Rabbit Games

Uncategorized, Winter 2016-17

Rachel Santarsiero

Dead European Rabbits / Niall Benvie / Nature Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Dead European Rabbits / Niall Benvie / Nature Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

I don’t remember the night my big sister went crazy, but I’ve been told about it. Mama said that Sissy didn’t have all the screws tightened in her head, and that’s why she attacked me. The only thing I can still recall is someone yanking all the hair out of my head and pinning my ankles to the ground. Oh, and the screaming. I still don’t know if I was screaming or if Sissy was screaming or if Mama and Baba were screaming, but I know it was loud and made me cry.

Sissy wasn’t like that all the time, though. She had good days. Like when we stood in the creek behind the back shed and squealed with laughter as tiny fish slithered between our toes. Or how we’d lie in bed at night and she would sing those folk songs that I loved so much. I wish those moments lasted forever.

She had bad days too. Like when Mama told us to set the table for dinner and she smashed all the plates. Or the times I woke up in the middle of the night to her scratching my arms and legs until I bled. She told me that her friends told her to do it. I never saw Sissy with friends. I’m pretty sure she has friends tonly she can’t see.  

I’ve been in the hospital since the attack. Mama doesn’t let Sissy visit, but I know Sissy didn’t mean to hurt me, so I’m not mad at her. Sometimes she just can’t control herself. I hope my screws never come loose.

* * *

Years ago, when I was seven and Sissy was eleven, we were playing in the meadow behind the woods that led away from our house. The tall grass tickled our bare legs as we danced. Sissy’s two long braids hung down her back and glimmered in the setting sun. Mama would be getting things ready for dinner soon and probably was waiting for us to set the table.

“We’re going to play a game.”

“Oh but Sissy it’s getting late, and Mama is going to worry.”

“Ready or not, here you come.”

“We really should get back.”

“Ready or not, here you come, play with us, let’s have some fun.”

I hated when we played that game. Sissy would run into the woods and hide while I would lie in the meadow with my eyes closed and arms outstretched.

“One, two three…”

The air was getting colder and the sun began to dip beneath the hill.

“Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three…”

Mama would be worrying.

“Eighty-eight, eighty-nine, ninety…”

Sometimes I’d wonder what would happen if I just left Sissy in those woods. Maybe if she lived in those woods instead of in our house she wouldn’t make Baba cry or give me scratches that she told me to keep secret from Mama and maybe I wouldn’t have to worry about falling asleep before her. But I went to find her anyways. I always did.

As the tall grass thinned and the woods began, I scanned the tree line for her. I looked at the tops of the trees first because sometimes she likes to hang from the highest branches. She would swing in circles way up high and I’d be on the ground praying that those branches wouldn’t snap.  My eyes shifted to the ground. It was getting dark.

“Ready or not, here I come. I’m playing with you, you’re having fun. Olly Olly Oxen free, show yourself, you’re scaring me. Come out, come out, wherever you are, you’ve taken this thing way too far.”

I wanted to be brave so I sang every word loudly because it made Sissy happy when I did, but the tune sent a tingle down my spine. I took slow steps and purposely snapped twigs and crunched leaves to make my presence known. My words rang through the forest and seemed to hang in the air. I sang and sang but heard nothing except the applause from the whistling leaves of the trees. She was nowhere to be seen.

“Olly Olly Oxen free. Sissy, please come out, you’re scaring me.”

I raced wildly through the woods. Long shadows melted into the ground and the sounds of creatures hummed from the darkness. The first few beams of the moon shone through the trees.

“Sissy! Please, I don’t want to play anymore!”

 I heard a snap of branches behind me and whipped around.

“We have something to show you, I really hope you like it,” she said, eyes twinkling.

She skipped down the path, her braids bouncing. Her steps were light and airy as she seemed to dance around every rock and trunk and branch, while I trudged behind and struggled to follow. She stopped abruptly when we reached a break in the path. Legs rooted to the ground, she swayed in her spot for a few moments like she had done before.


She stopped and pointed at the ground. Five bloody rabbits were laid in a neat row. Their eyes had been gouged out.

“Do you like it?”

“Sissy this is not nice. We need to go home. This is scaring me.” But that’s when her eyes narrowed and her lip quivered and her cheeks flushed. I reached out a shaking hand to comfort her with, but she slapped it away and growled.

Sissy came home late. I was already in bed.

“I’m so glad we could play today,” she said. “We had so much fun, didn’t we? Let’s do it again, let’s do it again soon.

She rummaged around the room for a few moments, climbed into her bed, and began breathing heavily as her special Sand Man pills put her to sleep.

When I awoke the next morning I heard Sissy singing in the backyard. I sat up, and let out a scream as I saw five dead rabbits on the foot of my bed.

* * *

I’m still not sure why I can’t go home from the hospital and see Sissy. I miss standing in the creek with her looking at fish and I miss her folk songs. One time I asked one doctor when Sissy was going to visit, but he didn’t answer. He just gave me another shot and I got really sleepy.

Yesterday I heard the doctor talking with Mama and Baba. They talked about upping my medication, so I think that means I’m going to be sleeping even more now. I was hoping they’d mention something about taking off these things around my wrists that are binding me to the bed, but they didn’t say anything about it. Hopefully I’ll be able to go home soon.

* * *

Mama and Baba have stopped visiting. I think they’re scared of me. I don’t know how long I’ve been here, but it’s okay because I have friends to keep me company now. The doctor is really interested in my friends and asks about them all the time, but they don’t li
ke to talk when he’s there.

When the doctor isn’t asking about my friends, he’s asking me about Sissy. He keeps asking me if I remember killing her, why I killed her. Whenever he asks me this I just shake. I can only shake.

My friends tell me it’s okay I killed Sissy the night she tried to attack me. It’s okay, they whisper, because she killed those rabbits and she scratched my arms and legs and she made Mama and Baba cry and she scared me. She had it coming. Sometimes I can’t stop crying though, because I don’t remember anything about that night besides the yanking of hair and the screaming. But my friends always remind me that it’s okay. They tell me that she couldn’t control herself and I was sick of being sisters with someone who had loose screws. But at night when my friends get quiet and I get lonely, I miss talking to Sissy.

Olly olly oxen free, please come back.

Rachel Santarsiero is a at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts, studying Civil Engineering and Professional Writing, and International Studies. She loves to combine the technical world with the humanities. She is the Executive Director of the non-profit Cross-Cultural Competence and is working toward a career in writing.

Photo Credit: EUROPEAN RABBIT. Photograph. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. quest.eb.com/search/138_1024767/1/138_1024767/cite. Accessed 17 Jan 2017.

Attention Hog

Uncategorized, Winter 2016-17

Rachel Santarsiero

Love, Desire and Death - By Georges Barbier / Bridgeman Art Library / Universal Images Group Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Love, Desire and Death – By Georges Barbier / Bridgeman Art Library / Universal Images Group Rights Managed / For Education Use Only


The first time I saw him after the breakup was at that girl’s wake.

