam rock was on its way to the top. Eddie Venus wasn’t just a glam rocker. Eddie Venus was glam rock. It wasn’t just an aesthetic or a style of music. For Eddie Venus it was breathing, walking, talking, and every other facet of life. Once he wore nothing but bright gold underwear. He had rubbed Vaseline all over himself that evening and then laid down in a pile of gold glitter. At the next show, he dressed in red platform boots and American football padding covered in black sequins. It just grew more and more outrageous each night. The best part was that he saved loads of money by making his own clothes and purchasing them from thrift stores. The sequined football gear was entirely handmade. On top of the clothes, he wore outlandish makeup and his long, golden hair marked him as entirely ethereal. These aesthetics led to newspapers in the UK calling him a “poof” and various other slurs. Upon reading these, Eddie was quite confused. “What does this even mean? They aren’t even criticizing my music, are they?” “No, I’m afraid they aren’t,” I said glumly, heartbroken that I had to explain this to him. “They think you prefer being with men.” “Well, why should they care who I prefer to share my bed with? My music is their business, not my personal life. This is ludicrous, Astrid.” “It is. What if I wrote an article about what you just said?” “Oh, yes, that would be absolutely wonderful. Let those fools know what I think. I want what I just said on the front page.”

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The front page of the monthly issue of Moon Rocks Magazine quoted Eddie: “My music is their business, not my personal life.” It was my first big paper. The editor of Moon Rocks moved me up as a columnist. My detailed accounts of Eddie’s life got me to where I am today. The year of ’73 was a wild one. Eddie’s groupies were at the hotels every night. Loud ones at that. I’d wake up to lines of cocaine on the coffee table, liquor bottles in between couch cushions, and fresh vomit in the toilet. I wouldn’t touch the drugs. Eddie could do whatever he wanted, but it was not for me. It did not go well the one time I tried cannabis. I had a horrible experience and my parents just about killed me for it. After every show, I’d drive Eddie to the hotels (and his groupies, by default), drink a glass with him, say goodnight, then retire to my room. The shows themselves were wonderful. Electricity filled the room when the band played. “I’m so nervous,” he would mutter before every concert. But then on stage, you never could tell. His voice took over the stadium, while his stage antics thrilled the crowd. He would step off the stage into the front row, allowing his audience to sing along with him. They reached for him. I would stand in the wings, handing him drinks in between song changes. One of the photographers from Moon Rocks would come to every other show, while worked on an article, detailing the tour. We stood together, knowing it was the best spot to watch Eddie from. The European tour only lasted from March to June, but it felt like an eternity. But that’s my life with Eddie anyway. An eternity. It felt like my life started when I found him in the alleyway. Looking back on it now, that time will always exist in my mind as a lifetime. As its own planet. Its own eternity. A beautiful, glittery, wild, crazy, exhilarating, and exhausting eternity. On June 6th, Eddie came home with me, without an entourage, without drugs, without alcohol. “No partying tonight?” I asked him as I drove the rental car to the last hotel of the tour. “Afraid not. I’m quite tired of these earthly drugs and drinks and the so called ‘groupies.’” “Really? Then, how are you going to entertain yourself tonight?” I asked, concentrating on the road. But in my periphery, I could see him doing the thing. The thing he did on the first night we met, where he sat entirely sideways in the seat. “Well, first I was thinking we could go out to dinner. Then we can come back and just talk about life and music.Y’know, like we used to. Before the tour.” “That sounds wonderful. Should I just drive to whatever restaurant then?” “No, no. Go back to our hotel, so you can freshen up.You’re all sweaty and dirty from running around backstage today.” “Well thanks, Eddie.” “Please,” he said, rolling his eyes. “But honestly, Astrid, I can’t take you anywhere dressed like that.” He stuck his tongue out at me. “You’re one to talk,” I replied, eyeing his current ensemble: an open chested, electric

57 Alien Brain, Human Heart | Jessica Branham

blue catsuit, the back of which was embroidered with the moon and stars. His black boots were seven inches tall, with silver stars running down the sides. The moon and stars acted as his signature. This ensemble had appeared several times throughout the tour. Some evenings he even sported a crescent moon or a star painted on the right side of his face. “Don’t be jealous,” he said, jokingly. I laughed and turned my attention back to the road. Soon, we were at the hotel. Eddie is in the car and I’m back in the room, changing into one of the nicer outfits I brought. In no time, I was back in the driver’s seat. “Where are we going?” “No clue. Just drive into the city and see which place looks the nicest.” Luckily, we were back in London for the last show of the tour, so I knew my way around. I was just driving, trying to figure out where to go. “What about that French restaurant we used to joke about going into? You know, before we were making money.” “Le Prix Ridicule?” I asked, frowning. “Yes! Let’s go there.” “Are you sure?” “Of course! Now step it up, Astrid, I’m hungry.” He started cackling, turning back in his seat, and rolling down the window. Eddie reached out with his long, skinny fingers and cranked up the radio. The station was playing “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Eddie’s favorite Earth Band was The Rolling Stones. He sang vociferously, alternating between singing out the window and singing at me. I sang the harmonies and laughed when his long hair whipped back into his face. The night came to its close. We went back to the hotel, just to get our money’s worth, even though our flat wasn’t too far away. We sat on the floor, sharing a bottle of Merlot. Eddie had changed into jeans and a white shirt. He hadn’t dressed like this since 1969, so I mean it when I say that it was a bizarre sight. “So, Eddie, how was your second tour?” “Better than the first one,” he said, taking a swig from the bottle. “How so?” “The audiences I played to each night were so much better. This time it felt like they were there because they wanted to see me. And I was there this time because I wanted to play to them. On the first tour, it was like we were both figuring out who we were. The audience didn’t know me. The only earthling I really knew was you, so I had to figure them out too. Everything just felt… right this time around.” “You’re totally right, Eddie. The crowd was just eating you up. I mean, Jesus, Eddie, they cherished you like a god among men. It was amazing, watching their faces light up. Especially when you played ‘Pitch Dark Heart.’”

