The Hotelier’s Upcoming Goodness

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Tom Matthews

The Hotelier, taken by Kylie Shaffer

The Hotelier, taken by Kylie Shaffer




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Think back to the moment you first experienced love. Can you remember what it was? A hug? A kiss? A formation of friendship? The feeling of a parent’s protection?

These memories are often from a young age. We recall these memories fondly at a time before our existence in the world changed—before there were expectations of us.

Years later, love can feel devoid from our lives. Over time there has been growth and learning. And sometimes this growth and learning has forced us out of love.

How do you get back to that love?

The Hotelier is working that out, and is doing so on Goodness, the band’s upcoming album set for release this May.

The album features thirteen tracks, with some almost lasting seven minutes long. But every second feels precisely accounted for—time is a very important part of this album and even remains a theme throughout its entirety.

For it is the harnessing of time that gives way to the freedom to love.

Time is constantly pulling us away from experiencing love—work and useless time-consuming stimulation demand our attention and distract us from connecting with those in our present—it is only through our own efforts that we can cease the reign of time in our lives in order for us to truly experience love and the goodness of the world.

In “Opening Mail For My Grandmother,” lead singer and bassist Christian Holden cherishes time left with a loved one that is slowly fading, singing, “I’m coming for you. Your beautiful brightness, perpetually new. So old in your body, the youth’s in your mood. They’re keeping your space there they’re dying for you. We’ll sing your good graces when they come for you but until that day’s here I’m coming for you.”

Holden’s detail rich lyrics reveal a perspicacity for recognizing moments where love is fleeting.

On “Soft Animal” he sings to a fawn doe minutes before it is hunted down, “Make me feel alive. Make me believe that I don’t have to die. Fawn, doe, light snow. Spots on brown of white make me believe that there’s a God sometimes.” In this captivating chorus we hear Holden searching for the capacity to live freely—a desire sparked by a young wild animal.

A life lived freely is often glamorized as some grand transcendent experience, but the reality is much less sumptuous. Instead, it is the ability to know what is truly good for oneself, and the ability to make independent decisions that are pertinent to this well-being. And sometimes this involves making decisions that are not easy. Decisions where someone will be hurt. Love demands transparent wholeness.

Holden laments “If it’s you undone, then I can’t sit with you. And it’s you undone and I can’t sit in your sun,” on “Sun”—an explosive theatrical display of the band’s tight musicianship.

A life lived freely requires rationalizing what you want from what is best for you.

“In this young night’s sky there are pinhole lights. Find the shape of a harp and an arrowhead. Do I hear your tunes or acknowledge wounds that I got from rubbing elbows with a sharpened edge? But if I choose this too does it count as my move? I can’t drop my history just to become new. Now I’m swimming through the nothingness and the absolute, but I couldn’t ask this of you,” sings Holden on “Two Deliverances.”

People live their lives in search of meaning. We collectively agree on one’s meaning and significance based upon their accomplishments. And because of this irrational measurement certain people rise up, while others fall to the wayside and are forgotten, barely making a ripple in the current of time. But at the end of the day we all sleep under the same moon, and rise under the same sun. And as Holden points out on “Goodness pt. 2”, “Withered down to our basic components we are naked, at rest, and alone.”

Goodness is a carefully constructed, thought-provoking album. An album that forced me to think about my literal action of listening to it. Why do I consume art? To feel. To gain a clearer conception of the world around me. I feel I have gained one after listening to Goodness. And while I don’t think all art must exist to intellectually stimulate, I find it to be the art I return to. And Goodness will be an album I return to for years.

So, the next time you are wondering where the goodness is in the world, look around you. It’s everywhere. It’s in the moon. It’s in the sun. It’s in the people around you. And just like the old lullaby goes:

“I see the moon, the moon sees me

shining through the leaves of the old oak tree

Oh, let the light that shines on me

shine on the one I love.” 

Watch the NSFW Goodness album trailer below:


Pre-order Goodness from Tiny Engines here

Contributing Editor Tom Matthews is a Senior at Clark University where he majors in English, specializing in Creative Writing and Journalism. Visit his website at

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Staying Up with Sleepovers

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Sasha Kohan

                        Sleepovers is marina khananayev, hannah corbin, and jacob folsom-fraster. photography by sasha kohan.

                        Sleepovers is marina khananayev, hannah corbin, and jacob folsom-fraster. photography by sasha kohan.

From the moment you walk into their apartment, you begin to understand more about who Sleepovers is and where the band’s sound comes from. Plants pepper the place—dead and alive, on the floor and on the walls—and the coat rack in the corner has transformed into a plush kind of tree on its own, stacked at least fifteen coats deep. The art on the walls looks like the type that could be in a gallery—or maybe one of them just made it the other day. Maybe it was one of their friends.

Made up of housemates Marina Khananayev and Hannah Corbin, along with the recent addition of drummer Jacob Folsom-Fraster, Sleepovers began in a Worcester, Massachusetts bedroom, and that’s exactly how they sound. Even when screaming about dumping your boyfriend, there’s an authentic intimacy in both singers’ voices which conjures the soft quiet that must have made them want to scream. In the same way that they somehow create warm melodies out of bleak subject matter, one of the most striking elements of Sleepovers is how the band is able to uniquely capture the feeling of feeling alone and yet deliver this feeling to us with reassurance. The close friendship between the lead vocalists is particularly palpable in songs like “I Wanna Start a Band” and “Hot Dog Song,” but is also felt, even in their solo songs.

With just two EPs on Bandcamp and a couple of local performances under their belt, the group has already managed to win over an impressively devoted following of listeners. When I first saw them in December, it was just Marina and Hannah playing “Whiskey Song” to a stunned and silent audience in their own living room; then the full trio of Sleepovers was booked as the opening act at Clark University for New York project Eskimaux and opened their set with the same song—this time with a full floor of standing fans singing along to every word, with lines like “Don’t have a crush on you” “I like getting high” and “I’m not anybody’s rock” among perhaps the loudest in the repertoire of audience favorites, it’s easy to see why Sleepovers is quickly becoming one of the most popular local bands in the city of Worcester. Known to friends and fans for their unassuming honesty, uncomplicated language, and utterly endearing onstage dynamic, the band and their music already has a reputation for treading the line between heartwarming and heartbreaking, often invoking both at the same time.

As an early fan of Sleepovers, I was thrilled I had the chance to talk with them personally about their project and methods of making music. Though our interview was a first for both parties involved and (at least, my) nerves were bouncing off the walls, the carpeted floor of Hannah’s bedroom began to feel familiar as our conversation floated on and away from Hollywood Street, beyond Worcester and back to other bedrooms—for, as Sleepovers reminds us, there is perhaps no better place to think about first times and new things than on the carpeted floor of your best friend’s bedroom.

Interview Highlights

On songwriting

So you write most of your songs in here?
Hannah and Marina: Mhm.

Do you write most of your songs together?
M: Not most of them, but a few of them we’ve written together.

Do you like working together better or is it easier by yourselves?
H: I don’t know, ’cause there’s some stuff that I’m like ‘I don’t know what to do, I need help with this’ and then some stuff that I’m like, ‘Oh, I wrote this’ like it just happened, I didn’t need help, it just came out.

Yeah, so do you guys ask each other for help, or like if you’re writing songs together, how does that happen?
M: I think it usually happens like one of us says, you know, ‘I wrote this guitar part’ and then you’ll start singing something, or the other way around, or something like that, and then we’ll just sit there and—I don’t know, trade off singing lines. We also just sing a lot of shit and then we’ll be like, ‘Oh write that one down.’
H: Yeah. Yeah we’ll just like sing a bunch of lines, like random things, then write it down later and decide later what’s good to keep.

On the addition of Jacob

How did you come into the Sleepovers project?
Jacob: Well, a kid put a drum set in my basement, so then a bunch of bands started practicing there. So then, I don’t know, when [Hannah and Marina] would practice I would just come down and play the drums for fun. I don’t really play the drums, I kinda just started messing around ’cause there’s a drum set in my basement.

That’s really cool. And you played for them we you opened at the last PEC show?
J: Yeah, ’cause I don’t know, you guys were thinking you wanted drums and I already knew all the songs, so…

It was a really good effect, people loved it. The drums added a lot.
H: We practiced so much for that show [laughs]. ‘Cause [Jacob] had just started playing with us that week before. You were like, ‘Me? Really?’ [laughs] ‘Are you kidding?’
J: I’m like, the worst choice.
H: I feel like you are the best choice though, because I feel like we’re all the same level of instrumentation at this point, where we’re all kind of figuring it out together, so it’s cool to like—I don’t know, I feel like I’d be intimidated if there was someone who was like, mad good at drums, like shreds. I’d be scared to play.

On their show in February

What was it like opening for Eskimaux? I heard they were one of your favorite bands.
H: Yeah, we saw them a few months ago. On my birthday, actually. We went to go see Girlpool and they were opening.

I just started listening to Girlpool and remember thinking they reminded me a lot of Sleepovers.
H: Definitely, yeah. I like Eskimaux way more now after opening for them, just ’cause she was so nice.
M: And also at first when I was listening to their music, I was like, ‘Oh, you know’ but I listen to it all the time now, like ‘This is really good songwriting.’
H: Also just knowing someone in a band—okay, we don’t know her that well, but like meeting her and talking to her—we texted each other—just makes the music so much more enjoyable. I don’t know. For me, at least.

Did you guys get to talk to her after?
H: They had to leave right after the show, but we chatted for a bit.
M: It was nice. She told us about her first show ever, and it was like this really hilarious story about some bubble tea place and she couldn’t see anything because— [laughs]
H: Because she scratched her cornea.
M: It’s not funny. [laughs]
H: Yeah it was really nice, and she was so supportive, and just meeting someone who’s like, famous, and having them tell you they like you—
M: It was really cool.
H: I freaked out a little bit. I also had a flash of like, ‘I’m gunna quit school. All I’m gunna play is music from now on.’

On actually starting a band

So what was the moment you decided to start a band? Like, when do you decide to do something when you’ve only been thinking about it?
M: I don’t know if we ever decided.
H: I wrote a song—
M: Yeah, [Hannah] wrote a song—
H: And I liked it—which had never happened before.
M: Was it the cat song?
H: No, it was “Philly.”
M: Yeah, you wrote “Philly” and I was like ‘damn, this is really good!’
H: Then I was like, ‘we should start a band’ and you were like ‘eh’ and I was like ‘please.’ And [Marina] was the one who didn’t want to start a band, and then Jacob was like, ‘all these people are playing at my house.’
M: Oh yeah, they had this like Sunday music festival thing at their house during the day, and Hannah was like ‘let’s
do it! Let’s perform there!’ and I was like, I don’t think we’re ready. We had “I Wanna Start a Band” and “Philly” and those were the only songs we’d ever written. We wrote them like two days before the show and then we were like, ‘shit, what do we do?’ Oh! And I had just bought that bass, too. I bought a bass from our other friend—

So you didn’t play bass before?
M+H: No. No no no.
M: Well, it’s kinda similar to guitar, so it wasn’t too difficult.

Yeah, I think about that too, like ‘I can definitely learn bass, probably.’
M: Yeah, it’s just a little harder to push down. [laughs]
H: But anyway, we played at it and we messed up a lot, but I mean, people came up to us afterward and said, like, ‘great job!’ and it just felt good. It just felt—I think both of us realized ‘damn, this feels good.’

On Sleepovers’ sound, name, and aesthetic

To me, it’s so clear what you are, just based on what your music sounds like and what your house looks like, and it’s so interesting that you manage to get that into your music. As someone who’s trying to write songs and failing miserably, I’m curious as to how you make songs that sound like you?
H: I’ve been trying to write songs for a really long time and I wrote a song that I like for the first time this year. I’ve also written a bunch of songs we never play because I’m not in love with them, but I just needed to like, get shit out so I just wrote it. But it’s like a keep-away.