You remember her, right? That pretty, curvy brunette that sat behind us in Composition? She wore those too-short shorts, even when it was cold out and snapped her gum obnoxiously before she spoke. Her heavily outlined eyes narrowed to slits during class discussions as she would feverishly concoct counterarguments to the class’s decided opinion. God, how that pissed me off. Such an attention hog. Well, apparently last Monday she was doing 102 down Woodhaven Ave and crashed into a telephone pole. I still can’t remember if she made prom queen or runner-up last year though.

Just the other week in class we were discussing The Tempest and whether or not Prospero had ultimately been the true king of the island. He raised his hand confidently while I sat there memorizing the shape of his upturned chin and his tousled hair.

“It’s evident Prospero is the victim of the play, and is merely trying to re-establish justice on the island. He single-handedly rights all the wrongs of the island and therefore is the true and rightful king.”

He was always coming up with stuff like this in class, and I was admittedly mesmerized, entranced. The class, too, seemed to be under his spell as each student nodded in agreement. Then snap, snap, snap from the back of the room. Our heads twisted around only to lay eyes on her crossed arms, cocked head, and overworked jaw.

“You’re kidding me, right? I mean, no offense, but you must be joking.” She looked around for support, but the class did nothing but stare back in disbelief. She, however, continued without hesitation. “Well, to be honest, everything you’re saying is pretty pretentious. It sounds like you took that right from Sparknotes.”

Nobody spoke. I looked to him for some sort of retort, an argument, anything at all, but he gave nothing. A vein swelled in his forehead and his cheeks flushed.

Snap, snap, snap.

“Personally, I think Caliban’s the real king.” I over-exaggerated an eyeroll in hopes he would see it, but he just stared straight back at her, blood obviously boiling despite his efforts to keep composure. “I mean, who the fuck—oh, sorry Mr. Hart—does Prospero think he is? Caliban was there first and his mom ruled the island way before Prospero even got there. You’re kind of just being an asshole if you think Prospero is the real king.”

And that was Vanessa Cleaver. She possessed the rare combination of being both popular and obscure, a code that made her intimidating to younger, fashionable girls and mysterious to older, confident boys. She and I moved in different circles throughout high school, but I couldn’t help feeling quietly envious of her. Envious of this defiant, Caliban-supporting, gum-chewing girl who died doing 102 down Woodhaven Ave.

I was still waiting in line when I saw him up ahead of me. Saw him and felt my lungs collapse. Saw him in that black button-down I got him when we went to Cape Cod and those khakis his mom was always telling you to throw away. Saw him and felt my heart leap in a way that it shouldn’t at a wake. Our eyes connected, and I felt an electric current run through my body. Before I knew what I was doing I was walking out of line and walking right up to him. He looked at me like I had food in my teeth or something and couldn’t understand why I was cutting all these people that were waiting to kneel by this dead girl’s closed casket. I still couldn’t tell you why I walked up to him that day, but my feet started moving and I wasn’t about to stop them. I stood in front of him, awestruck.

“Hey.” Really, that’s the best I could manage?

“Um, hi. H-how are you?”


“That’s good, that’s good to hear.”

“How about you, how have you been?”

“I’m all right, this is…this is all just so weird, you know? I was just talking to Vanessa the other day in class, and now…”

Wow, really? There I was just trying to ask him how he was doing after the breakup and all he wanted to do was talk about Vanessa.

“Yeah, it’s weird,” I repeated mechanically.

“I mean ,I just can’t believe it, I’ve never dealt with anything like this before.”

“Yeah, yeah, I guess. How are we though?”

I blurted it out before I could stop myself.

“Are things okay between us? I’m just not sure if we should talk about things now that we’ve had a little time to—”

“Are you serious?” He took a step back. “Vanessa’s dead. She’s dead, and our breakup is what you’re worried about right now? That’s pretty fucked up, even for you.”

I stood there, dumbstruck, unable to respond. I stared back at him, searching for something to say, anything, but I was frozen. When I remembered how to move my body, I slowly turned without another word and returned to my place in line.

I stood in that line for an eternity before I reached her. My soles were sore in my too-small heels and my dress felt awkward around my shoulders, like a hug from an elderly relative I didn’t want.

I couldn’t believe him. Why didn’t he care about me? How could he be this cold, this selfish? I made a mental note to try to talk to him again at the funeral. That’s three days from now. Maybe he’d be more receptive then.

When it was finally my turn to kneel, I stayed there for what I felt was an appropriate amount of time. And as I stared at her closed casket, I was half expecting her to be in there grinning and snapping her gum in her too-short shorts, flipping carelessly through the pages of The Tempest.

Attention hog. You remember her, right?

Photo Credit: Love, Desire and Death . Fine Art. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. quest.eb.com/search/108_279640/1/108_279640/cite. Accessed 17 Jan 2017.

Waltzing with Red Wine

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Melissa Mason

Italy, Latium Region, Tomb of Lioness // G. DAGLI ORTI / De Agostini Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Italy, Latium Region, Tomb of Lioness // G. DAGLI ORTI / De Agostini Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

I remember how it was before he left. The sun was shining a brilliant gold, the way that it does in late afternoon on a day somewhere between summer and autumn. The sky was a light shade of blue with those big fluffy clouds that change shape the longer you looked at them, the kind that when they traveled over the sun you could see its rays glimmering through.  We were lying perpendicular to one another underneath a tree whose leafy shadow covered our bodies with a funny speckled pattern. There was a gentle breeze dancing through the treetops and whispering over our bodies. I remember the grass not only being a vibrant green but also soft, not the feeling of being freshly mowed, but more as if it had been mowed two days before. The breeze was telling jokes to the grass, causing the blades to bend over in silent laughter and tickle my bare feet.  My head was resting on his chest and I could hear his slow breathing and beating heart, I couldn’t help but smile whenever there was an irregularity in that beating. The only sound apart from the dancing leaves was the crisp, quick rustle as we turned the pages of our books. We didn’t speak much that day, the majority of our communication was through the quiet smiles we shared and the way his free hand stroked my arm. It wasn’t that we were angry with each other, or that we had nothing to say to one another, it was that we didn’t need to say anything to know what the other was thinking. I closed my eyes and inhaled through my nose as he brought his hand away from his mouth and let the smoke twist up and weave its way through the gentle breeze. He smiled as the last of it escaped his lips; he knew how much I loved the smell.

That was the first time we danced. He stood up abruptly and pulled me to my feet with him. The air had a thick amber glow as the sun inched closer to the horizon. He grabbed my hand and spun me, then pulled me close. We didn’t know the steps to any fancy ballroom dance so he made up his own silly waltz, holding me tight, making sure I never got left behind. He dipped me and I laughed, a full laugh, the kind that makes your whole body shake, the contagious kind that makes anyone within earshot laugh with you. I felt light, like that feeling you get after two glasses of red wine. In fact that’s how I felt, I felt like red wine. I was filled to the brim with warmth and delight. I could feel my cheeks burning, becoming a color that matched the way I felt as the veil of night fell over our made-up waltz. He went to dip me again, but this time I fell, pulling him with me and we both laughed, our faces taken up entirely by the idiotic grins we wore. We lay back down, nuzzling against each other as the stars sparked into existence. He pointed out his favorite constellations; he even dedicated one of the stars to me, the brightest one at the corner of his favorite. We fell asleep in that spot, with the crescent moon promising she would protect us through the night. That was the last time we danced.  