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“Yeah, we should have released that as a single. That song felt better live on this tour than it ever has. ‘Oh, pitch dark heart… I’ve had you from the start.’” He sang and strummed an invisible guitar. “You know, I wrote that song on earth. That’s the only song that isn’t a recreation from my band back home. Well… not home, but y’know.” “Not home?” I questioned. “Not anymore. This is my home now,” he declared. “Earth? You’re calling Earth your home now?” Eddie had potentially begun toeing the line between drunk and sober. “Not Earth, per se. But being here at this hotel with you, or back at your flat.” “Eddie, you can call it our flat now.You pay rent too. Though I suppose you’ll probably be moving out to a rock star’s mansion soon…” I took an enormous sip and looked at the ceiling. “Moving out? Astrid, have you met me?” “Yeah, I sure have, Eddie.” “Can you imagine me living on my own? I would probably be dead or naked in another alleyway if you hadn’t been touring with me the whole time. Astrid, I literally could not live on my own. Literally.” I laughed and passed the bottle back to him. I slumped down, my back flat against the ground and my feet against the bed. Eddie turned to sit on my side of the room and did the same thing. His hair tangled with mine and the bottle sat between us. “What was the name of your band? I can’t believe I’m just now asking.” “Candy Galaxies,” he answered, his cheeks turning apricot. “That’s awful.” “Innit though? I hate my galaxy more and more each second I’m on Earth. I mean, Candy Galaxies. What rubbish.” “Were you the lead singer?” “No, I was the drummer.” “Bloody hell! Are you serious?” “Completely.You see, where I come from, my voice is awful. There are much better singers than I.” The night continued like this. Just back and forth questions about his life, my life, music, food, drinks, and everything in between. We laid there on the floor until three in the morning. Our hotel window was open, showing the night sky. And the stars looked the same way then as they had the first night we meet. It was then that I realized, the stars looked better with Eddie around. Life in general was better with him around. That is my favorite memory of Eddie. If my life with Eddie is its own eternity, that night is a small eternity within the larger one. I remember it so clearly. Every second is vivid and alive. When I relive the moment, I’m really there, back in the early summer of ’73, with Eddie and a bottle of Merlot. It was a gorgeous, relaxed evening. Those gorgeous, relaxed evenings only

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happened occasionally, usually at the end of tours. But they were always my favorite evenings. Always. Those nights are the ones I miss the most now. 1976 The SPACED! Eddie Venus World Tour had ended. He was at his largest and best yet. From Japan to California, thousands of people cried his name and sang with him every night. There was more booze. More drugs. More groupies. More parties. More of everything. Eddie bought a summer house for us in Barcelona, while we stayed in our flat in London for the rest of the year. Really and truly, the summer house was the party house. Those were the only parties I ever got dragged into. Driven by my career, I learned to enjoy Eddie’s parties for once. In ’73 and ’74, I kept away from his parties, away from the drugs and the alcohol. And while I never gave into the troublemakers, I did not hesitate to mingle with the guests. And I loved it. I talked to everyone who was anyone and wrote about our conversations the next day. Apparently, everyone in the UK wanted to know what Jimmy Page did when he wasn’t recording. Or how Diana Ross described her life with the young Jacksons. Anything and everything, they wanted to know. The Barcelona home would look like an abandoned warehouse the next day. That was typically when the parties ended. People would come over around seven o’clock and finally left by twelve in the afternoon the next day (or they were passed out in the bathtubs and guestrooms). Chairs and tables would be flipped over, mirrors would be broken, cocaine would settle around the house like dust, and there was always a new stain on the carpet. Eddie’s cleaning service hated us. They upped their prices after the second party. But that didn’t stop Eddie from inviting people over every Friday night. Every Friday night for the entirety of the summer of 1976. By September, it all ended. Eddie got bored of the drugs again, so he went back to the recording studio to record his fourth album. This was to be his first album comprised of only “Earth Songs.” Eddie’s goal was to combine the epic fantasy of earthly rock opera and the glittery melodrama of his music. “Queen Nebula” was released as a single, while Eddie recorded Alien Brain, Human Heart. “Queen Nebula” was rejected by critics but loved by fans. “Eddie’s Lost His Way!” or “Queen Nebula? Newest Eddie Venus Track Bad?” and other lazy headlines marked the October issues of music magazines. I wrote my own article, describing the mindset Eddie had while writing the track. My article applauded him for pushing himself as an artist. At this point, I was told to hold off on Eddie Venus centric articles. My editor-in-chief said, “Astrid, the whole world knows you live with Eddie. Articles like these are just starting to sound biased. Just dial it back some. Limit the number of opinion pieces you do on Eddie.”

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“You got it, boss,” I said, only a little offended. But I understood and I didn’t write another opinion piece on Eddie until 1984. Luckily, all this bad press was buried with the overwhelmingly positive reception of Alien Brain, Human Heart. It was a double album, filled with strings, riveting bass guitar, heavy drums, slick guitar, and of course, Eddie’s one-of-a-kind voice. The lead single “She’s Got Me (Earthbound)” stayed at the number one spot for eleven weeks, making it his most successful song to date. 13, December 1977 I woke up at eight o’clock in the morning, like I always did. I got dressed for the day, made breakfast, like normal. But there was something wrong. I played an album every morning, while I got ready to go to work. On that morning, I played ‘71s Who’s Next. The moment I realized something was wrong is when track three began playing. Eddie was typically awake at eight o’clock. He always, always, always told me goodbye and good morning. I couldn’t recall a single day that he hadn’t met me at the door. I had grabbed my keys and was ready to head out. Eddie had not shown himself. My music typically woke him up. Track one, “Baba O’Riley,” was one of Eddie’s favorite songs. I never understood why, but he claimed it reminded him of the night we met. The fact that the opening synthesizer didn’t wake him up was absolutely jarring. My hand touched the doorknob, but I never twisted it. Instead, a horrible feeling rose in my stomach. A shadow lingered at the back of my mind. I crept back through the house, feeling nauseous. Eddie Venus was not in his bed. He was not in his room, at all. His bathroom door was open, revealing his absence. “Eddie!” I called, walking out of his room. No reply. “Eddie!” I half expected to hear the strumming of a guitar or a vocal line being discovered. But dead silence was the only noise to be heard. “Eddie?” Still, just cold, dead silence. “EDDIE?!” Wicked, cold, dead silence. That was what hurt the worse. After calling his name, the quiet felt like the world’s greatest insult. I went to work. It was raining that bloody awful London rain that day. The whole day was just nasty. I sat at my desk, pretending to write an editorial on The Graduate’s soundtrack and what “The Sound of Silence” meant for the last scene. But only one sentence was on the page at the end of the eight-hour workday.