Save for later.
H: Yeah. Or for never. [Laughs] Or just to like, have expelled from you. I kinda appreciate you saying that though, because I don’t really know, like–I have a hard time describing our band to, like, relatives and friends from home that ask, ‘What’s your music like?’ Like, eh, I don’t know.

I also feel that, because I’ve also been asked to describe your music and I’m like, ‘Uh, it’s kinda—uh, it’s soft I guess, but it’s like rock, uh, I don’t know.’
H: I just hate the word ‘indie’ and being like, ‘it’s indie.’ Because that doesn’t say anything about what it sounds like, it’s just like, ‘independent’? Okay, like we don’t have a record label? So what does that—that’s so many artists! What a stupid term.
J: [Sleepovers’ music] makes you feel happy and sad at the same time.
M: Yeah, you said that to me once.

To me, it feels exactly like a sleepover. It reminds me of sleepovers in like, fourth grade, and it’s so specific but for some reason all the details are right just in the way it sounds and the words you choose and, I don’t know, the vibe you give out. It’s all very cohesive.
H: That’s awesome. It’s funny you say that because that name just isn’t—like it wasn’t intentional at all. We were so frustrated trying to pick a name.
J: There were like, six different names.
H: Yeah, there were so many different names, and like, I liked one and Marina liked the other, and we were just sitting in here—
M: Every day we’d text each other being like, ‘what about this? What about this name?’
H: Like I’d walk down the street and see a package with like, ‘mermaid’ on it and be like, “Mermaid should be our band name.’
M: [Laughs] When did you see a package—
H: I don’t know! It was just like you’d see something and you’d be like, ‘this should be our band name.’ But we were sitting in here, in these exact same spots one night, and we had just finished writing a song and we were feeling loopy, and Marina was just like, ‘Sleepovers’ and I was like, ‘cool, that’s our name.’ It was like—boom. And we haven’t talked about it since. [Laughs]
M: We didn’t even deliberate or anything, like ‘Should that be it?’ We were just like, Sleepovers. Done. Don’t wanna think about it anymore.

What are your musical backgrounds like?
M: I’ve been singing in choir all my life, pretty much, and I took piano lessons for a while. My family’s pretty musical, I’d say, it’s not a huge thing about them, but just singing all the time I guess, just any chance I could get. I was in a Renaissance singing group in high school where we dressed up in Renaissance clothes and sang around the community. [Laughs]
J: What?
M: You have to watch the videos. It was awesome. You know, haters gonna hate but it was so much fun. We’d go to like, old folks’ homes and sing for them.

They loved it, I bet.
M: They loved it! We looked like nerds, but whatever. [Hannah’s] been in a band before.
H: I was in a band but I was like a novelty. I was in the band to be the only girl in that band, you know what I mean?

Like a token girl?
H: Kind of. I also have a really hard time singing in front of people and I didn’t do it until this year. Like, at all. So this is a pretty new thing. I didn’t sing before this, really, but I’ve played guitar since I was 13. But only like—not real, like initial ‘I’m learning how to read music and play chords,’ I was like ‘teach me this Green Day song!’ [Laughs] I just wanted to learn songs that I liked.

And what about [Jacob]?
J: I feel like I’ve always been surrounded by music but I was never that serious about playing it, like I took piano lessons in third grade—

Right, because everyone does.
J: [Laughs] Yeah, and like I took guitar lessons in middle school, memorized some songs, still know ‘em and don’t know anything else. But my dad is a sound engineer, so until I was in third grade, he was on tour most of the time, so we would go visit him and I would go to shows. And my parents’ group of friends are like, all these musicians that were playing in Boston in the late 80s and 90s, like this band Morphine.
H: I know Morphine!
J: You know Morphine? Yeah, they’re like my family friends. [Laughs] I don’t know, at family gatherings there was always music, just—music everywhere in my house.
H: I have one thing to add, just ’cause it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done: when I was in high school, I was in an all-female rap group that would only play at parties at the end of the night called Red Lips Big Hips. I just wanna let you guys know that ’cause it’s the best name I’ll ever come up with.

On their best song

I’m interested in what you guys think is your best song, just because someone behind me at your show—right when you started playing a song—was like, ‘This is the best song they’ve ever written’ and I’m interested to hear what you guys think it was.
M: Ooh, we have to guess? Hmm, I don’t know.
H: Wait, do you wanna know something kinda funny?

H: At our last show, our roommate was there and afterwards, she was like, ‘The guy behind me just kept being like, ‘The blonde one’s really hot’ [laughs].
M: [Laughs] I was so pained and proud at the same time. But our best song…I feel like the songs we write together, in the moment, are our favorites to play.
H: Also, every time Marina—we’ll send each other things that we’re working on by ourselves, and every time Marina sends me a song, I’m like, ‘this is my favorite one you’ve ever written.
M: [Laughs] That’s how I feel about yours!
H: Every time she sends me a new one. I hope that sentiment doesn’t like, lose its value cos every time I’m like, ‘ah, this is the best one.’ But I do really—I love your songs.
M: Aw, thanks.
H: I don’t play anything on “Hot Dog Song” but I think it’s my favorite one to play because it’s just so fun.

It is! It sounds a lot like First Aid Kit to me, just in terms of
the vocals.

M: Oh, yeah, I do see that.
H: Also, I hated playing “Philly” because I was just so over it until we added the yelling part.
M: Yeah, I think the most fun to play, for me, is “Hot Dog Song.” At this moment in time. [pause] What about you, Jacob?
H: Yeah, what’s our best song, Jacob?
J: Well, fun to play is different from the best. I think some of the best songs are the ones where I do the least. [Laughs] But um, hmm…

Or, what’s your favorite?
J: I don’t know, “Too Nice Outside”? That’s always been my favorite. That song gives me the chills.
M: Oh, wait, I actually retract my answer for most fun to play personally—it’s “Dark Thoughts” because I get to play the xylophone.

I love that song, it’s one of my favorites. Honestly, it’s a tie between that one and “Neighbors” for my fave on the new release.
H: Really? I never wanna play “Neighbors”!

I really liked it!
H: Shit! Thanks!

Was that real?
H: Yeah, I was here alone one night and our next-door neighbors were having a really loud, sad breakup, and I was playing music already and just like, ‘these are two chords and here are some words…’ [Laughs]

Yeah, I really like that one. The one that the audience member behind me said was your best was “I Wanna Start a Band,” which I also think is tip-top.
M: I think that’s the first song I’ve written that I’ve ever showed anyone. And then we finished it together.
H: We did finish it together.
M: The last verse and then the yelling part.
J: That’s the anthem.

The yelling is really good. And it sounded really good with the drums too.
M: The drum really changes the game.

It does. It was a game changer.
H: The thing too is like—keeping rhythm, we didn’t worry about it when it was just the two of us ’cause we’d just be like ‘this part’s fast, this part’s slow’ but then Jacob came in and we were like, fuck. [Laughs] “I Wanna Start a Band” was so hard to learn ’cause there were so many changes.

Yeah, I love when songs go through tempo changes though. My personal favorite of yours would have to be—I just have “Whiskey Song” stuck in my head all the time. Like, since I first heard it.
H: Written on this floor.
M: That was the first song we wrote together.
H: Marina spilled whiskey all over my floor—look, there’s a stain right there.

Oh my god, the stain!
H: The stain! And then we wrote that song together.




Sleepovers will be performing at The Shop in Worcester on April 22. To hear and purchase the music from the “rough cuts” and “voicememo demos” EPs, visit their page on Bandcamp. 

Sasha Kohan is a graduating senior at Clark University studying English and film. To read more of her work on music and movies, visit her website. 




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Days in Pink and Sometimes Nights

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Sasha Kohan


The last handful of nature essays toppled on their sides as the fat hardcover encyclopedia of insects that had been acting as a bookend was swiftly grabbed and tucked away. Julian liked the nature section. It was small and squashed between science and travel, and even though he knew nothing about particles or marshlands or Buenos Ares or bumblebees, he liked to read the names of books in his journey down the alphabet, and think of things he’d never thought of before. Words like “quantum” and “archdruid” and “invertebrate” filled his head, empty and meaningless and curious sounds. Metaphysics, he thought, stopping to look at a metaphysics book. I’ve never considered metaphysics before, and I may never again. And he continued down the row.

  Photography by Sasha Kohan

  Photography by Sasha Kohan

 Nothing was quite as satisfying for Julian as a calm day at the bookstore, when he could leisurely push carts across the carpeted floor without clumsily meandering through clusters of lost husbands, trinket-finding seeking kids and book club mothers. He could hide for a while in each section, and flip through the books to see what font they used. (Dante, Baskerville—Garamond was his favorite. He even saw Cochin once.) There was a special kind of calm on Mondays, after the frantic herd of weekend shoppers completed all their spending goals, asking for books that didn’t exist and refusing sales pitches for discount cards. Sunday night was weary and relieved, while Monday morning was quiet and still. No one wanted to disrupt it first.


Entertainment was a disaster. Television, music bios, screenwriting, dance—they were all a mad jumble along the wall perpendicular to art (which had been systematically destroyed long ago—there was no hope). Julian often tried to find time in his shifts to sneak away to the music and arts corner of the store—at the far end, by the scant collection of CDs and pop vinyls—in vain attempts to alphabetize, but it was no use. (He nearly finished the section once, and was dismayed to find it in ruins again two days later.) Truly artistic people surely won’t care, he tried to convince himself, compensating for his own small failures. They’ll appreciate the long journey to finding just what they want. They probably prefer things not to be organized. He still tried, nonetheless.

 “Um, excuse me?”

 Julian turned away from the dishearteningly disorganized shelves to a girl with freckles, dimples, and glasses. She was shorter than him, and there was a cynicism in her eyes and maturity in the way her hair fell around her frame. He coughed.

 “Yes, can I help you find something?” Julian asked. He hoped he sounded uninterested.

 “Yeah, I’m looking for maps. Like road maps.” She kept buttoning and unbuttoning the left sleeve of her green flannel. Her fingernails were painted green.

 “Okay, those are actually at the other end of the store by science, um…” Julian hated walking the length of the floor with customers, but he saw no other reasonable option. “Just—come with me.” He never knew whether to lead or walk beside people, but for the sake of avoiding small talk, he chose to lead, and took a brisk pace down the aisle.

 “I need something for the Southwest, in particular.” Julian was at once disappointed and nervously excited to see that she was taking especially long strides to keep up with him.

 “Yep, everything we’ve got will be down here,” he said. He stared straight ahead as they marched past psychology and science fiction, health, relationships and fantasy, but he could see her looking expectantly at his profile. Now feeling obliged to keep some sort of conversation alive, he added, “What are you doing in the Southwest?” He could see Quentin behind the café counter, stolidly ringing someone up for a mocha frappuccino. His long fingers always managed to look elegant, even punching $3.29 into the register.

 “I don’t know yet,” the girl said. She smiled bashfully. “I’m hoping I’ll figure it out on the drive.”


 Plastic knives snapped. Straw wrappers crinkled. The blender whirred. Smells of coffee and cream and caramel flavoring bled from the confines of the café counter. They swept around the sore feet of customers posed casually at little round black tables by the home and garden magazines, filling the air with dusty bits of dark chocolate, raspberries, and cinnamon. Julian pushed a black wire cart towards the microwave where Quentin always put the go-backs, wondering whether he would miss this someday. A slice of blueberry pie had just finished heating up, and the terrible whining alarm beeped loudly amid the nearby chatter of impatient tutors and students, parents, associates, and the rustle of a New York Times from the hands of an old man in the corner. Julian stopped and heard the collection of sounds, then spotted a small stack of magazines lying on the counter. He felt his phone vibrate in the front pocket of his apron, but ignored it. As he picked up the assortment, Quentin came wandering out of heavy metal double doors that led to the kitchen. He had recently dyed the front of his bleach blonde head a vibrant magenta, accentuating his blue eyes and the ring through his eyebrow, and causing Julian to do a double take almost every time he saw him. The microwave stopped beeping.