Melissa Mason is a senior English major at UMass Amherst with a specialization in Creative Writing. She plans to enter the world of publishing as an editor but her ultimate goal is to be a fantasy novelist. 

Photo credit: Italy, Latium Region, Tarquinia (Vt), Etruscan Necropolises, Tomb of Lioness, 6th century fresco with couple of dancers, she wears a transparent vest, he’s naked with an olpe of wine, premise of an orgiastic dance. Photopgraphy. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/126_3750512/1/126_3750512/cite. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.


The Magician

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Moeko Noda

Top hat, magic trick, tap and money purse on black background / Tom Kelley Archive / Retrofile RF / Getty Images / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Top hat, magic trick, tap and money purse on black background / Tom Kelley Archive / Retrofile RF / Getty Images / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

The asphalt on the street radiated heat, causing beads of sweat to collect on the Magician’s forehead. It was a summer day in central Tokyo. The sweat dripped onto the flags he was pulling out from his mouth. He stood behind a portable table set up on the street. He had been there for an hour, entertaining audiences that came and went, as he kept pulling out flags one after the other.

Once, he had wanted to be an athleter. He remembered the summer of the first Tokyo Olympics a generation before. It was similarly sweltering. Each afternoon the Magician would run to his neighbor’s house, which was the only home with a television, with a small gang of boys. They kicked off their sandals as they hurried to the television, already surrounded by men cheering and women gossiping. He huddled up to sneak through the adults to the front. With knees tightly pressed together, the Magician looked up into the screen where the female volleyball team ran and hit, ran and hit. Though the court must have been boiling with heat, the rough pixels of the television screen did not betray the sweat and the grind of the players, only their steady receives and attacks. Yes, the Magician remembered now: he wanted to be a volleyball player, not a baseball player. The lean female figures in the screen attracted him in ways that were still unknown to him, the stretch of their arms and the bow of their bodies reaching for a spike magical and dazzling. In that Olympic games the Japanese female volleyball team smashed opponents, winning the finals against the Soviet Union after a grueling game as the nation cheered in front of their respective communal TVs. The team was nicknamed the “Witches of the Orient.”

But did I really want to be a volleyball player? The Magician thought again, as he slipped his hands beneath the table to feel the pigeon that he would soon produce and then make disappear. Sure enough, she was there, safely blinded in a black box that confined her beneath the table. Volleyball, he remembered, became a girl’s sport after the gold medal of the Olympics. TV series and comic series featuring starry-eyed girls playing volleyball attracted girls nationwide, creating a huge surge in the popularity of the sport. But the Magician was never a part of it. Throughout elementary school he remained silent about his attraction, secretly dreaming of volleyball but never actually playing it. Baseball was the sport that he played in the open fields after school. 

Baseball was a fine sport, but the Magician never wanted to be a professional like all the other boys. Once in high school, he quit his team and spent most of his time at the library. Sitting alone in the rustic room where dust flew with each touch of a book, the Magician read Dostoyevsky and Stendhal; Mishima and Soseki; he drank them down. He lost his childhood tan from playing baseball, but sunburnt the left side of his face by sitting in the same seat in the library every day. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to be in the future; his only vision was to have a solitary and literary life. So when the time came to go to college, he went where he got in. Magic, the Magician thought as he pulled out the pigeon from the box through his hat on the desk, was nowhere in his life back then. The closest he got to magic was Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

But he did like to watch the college volleyball team. It  was far from the Olympic team that had captured the eyes of the nation; many of the girls were round, healthy, and happy, and none of the stoic sportsmanship that ruled the court that summer was present in the old, sweaty college gym. Laughter bounced on the walls whenever the girls took a break. The Magician, now a tall, lean young man, liked to read on the stands while the team practiced. The toss of the ball, the yells of the girls, their sweats that the television screen never captured, all amidst the philosophical musings of Virginia Woolf, consumed him. Inhaling the stale air of the gym, he felt that he was in two worlds at once: the carnal reality of his childhood dreams and the spiritual realm of the philosophers. Skipping classes, he sat quietly in the back of the empty stands, reading away as the hours ticked by. A slight change occurred to this daily routine when the Magician’s eyes caught a particular girl in the court. She was the tallest and visibly more serious about the game than the other girls who were there for fun. The arch of her body was like a long, lean bow, and the ball her arm hit pierced the empty spot of the opponent’s court with a straight trajectory. The Magician fell in love. The balance between the two worlds shifted; his gaze would lift off the pages and fall on her. They dated for a while, but the girl dumped him after a few months for not paying enough attention to their relationship.  He stopped going to the gym.

The Magician fell into deep despair. In his small apartment, he lay down on his futon and wondered about life. He had never known despair like this; none of the masterpieces of literature had taught him how the wounds of love hurt. After two weeks of solitude, he woke up. He decided that books never taught him anything: only hard-earned experience can. He even felt grateful for his girlfriend, for teaching him this truth.The Magician started to work part time jobs. On Mondays he tended bar; on Tuesdays he built houses in the rapidly expanding suburbs; on Fridays he organized rows of fish at the Tsukiji market. The rest of the week he filled in with one-time gigs.

Out of the myriad jobs that he tried, he most liked being a magician’s assistant. The job came to him unexpectedly, one day, on his way home from another one of his part-time jobs. He spotted a handwritten ad on a utility pole that said, “Looking for assistant to magician. Will teach how to do basic magic.”

When he rang up the number on the ad the next day, an old man answered. The man spoke softly and modestly, and the Magician, who had expected something like a pigeon popping up through the phone, checked the number on the note on the desk. But he was talking to the right man. Hearing that the Magician was interested in the assistant position, the old man’s voice brightened: “You are the first one to call!” he said, “I had almost lost hope. I am making an overseas trip to India next month, and I urgently need someone to work in my place while I am gone.”

The training process was much more arduous than the Magician had anticipated. The Master, who preferred to be called Master Ismail, taught him how to handle cards and control the audience’s attention, step by step, in his old apartment that was cluttered with elephant statues. He was a good teacher; he never got irritated by his pupil’s mistakes, and went over the same tricks again and again until the student perfected it. Except for his weird fascination with India, the Magician liked his master very much and trusted in his skills. Sometimes he was tempted to point out that Ismail is an Islamic name rather than Hindu; but out of love and respect, he never did, and sent his master out having surely mastered the basic magic tricks that he were to perform while the master spent six months traveling “forgotten magical tribes” in India.

Now the Magician had truly become a magician. He worked at the  birthday parties of wealthy children, did tricks in the toy sections of department stores, and sometimes performed on the streets to advertise his work. Most of his audiences were children under the age of twelve; they beheld the cards that flew and the pigeons that disappeared in pure wonder, giggling and screaming with joy. As the Magician became more accustomed to his work, he realized he had graduated college. He only noticed this when, receiving an offer to perform at a wedd
ing, he saw that the date conflicted with his graduation ceremony. He didn’t mind too much; the only person from college that he ever really talked to was his volleyball-playing ex-girlfriend, and he did not care to meet her again. He accepted the offer and added a rabbit vanishing trick during the wedding ceremony as a personal celebration of his graduation.  