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It was time to go home. The rain was coming down even harder now. I was drenched by the time I got to my car. The radio was playing “The Long and Winding Road,” followed by, ironically, “The Sound of Silence.” The same bloody song I’d failed to write about that day. I walked into the apartment, absentmindedly whistling to the songs that played on the drive home. The lights were still on from where I had rushed out that morning. “Eddie?” I called again, my nerves rattling with paranoia. There was no response, again. I called Cliff Burnet and the other members of the recording studio. “Have you seen Eddie today?” “No” was their answer. Every. Single. Time. “Was he supposed to come in today?” “Yes. Do you know where he is?” was the general response. “No idea.” I called everyone. His manager, our landlord, the house phone at the Barcelona house. The night was slow and long. I hardly slept, only getting in about an hour or two of true sleep. I thought about going out, acting as a one-woman search party. But I refrained, my heart still filled with hope that everything would be alright. When it came to be eight o’clock the next morning, I called the police. “Hello?...Yes, I’d like to report a missing person… Eddie Venus… Yes, that would be the one… Thank you. What should I do?... Okay… Alright… Thank you for your time.” Epilogue Eddie Venus was never found. No traces of golden hair, no flecks of glitter, no platform boots. Everything that marked Eddie Venus as Eddie Venus was gone. Everyone knew what to look for, but nothing was ever uncovered. What makes it so depressing is that he left us with so much promise. This is when a musician’s death is the most tragic. Kurt Cobain, Freddie Mercury, and Janis Joplin all left us prematurely. Their careers could have continued to influence and change the world’s sound. Eddie Venus is no exception. Alien Brain, Human Heart is his greatest work. He left before he could top it. That’s what really breaks my heart. Everyone wanted the next album, the next tour. I wanted to watch him make his next album, to go on tour with him. We all just wanted more time with Eddie. I needed more time with Eddie. Now, I write this memoir, fifty years into the future, still unsure of what happened to my greatest friend. But let me tell you what I think happened. Here’s what I tell myself so I can sleep at night: Eddie Venus went back to his galaxy. Whether it was willingly or unwillingly, I do not know. I don’t know if Candy Galaxies decided he was worth something or not. He’s there, waiting in the

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sky. He came, he lived, he blew our minds. And yes, readers and fans of Eddie, I am telling you that Eddie Venus was, indeed, an alien. An alien who knew how to enjoy life. An alien who knew how to make genuine friendships. An alien who knew how to connect to his earthly audience. An alien who changed my life. Question it if you will. Call me a liar, drag my name, and write hateful editorials, scrutinizing me for writing this “garbage.” But I will take this to my grave. I know the truth and I tell you nothing but the truth. He never told the world. The only person he ever told was me. I wrestled during these fifty years, wondering if I should tell you or if Eddie would prefer to keep it a secret. After much debating, I decided that he would have wanted you all to know. Eddie was a mystery of a man, but I think late in his career, or at the end of it, he would have wanted to make a little more sense to the world. He wouldn’t have wanted everyone to know the specifics—which planet he came from or what his true name was. I wrote this memoir to help myself say goodbye to Eddie. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: my life began on the early morning of the twenty-fifth of June. It was like I left the boring parts of life behind and learned to live again. I never lived to the same extents that he did, but he did teach me to enjoy the opportunities I was given. He did a lot for me and we did a lot together. I miss the shows. I miss his crazy clothes. I miss his signature smile and his proper speech. I miss the nights spent just talking to each other. I miss how the stars looked when he was alive. But he’s gone. And the stars look very different today.

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Companions by Emily Rushing

“Man, I wish I had a dog like Noah,” Charlie said. I glanced over at my fluffy mutt, his black folded ears flapping as he trotted happily beside us. His tongue was rolling over his bottom lip, flopping with his movements, and his tail was high in the air, wagging softly. “Why?” I asked. “He’s adorable!” “Dumb as a post, too.” “Elliot!” “What? He knows it too, don’t ya, bud?” I replied, looking over at Noah and scratching behind his ear. He huffed and leaned into it, tail wagging harder and mouth splitting open into a dog version of a smile. “Elli, that’s not fair.” “Says who?” “Me.” “Well, nobody needs your opinion anyway.” Charlie nudged me playfully with her shoulder, and I scoffed. We continued walking deeper into the oak woods in a comfortable silence before she spoke up. “How’d you get Noah anyway?” “Found him digging in a trash can,” I answered, patting his back. “He kept coming back so my sister and I put food out. He started eating that and one thing led to another and voilà! The idiot is ours.” “You really shouldn’t talk about him like that.” “Truth hurts.” “Elli.” I rolled my eyes. “If I had a pet, I’d—” “Baby it?” I interrupted. “What? No!” “Don’t lie to me, yes, you would! You already baby Noah.” I raised my voice to a higher pitch. “Hey, baby, oh you’re so sweet, yes, you are, oh, you deserve some bacon, don’t ya? Aww, yes, you do!” Charlie crossed her arms. “I don’t do that.” “Yep, and birds don’t fly, and Noah doesn’t like swimming, and The Blues Brothers isn’t the greatest musical of all time, and—” “Oh my lord, shut up,” Charlie said, shoving me. I grinned and elbowed her back, and we