 “Hey,” said Julian, placing the magazines in the cart one at a time in order to catch all the sections. Golf, regional, technology, games. Golf, regional, technology, games. Golf, regional, technology, games. He thought it several times while Quentin unhurriedly extracted the slice of pie and moved it onto a cool plate.

 “Hey,” said Quentin. He never said much.

 “How is it over here today?” Despite the café and the bookstore being in the same building—indeed, part of the same chain—making the trip behind the counter always felt like an exotic field trip for Julian.

 “Not bad.” Quentin gracefully sprayed a puff of whipped cream over the pie and brought it to the pick-up side. “Blueberry pie with cream?” he asked the general area indifferently. An old woman with white sneakers claimed it, after a few moments of uncertainty. Julian wheeled his cart back onto the open floor. Turning around to instinctively check that he hadn’t forgotten anything, he saw Quentin looking absently after him. They briefly saw each other and then both looked away.


 It was overcast and crowded. It was a bad day.

 After spending nearly a half hour with one woman who fervently wanted an original copy of Edith Wharton’s first book on interior design (it was impossible), Julian was desperate for his lunch break. The flow of irritable or otherwise unremarkable customers had been nonstop since eleven, and he found it a bit exhausting to be so completely unappreciated sometimes. A microwavable meal with lukewarm water always made the day a little better, though.

 In the break room, Skip was already immersed in a new mystery book, waiting for his leftover Chinese to cool down. He didn’t look up as Julian crossed the scuffed tiled floor to reach his ramen noodles. Skip read more than anyone else in the store—teen fiction, biographies, military history, bestsellers, cult classics—nothing was outside his realm of interest, and he had a suggestion for everyone. Julian stood by the microwave as the timer went down, absentmindedly taking out his phone. Three new messages from Clare. The door opened again, and Julian quickly put his phone back as Quentin came through. He nodded at Julian, then briskly went to the fridge.

 “Your hair looks really cool, by the way,” said Julian, realizing he had never actually said anything about it despite the frequency with
which he noticed it. Quentin’s smooth blank face was buried in the refrigerator light, but when he surfaced he was smiling. The microwave went off. Julian reached in for his Tupperware of noodles, but quickly withdrew. It was too hot.


 It was nearly time to close, but the graphic novel section was still full with the usual crowd of pale, skinny, manga-reading kids with dyed hair and black outfits who looked rather like anime characters themselves. Julian didn’t mind that they sat in the store and read manga all day because the books were too expensive to buy, but he dreaded the end of the night when he would have to crawl through their small haunts, picking up the abandoned volumes and finding space for them in the tightly-packed shelves. He went out back to grab his cigarettes and tell Pete he’d be taking his last break.

 Outside, the air was cool and almost smelled of October. Julian dug through his pockets for a lighter, wondering how long it would be until the true October smell washed over the sky.

 “Hey, I know you.”

 Julian looked up. He almost didn’t recognize the freckled, dimpled, bespectacled girl who stood before him once again. She was smiling. He coughed.

 “Oh—yeah—Southwest girl! Road maps. Right?” She nodded happily. Julian took another drag, and hoped he looked cool. “So when’s the big trip?”

 “Tomorrow, actually,” she said. He might have imagined it, but it seemed like her smile started to fade.

 “No kidding,” he said. “Lucky you.” He exhaled and watched the smoke float off.


 The day was winding down, and the children’s books were everywhere. Julian was hardly surprised to see that Carla, the curvy brunette who wore her hair down, was taking her time picking them up. She was always looking for an excuse not to be on register.

 “Can you believe shit like this?” she asked, flicking her brown eyes up at him. “Sometimes I just can’t believe shit like this. Like, pick up after your fucking kids, this isn’t a goddamn daycare.” Carla had a monotone, husky kind of voice, ideal for complaining and passing on gossip in low tones (which she often did, between the far-left territories of Westerns and romance). Julian knelt to pick up a stray Elmo behind her.

 “When are you done?” he asked, tucking the plush red puppet back on the shelf with Big Bird and Grover.

 “Fucking forever ago,” said Carla. She threw a copy of Goodnight Moon onto a pile of baby bathtub books with excessive aggression. “I was supposed to be out at eight, but fucking Pete always takes fucking forever to count the registers. I actually had plans on a Saturday night, believe it or not.”

 Julian looked around, past the neon pink activity section for girls and out to the main doors. There were no clocks in the entire store, and without a cell phone to risk getting caught looking at, one had no choice but to gauge the time of day based on what little natural light came through the front windows. Julian estimated it to be around nine o’clock.

 “Hey, aren’t you leaving soon too? Like for real?” Carla looked up from her place sitting crisscross on a rug shaped like a frog’s face. “When’s your last day?”

 Julian was shuffling towards a woman who looked vaguely lost by the new fiction display. “Monday,” he said, turning back for an instant.


 The store had been closed for thirty-six minutes when Julian finally finished vacuuming and cleaning the bathrooms. He was scheduled to open tomorrow, and so went through each closing ceremony with a bittersweet tenderness because he knew it would be the last time. This is the last time I’ll spray this eco-friendly surface cleaner on this bathroom mirror, he thought, spraying the eco-friendly surface cleaner onto the bathroom mirror, wiping it away with sad satisfaction. He looked at his fresh, lemon-scented reflection. His shaggy black hair would surely be cut before the journey back to school, and the dozen or so freckles around his nose would fade with the summertime. He switched the lights off and wheeled the mop bucket through the staff entrance to the kitchen.

 Spending the last twenty-four minutes of his shift wandering through the rows of fiction, Julian absentmindedly pushed books back and forth, straightening the titles and front-facing the ones he liked best. The tired alternative-pop music rang through the empty space above the shelves and in between them.

 “Wasting time?” Quentin appeared from behind the Dickens and Dostoevsky.

 Julian laughed. “There’s not much else to do,” he said, front-facing a Junot Díaz book. Quentin stuck his thumbs in his back pockets.

 “Word on the street is, you’re outta town soon,” he said, looking at the floor. “Are you coming back for Christmas?”

 Julian had untied his black apron and started the big move across the store and towards the break room. Quentin followed suit. “I’m not sure yet,” said Julian. “Will you still be around?”

 “Hell no,” said Quentin, rolling his eyes. “If I’m still here at Christmas, kill me.”

 He laughed a little bit, and Julian did too. Another pop song came on. A microwave went off. A new and tired life started somewhere as the sun went down, but neither of them noticed anything except the smell of the books, and the sound of each other’s sneakers hitting the thin blue carpet.


Sasha Kohan is a graduating senior at Clark University studying English and film. To read more of her work, visit her website.

Orange Berlin

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Emma R. Collins   


Berlin Street scene at the corner of Moll- strasse and Hans-Beimler-Strasse / Volkmar Thie / akg-images / Universal Images Group  

Berlin Street scene at the corner of Moll- strasse and Hans-Beimler-Strasse / Volkmar Thie / akg-images / Universal Images Group  

She has blue eyes, the same blue that waits outside my window on a clear, cold day. She rides a red bike, red like her lips when they curl up, full of open-mouthed smiles. She laughs at things I don’t understand. I love her. But I’m afraid.

I called her when I had nothing left, hoping maybe she could spirit me away. A dark place. A lonely place. She was the only one my throbbing head could think of sitting on the bathroom floor. She would make everything alright again. And I was so happy when she told me, “Come on!” …because she didn’t understand, and I couldn’t stomach telling her. So I went.

Now I live where the street lights at night turn the windows orange. Feeble light. She’s a rush of color and sound that can overwhelm a simple person with simple problems. And my problems must still be simple, because she drowns me locked up behind dirty old orange windows.

It was so like her. Not to ask. Just do. I called her when they threw me out of the house in disgrace and she smelt me like blood in the water. It was a new adventure. A new chance. New life. And now I’m here, in this place, in this country, and the lights down below change: a bloody red, a sweet green, a dirty orange.

Only three weeks have gone by. The light bulb in my desk lamp is blown out. I was wrong. I’m an invader here. I sit in the twilight and resent my useless lamp. Inside my room it’s quiet and dark, a cold womb. I like it there. She can’t stand things that are stagnant. She drags me out prematurely. I’m only an infant here. I wish she would just hold me and tell me it would be okay.

My Beth.

Tell me it’ll all be okay.


A door slams somewhere below us. The muffled sounds of people living other lives filter up between floorboards I haven’t swept yet. I want to read. Because I can’t possibly do anything else. But I need to be near her. Something flamenco comes from small, orange speakers flecked with flour. The kitchen is warm and the windows fog with a breath of gourmet.

“Dellie, watch. Watch!”

I look up to see Beth tip her head back, open-mouthed and smiling, as she tosses her hand-kneaded dough into the air. She laughs and catches it again, punching a small hole. She starts singing as she drops the dough onto the countertop. She has a Barcelona accent to her Spanish.


“I wish we had a brick oven,” Beth groans with a breathy sigh. “Did I ever tell you about the time I made one with Max and Sean?” Her hips sway as she smooths the dough. “I got the mortar all over my brand new jeans. I was so mad!”

“Mmm,” I said. My book sits limply in my lap. The kitchen smells of tomato sauce. She made it by hand. It simmered all morning while I slept. My open-mouthed world is never shy about starting the day without me.

“Have you ever tried to make something like that?” she asks me.

I raise my eyebrows. “I made um, a bridge once.”

“Really?” Her eyes are so big and blue.

“Just a little one,” I murmur. “For a project. About physics. It was just um, wood. Those popsicle stick things.” It never occurred to me that while I was babysitting and cleaning houses, trying to pass a high school physics class…I could have been making brick ovens.

“There’s just something about working with stone, you know? It really makes you start to appreciate those old buildings and how beautiful they are. How much time and work goes into something like that. Makes you wish they still built things that way.”

“Mmm.” I’m pretty sure they did, but instead I look down at my book. The flamenco  music sways. Something hitches in my stomach and I bite down on a sore lip. I cough once, and look at her. She’s slicing pepperoni, a mound of fresh mozzarella at her elbow. And I think, maybe. Now? “…Beth?”

There’s a heavy whump. followed the grunt of a too-big door grinding over an old wooden floor I haven’t swept yet. I catch myself as the door to their flat, our flat, shakes and shudders open.

Kaminey!” a warm voice exclaims.Someone needs to fix this!” In through the sliver of space that has been pushed open comes the small body of tiny Indian girl with dusky brown skin all wrapped up in jeans and a heavy leather jacket.

Beth doesn’t hear me when I ask her name, so she answers the Hindi explicative with a few phrases of her own. There’s a brief exchange, mild banter. I feel ten thousand miles away.

“It’s getting a lot better!” Rajani smiles, switching to English for what I know is my sake and mine alone.

Beth laughs, pretty and open-mouthed. “I bought this old Hindi dictionary. It probably sounds very formal.”

Rajani laughs in return. “Very university!” The tiny Indian girl pushes back against the too-big front door and mutters under her breath. Once the door is closed again and she’s locked everything she throws me a smile and tosses her book bag onto one of the many-colored chairs that surround their, our kitchen table.

“What are you reading?” Rajani asks.

I feel a warm embarrassment flush my face. “Oh, um…” I look at the cover of my book as if I’d never seen it before. “Rising.”

“Who wrote it?”

I shrug. “Um, David Tanner?”

“Didn’t he write that stupid series about that spy guy? Raji, taste this. I got it from the Metzger right around the corner.” Beth hands off a slice of fresh pepperoni and mozzarella. I sink a little lower into my pillow and blanket while Rajani sucks playfully at Beth’s finger tips to taste the morsel. “I’m so happy I’m not a vegetarian anymore,” she sighs, satiated.