Months came and passed. Master Ismail never came back; the Magician assumed that he had extended his stay in India, possibly having found his retirement destination in one of the magical tribes. The Magician was not in a hurry to hand back his position anyways. He had become a full-time magician upon graduation, expanding his network of customers. He met many people during his work; he congratulated arrivals of newborns, celebrated the coming-of-age of twenty year olds, and pulled out from his hat smiling photos of the deceased. One of the most surprising encounters during this time was with his ex-girlfriend from college. The Magician was asked to perform at a birthday party of a five-year-old boy for a hefty pay, and when he arrived at the doorsteps of a large western style house, she opened the door. The Magician recognized her right away: the quiet smile, the lean build of her body, the seriousness at the edge of her mouth. She did not recognize him, however, and invited him in with welcoming ease. The husband was not present for his son’s birthday party, but had made sure that the house was handsomely decorated by professional party planners, an uncommon practice. The air of restrained passion that she carried with her in college was gone, her eyes now tinged with fatigue. But the Magician was a professional; he was never to speak about personal matters with his client. As he steadily performed his routine, the Magician’s ex-girlfriend watched his tricks with a curious smile, paying more attention to her son’s reactions rather than the show. After he received the pay and left the house, the Magician never saw her again. Such was the way it was with most customers. People came and went, leaving behind traces of memories, a hint of laughter, a sparkle of the eye, but never a permanent connection – except for one serious eyed girl, who eagerly asked to be the Magician’s assistant one  summer day, soon after the encounter with his ex-girlfriend. She later became his wife.

Years came and passed. Not much changed for the Magician; he performed his tricks in professional solemnity, visited birthday parties, and celebrated marriages. The venue today was on the street. As the drumroll from the CD speaker rolled, the pigeon vanished under the desk, successfully concluding his finale. The drumroll finished with a dramatic thud. The children, after a beat, clapped in wide-eyed wonder.

Moeko Noda is a senior in Swarthmore College, where she studies Comparative Literature. She is from Tokyo, Japan. 

Photo credit: Top hat, magic trick, tap and money purse on black background. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016.
http://quest.eb.com/search/115_3876433/1/115_3876433/cite. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.

Little Lights

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Melissa Mason

Flowers under blue light / ANDREW LAMBERT PHOTOGRAPHY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Flowers under blue light / ANDREW LAMBERT PHOTOGRAPHY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Nobody knows that I come here at night, every night; nobody even cares enough to notice. I sneak out of my uncle’s cabin before he is even asleep, while he is still sitting like a fat drooling dog in front of the TV drinking his tenth beer. He doesn’t care about me, he barely even knows my name, but he loves my mother and would do anything for her. Uncle Earl adopted me every summer for the past three years while Mother went on “work trips,” which is code for her going on tropical cruises and getting shitfaced with boys who are closer to my age than hers. This summer though she didn’t come back to get me. She sent a text to Earl telling him about her “new young love, we are moving to Greece, tell Amy to study hard.” That was it. No I love you, no goodbyes, just study hard. Fat lot of good that did. Earl forgot to register me for school this year. He messed up his leg a few years ago working construction, and since then he’s been living off disability claiming that his leg never healed right. He sits day in and day out in front of his static-y TV in his tiny three-roomed cabin in the middle of the woods.

Most people my age find the woods  a terrible and forsaken place. I think it’s magical–the soft carpet of the emerald moss that curls around my bare toes as I bound away from Earl’s place, the sweet rainbow leaves that blow all about in the wind and tickle my face

I found this place at the beginning of my third summer dumped at Earl’s. That first day was the only day he was sober, just to impress his sister. As soon as she left he chugged five beers and retreated to his chair, forever imprinted with his walrus butt.

When I was sure that he was good and drunk, I went exploring. I was traveling along a path in the woods when I tripped on a root, got caught in indigo vines and crashed into a clearing, smacking my head on the ground. I have no idea how long I was unconscious for, but when I finally awoke, little cobalt lights darted into the trees. I untangled myself from the vines and gasped. How had I never seen this part of the woods before? The leaves on all of the trees surrounding the clearing were a brilliant red, a velvety red sort of like that of blooming roses, but warmer. The tall grass, which was softer than the moss and logically should not have even existed in this shaded space, reached a shade of green to rival a jade stone, the same kind that was on the ring Dad was buried with. All openings in the trees were obscured by the indigo vines I was caught in.

I lie in the middle of this field now, as I have every night since the day I found it. I lay here and I watch the cobalt lights flitter about. Because they are not just lights, they are creatures. They float through the air and live in the red trees. They dance in the grass to the sound of the stars. They have grown accustomed to my presence; in fact I think they have begun to look forward to my visits. They look like fairies but they are not, they may not even be alive. I thought they were until the day three of them floated straight through my stomach. I didn’t even feel them, I just watched them enter from my front and leave out the back. As I lie here they swarm in and around me. One has placed herself on the tip of my nose. She is eerily beautiful. My little lights, that’s what I call them, and they respond to it so they must like it. They have accepted me and care for me and provide me with warmth even on the coldest of nights. Maybe one day I will be able to join them, flitting about without a care in the world, becoming a little cobalt light myself. Until that day comes I will continue to sit here and watch them.

Melissa Mason is a senior English major at UMass Amherst with a specialization in Creative Writing. She plans to enter the world of publishing as an editor but her ultimate goal is to be a fantasy novelist. 

Photo credit: Flowers under blue light. Photograph. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016.
http://quest.eb.com/search/132_1185781/1/132_1185781/cite. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.

Visions of Olive

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Tabitha Sanders


William Blake (British, 1757 - 1827), / Satan Exulting over Eve /  British, 1795, Graphite, pen and black ink, and watercolor, 42.5 × 53.5 cm (16 3/4 × 21 1/16 in.), 84.GC.49 / Getty Open Content

William Blake (British, 1757 – 1827), / Satan Exulting over Eve /  British, 1795, Graphite, pen and black ink, and watercolor, 42.5 × 53.5 cm (16 3/4 × 21 1/16 in.), 84.GC.49 / Getty Open Content

Olive struck the ground with her foot as she drove her scooter over and over the same patch of sidewalk in front of her house. It was her car, and she was driving it to work; she must take care to stop at all of the stoplights and to never go above the speed limit. Her little sister, Amy, had decided to quit the  game, but the disappointment was only temporary. She had her imaginary friends to play with, and they made good playmates.

When they left, though, things did get a bit lonesome. Worse still was when her friends would withdraw, leaving little Olive with the enemies. She knew that they were only visions, that they weren’t really there. The man with the long white-hair was likely a figment from a dream, and the devil voice a secret sadness within her. The other enemies would often come and go, torture her and then leave forever. But these two stuck around for an awful long time, and Olive knew that they could stay forever if they wanted to.

The two enemies had made the decision, it seemed, to disturb and make miserable every aspect of her life. The white-haired man, who would so often appear in her mind and then flash away just as quickly, was in the habit of whispering things of past that had never happened.