continued to play fight until Noah barked, alerting us that we had arrived at our destination: The lake. Ever since we were nine, Charlie and I have been coming to this lake. We discovered it on a field trip, and after realizing it wasn’t too far from our houses, we decided to claim it as our hangout spot. Five years later, we’re still going, except this year, we had a guest. Noah. He loves water, hence his name, but he loves it almost too much—I remind you he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. There have been multiple times where he goes under a log in the water and tries to Eddie Hall his way to oxygen by pushing up against it instead of just going around it. Luckily Charlie loves to be around him, so she’s always there to help. I don’t go in the lake that much. I like to dip my toes in every now and then, but not full on cannonball like Charlie does. She teases it for me too, calling me ‘scaredy cat’ and ‘wimp’, but I’d much rather be a scaredy cat than sopping wet and dripping with freezing water. Within seconds, Charlie and Noah were leaping into the lake, leaving me to drop their towels (and some treats for Noah) on the grassy shore and sit, the water only coming to my ankles and across my shins, just the way I liked. But I should’ve known—Charlie gets bored easily. And I have a short temper. I squinted my eyes to protect them from the sun, but as soon as I did, Charlie swept her arm through the surface of the water, splashing me. She didn’t stop there—no, no, she kept going until I was soaked from head to toe in freezing water. “It feels nice, doesn’t it?” she called, laughing softly. I spit the freshwater out my mouth, and she bursts into laughter, like I’m John Mulaney and she’s sitting in the front row, taking in all of my comedic genius. I open my eyes and realize I can’t see anything. My hair has covered my vision, sticking to my face like glue. I push it to the side, wiping the water out of my eyes and staring at Charlie. She soon grows quiet, chuckling nervously. I stand up, run a hand through my hair, and pull it up into a high ponytail with the rubber bands on my wrist. After that, I crack my knuckles and roll my shoulders, and Charlie’s eyes grow wide. She starts swimming away. I pounce on her, shoving her underwater and cackling evilly. Her words were morphed, but I could just about make out: “Foul play! Foul play!” This wasn’t foul. It was totally fair. She grabs my arm and yanks me to the side, sending another tsunami of water onto my face with a flick of her wrist. I wiggle out of her grasp and turn to the side, diving underwater. My feet are still up in the air, and I slap them against the water as fast as I can, hopefully drowning her in splashes. I feel hands on my ankles and suddenly I’m pulled to the surface with someone punching my shoulder. I shake the water out my hair, quickly rub my eyes, and proceed in slapping the absolute

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snot out of her. One bark. Two barks. Three barks. “Stop, stop, stop,” Charlie demanded, holding my wrist as my hand went down to punch her arm. “What?” Barks. Aggressive, sharp barks. With only a quick glance at each other, we jump out of the water and start bolting, Charlie quickly gaining more speed than me. She was a head taller than me, with long legs too, but I had the voice. “Noah! Noah!" I yelled, hoping, praying, that he was safe. Did he get stuck in a bush? Did something attack him? Wait, was he in the woods? Or was he back in the lake? Two more barks, and Charlie alerted me, “Over here!” She took a hard left and ran parallel to the shore, and I panted and followed her, the pit in my stomach growing every second. I saw Charlie trip and fall her to her knees, and I sped up to help her, but halted. She was hugging Noah like her life depended on it, while he was barking and trying to launch himself at a tree. I scanned the tall oak tree. Rich, shamrock colored leaves covered everything except the trunk and the thick roots protruding out the ground, and Spanish moss hung down in huge clumps, some so long they almost touched the floor. A cat was sitting at the base of a high branch, it’s body lodged between the intense amount of foliage and sharp wood. It was clearly stuck, but its piercing yellow eyes stared at me like I was a meal made by Gordon Ramsey and it was starving. Noah growled at the cat, and I turned to Charlie. “Go get our stuff.” “The towels? Why?” “And the treats. I have an idea.” “What? For what?” I gestured at the tree. “There’s a cat in the tree, now can you go?” “A cat? Where?” “Charlie.” She blinked and nodded, a slight frown tugging on her lips. She slipped her fingers under Noah’s collar and pulled him along, breaking into a jog. Noah didn’t appreciate it, his ears still back and teeth still barred, tail straight out. He tried lunging once again at the tree, barking a couple times before Charlie eventually pulled him back and disappeared into the forest. I turned to the cat, squinting my eyes to see if it had a collar. It was hard to see with all the leaves and bark in the way, so I gave up, and looked to the closest branch to me. There was

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a fork in the main trunk where a branch split off, and if I got into that, I could climb up the tree and eventually get under the cat and get it down. That won’t work. I doubt grabbing the cat would make it happy, and carrying it all the way back without losing balance from all the hisses and scratches you would receive? Impossible. Do you think cats know the difference between cat treats and dog ones? “Here!” Charlie called from behind me, tossing me the towels. I caught them, and I could see the treats in her soaked pocket. Oh, yeah. I forgot I’m still sopping wet. And freezing. “Now, seriously, what are we going to do?” I narrowed my eyes at the lack of a black and white dog. “Where’s Noah?” “I gave him a treat and calmed him down. His collar is attached to a dead bush.” “Can’t he just pull and break the bush?” Charlie was silent for a moment. “So what are you planning to do with that stuff?” she asked. I looked back at the cat. “I think I can climb the tree, but there are some branches I can’t reach.” “So let me do it. I’m taller than you.” “And about as graceful as a stoned toddler.” She smiled slightly. “Touché.” I gripped one end of each of the towels and tied them together tightly, hoping they would hold and get me up. Two towels tied together would’ve been enough, but I added the other just to be sure. I put Noah’s treats in my pocket, hoping the cat wouldn’t be stubborn enough to deny wet dog treats. “Be careful,” Charlie warned. “No promises,” I replied, draping the string of towels over my shoulders and walking toward the tree. I lodged my foot in the fork of the tree, rocking back on my other foot before using the momentum to boost up and balance on my one foot in the tree. “Elli!” “What?” I asked, whipping my head toward her. “The cat moved,” she said, shifting silently and squinting to see where it went. “Where?” “Uh, higher up.You sure you don’t want me to do it?” I sighed, staring up and debating with myself. If I went, it would take me longer to get up and give the cat a longer chance to jump down and hurt itself. If Charlie went, she might use the towels less and not scare the cat. But my ego… “Fine,” I grumbled, jumping backwards. I landed and begrudgingly handed the towels to Charlie, who scoffed and pushed them back into my hand. I raised an eyebrow. “Confident now,