“Good, right?” Beth smiles, proud of herself.

“Yeah, he did,” I say, but quietly. I try not to be heard. I like David Tanner, and Ryan Crow, the black-listed CIA spy with a vendetta and the death of his wife to avenge. “He’s written a lot of stuff…”

“When does Harris get back?” Rajani wonders aloud.

“He has lab until four,” Beth informs her politely. “But Gunter should be back soon. I think he just went out for some groceries. Hey, do you guys want to go to the Rot Nacht Truppe  tonight? They’re doing this really cool interpretation
of Hamlet in the contemporary with modern dance and tango.”

I sit up suddenly. “Tonight?” But she doesn’t hear me, or she forgot, because she’s spreading the warm tomato sauce she made by hand over the dough and I’m just a passing thought.

Ja, sounds like fun.” Rajani spoke German fluently. She had been living in Berlin for three years, studying medicine. She’s going to be a neurosurgeon. She loves beer and wurst. I like Rajani. She’s kind, but she’s aware. I think she knows what I never say, but she never says it either.

“Dellie, you want to go?” Beth asks, again.

I swallow as if I had never spoken. “What?”

“Rot Nacht Truppe. Wanna go? Harris probably will, and Gunter.”

“I don’t think Gunter’s into that,” Rajani yawns.

“Daw, he’d like it,” Beth assures her. “It’s totally his thing.”

“I don’t really like them,” I admit, watching to see if her eyes come to me then.

“Aw, really?” And yes, they do, as if I’ve dropped some shocking revelation. “Why not?”

I stare at her. “They’re…intense.” They scared me.

“But that’s the point!” she cries.

“I think I’ll stay in.” She doesn’t remember at all. She doesn’t remember our dinner plans or the fact that I have been trying to get her to look at me, look at me, for more than fleeting second. Can’t you see it? Can’t you see it in me? But it’s not really worth mentioning now. I’d have had better luck catching the wind.

“You always stay in.”

“I’ll go,” Rajani says.

“See? Raji loves me!”

I feel very, very small.

They laugh and smile and eat fresh pepperoni from their finger tips and the hitch in my stomach makes me nauseous. I get up without them noticing and pad down the hall, dirt on my socks. I close the bathroom door behind me and turn on the faucet. The tap. I can’t remember the German word. I kneel in front of the toilet and feel my throat tighten. I’m grateful, for the first time, for a loud flamenco.


Beth went out. I don’t know where. Rajani went back to the university library to work on her paper. I come out of my room to find the pizza cold on the countertop. I want to eat, but my mouth is heavy with ash. The flat is dim. The skies are grey. There’s no color in the windows.

I try a bite, but it’s too sweet. Instead, I wash the dishes because I need to start pulling my weight and I try to think of words I should have known.

Faucet. Wasserhahn.

Water. Wasser,

Soap. Seife.

Clean. Sauber.

I am clean. Ich bin sauber.

Something hot opens my thumb and I gasp to see a plume of red born under the grey water. I snatch my hand back and the wound stings, blood running pink down my arm. I spot the knife at the bottom and wonder why I hadn’t seen it before. My stomach tightens with that familiar twitch and I run to the bathroom to find a bandaid.

There’s blood down my arm and in my sleeve, on the broken tile that’s tinged with age and down the side of the Wasserhahn, and I don’t know how to call for help in a country where my phone doesn’t work. I don’t have the money to buy one that does. I don’t know why I’m crying while I drain the blood with cold water, stinging my flesh. The cut is small, insignificant, but my heart hammers.

I hold my hand as if to make a plea with mein Gott, but when I find myself on my knees again, wrapped up in clumsy gauze with little more than a paper cut, I realize the tears are not for me. Not, at least, all of me. My stomach is taut like a drum and I look at the toilet but I close my eyes. I think of Beth. I’m scared she’ll find me here. But I want her to. I need her to.

Still, I’m scared of what she’ll say.

A heavy fist hits the door and I jump. A bored, firm demand to get the hell out, probably. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.

“S-sorry,” I call out. I fumble to mop up the red mess. The heavy fist hits again, and again, and I finally have to surrender. I’m still clutching the water-logged tissue dyed pink with my absent-minded stupidity when I open the door.

“Aw, Dellie!” Harris beams. He smells like sweat and damp wool. “Thought it was the Kraut. Sorry about that. Alright there?” He gives a nod to my hand. I hide it behind my back.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Cut yourself?” He frowns. His hair is wet, a dark brown. He has a band of freckles across his large nose.

“I’m fine.”

“Yeah…alright. Well, I have to piss, so…” He grins.

“Right, yeah, sorry.” I duck away, hot and cold. Harris has the kind of face that makes you think you know him, or you’ve seen him somewhere before. I have. I’ve seen his face, or one like it, I should say, in the dim strobing light of a club, dazed and confused with an alcoholic kiss. I have a hard time looking at Harris, thinking about another face, in another country, whose grin isn’t as cheeky or sweet.

Harris says something else to me. Maybe it’s kind. I don’t know. I don’t really care either, because I’m trying to avoid him and thinking of the things he reminds me of. I just hope there isn’t any blood left. I wish my head was the same.

Rot, she had said. Red..

I go to my bedroom, a tiny room that feels more forgotten than home. But it’s safe. I close my door, forget my bulb is blown, and pull the rough-hewn blanket to my chin.


Beth came home while I slept.

She’s gone again in the morning, no note. Rajani says she may have gone for a run. She may as well have flown to the moon. The kitchen smells of something fresh-baked, a pastry I can’t pronounce. Rajani leaves with Harris to study and, as always, I remain.

After a while, when my tea has gone cold, I decide I’ll read. My room is dark. I try to turn on my lamp. Nothing changes. I stand there for a moment, and in that moment, with a throb in my thumb and a hollow in my stomach, I don’t think of her.

I don’t think o
f when I called her, asking if I could stay.

I don’t think of the moment I walked away from that place where no one would have me, pretending she was all I’d ever need.

I don’t think of making that choice on a cold day in November, when I had already been so alone.

I don’t think of what I want, what I want so badly being her, all of her, every bit all for me. I want my future. Our future. All of us. I want an impossible future.

But I don’t think of any of those things, standing in the grey dim of an early-winter morning. Instead, I think of one thing. One very, simple thing.

A light bulb.

I fix my bandage in the bathroom. I don’t vomit this time. It must be passing now, into the next phase of my slow evolution. I almost smile. Almost. There is a dim scent of something musky hanging in the air. I breathe deep, recognizing Beth, the scent she always wears after a night of dancing, her long hair flying around her waist, flying around her shoulders, bare and a lovely pale. Her scent.

When I open my eyes my thumb is still sore. I tighten the bandaid and brush my hair while she settles into the fibers of my clothes. My stomach is calm. It’s quiet in the flat. Even the lives that go on beneath the floors I should sweep later seem to be hushed. For a very fragile moment, something lifts and I feel light.

I leave the bathroom with clean socks, and I remind myself to sweep the floors. I don’t make it past the kitchen though, because the too-big front door whumps  and drags open before I can escape.


But the frame that fills the threshold is tall, too tall, and big, with pale hair. She is small and dark, like a forgetting dream. This is a little more abrupt. A wakeup call, harsh and upfront.

His name is Gunter, and he is the only one among us born here. I see him on the off-hour, when nothing else in the universe seems to be happening. He comes and goes and it’s almost as if the flat is haunted. I might have seen him once in only his boxers, when he thought no one else was home and they still had to remind each other I lived here. He has a strange voice, as if cold glass could move.

I can’t recall in that moment if he speaks English or not. I gawk for a second, because he’s standing between me and my light bulb. But he seems to regard me as someone would a piece of furniture, maybe misplaced a few inches.

He comes in, closes the door, moves past me, and puts a cloth bag on the table. I hesitate for a second because I feel compelled to say something. The flat is quiet in the mornings. But this quiet is uncomfortable and very, very pregnant.


“There is ginger ale and crackers in the bag,” he tells me.

My thumb throbs. “What?”

Gunter gestures to the cloth bag. “For your stomach.”


He puts his keys on the table filled with notebooks on law and medicine and literature studies and futures.

“Um, thank you.”

He picks up a stack of mail to file through and I think that’s it. Quiet returns. There’s frost on the windows, white and fragile. Beth’s scent is still on my shoulders. I feel my stomach tighten because standing there in the presence of our formidable ghost, I suddenly decide that tonight I’ll tell her. I’ll tell her everything.

Lost in my own head, I don’t touch the bag as I walk by the table. I’m too busy constructing the fragile glass of what I will say to her when she finally comes sweeping in through the heavy front door. It takes a moment for me to pull on my old pair of hiking boots but eventually I remember how to tie a knot and straighten up to reached for the spare key.

“You should see a doctor,” Gunter says as I struggle to pull open the door, breaking my silent conversation.

“What?” Beth, where was Beth? “I don’t…”

“Go see a doctor, Dell,” he tells me. He sits down at the table with his mail in-hand and his eyes won’t let go.

“I don’t need a doctor,” I scoff, panicked.

He shrugs, but this time, his attention is firm.

“I don’t,” I insist. Maybe a little too loudly.

Gunter shakes his head. “You should go.” He stares at me with his dark, dark eyes.


Why, why anything, just why? This asshole. How could he ask me why…I don’t know why! Am I about to cry? My head hurts. My stomach is tight. All of the sudden the strength I thought I had rushes out of me. I’m so swollen under my too-big sweatshirt, and no one even bothered to ask. He just knows. But Beth didn’t even notice.

Why?” I snap now, edgy, sharp as ice because his silence has gone on far too long and Beth should be home soon. I hope. I can almost hear the snap-snappidy-snap of her boots trotting down the long, dirty hall outside. And my heart is in my head and I imagine her coming through the doorway and she’s smiling at me, her mouth open-wide and honest and simple.

“Hi, Dellie,” she’ll say to me, singing, wrapping me up in a hug. “Missed you last night. What did you want to tell me?”


But maybe I won’t have to say anything. Maybe, she’ll just know to love me, even with my mistakes. And we’ll be happy. Can’t we be happy?

“Go for your health,” Gunter is telling me, snapping me back to where I stand in the warped and scratched threshold of the too-big door.

“I am healthy.” I insist. I glare at him, challenging him, daring him to say what we both know has grown beyond silence now.

“Then for the baby’s,” he says. And as simple as that, he walks away from me. But I don’t have time to react, because I hear someone turning a key in the door and I’m not ready for her.


Emma R. Collins of Ashby, Massachusetts, studies English and Psychology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and hopes to become a literary editor.

Photo credit: Berlin / Moll-/ Hans-Beimler-Str./ Photo. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 14 Mar 2016.

Kites Under the Sun

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Adam Maarij

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Ask me what I most remember about my birthplace, Baghdad, and I’d answer ‘’yellow.’’ I’m not sure whether my memories are fuzzy or I’m just mistaking dreams for reality, but the more I think about it, the more my hometown resembles a painting made of warm dust particles. This includes the yellow dusty brick walls of my house, the cracks of our concrete sidewalk, and the edges of Main Street, after which it just becomes a blur–yellow and dusty and devoid of any serene breeze. There was a field of brown dirt with clumps of withered grass and malnourished trees–eerie yet bewitching scenery. My parents though, say otherwise. They tell me that on the other side of the street were just more brick buildings. I am still reluctant to believe that the field did not exist, even though I was only five years old at the time.  It honestly shocks me, how many memories and tender emotions my five year old self kindly retained for me. Fake or not, most of my memories are simple fragments, such as me sprinting for my life from two other, much bigger kids, intent on beating me, while I laughed, my face red, relishing the exquisite pleasure of living on the edge.