As the white-haired man would confuse and distort the world she lived in, the devil voice would demand of her the payment of every second of her life. Any action she strove to do, be it turning her scooter around, picking a Tupperware cup to drink out of from the cabinet, speaking, was to some extent controlled by the devil voice. She would decide to turn her scooter around clockwise instead of counterclockwise, and the voice would change her action: If you don’t turn it counterclockwise, you will be trapped in a different time continuum. While wanting to choose the large blue cup, the voice would rebuke her: You’d better choose the small green cup, or else I will go into your heart when you drink. If about to say hello to someone: Keep your mouth closed or you’ll go to hell.

The battle, was continual. Perhaps it was made worse by the third enemy, the enemy who was real, her new stepfather.

He was a strange man, strange in his appearance, strange in his manner, and strange most of all in his preference for love from children. His acts shook the ground and broke it apart, leaving the shards of restlessness on which her family stood to drift away from each other.

Olive felt that the situation would have been easier had it not been for the visions that haunted her. But, no, the white-haired man would visit her and fill her waking dreamland with  his version of reality; the devil voice would prohibit any freedom and terrify her beyond belief.

The girls went into a kind of years-long trance. No amount of consolation or screaming and yelling could snap them out of—not a bit of cajoling from their mother or cruel mind games from their stepfather would rescue them from it. It tied the two sisters together, each a source of comfort for the other.

They would talk to each other of the brutishness of their stepfather. Perhaps that was why her sister had left their game today so early on—the conversation had come up again. And with it had come an argument-turned-agreement.

Her sister had asked, “Do you think we need to tell someone?”

Olive felt a surge of panic.

“No, only if it happens again. And then we need to tell each other first.”

“But it did happen again, last night,” said Amy softly.

No, Olive, don’t you dare give in. You know it’s better kept a secret. Don’t tell… or else. The devil voice. You really don’t want to find out what I can do to you.

“Well,” Olive faltered again. Inside, she argued with the voice. Amy was crying. “Well. what if we promise each other something? If it happens even one more time, we will tell each other and then give each other a month to tell someone.”

Amy seemed to follow what she meant. “Is it really a promise?”

“Yes, I promise.”

The two shook hands like adults and looked each other in the eyes. “Okay. Who are we going to tell, then?”

“I don’t know. We should probably tell mom. But remember, only after a month if it happens again.”

Olive wondered if she find the courage to uphold that promise. And over the next few days she noticed that the devil voice was growing quieter, yet gaining strength in anger. Then there came a new voice, softer, clearly feminine.

Olive. Olive stared at the vision that began appearing, similar in ghostlike appearance to the white-haired man. It was a girl though, and much older than Olive. Olive. May we talk?

As much as Olive desired an escapade conversation, she had to decline the offer for fear of a permanent attachment to this potential enemy. “No. Please go away.”

I’ve come a long way to get here, little Olive. There are some things I need to tell you. Think of me as an older sister. The vision was becoming more vivid as the words grew clear.

“Fine, then. Go ahead.” It would be best to get this spiel out of the way before figuring a way to dispel this vision from her life.

The vision gently led her towards the backyard, where the two sat on bulging tree roots in the mossy shade.

I left you years ago. I am Olive.

Olive studied the figure. It certainly looked a bit like her, but it was too old. It was too different. “You aren’t really me.”

I’m you in the future, when you’re eighteen. I know I’m different, and it’s my fault that you came to be this way. When I left you, I found hatred and selfishness. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much I left you alone to suffer. I thought I had done myself a favor, and therefore done you a favor, but the deeper into life I got I realized it wasn’t true. It seems that for every thing I left you alone to suffer, a reflection of it has shown up in my own life. Now I know your pain, and I am so sorry.

Olive looked down at the thick grass surrounding them, and kept herself quiet for a time. Without the devil voice here to interject its threats and commentary, she found it difficult to judge the veracity of this conversation. The vision seemed patient in that respect, and her silence brought Olive the encouragement to consider. “I really don’t know if this is real, but I forgive you.”

Thank you. Thank you ve
ry much.
Her vision took a moment to examine the yard, as if remembering. May I ask you something?

Olive nodded.
You need to tell someone. It’s hard, but it’s important.

Olive murmured her agreement.

Don’t leave yourself behind. Always stay with yourself; help yourself grow. Don’t hide, and do all you can to keep goodness in your heart.
The vision was fading, and the different volume levels of the voices all mingled again. Her vision was gone, and again the devil voice came and scolded her on her belief of that vision. The white-haired man found evidence against her from his undocumented wealth of knowledge of time.

Upon returning inside, the sound of the swamp cooler overwhelmed her, and the sight of her stepfather slumped on the couch clutching his container of peanuts angered her. She walked quickly, silently, down the hallway into her shared bedroom, where she found Amy curled helplessly onto her bed. The music on the radio was turned low to her sister’s favorite band, and the beats and tunes of emotion mingled with her sobs.

“I just want mommy to come home from the store,” she sniffled. “I’m afraid of daddy.”

Olive climbed up onto the bed with her sister. “I am too. She’ll be back soon.”

Amy looked up at her face. “Do you still promise? Really promise?”

“Yes, I promise. Do you?”

“Yes. But,” Amy sat up, trying to gain composure. “I’m really afraid of telling.”

“I am too, Amy. It’s okay. I promise it’s okay.”

Tabitha Sanders graduated from Chino Valley High School, Arizona, in 2016 with the strong inclination to become a writer. Her dream is to support herself with writing while living in an RV.

The Holdout

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Kelly Lett

Gutted house at the corner of 8th and C streets, NE. / Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos Inc. / Newscom / Universal Images Group /Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Gutted house at the corner of 8th and C streets, NE. / Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos Inc. / Newscom / Universal Images Group /Rights Managed / For Education Use Only