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are we?” “Not at all,” she replied, jumping into the fork. I saw her foot scrape harshly against the bark, and I knew that had to hurt. “Charlie,” I warned. “I’m fine, I’m fine.” I narrowed my eyes, watching her carefully. She grabbed another branch and pulled herself farther up the main trunk, and I asked, “Do you know where the cat is?” “Not a clue.” “Oh sweet Jesus, you idiot,” I said, jogging around the tree, straining my eyes to see the cat in the high branches. I heard Charlie laugh fondly, and I couldn’t help but smile too, but it didn’t last long before—“I found it!” “Where?” “In the tree.” “Elliot.” I smirked. “Fine, fine, it’s uh, more to your left.” She climbed farther up the tree before straddling a branch, pushing some moss out her way, and shimmying forward. Reaching for the branch above her, she hauled herself up, and before I could warn her the branch snapped and— “Charlie!” “Argh!” In a flash, Charlie slipped off the branch she had been straddling, but through some miracle, managed to grab it, so now she was upside down and hugging it like a koala, but instead of being cute and sleepy, she was hanging on for dear life like Alex Honnold, though he was much more graceful. “Are you okay?!” I asked, running under her. “Ye...yeah.” I squatted down and put my elbows on my knees and head in my hands. “You idiot.” “Sorry.” “Check. Check before you climb.” “Okay.” We were silent for a moment. “Do you see the cat?” Charlie asked, seemingly paralyzed with shock. Maybe she got the wind knocked out of her when she hit her stomach. I stood up. I could see a dark figure in between the deep green, but before I could tell her, it meowed loudly. Well. More like screeched. “You might wanna hurry.” “Yeah,” Charlie agreed, grabbing the top of the branch and pulling herself up. She decided

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to try a thicker, sturdier looking branch, and I smiled as she tested it before putting her weight on it. The cat meowed again, longer this time, and more pleadingly. It did it again, and again, and again—until all you could hear were its agonizing screams. Charlie started climbing faster, and faster, and faster—and soon she was only a few yards under the creature, who had quieted down to silence once it had noticed the girl come closer. “Be careful,” I called. “I will, I will, but one question.” “Yeah?” “How do I get her down?” The treats. The treats. I stuck my hand into my pocket. “Bad word,” I mumbled. “Yeah… you still have them. What do I do?” “Uh… your best.” “Thanks.” I watched as Charlie patted the branch she was on, hopefully enticing the cat enough to make it hop down. She pinched her pointer finger and thumb together, resembling that she was holding something, and she slowly stood up and put her foot on the branch under her, shifting downward. And with another miracle, I saw the dark cat jump on a branch a couple feet above Charlie’s head. What the—?! I heard Charlie clear her throat before clicking her tongue and shifting to the branch below her. The cat didn’t move for a few moments, but when Charlie rubbed her fingers together, it became enticed again, and leapt closer to her. Am I seeing things? Did I take something? Am I possessed? By Beetlejuice? Slowly, the pair crept down the tree, and I narrowed my eyes on Charlie. “Like a phantom in the night,” she said, smirking, before finally jumping to the ground. The cat stayed on a low branch, eyeing me suspiciously. I scoffed. “I could’ve done that.” “Not as quickly.” “Really? I bet I could beat your time, thanks to your little fall.” She rolled her eyes. “I still got the cat.” I ignored her. “Do you think she’ll take the treats?” “Worth a shot.You can do it, and I’ll go get Noah.” Before I could reply, she took off into the woods, and the cat and I entered a staring contest. The cat was a beauty, and I would’ve said so if not for my ego. It had a rich, black coat

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with small splotches of fiery orange, along with a white underbelly and neck. It had piercing green eyes that matched the leaves almost perfectly, and I have to say, if I saw that pattern on any other animal I’d say it was going to lead me into the underworld. Now that I looked at it, I could tell it was a female, but I didn’t dwell on it too long. I pulled the wet treats out my pocket and crouched down, tossing them between us. She glanced down at it and whisked her tail back and forth. I stayed still and silent, and after a few moments she jumped down and sniffed at the treats before licking them and pulling back. I could imagine her disgusted face. “Hey, Elli?” I heard Charlie call from somewhere nearby. “Yeah?” I asked, standing up and looking around. “I’m right here.” A hand poked out from behind a tree to my right. I eyed the cat before heading toward Charlie. I went behind the tree and froze. She was holding Noah in her arms, his head thrashing and teeth bared. He was growling lowly, and I raised an eyebrow. “Yes?” “Can you take Noah home, and I can get the cat?” “Sure. Are you going to keep her?” “Her? Um, maybe. I’ll ask my mom, but seriously, who in their right mind would deny my puppy dog eyes?” I won’t admit this, but she’s basically a relative of Puss in Boots. I rolled my eyes anyway. “Alright, give him here before he starts barking.” And just like that, he let out a bark, and we heard the scurrying of the cat as she ran back up the tree. Charlie quickly gave him to me, and I stumbled under his weight for a second before regaining my balance. “Are we gonna meet back up?” she asked. “Uh, sure. I’ll put Noah back and we can meet at your house. Get her food and water situated.” Charlie nodded vigorously. “Thanks, Elli. I can’t wait to get Bark’s collar! What color should it be?” I blinked. “Bark?” “Yeah! Bark the cat.Y’know, ’cause we found her in a tree. And cats don’t bark. It’s kinda funny, right?” I scoffed and pulled on Noah’s collar lightly as he gave another round of yelps. “I wouldn’t expect anything less weird from you.” And with that, I started to carry him off into the woods towards home.