Smart phones? Plasma TV? PS4? Ha! The very act of owning even a PS1 was a luxury not many could afford, much less a computer. Our main toys were our kites, which we made and flew with pride. The kites were typically crafted from sticks found on the streets and whatever material we could scratch up, all hitched to a thread that threatened to snap with each gust of wind. We all had our favorites. My older brother, Sarmad, a child blessed by the sun, had a red kite, while that of my oldest brother, Aseel, the smart child of the family, was black, white, green, and red patches poorly stitched together. Even though our kites were equally horrible, they did not fail to cause rivalry and arguments as to which was best. My father–a veteran at his craft– unsurprisingly surpassed us all with an eloquent blue, red, and white kite, perfectly symmetrical and devoid of any wrinkles (unlike his face). I wasn’t even in the running, since my favorite kind of kite amounted to one that was able to glide for a few fleeting moments without disintegrating.

We would gaze at them, adoring the kites’ refined dances over and over, never getting tired of its swaying to the left and to the right, up and down, and when the rare exhilarating breeze that would cool our lungs of the tepid air stuck within came, we would savor it.

The sun beamed brightly at us, unyielding. We would do better without you, thank you very much. I could not help but stare into it, to contest it, to see which one of us would surrender first and blink in shame. It was a battle that I always lost, of course. I hated losing, and I still do.

The rest of my precious memories are a scattered and disordered mess. What I do remember though, will probably stick with me for the rest of my life. My mother always reminds of the time she bought a bag as tall as I was full of small fish, and how we devoured them faster than the flames could roast them! Or that time when the power went out–and it often did–and my brothers and I went onto the balcony and let loose countless paper airplanes and watched them plunge for three or so floors, and then slept outside.

Sometimes at night we lay on the cool ground and gazed at the sky. With no sun and with very few lights, the stars and the moon were a pure, unforgettable white. I would smile and laugh for no apparent reason, and I felt blessed by the night and its glimmering stars. How magnificent they all were! They twinkled vividly and frantically as if they were oblivious to the shroud of the foolish, ghastly night.


Adam Maarij was born in Iraq and immigrated to America at the age of eight. He attends South High school in Worcester, Massachusetts, and enjoys  soccer, running, reading, writing, and procrastinating.


Crying at Work

Spring 2016, Uncategorized
Heraclitus (The Crying Philosoher) / By Johannes Moreelse (after 1602–1634)/Wikimedia Commons

Heraclitus (The Crying Philosoher) / By Johannes Moreelse (after 1602–1634)/Wikimedia Commons

by Joseph Benavidez

The first time I cried as a journalist was driving home after covering a frigid winter event. A month before, a 46-year-old man had gone missing, and his girlfriend, family, and friends were holding a candlelight vigil to draw attention to the case, which had gone cold. The vigil was held on the second floor of a tiny church, and the girlfriend and his sister spoke about the good qualities the man had and how much they missed him.

Being in that church was disconnecting  for me. Mentally, I knew a man was missing and probably dead, but emotionally I felt nothing for the man or his family. I interviewed the girlfriend, taking her quotes before effortlessly moving onto the sister and then another attendee. During the moment of silence, I took photos of the small crowd praying. I did my job and left the church happy and proud of myself. I felt like a real journalist and not a college student playing pretend.

But on the drive home it hit me. This guy was dead and no one was ever going to say goodbye to him. In rural Massachusetts, a body can stay hidden in the woods for decades. Without warning, I found myself overwhelmed by a crushing wave of sadness.

Winter on Route 2 means ice, darkness and, if you don’t pay attention, accidents. Everyone who grew up along the highway has a story of teens dying in a car crash; and here I was, alone, crying fat, ugly tears. I forced myself to pull over and rolled down the window to let the cold chill my face. It wasn’t enough and I ended up calling my best friend.

We talked for almost an hour before I calmed down and felt it was safe to drive home.

*       *      *

To tell the truth, this wasn’t the only time I cried at work. When you’re the primary reporter for an area, you cover everything–fires, natural disasters, deaths, and fundraisers for community members suffering terminal illnesses.

One Tuesday at 6 p.m. a barn caught on fire in Phillipston, the middle of nowhere. I had finished writing my articles for the day and was preparing to head home when the scanner in the newsroom announced the Phillipston Fire Department was requesting backup.

Phillipston is farm country. With fewer than 2,000 residents, it seems there are more cows than people. My editor asked if I would drive out and take a photo. Something for the front page that would grab attention at the newsstand.

I drove the 12 miles to where firefighters from three towns were battling the blaze. The homeowners were not present, but their 27-year-old daughter, who had called 9-1-1, was there.

Before leaving the office, my editor had coached me on how to approach people in such situations

“Be kind,” she’d said. “Ask if it’s okay to take photos. I like to ask if they want some water or something to drink.”

With that advice in mind, I approached the daughter, asked if she needed something to drink, joking that I was finally over 21 so I could legally buy her some vodka.

She laughed. I counted that as a victory. “I don’t know how it started,” she continued, “but the rabbits were still in their cages. I’d just delivered 24 piglets today and now…now they’re gone.”

I couldn’t walk away–these were amazing quotes and my article was going to be 100 times better if I could just get her to cry.

“Did you name them?” It slipped out before I could think about it.

“No, not yet.” She smiled weakly, and I knew she wasn’t going to answer any more questions.

The journalist walks a tight line between asking appropriate questions and being an asshole. I hope I never crossed that line, but I do think I might have picked at people’s wounds a little too soon.

*     *     *

Another time work gave me emotional whiplash was when Jeremiah Oliver’s body was discovered. The Oliver case gained nationwide notoriety, culminating in the fall of 2014 when the head of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families resigned in disgrace.

Five-year-old Jeremiah lived with his brother, sister, mother, and his mother’s boyfriend in Fitchburg. His biological father, Jose Oliver, had been arrested on drug possession years earlier and the courts had awarded his mother full custody, marking the family as a case for state check-ins.

In October of 2013, Jeremiah disappeared. A month later, his mother finally reported him missing when a school counselor informed police that she hadn’t seen Jeremiah in a while.

When the word got out that Jeremiah had been missing for over a month before police were notified, news vans raced to Fitchburg to report on the little boy who had been forgotten. Articles and editorials flooded the newspapers. Search parties with cadaver dogs from Connecticut met almost weekly. Churches held prayer vigils. Jeremiah’s biological father was arrested for drug possession again. Anything remotely related to the case made front pages on all the papers.

Fast forward to April 20,14. A suitcase with a boy’s lifeless body inside is found off the highway not far from Jeremiah’s hometown. At the time I was vacationing in Los Angeles. My best friend saw the news and texted me.

I immediately went to the hotel lobby to watch a blonde newscaster on the large-screen TV relay details of the find. It wasn’t confirmed for another week, but everyone knew that Jeremiah had been found.The first story I had ever written as a reporter had come to a close–Jeremiah had been shoved into a suitcase and thrown on the ground as if he was a piece of garbage.

I sat in the lobby stupefied, remembering something one of Jeremiah’s neighbors said when I had interviewed her during the initial search.

“I’ve lived here over six years and I’ve never said hello to him,” she said that snowy morning. “If I couldn’t help him when he was alive, I’ll help him now.”

I couldn’t help Jeremiah when he was alive and now that he was dead, I asked myself, “Did I help him or did I profit from his death?”

I still don’t have an answer for that. I was gleeful when my article and photographs about the search landed on the front page of the paper, buying copies for my mom, my sister, myself, three friends and a former boss, smiling widely when I delivered them.

Some days I feel guilty over that pride, other days I don’t.

I quit being a journalist after two years. Too many heartbreaks, too many late nights. Still, it’s probably the only career where crying at work is a sign of job well done, and I’m not ashamed of those tears.


Joseph Benavidez is an editor for Buck Off Magazine, proud cat daddy and was a sexy Captain America for Halloween. He enjoys taking photos, sleeping until noon, and reading flash fiction. A graduate of Salem State University, he has left journalism and e
mbarked upon a literary career.


Mirror, Mirror

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Zulezzat Fatima


Joan Slatkin / Omni-Photo Communications, Inc. / Universal Images Group

Joan Slatkin / Omni-Photo Communications, Inc. / Universal Images Group

She rules over this cold, unforgiving fortress with its dark, dark chambers. And her heart lies in the darkest of them all–the forbidden one, The Master Chamber. She’s already halfway there before she realizes where her feet are carrying her. She doesn’t need to raise her hand to the big, grey latch; the door opens automatically. And the shadows on either side of the huge door bow to their Queen as she enters. Her eyes however, seek only The Mirror.

                                                 *     *     *         

Through the fogged surface of the barred window, a beautiful girl of eighteen can be seen celebrating her legality very liberally. She’s almost completely drunk when a handsome stranger turns up and asks her for a dance.

In the welcoming warmth of a café, the young couple sits with steaming mugs of coffee before them. He’s charming and she’s all smiles.

The ocean licks the sand at their feet as they stroll down the beach hand in hand.

She’s laid on his chest, head against his throat as his hand on her breast as they fall asleep together.

He leaves for two weeks. An “official tour.” She misses him, so she calls him, but more often than not he’s too busy to reply. And when he does, he’s short, almost rude. And then he stops picking up the phone altogether.

When he returns home, she drives to his house early in the morning. A young blond informs her that he’s out. She returns home in a daze and spends the next few days trying to come out of it. When she does, she wishes she hadn’t, because the reality is too suffocating to bear. So she sets off for a bar, for the remedy of alcohol. It dulls the memories.

The moment she enters the bar, her eyes fall on him, sitting with his arm around the waist of an expensive-looking brunette, his thumb stroking intimate circles onto the skin exposed by her tight top.

She backs out of the place without a drink. Goes home to pick up the broken pieces of her heart and try to sellotape them together. She fails.                                                                                                                                                                           

*     *     *

And so she built a fortress, albeit one with cracked walls. She looks into the damaged mirror. She thought they were meant to be, but reality begs to differ.

The glass falls to the floor, shattering into smithereens.


Zulezzat Fatima lives in Lahore, Pakistan, and attends Lahore Grammar School. She enjoys reading, debating, and creative writing.

Photo credit: CRACKED MIRROR.. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.

Where Are You From?

Spring 2016, Uncategorized
Steve Gorton and Karl Shone/ Dorling Kindersley / Universal Images Group

Steve Gorton and Karl Shone/ Dorling Kindersley / Universal Images Group

by Amanda Bigler


Five minutes after flying into Chicago O’Hare airport, I briefly watched Fox News on the television. Having spent the past three months in the region of Lorraine in France, and having resided in the United Kingdom since 2012, I had forgotten (or perhaps shut out) how blunt American media and politics have become. Donald Trump’s face popped up in between segments on Muslim fear. Car and food commercials chattered in between talking heads and propaganda. The shunning of Syrian refugees and scrutiny of President Obama’s religion were broken up by Taco Bell Crunchwrap! Live Mas! and Ford F-150, Built Ford Tough! At that point in time, I could understand the perceptions that other countries have of Americans: perpetual capitalism and consumption sprinkled with bias. I felt an embarrassment about my nationality that lurks beneath the surface every day, influenced by my encounters in both France and England.




The East Midlands is a rural region in England, which causes foreigners to stand out more than they would in, say, London. When walking through the crowded market square, I would often put a lilt into my words to mimic the local accents. If I didn’t cover up my hard Kansas accent, I would always be asked the inevitable question “Where are you from?” When answering “Kansas,” half of the time the inquisitor would reply “like Texas?” and I would not correct them. In the States, Kansas and Texas are two highly different entities (never confuse Kansas City and Texas barbecue). The Breadbasket of America is quite different from the state where “everything’s bigger, y’all,” but in the United Kingdom, I don’t have to be nit-picky; they both consist of fields, cattle, rural pride, and cowboy hats.