Miss Denise’s favorite spot was the left corner chair on her front porch.
Most of her life she had sat there watching the neighborhood. Often she would sit well past sundown, giving the breeze time to dry the day’s humidity caught in the creases of her brow. The August sun didn’t set until near 10pm, but the day’s heat stayed caught inside houses where every movement was a battle against the air itself as it licked at exposed skin, causing a feverish chill. It felt as though the air pushed back , stopped you from moving freely, forced youinto stuffed chairs that, while comfortable in the winter, became soggy, sticky traps in the summer. For all these reasons Miss. Denise longed to sit out on her porch tonight. Instead she stood in the doorway, staring at the faded lawn chair, imagining the cool air in her lungs.
But that relief was just out of reach. Working against the moldy screen door were a legion of mosquitos. They buzzed against the door, seeking any small cut or hole that would allow them access to the old woman’s blood filled arms and legs. This was Michigan in the summer.
“The Devil’s own,“ Miss Denise sighed, swatting at a bug that had gained entrance and started feasting on her arm. Its death left a small splatter of blood on the old womans delicate, thin skin.
Forced by nature to seek relief, Miss Denise stood in the doorway, avoiding the bugs, greedy for the cool air. She looked out across the street, staring at what had once been the Freemans’ house. The foundation was still intact, strong and solid as ever. Like all the houses on this block it had been built well. Michigan weather tested houses and humans alike; striking against them with biting winds, freezing rains and thick snow in winter then turning it all around in summer with unrelenting temperatures and humidity so high a person could swim to the store.
Some of the front porch was still there, wooden beams rising up towards a missing roof. The rest of the house was nothing more than broken glass and charred wood. The Freemans had left ten years ago, nobody had wanted their house, so it sat ready to be stripped for saleable scraps, torn up by vandals, and burned to the ground by unknown shadow figures who came and went at night.
The neighborhood turned 100 this year, but it had started dying at 90. Miss Denise had been born and raised in that neighborhood, in the very house whose doorway she now looked out from. She certainly never thought she would be the only person left in the last house standing on a once lively block.
“Blight!” Miss Denise huffed, “An even uglier word for cancer.”
But houses don’t get cancer, so they call it something short and nasty. It spread like cancer though, leaving little behind except shelters, stray cats, and drug addicts.
A breeze picked up. Closing her eyes she heard it moan through the glassless windows. Far back in her memory a child yelled ‘wait up!’ as bikes whizzed by. She smiled.
“You be careful now!”
Catching herself Miss Denise opened her eyes. The memory faded as she stared out at the remains of the Kibber house. Another memory shoved its way up, overwhelming Miss. Denise with the smell of ribs coming off the grill. Sam Kibber and his ribs! It was a two day process of sauce boiling, meat smoking, biscuit baking, and finally wood fire grilling. The Kibbers never sent out party invitations, they just opened their kitchen windows.
The Kibbers had left eight years before. Their house sat empty, another cancerous tumor for all to see. Finally a mysterious fire had burned any hope of a new family filling its rooms.
Fire took the Greens’ house, too. The Greens had arrived in the late 90’s to a block that was still very middle class. Mr. Green mowed that lawn every week, trimming every edge to symmetrical perfection. He planted flowers so early each spring that a late frost shriveled leaves and froze roots more than once. But the next weekend he’d be back with another flat, all those bright reds and yellows.
Once the blight began, nobody wanted a house on this block, so they had
emptied, one after another and bit by bit they were taken apart. Thieves always arrived first, pulling copper pipes from walls, carting appliances to scrap metal yards, taking doorknobs, lighting fixtures, stained glass windows; anything.
The thieves were followed by squatters and drug addcts. Fights became common in what had once been a peaceful neighborhood. And Miss Denise was certain that the Greens’ house had last been used for murder. From her front porch she once heard such awful sounds.
Cursing, crashing, flesh smacking against flesh; it bothered her so that she had run inside, slamming and bolting the thick wood door. Still she heard screaming, until very suddenly she heard nothing.
She had called the police, telling what she saw and heard, but they never bothered to show.
“Just a torn down neighborhood with a scared old lady, what they gonna do?” she asked nobody.
And so it was up and down the street, memories tied to the remains of homes in a once proud neighborhood. The only keeper of those precious memories, an old woman standing alone in the doorway of the last house left standing.
Sometimes in her mind she saw the Williams Christmas light display, each year it grew bigger and brighter until it went dark three years ago when the Williams took the twinkly bulbs to Georgia.
Once the cancerous blight took hold, the flights of fear began. One after another they had departed, leaving only an old woman in an old house, paid off by her father long before she
took over.
Anger rose in Miss. Denise’s throat, “I told you not to get another mortgage! Factories been closing for 30 years, I said. Interest rates go up, I said. That house is yours! It’s paid for, I said. But you all wouldn’t listen to some dumb old woman. Blue skies and sunshine that’s all you damn fools saw. Well I saw the clouds gathering. Saw the rain a coming, and it came and it fell, like it always does ending good times, like it always does.”
Weii, maybe they all hadn’t taken out second and third mortgages, but enough had. Pensions were squandered trying to fend off foreclosures, but those bright yellow bank notices always ended up tacked on doors.
And if the mortgage man didn’t get you, the tax man did. Nobody cared that when the car parts factory closed it took your dry cleaning customers with it, the city still wants revenue.
“They’re just waiting on me.” Miss Denise shifted her focus back to the frenzy of mosquitoes outside her door. “They’re all just waiting on me. Bloodsuckers.”
She hit out at the screen door causing a small, living cloud to burst away backwards. For a moment they took each other in, the old woman and the buzzing little cloud. The mosquitoes waited, hovering, on the other side of the rotting door. Miss. Denise backed away leaving the cool night breeze for the bugs as the oven-high heat of her living room swallowed her up.

Kelly Lett recently moved from Los Angeles to Detroit to pursue her writing career. Thanks to the internet she is able to tell stories while enjoying a much lower cost of living.

Photo credit: House. . Photography. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/142_2303727/1/142_2303727/cite. Accessed 12 Aug 2016.

Maude Mabel and the Big Green Splat: A Children’s Story

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Grace Imbesi

Studio shot of mixture of paints / Visage / Stockbyte / Getty Images / Universal Images Group

Studio shot of mixture of paints / Visage / Stockbyte / Getty Images / Universal Images Group

Maude Mabel was particular. Maude always kept her room spotless and her fur clean. Her clothes were all folded neatly in her dresser drawers, and her coats and dresses remained hanging in her closet with the hangers all facing in the same direction. Her closet shelves were neatly lined with boxes of crafts and other storage bins. Maude always brushes her teeth for the recommended three minutes, and makes sure to floss every time. She only uses eight squares of toilet paper in the bathroom. Never seven, never nine; Maude felt more comfortable with even numbers.

Maude went about every morning in the same way: she made her bed, put on the day’s favorite dress (unless it happened to be a Friday, and then she put on her favorite purple, polka-dotted shirt), ate a hearty breakfast of cheesy scrambled eggs and toast with strawberry jam — never letting the two mingle, gathered her school things in her old backpack with the flower patches sewn into it, and left the house for school at 8 o’clock sharp.

Her schooldays remained almost the same from day-to-day. She started the day with a simple social studies, and continued on with math- she liked math, because everything had a right answer, unlike her next class: English. After English her class took a snack break, and then had gym. Gym was followed by lunch and then recess, which was spent mostly on the swings, where she would swing no more and no less than sixty times. She then had Spanish, music, and finally, her favorite class: art.

Maude liked that art was her last class of the day, so she always had something to look forward to. Whenever her teacher gave them some free time to work on whatever they pleased, she always chose her favorite way of expressing herself: painting. All of her paintings included her three favorite things: the bright yellow sun, a tall, lush tree- always with an owl hole, and herself wearing, of course, her favorite purple polka-dotted shirt. Every time, though, she would change something about the painting. Sometimes there wouldn’t be an owl in the owl hole, or sometimes, depending on the season, the leaves would be orange and red, or not there at all. Some paintings would have more flowers than others, and she often painted herself with blue or pink ribbons in her fur.

One rainy Friday afternoon, there she was, painting her same painting with the purple polka-dotted shirt and her pretty pink ribbons, when the clumsiest boy in class, Jackson Spivey (who Maude Mabel tried to avoid as often as possible) swung his arm around and accidentally knocked over a bottle of green paint, making one large splat right on top of her artwork, landing right where she had just painted her perfect, purple, polka-dotted shirt. Jackson Spivey froze in embarrassment as Maude Mabel froze in frustration. Her stomach started filling up with thunder and lightning that was just as anxious as the storm brewing outside, just as it always does when she’s forced to stray from her routines, but then something funny happened… The rain outside started calming down, and so did her stomach…

Maude stood staring at the painting, confused. She couldn’t explain why, but she actually sort of liked the way the green splat looked on her purple shirt. Maybe it was the way the two colors looked together, or maybe it was how the splat was so simple that it added just enough crazy to actually look cool. Whatever it was, it changed Maude Mabel’s perspective and she hugged and thanked the messy boy who she had hated all year.