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Control by Layla Brindisi

I had been told my entire life that you shouldn’t let one person control your entire life. And I wished I had listened. I let Maria Elizabeth Rocksin control my life. It all started in second grade. It was the first day after winter break and everyone had just gotten to class. We were all putting our things in our cubbies, chatting about what we had gotten for Christmas, and hugging people we had missed. Then our teacher Mrs. McClaire clapped her hands to grab our attention. “Okay everyone, let’s take a seat on the rug for the morning meeting, and I have some fun news!” Mrs. McClaire announced. Everyone’s faces lit up at the thought of fun news. Everyone hurried to the rug, and took seats next to their best friends. But I sat alone. I sat in the back, watching everyone else chatter away about what this news could be. I stared down at my lap, not wanting to have any sort of attention. There was a brisk knock at the classroom door, before Principal Gross walked in. Everyone stopped talking and sucked in a breath. Principal Gross only came to the classrooms when she had bad news. She cleared her throat and said to us in her loud, commanding voice: “Hello students, meet the newest member of your classroom, Maria.” She then stepped aside to reveal a short girl with black hair, pulled behind her in a neat braid. She hugged a My Little Pony backpack to her chest, and wore a pair of leggings and a white shirt with pretty ruffles lining the bottom. I wished I had such nice clothes. I wore old, hand-me-down jeans, and a baggy tee-shirt. I was the youngest of six kids. I immediately wanted to be friends with this girl. But everyone else didn’t seem to agree. That day Maria had sat alone at lunch, at the end of our classroom table. That day spaghetti was being served, and two boys loaded their spoons with the bright red sauce and hurled it at Maria, and laughed loudly as it splattered against her white shirt, covering it with the sauce. I could see tears form in Maria’s eyes and I heard a sniffle escape her. I whipped my head to the boys and gave them a menacing glare. They glared right back and yelled: “What are you looking at four eyes!” I had never understood that phrase. My glasses were obviously not eyes! I went and grabbed tons of napkins, and headed over to where Maria sat. I handed her the napkins and sat across from her. “Don’t rub, dab. My mom taught me that,” I told her. She smiled and dabbed at the sauce. After she got most of the sauce off I told her: “ I’m Alice by the way.” “I’m Maria.” She mumbled to me. After that day we would eat together every day at lunch and soon became very close. We had been inseparable all the way to eighth grade. We helped each other through every boy who broke our hearts, every rumor spread, every friendship lost. Then, the summer before eighth grade started, tragedy hit.


It had been a nice summer day, and I rode my bike down to Maria’s house, which was just on the next street over. I pulled into the gravel driveway and put down my bike’s kickstand, and skipped over to the nice front steps of the small farmhouse and rang the doorbell, but all that met my ears was the sound of their dog Lucy barking loudly. This was odd. The Rocksin’s were almost always home, and it was extremely rare when all of them were gone at a time. I ran to the garage door and peeked in through the window on the side, and sure enough their cars were gone. Maybe I was just being paranoid. Maybe Mrs. Rocksin had just decided it was time for a family outing. I nodded my head and got back on my bike again, and began to peddle when a familiar voice called to me. “Well hello Miss. Alice!” The voice called, and I smiled when I saw sweet Mrs. Gertude, Rocksin's neighbor. “Hello Mrs. Gretude,” I called back. “Do you know where the Rocksins went?” “Well, last night Mrs. Rocksin and Maria left in quite the hurry. Then this morning Mr. Rocksin and Maria’s sister Annie, left.” Mrs. Gertude said, concern in her voice, making the wrinkles in her face go deeper. “Oh.” I replied, and worry took a tight grip on me. I began peddling again and waved goodbye to Mrs. Gertude. I felt a knot in my stomach, and I had the feeling something was very wrong. I peddled home quickly, fighting the worry and fear consuming my brain. Once I got home, I hurriedly shoved my bike outside, and ran up the steps of our trailer. I had always been embarrassed about the trailer. My parents were quite broke, and when I was an infant, they sold our home and moved into a trailer, much too tiny for five people. My three other siblings had already moved out and started their lives, but my other two sisters and I were still stuck in the trailer. My little sister and I shared the bottom bunk while my older sister had the top bunk to herself, and my parents shared the pull out couch. We had a tiny bathroom and an even smaller kitchen. I burst through the door, and collapsed into the bed, erupting into sobs. “God what’s wrong with you?” My older sister Danna scoffed, but my little sister Georgia rushed over from the TV that barely worked half the time, and hugged me tightly. “What’s wrong, Al. Talk to me.” She said, rubbing my back just how Mom does. “God, she’s fine! Probably crying over another boy!” Danna rolled her eyes. “Oh shut up Danna!” Georgia snapped and grabbed a piece of toilet paper, and gave me one to blow my nose, and dried my eyes with the other. “I-it’s Maira! T-they just left last night! A-and I’m so worried!” I cried before dropping my head into my hands and sobbing. I felt my anxiety flare up and I started hyperventilating. My breaths came out ragged and harsh. “Hey, hey, hey, it’s okay! I’m sure everything’s fine! How do you know this?” Georgia asked. “Mrs. Gertude.” I cried. Georgia nodded, and hugged me tightly. “It’s okay. Lay down. I’ll make you something to eat.You lay there and take some deep