The question that always surprised me, however, and one that I was asked multiple times, was “Are you Canadian?” At first I believed it was because my speech had been affected by living in England for some months, but one day a stranger let slip the true reason. After replying that I was, in fact, American, he explained, “Oh, okay. I just didn’t want to insult you if you were Canadian.” The opinion of my Americanness and that it could possibly be insulting to someone else, in essence, insulted me.




Two months after this incident, I was detained at Heathrow Airport and eventually deported. I had a valid entry visa and was continuing my Masters degree at Loughborough University, but I had not purchased a return ticket, and it didn’t help that my jet-lag made my answers slightly unintelligible over the eleven-hour interrogation and overnight detainment. I was surprised that the loudest thought in my head was But I’m American. I’m not from some third world country. I have money. I’m spending money here. The entitlement I felt echoes the media mentality I had lambasted in Chicago.




Sitting in the overnight detention barracks, I was surrounded by women of various ethnic origins. Though through appearances I believed I could assimilate easier into British culture (being a native English-speaking white girl), I understood then that my subconscious entitlement no longer existed. This revelation made me ashamed of my own notions and lost in my sense of identity.




I have since moved to Metz, France, with my French fiancé as I finish my Ph.D. remotely. France is a country I had fallen in love with as a teenager, and I was anxious to return. Leaving the rain and the mushy peas of England, a part of me was relieved to experience change. I soon realized the devices I had been relying on in England to blend in could not be used in France. I cannot alter my accent, as the pronunciation of certain words still escape me. I cannot hear the difference, for example, between “rougir” (blush) and “rugir” (roar). I sometimes have a difficult time expressing myself, and I fear that my personality is lost in translation.




Unlike the Brits, the French people I have encountered have been direct when pointing out my American accent. When I studied in Paris in 2007, I was spit on for having George Bush as a president. This time around, I am often asked questions about politics, though so far sans bodily fluids (“Donald Trump, really? It isn’t a joke to you?”). I am also asked about implied American issues with French cuisine (“Can you eat paté? Snails? Foie gras?” etc.) I reply with a smile, as I had in England, because I believe these perceptions are ingrained in each person’s mind, just as my own American stereotypes presented themselves at Heathrow.




It is quite difficult to be a non-European Union citizen residing in both the United Kingdom and France. There is a constant stream of never-ending documentation that distances me from the citizens. In England, I obtained three separate visas, one of which was cancelled when I was deported. I finally received my residence permit, but each time I return to the country it is with trepidation and a pit in my stomach. My name has now been flagged and I am always rigorously questioned at the border, even with my permit and visa in hand. Over the past four years there has been an increase in the practice of detaining law-abiding immigrants to boost immigration restriction statistics. Similarly in France, I am required to obtain a full medical physical, radiological scan, and bloodwork to reside as a “visiteur de long sejour” (long-stay visitor). Even the title of my visa in question seems alienating. I am PACSed with my partner, and therefore am given the right to remain in France. The word “visiteur” has a short-lived connotation, and reminds me that I do not belong.




Coming back to the ever-looming question “Where are you from?” I do not know how to reply. I have not lived in America for nearly four years now, and even when I did, I felt that I did not truly fit in. I am technically a resident of the United Kingdom, yet I feel uncomfortable entering the country. I reside in France, but am considered a visitor.




What I do know is that through these experiences my personal identity has been muddled and, perhaps, expanded. The negative and often trying experiences have, in their own way, solidified my connection with each country. Though I might not belong in any of the three countries, they are all a part of me. Assimilation or, in the case of the United States, acceptance must be worth the struggle, or I would not have the passion to continue to do so.  When I am in England, I find myself missing the wide open Kansas skies that stretch for miles and the bittersweet smell of French boulangeries in the morning. In France, I wish I could have a chat with the bright-eyed Loughborough market vendor or hop into a car with the windows down driving for hours on K-10.




The next time I am in America, I will turn off the media diatribe. The American perception of America should be cultivated through oneself, as the authority lies within each American to determine his or her own culture. As for myself, I will lie in a field of wheat listening to the crickets chirp, feeling the roll of thick, warm wind on my face, and dream about cheerful strangers that call me “duck” and the peacefully lazy current of la Moselle.







Amanda Bigler grew up in Altamont, Kansas. She studied literature with a creative writing emphasis from the University of Kansas and completed her MA in Literature at  Loughborough University (U.K.)  in 2013. She is finishing her doctorate at Loughborough University in the Department of English and Drama. Represented by Ravenswood Publishing, she had her first novel, The Takers, published in 2015. She currently resides in France with her partner.

Photo credit: Blue gold-printed cover of a US passport. P
hotography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.


John Palaeologus: Meme of the Ancients

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Andrew Montiveo

John Palaeologus / Wikimedia Commons

John Palaeologus / Wikimedia Commons

In the 55 years he walked this earth, John Palaeologus left behind no great monument, no work of scholarship, and–despite three marriages–no children. Instead, he left behind his image, and that was enough for him to be remembered by. That image was to give John a long and colorful afterlife, one that traversed the boundaries of time, space, and media. More importantly, his image was destined to be the ancestor to the most pervasive and perplexing of modern phenomena–the meme.

John was the eighty-sixth ruler of Byzantium, the medieval heart of Orthodox Christendom.1 He ascended the throne in 1425, becoming the eighth member of the House Palaiologos to rule the Byzantine Empire. Thirteen years after his ascent, he journeyed to Italy to meet with Pope Eugenius IV and try to end nearly four centuries of schism.

During this visit, John encountered Antonio di Pisanello, an artist in the service of Niccolò III, marquis of Ferrara. The marquis commissioned Pisanello to design a medallion that would commemorate John’s visit to the city.2 The emperor’s profile would be on the obverse side; a scene of him on horseback would be on the reverse.

The first examples appeared less than a year later. By then, the Byzantine and Roman delegations signed a ceremonial union of churches. However, neither the union nor its signatories had much time left on this earth: Eugenius died in 1447, and John in ‘48. Byzantium fell to the Turks five years later, ending the symbolic reunification of Christendom. John, his sole achievement undone, seemed destined to be forgotten.

And yet he wasn’t. John–or at least his likeness, his mîmêma–survived. Orders for Pisanello’s medallion continued until the artist’s death in 1455. The papacy, enamored with the design, went so far as to have its own artist, Antonio di Filarete, reproduce Pisanello’s medallion en masse.3 By the 1460s, John’s likeness could be seen on frescoes, tapestries, ceramics, busts, doorways, and even funerary monuments.

John’s image was taking on a life of its own. The subject may have been dead, but his mîmêma was thriving across different media. It appeared that John’s epilogue was to last much longer than anyone imagined.

The portraiture of Pisanello and Filarete only touched upon the value of John’s image. He was not just some opulently attired monarch: He was, to Italians of the time, a glimpse to a distant epoch. Even in the fifteenth century, Byzantine society held a reputation as a curator of Greco-Roman antiquity, an antiquity that Italians of the Renaissance were obsessed with reviving.

To the philosopher, John was a link to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. To the theologian, John was a living glimpse to the era of Christ and the Apostles. To the artist, John, exotically attired, was a work of art in himself. For everyone, John’s image was a graspable, illustrated vestige of a time, perhaps a place, lost to the ages. He was, in a sense, the embodiment of nostalgia.

Where Pisanello and Filarete replicated John’s likeness, later artists took liberty with the emperor’s image. Benozzo Gozzoli cast John as one of the three Biblical Magi on a tapestry for Cosimo de’ Medici. Piero della Francesca cast the emperor in the role of Constantine the Great. Hans Holbein the Elder placed John in the seat of Pontius Pilate, sentencing the Christian messiah to his grim fate. The mîmêma was becoming the meme.

John Palaeologus as Pontius Pialte / Wikimedia Commons

John Palaeologus as Pontius Pialte / Wikimedia Commons

The following decades saw John be everyone and everywhere. He became Theseus, mythical hero; Lycurgus, Spartan lawgiver; Averroes, Iberian mathematician; and even Mehmed II, Turkish sultan and conqueror of Byzantium. He was at the scene of Jesus Christ’s resurrection in Emmaus, Saint Catherine’s martyrdom in Alexandria, and Maxentius’s demise outside Rome.4 He was everything: a pagan, a Christian, a Muslim, a reference, an allegory. He was whatever the artist needed him to be.

John VII Paleologos by Benozzo Gozzoli, detail of the back wall of the Cappella dei Magi in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence, Italy /Alinari Archives / Universal Images Group

John VII Paleologos by Benozzo Gozzoli, detail of the back wall of the Cappella dei Magi in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence, Italy /Alinari Archives / Universal Images Group

Time, so often an enemy, worked to his image’s benefit. The more time passed, the more malleable John’s image became–though at the expense of context. The man behind the image was forgotten as the ages progressed. John’s sole twentieth century cameo, asreported by Alessandra Pedersoli of Engramma Magazine, was as a nameless “Oriental Prince” on a Scottish liquor bottle, dated 1970.

Then came the Digital Age, with its countless blogs and wikis, restoring that long-absent context. John was no longer relegated to being some random “Oriental Prince” on a liquor set; but rather, he resumed his role as John Palaeologus, distant heir to Augustus and penultimate emperor of Byzantium.

History has seen so many figures resort to desperate, sometimes catastrophic, measures in the hopes of being remembered: the building of monoliths, the founding of cities, or the conquest of nations. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Other times, an image is all it takes.

Andrew Montiveo is a writer  based in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of California, Irvine, with a degree in film and media studies (and a minor in history) in 2012. He co-founded 4-Pistons Media, a small production company, in 2013.


Photo credit: Gozzoli, Benozzo, Benozzo di Lese, known as. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.



Spring 2016, Uncategorized
SISYPHUS. - Drawing by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898 / The Granger Collection / Universal Images Group

SISYPHUS. – Drawing by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898 / The Granger Collection / Universal Images Group

by Mohamed Elmaola

This massive stone,
Leaves my palms dried like palm leaves.
So calloused and jagged.

My heels seek inertia.
Gasping for secure dirt like a javelin toss.
Leg fibers long for lasting fortitude.

My back aches.
Pain pulsates as I plead like a preacher.
Ammonia and iron droplets glaze my torso.

I thought I had charm.
I thought I was king.
I thought I could chain fate.

O my ego!
How I once held you like a firstborn,
And now deny you like a bastard.

Yet despite the stone Death, himself, destined to descend.
It is not the weight, alone, that summons the most sweat.
But the moment before it falls which fuels my feeble fingers.

She is that moment,
Between sheer strength
And irrevocable devastation.

She is that moment,
That requires each knuckled muscle.
Each stressed vessel.

She is that moment,
In which I am eternally devoted,
In which I am eternally doubtful.

She is that moment,
That preludes a sorrowful symphony.
That warns my eventual mourning.

She is that moment,
That painfully liberates me.
For it is only when I fail that I am free.

She is that moment,
That binds me to the push of an inching boulder,
A stone Death, himself, destined to descend!

She is that moment,
That unconquerable moment,
That I pray I feel before I fall.

Mohamed Elmaola studies psychology and entrepreneurship at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts. He is interested in education reform, and he runs an organization called the Worcester Soccer House that offers free soccer clinics and classes in life skills to youth.

Photo credit: MYTHOLOGY: SISYPHUS. – Drawing by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898).. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.

Awkward Reunion

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Mort Mather

I feel the bus slow down and check my watch for the millionth time—midnight, the time it is due in Jacob Lake. The bus is dark; the few other passengers are probably asleep. I pick up my bag with the clothes I’ll wear for the next couple of months and move to the front. It’s dark everywhere except for the headlights—no house lights, no cars or trucks, just the road. Then the headlights pick up a building with a gas pump out front, and then the sign on the building: “Jacob Lake Trading Post.” I see the Jeep, the same Jeep Dad drove away in when I was thirteen, never to come east again, he said. He gets out and comes toward me as the bus pulls away.