After this art class phenomenon, Jackson and Maude became best friends, and he showed her how to live life in a more fun, carefree way. At recess, he showed her that you don’t have to stop swinging once you reach sixty, because seventy, or even eighty, can also be fun, and you don’t even have to count at all!

At home, during dinner time, Maude saw her brother mixing his mashed potatoes with his meatloaf. At first, she was disgusted at the thought of food touching, but he seemed to enjoy it, and so she thought she would give it a try. She took her fork, mixed away, and threw a heaping mouthful of mash onto her tongue. She was delighted by how it tasted and could not believe she hadn’t discovered this sooner.
After these little discoveries, Maude wondered what other little secrets to happiness were hiding behind the routines she had spent so long perfecting, and she decided to get a little crazy… Maude took all the arts and crafts boxes out of her closet and spilled its contents all over her desk, hoping that she would in time become more creative. She opened up her sock drawer and tossed around rainbow handfuls until striped socks rested with polka-dotted socks and pink socks hung around with orange socks, because who doesn’t like a little mixin’ and matchin’? She tore up all of her gel-pen lists, neglecting any and all routines she had planned for the night, the next day, and all the days after that. Maude went back to her closet and mixed everything up, no longer feeling the need for her dresses to be color coordinated. After tiring herself out from all the excitement of new experiences, Maude decided to go to sleep early, at 8 o’clock instead of 9 o’clock. She changed into mismatched pajamas, climbed into bed, and, soon,  Maude Mabel was resting soundly with hangers pointing every which way.


Grace Imbesi, aspiring poet and children’s author. English major at Russell Sage College of Troy. New York.

Photo credit: Studio shot of mixture of paints. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/115_3959718/1/115_3959718/cite. Accessed 11 Aug 2016

Dog Ashes

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Michael Colbert

Moeller, Otto Friedrich Theodor von (known as Fyodor Antonovich Moller in Russia); 1812-1874. “The Kiss”, 1840. Oil on canvas, 59 x 65cm.

We used to stay up late, sitting on the campus quad and talking about friendship, the direction of America, or film. We’d sit there for hours, talking and listening until her feet felt numb from the cold.

We first met at orchestra auditions. She wore glasses she didn’t need and her hair was long and curly, something she always complained about to curly-haired friends like my floormate Fanny. I sat on my saxophone case. She asked, “Why are you auditioning for orchestra on the saxophone?” She doesn’t remember that this was the first time we met.

We met again later freshman year, and she was Fanny’s cool friend. My only friends were my roommates and some people who lived on my floor like Fanny, so Fanny bringing a girl from the outside conferred some sort of status upon them both. Well, at least to me it did.

She and Fanny would come back from orchestra rehearsals together and talk on Fanny’s bed. I’d come by the room to say hi to Fanny and there she was. I recognized her by those cool, transparent, circular glasses.

And then she was part of our floormate group. She started as a novelty. Somebody that everybody tried to lay claim to so that they had friends from another dorm. She fueled it, organically, by always showing funny videos to different people or talking about that cover she’d heard. Then I’d hear my floormate, one of the random ones, blasting it in the shower after I’d just stopped listening to it.

Soon she wasn’t just a novelty but our friend. All of us knew her, and she made us all laugh. I started listening to her music and making her jokes.

“I just assumed that everyone’s high school English teachers were Canadian because mine was,” she said.

Nothing made sense except for that feeling that she made you feel. But that didn’t make sense either. She had us watch The Talented Mr. Ripley and I thought that movie nailed it until Matt Damon killed Jude Law and then I knew I still couldn’t explain it. Magnetism? Longing? Obsession? MPDG?

I decided to name the feeling a crush. She made out with other guys at parties and hid her hickies with turtlenecks.


We made out. We were drunk. I grabbed her ass on the dance floor. A redhead girl grumbled next to us. The night ended with everyone in the girls’ bathroom on my floor, holding back our Other Film Friend’s hair as Other Film Friend thought she might vomit. Her floormate Chuck–she was bringing her external friends into our insular, floormate group– was there too, texting.

“I had a lot of fun,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Do you want me to walk you home?”

“I’m okay.”

We said we’d go on a date but we didn’t. She disappeared for a bit and I made out with someone else, and I thought she got jealous and weird. Now I know when she said, “I’m happy for you,” she’d been looking for an undamaging way out. The other girl and I ended the next weekend. I realized I couldn’t be into another girl if I was still after her even though that door had been closed.


Summer came. The last night of the semester we all went to a concert. Iron & Wine. Burlington. We called for him to play “Upward Over the Mountain,” but he didn’t. When Other Film Friend and I were leaving to drive back to campus for the night and she was staying in the city, she chased after the car like in the movies. But it was a quiet neighborhood, so it was different. Other Film Friend and I laughed and she laughed and we didn’t see her until the fall.

That summer I told her how I’d gotten really into Iron & Wine.

“That’s a really intense thing to get really into.”

I started talking about film as art. Philly, where she was from, was suddenly a cool city I wanted to live in after graduating.

We saw her back at school. She lived with Fanny and Other Film Friend, and I lived with Chuck. Chuck and I would walk from campus through the cemetery to their apartment, drinking coffee brandy I’d gotten older friends to buy us.

She made out with my old roommate. Other Film Friend’s semi-boyfriend from the year before. We all stopped seeing her, and she felt alone. I forgave her quickly but decided to let my old roommate fall away. He’d been my best friend, and he knew how I felt. How I didn’t know how to feel about her.


She went abroad for a year alone in Copenhagen. We all met up. A weekend in Barcelona to do a college-friends-in-Europe weekend. She told stories about the summer program she did in Cape Town making movies and the Italian friend that she’d met there. She played with a bouncy ball and took pictures, asking Other Film Friend if she wanted to use her camera. Other Film Friend still felt weird about her since last fall’s makeout incident, but Other Film Friend also had the same kind of feelings about her as I did, so I watched as she explained all she learned in South Africa while Other Film Friend had been working at an ice cream shop in Burlington.

We meant to go out to a club our last night in Barcelona, but Chuck had to Skype his mom because his dog died, and she and Other Film Friend disappeared for an hour or two in the bedroom to talk. I talked to Fanny who was studying biology at the Budapest program. Fanny laughed and played bad music and told me stories about times she got drunk. I did the same. Other Film Friend came out of the room, eyebrows high and eyes big. Then she followed behind, one of her subdued moods, eyes looking kind of high and cheeks blotchy. “Hi,” she exhaled.

Our group tried to go to the club but we couldn’t get in because not everyone was twenty-one. Were those the rules? Wasn’t that why college juniors went abroad? We went back to our rented apartment but missed the first subway back because she got crepes from a drunk-food stand with a tall Spanish girl. We didn’t get back until five in the morning, and I told her to wake me before she left for her eight o’clock flight.


I was back at school in the spring. She wasn’t. I got over her. I got over the girl I was seeing while I was studying in Italy. When I got drunk, I’d say I missed either of them. The name I said depended on the night.