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breaths. Put yourself in your happy place.” Georgia whispered to me, and laid me down, and draped my favorite blanket over me. I nodded and took deep breaths, trying to distract my mind. I watched as Georgia snapped at Donna to get some ice and water, and for once Donna listened. After a couple minutes I had finally calmed down. I had eaten some yogurt and had a glass of water, but the thought of Maria filled me with panic again. I closed my eyes and imagined myself on an empty beach, the cool breeze blowing against my face, the water tickling my toes. I was wearing a beautiful, flowy dress that wasn’t a hand-me-down. As I imagined the breeze carrying away my worries, I drifted off to sleep with it. I woke up to see my mom sitting on the bed, stroking my hair. My dad still wasn’t home from his long hours of working as a mechanic, and my sisters sat on the couch, looks of pity on their faces. No. No, I didn’t want their pity. I didn’t want to know why I was getting these looks of pity. A knot formed in my stomach. And I just knew. Something happened to Maria. “Sweetie, last night, Mrs. Rocksin and Maria got in a car accident on the way to a soccer game, a-and they didn’t make it.” My mom said, her voice breaking off at the end. “No.” I whispered. “It’s gonna be okay.” My mom mumbled, reaching out to touch my arm, but I yanked it away. “No!” I yelled and jumped up and ran out the door and down the street. I ran and ran until I arrived at the Rocksin’s house. I ran and banged on the door. “Maria! Maria let me in! It’s me, let me in! I know you’re here! Let me in!” I yelled sobbing harder with each word. But no answer came, just the barks of Lucy. I banged and banged, and watched as worried neighbors came out to see the commotion. I slumped against the door, scream-sobbing until my throat gave away. I heard the roar of a car, and realized it was my mom’s, and I saw her rush out, and grab me tightly. “Come here. Come here it’s alright.” She whispered. But I pushed her off. “Get off! You are lying! She’s in there! She’s just sleeping!” I yelled. My mom grabbed me again and held me tighter. “No baby. C'mon, we need to go home.” She mumbled to me. I tried to kick, I tried to get away, but all my energy was gone. I gave up. I barely remember the days following her death. It was full of numbness and crying till I had no tears. I never ate; I just laid in bed, grasping all the memories I had of her, terrified someone would rip those away from me too. Then, on one warm sunny day, barely a month after her death, I sat in the front of the trailer, lying on my back, watching the clouds, imagining if Maria was up there somewhere, watching over me. We loved lying on our backs, watching the clouds and imagining shapes they looked like, and giving them lives and backstories. We had always done it in front of our trailer because there were no trees to block the view. I stared at the clouds imagining what Maria

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would say they looked like. “You know that tiny one, that is a baby racoon, and the one next to it, that’s its mom.” I whipped my head around to see Maria lying next to me on the grass, pointing at a cloud. My mouth dropped open. She was wearing the same thing that I had last seen her in, and she smiled at me. “B-but you died.” I whispered. “No.You are stuck in a coma,” She explained. “You crashed your bike on your way to my house! I’m here to bring you back!” I smiled happily. I knew my mother had been lying. My Maria would never die. I smiled and grabbed her hand happily. We sat there for hours staring at the clouds. “So, can we go back now? This world is incredibly sad.” I whined. “We need to leave at the perfect time. Now is not the time.” She said, certainty in her tone. I nodded. Maria was always right. For some reason I didn’t know, now wasn’t the time. “My parents want me to go to a therapist.” I said to her after minutes of silence. “Oh don’t go! That therapist is evil, I know it! They will give you medicine that makes me disappear! T-they want you to stay in this coma! Alice you can’t!” Maria gasped. I nodded along. That made sense. “Okay I won’t.” I promised her. “Great! Well I should head home! Head inside and I’ll see you shortly.” she cheered and skipped away, and I watched until she faded away. I walked inside happily and plopped onto my bed. “Cmon Alice. We need to leave if we want to make it to the therapist in time!” My mom called from the kitchen. I groaned but followed her to the car, and stayed quiet as we drove. “I’m not going.” I told her when we pulled into the parking lot. “Listen, Alice. This will help!” She begged. “Liar.” I hissed. And she shook her head. “I need to go across the street to the grocery store, now go check in.” I grumbled but got out reluctantly. I watched as she drove away, and once she was finally out of my view, I walked down the block to the Target. I checked my watch. I had forty-five minutes before I needed to run back to the therapist’s office, to make it seem I had gone to my appointment. I was extremely proud of myself for taking Maria’s advice. I walked through Target happily admiring all the pretty clothes, and happy families, some with little kids, others with annoyed teenagers. I made up backstories for all of them as I walked past. After nearly no time, I needed to leave to make it to the therapist office in time. I made it just in time, as ten minutes later, my mom pulled into the parking lot. I went appointment after appointment skipping before one day we were all lounging around at home, when my mom’s phone rang. She answered it, and when the person started talking she spun around and, if looks could kill, that would have done it.

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“Alison Jonna Chicks.” She rumbled. My sisters dropped what they were doing and gave me looks of fear. I looked up at her, failing to hide the fear in my face. “Y-yeah?” I squeaked. “Have.You. Been. Skipping.Your. Therapist. Appointments?” She boomed, empathising each word. I nodded slowly and her head dropped into her hands, and I saw her shoulders start shaking, and I heard her cry quietly. And my heart ached. I didn’t want to make her cry, but I had to get out of this coma. I had to go home to the real her. She didn’t understand now but I was doing a great thing. “Alice we are trying to help you! We are trying to help you with grief, but you have to let us try!” My mother cried, and tears began to form in my eyes. “I don’t want help! I’m fine!” I yelled through my tears. “No you aren’t! Baby you aren’t eating! You lay in that bed, or you stare at the clouds, or you sit by her grave! Baby you have depression! You aren’t the same! You will go to that therapist! End of discussion!” My mother sobbed. I stayed quiet. I did as my mom said just to make her happy. But the pills I was told to take. I didn’t take those. After having a long talk with Maria she agreed that there was no way around seeing the therapist, but I could pretend to take the pills. I would put it in my mouth, and when my mother would leave I would flush it down the toilet. I needed to get out of this coma. Soon Maria always told me what to do. First it was: stop eating. It will help wake your body. Then it was: don’t do anything except sleep and talk to me. And finally it was don’t talk to you family, they will try and keep you in this coma. They are evil versions of themselves. I listened to every word and did everything she asked of me. Whenever my parents needed something merely nodded, or gave the simplest answer possible. And the same thing with all the doctors, therapists and physiatrists. I would shrug or give simple answers. Soon Maria was controlling my whole life. I was at her every command. Then one fall morning, Maria arrived at the trailer as I laid in the grass, waiting for her. “Alice! It’s time.” She called to me, and my face lit up. This was it. All the things I had done for Maria were finally going to pay off. My parents would finally see why I had disobeyed them. She led me through the city I had grown up in. For some reason I felt I should really admire it. I studied every tree, all the beautiful buildings, and all the people milling about, off to do jobs, and shops, and to pick up kids from school. I breathed in the cool autumn breeze, and the smell of the city. We walked and walked for ages, until we were downtown. “Maria, this has been quite the walk, where exactly are we going?” I asked. “To a special place, a place that can take you home!” She exclaimed happily and we trekked on. Soon we arrived at one of the tallest buildings in the area. “What does Clark’s Law Firm have anything to do with me going home?” I cried as we climbed the steps into the building. Maria stopped and turned around. “Alice you trust me don’t you,” She asked and I nodded. “Then let’s go! You have nothing