“You’ve grown quite a bit,” he says as he takes my bag.

“Yep. I guess.” What else should I say? So have you? You look good? How are you doing? We get in the Jeep, and he congratulates me on graduating from high school and asks how my trip has been. I tell him about the plane ride to Chicago and the bus to Flagstaff and spending the day walking around Flagstaff until it was time to board the bus to Salt Lake City. It all seems pretty boring. He tells me it will take about an hour on this dirt road before we come to the turnoff for the fire-lookout tower he mans in the summer. There’s a cabin at the base of the tower, he says, where we’ll live until the first snow.

We don’t really have much to say. It’s awkward. I could tell him how I changed my name by registering for high school as “O. Charles” instead of “Orville” and how the teachers at roll call read my name as “O. Charles” and how the kids from school called me “O.C.” and the kids who didn’t know me from before called me “Charlie,” but I don’t. Maybe I did it because I was mad at him for leaving and didn’t want to have his name anymore. I don’t know. He might have asked me why and I didn’t really have an answer.

What I want most is to get my parents back together. I’d never written anything like that in letters, but I thought about it a lot. I’m pretty sure Mom would come west if he asked her, and I’ll be going into the Army in a couple of months, so I wouldn’t be any bother.

“I think Mom still loves you.” I hadn’t intended to say that so soon, maybe not at all, but he wasn’t saying anything. He still didn’t say anything and then:

“Well, son, you’ll meet your brother and sister when they get up in the morning, and Georgette, their mother, is waiting up for us.”

A brother and a sister? The headlights bounce along the road ahead and reflect off the trees close by both sides. The letters I’d gotten over the past five years—not that many but still…a brother and a sister?

“Does Grandma know?”

“No. No one back east knows. You can spread the word or not, as you wish.”

As I wish? Grandma doesn’t even know? How did this happen? Who is Georgette?

“You have another wife?”

“Yes. I married Georgette in Reno after I divorced your mother.”

So much for getting my parents back together. I guess Dad’s passion for painting western landscapes was not the only reason he left my mother and me to never come east again, he’d said. He also left to be with someone he worked with in New York and when he drove away from our farm five years ago he headed straight for the train station to pick her up before turning west.

So here I am, a couple of thousand miles from home, riding through the night making small talk with a father who walked out on me, about to meet a step-mother I never knew I had, as well as their children, who are also news to me, my half-brother who is three and my half-sister who is eighteen months.

Mort Mather has been writing for more than 40 years. His weekly column appears in three Maine newspapers, and he has written for Mother Earth News and other national magazines. He is the author of  “Gardening for Independence” and his fiction is included in the anthology On (Writing) Families. As a Featured Writer, he is open to discussing the art and business of writing with other contributors to the Journal. His website is This excerpt is from his book, “A Stone’s Throw.”

Photo credit: E.Schiele, Doppelbildnis Benesch. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.

Schiele, Egon 1890-1918. 'Doppelbildnis Benesch,' Linz, Lentos Kunstmuseum /akg-images / Universal Images Group

Schiele, Egon 1890-1918. ‘Doppelbildnis Benesch,’ Linz, Lentos Kunstmuseum /akg-images / Universal Images Group

Lost in the Woods

Spring 2016, Uncategorized
Michael P. Gadomski / Photo Researchers / Universal Images Group

Michael P. Gadomski / Photo Researchers / Universal Images Group

by Mark Bruno


I had these two friends once. Back when I was living in Revere going to Immaculate Conception Elementary School, Dan and Nick and I were inseparable. We hung out every day; playing video games, playing baseball and basketball and football in the park down the street from the school. We played Manhunt and Off the Wall. We were out until the sun went down. But the thing we loved most was going on adventures into the woods by Dan’s house. It was in those woods that everything changed.

When I think about it today, those woods were so small. If you stood at one end, you could see right on through to the other side. It was almost impossible to get lost in there. But lose ourselves we did. We thought it was the coolest place. It was away from the busyness of the shopping plaza in the square. The sound of the cars whizzing by on Main Street disappeared in there. But the biggest reason we loved those woods was because it was the perfect spot to build forts and climb rocks. It was our own little world that we filled with imagination and adventure.

I remember one time in particular when our parents actually let us camp overnight in there. Since it was a stone’s throw away from Dan’s house, they felt safe enough to let us do it–after weeks of begging that is. “Ah, what the hell?” my dad said. “I remember doing things like this with my friends back when I was your age.”

We had a clearing in the middle of the woods that we had been working on for almost a month. Loose twigs, rocks, empty soda cans and candy wrappers were tossed aside. We climbed high into trees and cut down these big branches and stuck them into the ground. With rope, we tied the pieces together, creating a makeshift hut. To provide walls and a roof, we brought a big blue tarp from Dan’s garage and draped it over the branch frame. For twelve year olds, we were pretty handy. That hot July night listening to the Red Sox game on the radio and telling ghost stories underneath the stars will forever be one of the best nights of my life.

That summer had come and gone and with that passing came a harsh fall. Getting back into the swing of school was brutal. The workload was significantly heavier than the years previous. Homework that used to take fifteen minutes suddenly turned into an hour-long affair. I missed my favorite after-school cartoons because I was too busy focusing on social studies and science. The sun was falling very early and darkness at four o’ clock became the routine. Dan, Nick, and I had also noticed that our classmates were very different. Something happened to them over that summer and we weren’t sure what it was. Ashley was taller and wore makeup and the boys started paying attention to her. Joe had little bumps all over his face and his voice sounded like my dad’s. Chris stopped arguing about who the best superhero was and started arguing about who the cutest girl was. Everything was different.

“Did you guys see Melissa and John holding hands during recess today?” Dan asked to Nick and me, as he bit into his Snickers bar.

“What was up with that? It’s like they…like each other or something,” Nick replied in a mix of disgust and disbelief.

But for the next few weeks, we began getting used to everyone’s strange, new behavior. It was still weird, but at least a little less unexpected. Everyone was changing except us. We were the constant. And there was comfort in this.

One blisteringly cold Saturday afternoon, we decided to head into our woods. “You guys,” Dan said to us, as we reached the dirt path entrance of the woods. “We’re going to have a lot of fun today. I’ve got a little surprise.” Nick and I weren’t sure what Dan had up his sleeve, but we were excited to find out. We went to our tarp-and-branch fort to see what it was he had in store.

“OK, guys. Check this out,” Dan said, as he reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out three cigarettes and a little book of hotel matches. “Swiped them off of my dad’s bureau this morning.” My jaw dropped to the cold hard dirt.

“Oh man!” Nick shouted with the excitement of Christmas morning.

I said nothing.

“I can’t believe you got away with it!”

I said nothing.

“Here, you take this one. And here’s the matches. I think you just slide it across this part right here,” Dan said to Nick, pointing to the rough patch of the matchbook.

Still, I said nothing.

“What’s wrong, Mark?” they finally asked me after what felt like an eternity had passed. I didn’t really know what to say. I was shocked. I had so much to say and I wanted so bad to find the words for it but I just couldn’t.

“You look like you’re going to faint, dude.”

I needed a minute. I needed to know that I was still on Earth. That I was still me and that I was still in my woods. I walked a few steps away from them as they fumbled with their matches and cigarettes. As I paced nervously around, I looked at the ground with new eyes. The woods were so damn dirty. The trash that we had cleared, those wrappers and cans, I started to really look at them. The pile of cans we tossed to the side had Budweiser and Coors written on them. Those wrappers I assumed were all candy actually said Trojan and Skoal Chewing Tobacco. Those woods were a dump. A wasteland of rebellion and angst and reckless abandon. It wasn’t some magic forest filled with adventure.

I looked around to the parts of the woods where we would play. I could see memories of us, playing like a movie reel from my mind, jumping from one rock to the next. We were throwing a rope over a tall branch, swinging from it with the wind blowing our hair and hitting our teeth. Those images, those memories of us, they were fading away. I remember standing there and watching those fun times desert me, leaving me alone and cold. The wind whipped my face and I turned back towards my friends.

“Are you going to try one?” Dan asked me.

I paused for what felt like ten minutes. I finally opened my mouth, unsure of what was going to come out.

“I’m going back.”

Dan and Nick stood there, cigarettes hanging on their lips with little streams of smoke dancing up into their faces. They didn’t say anything. And I left the woods, not looking back.      

This was the moment when I discovered that things eventually change, that people change. I don’t talk to Dan or Nick anymore and that hurts. Because they weren’t just childhood friends. They were a time and a place. They were a feeling that I will spend my whole life trying to feel again. I won’t ever forget what I lost in the woods that day.

Mark Bruno is a graduate of Salem State University, Salem, Massachusetts, with a degree in English. He lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he also works at Ebsco Publishing. He is working on t
he script of a graphic novel.

Photo credit: Forest. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.

David’s Gardens

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

Gogh, Vincent van; 1853-1890. “Blooming garden with path”, Arles, 19 July 1888.

by Orrin Konheim

One of my favorite childhood memories growing up in Arlington, Virginia was spending weekends at my grandparents’ house in the nearby town of McLean. My grandparents’ one-acre property was a rugged play-land of sorts. The property was surrounded by a forest to run around in that has since been stripped of its enchantment (and for that matter, most of its trees) by development. I only had an aesthetic appreciation back then for the way the trees were arranged in lines and how various ditches were built on the property without knowing that my grandfather, David, was devoted to growing trees and plants.

David and his wife moved to the United States in 1978 to reconnect with his daughter, my mother, and to help her raise me and my sister. He was in his early 60’s at the time, an immigrant many times over and a veteran of two wars. Because he had so many other languages in his head from all his past lives — Farsi, Arabic, Hebrew, and German — and he had come to the US so late in life, picking up English wasn’t easy for him. I spoke Hebrew as a toddler, but my entrance into kindergarten marked the beginning of a language barrier between us. I had to learn English and Spanish (we had a Nicaraguan nanny) and Hebrew went out the door.

As a result, I remember my grandfather today more through his actions than words. As someone who had been through his share of hardships, he could be difficult. He could be strict and got particularly grouchy at any deviations from his routine. Sometimes that grouchiness would be aimed at a little kid like me when I would do something like interrupt him during the news or “Wheel of Fortune.”

At the same time, he possessed a great capacity for joy, and there were simple little things that made him more joyful than I had seen in any man his age. He loved to listen to a pop tune on the radio (especially strange since he knew no English) and sing along.  He relished pouring salt on his dinner, even though it was against his doctor’s wishes. One summer, he was my biggest fan when I conquered my fears (and my grandmother’s safety objections) by diving off a neighbor’s upper deck into the canal below.

I slowly came to appreciate, however, that my grandfather’s greatest sense of joy was of a quieter kind. He had briefly worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant when he immigrated to Virginia, but for most of his last 25 years he was retired, and he knew how to  make himself useful, occupied, and happy, even when there was nothing for him to do but enjoy retirement. He would take to his daily tasks with a steady joy and purpose.

He enjoyed going for walks, reading books in his native language, fishing, and playing cards, but the centerpiece of his routine was the garden. It always bought a smile to his face.

Our lives overlapped for twenty years when my grandfather peacefully succumbed to a stroke in 2003 after several close calls. It wasn’t until a couple years after his passing that I discovered some old photo albums and saw pictures of a strapping young man in a military uniform that I began to really learn who he was.

My grandfather was born into a life of hardship in Mashhad, Iran as part of a Jewish community in strife. His family immigrated to Afghanistan for three years when he was eight years old, and he had to learn the Koran. But he was a Jew at heart and when he was 16 he set off for a land that would eventually become Israel. He was thrown in prison by the British government for illegal immigration and went through two wars, but he survived to help found Israel where my mom and her two siblings were born.

It was in Israel that he first tasted freedom and developed his love for agriculture.

Israel is known as “the land of milk and money,” a biblical reference to the agricultural abundance of the land. My grandfather’s love of agriculture was, therefore, part of a larger tradition, and after Israel’s independence, new immigrants were granted land by the government.

“He never studied,” recalls my Aunt Yardena. “But he knew what seeds to put and how to put the seeds. He knew what care he needed and whatever he planted, it was absolutely in abundance.”

My grandfather grew a garden wherever he went. He even had a rooftop garden over  a cramped apartment in Frankfurt, Germany, before emigrating to the United States.

When I was ten, my grandparents moved to the Florida Keys, and one of his first orders of business was rebuilding his garden. He didn’t have as much land, but he turned what would have been a bed of pebbles on a canal-side property into a garden of pineapple trees, banana trees and more.  

“Whatever [he] planted, if it was food or a fruit tree, it would grow,” recalls my Aunt Yardena. “And it could be in the hardest soil….He would just succeed in doing so.”

Nearly ten years after his death, his legacy lives on. His daughter Yardena maintains his garden in Florida, and my mom grows flowers in the summertime and brings them inside the winter.

“I find it very therapeutic,” says my mom. “It’s like raising children. It gives life.”

I find that I, too, enjoy watering my mom’s plants. It brings me a sense of steadiness and peace.


Orrin Konheim is a Virginia-based freelance writer, journalist in the Washington and Richmond markets, and public relations professional with interests in movies, television, the Olympics and local history. He blogs at As a Featured Writer, he is willing to correspond with writers seeking advice on matters related to writing and publishing. Contact him at

Photo credit: V.van Gogh, Blooming garden with path. Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.

Blue: a Fragment

Spring 2016, Uncategorized
Lapis lazuli from Siberia / The Natural History Museum, London / Universal Images Group

Lapis lazuli from Siberia / The Natural History Museum, London / Universal Images Group

by Victoria Loehle



It should be little more than a label for certain frequencies of light. To her, it is also a color reminiscent of bruises and depression and marrow-freezing cold. To them, it is a name.

Her skin is the color of a body of water beneath a cloudless summer sky mere moments before sunrise, but they call her Blue. Their skin is pinkish and pale and sometimes almost tan enough to look bronze, but she never thinks of them as White. Instead, she thinks of them as sort of small-brained and stubborn because, no matter how many times she reminds them of her name, they always fail to call her Ray.

They stare at her, too, always through eyes that are a bit more than curious yet a bit less than cruel, because she braids strings of shark teeth into her hair and wears a manta tail around her neck like a scarf—just like her mother and both of her grandmothers and all six of her aunts. She loves those shark teeth—memories, good and bad and beautiful and sad alike, bound together with sinews borrowed from some of her great white-bellied allies—and she is too proud of that hard-earned manta tail to ever give it up.

“I wish they would stop,” she grumbles, as Mara places a gnarled grey finger beneath her chin and lifts her gaze away from her sand-dusted toes.

“No,” Mara states, her voice as firm as her deep silver eyes. Her wrinkled face quivers with close to a century of repressed pain and grudging acceptance—she used to wish and pray and dream about things, too, but she knows better now. “That wish is a waste of breath. They do not know how to change.”

“But we do,” Ray whispers.

Mara narrows her eyes—a glare as sharp as a harpoon.

“We just… choose not to…”

Mara folds her sun-freckled arms across her drooping chest. “And you disapprove.”

Not a question.


“You are too young to understand,” Mara growls, stabbing her carven whale-bone cane into a warping plank of boardwalk wood and struggling to rise from their sagging, meet-up-here bench. She steadies herself on her time-withered legs then faces their Ocean—a world of water and wonders born long before Her overpopulated shores of sand and stone, now beckoning to Her most audacious landlings from beneath a mask of glimmering indigo and orange waves and a crown of sinking scarlet sun…

Ray wants more than anything to return to Her—Then Mara recaptures her attention, and she obliges herself to remain seated and listen:

“You look at one of them, and you see another living being—something beautiful and intelligent, something to be valued and, at the very least, respected, something much like you. You notice subtle differences between us and them, of course, but you are too naïve to think of any of those as flaws. You thus fail to judge them.

“They look at you, and they see Blue—something strange, something to be frightened of and, at the very least, evaded, something not at all like them. Yet you wonder why they judge you, why they stare… To them, you are flawed. To them, you will never be good enough to be their equal; no matter what you do with your life, to them, you will always be a lesser being.”


Mara closes her eyes, breathing in a warm, salty breeze from their Ocean.

“Why do they see Blue?”

“Because they choose to see nothing else, and they do not know how to change.”

Victoria Loehle is from Morganville, New Jersey, and studies electrical and computer engineering and management engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts. She has co-written two plays and a forthcoming science fiction novel.

Photo credit:  Lapis lazuli from Siberia. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.


Two Poems

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

by Sophie-Louise Hyde

Editor’s Note: These verbatim poems were crafted in response to witness testimonies following the riots across England in 2011, which began after a young man was shot and killed by police officers in Tottenham, London. These pieces focus, specifically, on the experiences of individuals in Birmingham, England.

AUGUST 10: Members of the local community lay flowers where three people were killed after being struck by a vehicle in the Winson Green area on August 10, 2011 in Birmingham, England. Police have launched a murder inquiry following this. The three people were struck by a car after reportedly trying to protect shops from rioting and looting in Dudley Road.


August 10th 2011             


Street steps to face tramlines beneath
Birmingham New Street.

Shut down because of fire, and
loads of smoke at the station–

not riot related.

At the scene of a cannabis farm that
the police have found, but it’s
more like a ‘plant’. People are
getting silly now. My heart
goes out to

                      the families
in Winson Green, not out of
sympathy but out of respect
for saving our country.
Tariq Jahan deserves an OBE, or
he should receive

                                   a knighthood.
‘Tariq Jahan: A Very Brave Man’
is trending in the UK as the Asian
communities weigh up
how to react to those who
killed them.

Candles mark the spot. Loads of
police, and the media for three Muslims
who were looking after their own
community; human nature
leading to-–

Murder. A very brave man
has sadly lost his son.
This is not human nature, but
the work of mere animals; to
commit a hit-and-run away! A

lit vigil marks the spot and
emotions run high, as
police are given extra time
to quiz the 32-year-old man accused of
murdering three men in

An inquest is due to be opened tomorrow.



On Monday Night


Smethwick, on Monday Night. Where a Sikh thanks @wmpolice
for the retweet about ‘the UK’s first ornate temple’
being under threat at 12.45am,
following a peace rally in Winson Green.
Social media online, the spirit of people,
virtual or after is amazing. Digital
communities form lines across
t-shirts with it.
Videos going viral promoting a total mixture
of races, religious protests and marches,
of Blacks, of Asians, and Whites
on Monday night.

Smethwick, on Monday night.
The Guru Nanak Gurdwara stands, and spirits sing.

Sophie-Louise Hyde is a PhD candidate at Loughborough University, U.K. studying the techniques of verbatim in poetry in order to create a new body of work that demonstrates practice as research. Her other interests include experimental poetry and collaboration across art forms. She is also the founder of online creative writing and publishing platform. The Student Wordsmith.

Photo credit: Three Killed In Hit And Run During Birmingham Riot. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.


My Youth

Spring 2016, Uncategorized

“My Youth,” by Irvi Stefo. Pastel and Colored Pencil .

Irvi Stefo

Artist’s Statement: Blind love and blind adolescence. These are the themes tackled by MY YOUTH, a depiction of the enigmatic and often daunting exploration of a young person’s sexuality. Love is a thing of nature, a feeling that is indescribable, yet so easy to fall into. True love is unconditional. It is blind to society’s perception of normality and sees no bounds.

Irvi Stefo is a graduate of Bancroft School in Worcester, Massachusetts, and will be attending the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, to study graphic design and illustration. He plans a career in magazines where he can indulge his interests in pop culture and modern ideas.


Spring 2016, Uncategorized

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A song by Olivia Frances



by songwriters Olivia Frances and George Irwin


The sun sets
A breeze blows by
Grass sways
Rivers run dry
bloom in the spring
But my love…
My love is evergreen

The moon moves
From day to night
Stars burn
Out in time
This universe changes constantly
But my love…
My love is evergreen

Minutes pass by
Months turn to memories
And years and years and years and years and years become eternity, so easily
Feelings change
Colors fade

Becomes old age
But I still have you here with me
Cause my love…

My love is evergreen

Listen to “Evergreen” as sung by Olivia Frances here:

Cincinnati native Olivia Frances is a 19-year-old singer-songwriter and musician with a sunny disposition. She is a freshman at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts. This song is from the album Evergreen, the follow-up to her 2013 debut album, Back To Happiness. For more information, go to


Home page photo credit: Jim Corwin / Photo Researchers / Universal Images Group / Evergreen trees. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Mar 2016.


My Projects

Spring 2016, Uncategorized


by Rachel Ravelli




My Projects

My overcrowded black on block on blended tans
sterile hospitalized crystalloid hallucinogens
lead wanderers of my fragmented projects away
in the back of an ambulance I say hello to them,
they nod lightly, greeting me with the same indifference
as the kittens I abandoned because mom and I
were running low on food and they were eating my dinner
I spoon-fed them with empathy, transparent
as translucent drugs in my soul dry uncultivated soil
where sore feet of Spanish Harlem and Ghana tie
into snow and summer salt holding out their palms
saying, thank you Lord Jesus, for bread and for wine
I cannot touch but feel each day in my native projects
where children stalk written streets after midnight,
pearly white eyeballs thick in blood-shining lines
blossom out of their stay-put matter and hair,
the long thick dark hair I use to carefully weave every silhouette
I have loved-–
the dusty roads of my projects,
the winding steps of my projects,
the graffiti marking the retaliation and creation of my projects,
I am a soft sound chasing their midnight, a passerby
in sullen stories of how Danielle failed French,
moved to New York City to do hair
and to escape Donny, her father who sold women for cars
and smoked dope with his son Josiah who punched Izzy
in the humid elementary school cafeteria stale grilled cheese
for stealing his birthday watch and calling him a faggot;
Izzy shuddered, snorted, and shoved him onto the wet napkin floor,
and Principal Ganem who stormed through grabbed them both
with his oversized hairy hands gold in rings,
grappled them until they caved into small green wobbly seats,
pocket-framed their startled brown eyes,
pulled the walkie-talkie out of his black work pants
and slammed it so hard on the chipped wooden table
they both cried in unison, holding hands
as Principal Ganem screamed in silencing
acceleration that they’d work at McDonald’s,
become degenerates like their lifeless off-the-boat parents;
I sat hands neatly folded lips pursed measuring
the exact minutes, velocity, days, kilometers, volume
knowing I’m so bad at math
because Ms. Capanelli never stays after school
because after school was the time to be followed
by two hooded men 2.8 miles through snow
back to my projects
my disheveled
you-don’t-need-no-goddamn school bus
projects, who laughed
as I became more nervous
as they asked why
I’m so scared
as I reply that I am not scared, I am not scared
but please go away I can’t take it anymore
I have real homework to finish,
my mom is making me read The Grapes of Wrath
because she thinks elementary school literature is too immature
but I don’t trust a word she says
because last night she bought furniture she can’t afford
that doesn’t fit into my project’s apartment shrinking away
from dirt, mice, and dust catching on fire in her hair
as she bites her nails till they bleed screaming,
“Don’t let them take me!”
and I know there’s no one there because grandma told me
she makes up stories in her head sometimes,
but The Grapes of Wrath is a story
like my projects the dustbowl my dying kittens the loose screws
in the doorways of my schools and my poetry
are all stories that may be real or something I made up
one day, lying in my projects
cold on a moldy boulder in my projects
in December waiting and waiting forever in my projects
for snow to melt over all of us.

Rachel Ravelli is a fourth year student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, studying English and Psychology. She writes for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian and has been featured in multiple publications, including Quick Brown Fox and Caesura.