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to worry about!” I smiled and followed her as we entered the building, but were stopped by a receptionist. “Where do you think you’re going hun?” The lady asked. “Um, I’m Mr. Clark’s daughter. Came here to visit.” I stammered. “Hmmm okay, you look a little different though.” “I decided to change up my hair!” I lied quickly. She nodded and Mariah and I hurried up the stairs until we were on the roof. “Here we are.” Maria sighed. I looked around the roof. There was nothing up there except some machines that probably helped keep the building running. “What does this have to do with going home?” I asked. “This is going to be hard to hear, come.” Maria said and I followed her until we stood right near the edge of the roof. “I am not real. I died. I am just a figment of your depression and imagination.You aren’t in a coma, I’m your depression.” And suddenly Maria morphed into a great black beast, that towered over me. The beast nudged me to the edge of the roof until I wobbled, trying to keep my balance. “Now jump my dear. Jump and go home.” The beast growled, but the voice came out as sweet Maria. I closed my eyes, imagining it was really her. “Anything for you.” I whispered and began to walk off the edge and closed my eyes, letting my body slip. I felt the wind rushing past me, and my life flashed before my eyes. I saw myself meeting Maria, I saw us growing up together, I saw when I found out she died, I saw when I met ‘her’ again. I closed my eyes, begging for the darkness to just come, to let me return to dust. But suddenly I heard the crash of glass breaking, and suddenly, I was knocked to the side, and felt myself hit something, before falling into darkness. I awoke slowly, opening my eyes to harsh, bright lighting. Maybe this was heaven. But then I heard my mom's voice, why was my mom in heaven? “She’s awake! Donny go get the doctor, she's awake!” She cried and hugged me tightly. I embraced her happily, but I groaned when she pressed against a sore spot. “W-what happened?” I asked groggily. “Darling, you-you tried to commit suicide.You jumped off a building, but a man, the kindest man to ever exist, saw you getting ready to jump, and jumped through a window and tackled you into the building next door, saving your life. He saved your life.You broke a couple ribs, and have a concussion, but you will be okay. The man will too. He has a broken leg and arm but he is on the mend. My darling will live.” My mom sobbed. “Mom. Mom, I didn’t jump. I was pushed by Maria, by the demon playing Maria.” I mumbled. My mom stroked my head gently. “What?” My mom gasped. And with that I explained everything that had happened, from ‘Maria’ coming to me, to her slowly taking control of my life. When I had finished my mom

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hugged me tightly and sobbed. “It’s gonna be okay! We will get some help and everything will be okay!” I smiled and nodded and felt my life already beginning to come together. My mother had been right.You should never give someone complete control of your life. Epilogue Years later Alice was doing great again, leading a healthy and wonderful life, and ended up marrying the guy who had saved her life, who was only two years older than her. They had two kids of their own, and stayed happily married till their death, when Alice had a heart attack, and her husband Conner died of cancer. They died holding hands.

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In His Accord by Madeleine Jones

Oh, when will this pandemic end? Oh, how will our society mend? Will it be stressful? I hope one day we will all be successful The things that make us happy like barbeques and cash Have been taken away from us like a flash Maybe the economy will bounce back Or maybe it will lack This pandemic has made pollution go down Beautiful endangered animals have been found But people are in danger, this is a serious task People are walking around wearing face shields and masks “I can’t breathe” and calling for his momma Listening to George Floyd cry and watching the police kneeling on his neck Put me in a state of grief, pain, trauma, and derelict Everyone is upset and declaring “black lives matter” Police throwing tear gas and beating people until they scatter Rioting could only be the beginning But looting and vandalizing is a form of sinning I fall to my knees with tears in my eyes I want the Lord to wrap us up in his arms to help us to survive So much is happening I just don’t know what to do People are losing their minds to this virus, violence, brutality, and misconstrue But then I remember, in Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. All lives do matter in the eyes of the lord but black lives matter In His Accord Amen.




The Death of George Floyd by Jaelyn LaSalle Foster

I am thrown to the pavement His knee pressed to my neck. I feel the rough pavement That is cold and wet. I feel no one is there Nobody hears my calls. I’m calling out to my Mama Who I love most of all. I shout in horror I scream and twist But no one seems to hear me In this pitless abyss. The world around me darkens As I scream “I CAN’T BREATHE!” But another officer grabs me And my screams are muffled by his sleeve. My name is George Floyd I was killed because I’m black. I had a FAMILY and a DAUGHTER! SAY IT LOUDER... for the racists in the back.



Moments by Harlen Rembert

The moment is fleeting, impermanent. It cannot be held, despite your wishes.

The human sea roars and crashes around me, but my eyes remain steadily on her, the island in the storm.

These temporary moments are personal experiences. Only one person can live a moment.

In her deep eyes, I can see the shore.

Another’s moment is not your moment, regardless of proximity in time or space.

I struggle against the waves, trying to reach her.

Its identity is separate.

I throw out my hands to grasp the stones, to be saved by her, but they recoil from me.

It is because of this that your moments can only be known to you.

Gazing longingly, desperately at her, I am sucked under by the crowd.

And because your moments cannot endure, you will lose them.

Her serene form vanishes into the turmoil.

This simply means that all you remember will fade, lost to the world forever.Your unique life will be swept away, as leaves in the wind. The moments that form you, cease to be. I flail helplessly, surrounded by the sea, my hands finding nothing to grasp in the thick of the crowd. I drown.

The memory is the moment.