She came back. She came out. She’d been dating a Danish girl since September, since before I saw her in Barcelona. She talked about all her bad experiences with men. We talked about Hitchcock in our American Film class together.

American Film was good. It was just the two of us again for or the first time since it was just the two of us on the dance floor. But it was different. We were less distant, better, and older. And there was no grumbling redhead next to us.

I’d never been in love, but what did this feeling count for? Isn’t yearning a kind of love? Doesn’t longing count?

She got a new girlfriend after the Danish girl cheated on her. They were always together. I lost her again and watched through the library window as they studied. I shared the dinner table with her and her girlfriend, and I watched as they talked and said things without talking. She was in love. We didn’t see her, and she saw her girlfriend’s friends.

But one day the rest of us saw her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s friends. We were all in her apartment, all ready to go to a concert. We were on the couch as the girlfriend’s friends whirled through. They laughed at things, cards she had kept from her mom, found when a dark-haired friend looked for clothes to “style” her for the concert. She came out, sleek and cool and vintage and sad.

The dark-haired girl opened a jar next to a picture of her with her late dog. She was in high school then and looked like she did when I first met her, except without the glasses. She was an only child, and I understood dog mourning.

“What are these?” The dark-haired girl asked.

I’d never seen them, but I knew she shouldn’t have asked.

“Her dog’s ashes,” her girlfriend said. She took a shot of tequila and went into the bathroom to adjust her backwards hat.

“Oh my God.”

“Why do you have these?”

“That’s gross.”

“And we were going to play with that Ouija board here?”

“I feel so gross now.”

“Are you coming?”

“I’ll meet you outside.”

They were gone. They didn’t come looking for her. The five of us from the hotel in Barcelona, Other Film Friend, Fanny, Chuck, she, and I sat. We all felt the need to say something to her but didn’t. Her face was blotchy and her eyebrows high but eyes tired. We’d later fantasize confrontations with the Dog Ashes Asshole, but those never went through.

But we sat, we five and her dog’s ashes. She got up and left to find her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s friends at the concert.


In the last weeks of school, how much did she think about the dog ashes? Did her girlfriend’s friends make fun of her for them? Was she still thinking about them as much as I was? Were there even dog ashes in there? I sneaked into their apartment to see for myself. She surprised me there. I’d opened the jar when she came out of the bathroom.

“It’s not what it looks like. I just had to know.”

The lid was in my hand.

“You take them,” she said.

“But I never knew your dog.”

“You did in spirit.”

“Have I met his ghost?”

“Don’t be dumb.”

“But I couldn’t,” I said.

“Now they’re yours.”

I imagined the ashes in my house. I’d put the pieces of her I’d collected into the jar. The keychain she gave me for my birthday and the Iron and Wine CD I bought after freshman year would crumble into the jar. Dog soot would fill the crevices until they were unrecognizable, and they too became ashes.

Neither of us did anything. We just stood there, she and I and her dog’s ashes.

Born and raised in Westborough, Massachusetts, Michael is a recent graduate of Bowdoin College, where he studied Italian and Spanish. He’s written his own travel blog, Misadventures with Michael, for over three years. Currently, he is teaching English at a high school in Japan.



Photo credit: Otto F.T. von Moeller, This Kiss.. Photo. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/109_227958/1/109_227958/cite. Accessed 11 Aug 2016.


Fall 2016, Uncategorized

Kacper Niburski




Yellow banana on a grey background / Ingram Publishing

Yellow banana on a grey background / Ingram Publishing

“Knock, knock.”

“I’ve heard this one a million times, Bob.”

“No, not this one. It’s different. Come on.”

“Alright. Fine. Who’s there?”


“Why would a banana be at my door?”

“Because it’s part of the joke.”

“But how would a banana knock?”

“Well, I guess the same way we do, by bobbing back and forth.”

“Sure, but what would make the banana bob?”

“I don’t know.”

“This is important stuff to know. If there’s a banana at my door that somehow knocked, I’d be more interested in the banana itself. Like, for example, how big is it?”

“It’s a regular banana.”

“Yellow, green, black—is it rotten?”

“It’s just a simple, fresh banana. Imagine a banana and then that’s it.”

“I usually eat tiny bananas, so I’m imagining them.”

“That’s not the banana in the joke.”

“So there is a specific banana, then. How can I get the joke if we are imaging different things?”

“Come on, Frank, just go along with it.”

“Okay, sure, but again—how did the banana knock?”

“It just did.”

“What is the door made of?”

“I don’t know, man.”

“Well, how thick is it?”

“Why does this matter?”

“Because if you’re saying a banana—a regular, handheld yellow banana—produced enough of a force to be heard, then the least I should know is the type of door I have.”

“Fine. Hardwood. About the same thickness of a two-by-four.”

“And the banana made an audible knocking noise?”


“See, I don’t understand. Did someone throw the banana?”

“No. I’ve told you three times already—it just knocked.”

“But things don’t just happen. That doesn’t make any sense.”

“It doesn’t have to. It’s a joke.”

“No, no. It does or else I won’t get it and then it won’t be funny and isn’t that a joke’s point?”

“Fine. Sure. I guess.”

“So you’re going to tell me how a regular banana knock-knocked then?”

“Ya. Let’s just say it was standing up—”

“The banana?”

“Yes, the banana. It was standing up—”

“By itself?”

“Yes, by itself.”

“Who put it there?”

“No one.”

“So the banana got there by itself?”


“You’re telling me the banana made it to my door by its own means?”

“Why not?”

“So, Bob, this is a motile banana.”


“This is an evolutionary wunderkind. It’s a self-moving banana that can balance and stand erect.”

“Okay …”

“And with its mushy, moving interior, it somehow also evolved the ability to forcefully knock.”

“I guess.”

“This makes much more sense now.”

“Okay, sure, can I continue now?”

“Wait, Bob, wait. Didn’t it also answer ‘Banana’?”

“I guess …”

“Oh my god.”

“What is it, Frank?”

“This is a sentient banana.”

“Excuse me?”

“This inexplicably moving banana can also speak. That means it has some cognitive ability as it not only uses a door with all the common societal expectations of it—knocking politely, waiting until an answer is given—but it can mimic speech. It can form words, and more importantly, recognize what it is: a banana. No more. No less. A banana that walks, talks, and knocks.”


“Bob, I wouldn’t want a conversation. I would have the responsibility of calling NASA, universities, everyone and everything. Who knows? This banana may be the first alien.”

“Frank, it’s just a banana.”

“That does everything we do, if not better. A little thing can make such a loud noise. Imagine what else it could do. Do you think it can dance?”

“It’s a banana, Frank.”

“Can it dance, Bob?”


“Yet it has mastered our social constructions, hearing my answer and developing a response.”

“Okay …”

“So, maybe it can also hear rhythm in music. I wouldn’t put it past the banana.”

“A dancing banana?”

“Exactly. It would put a new meaning to the phrase banana split.”

“Isn’t that a dessert?”

“It is, but you bring up an important point, Bob.”

“I did?”

“The most important, I’d say. I can’t believe I’m so stupid.”

“What do you mean?”

“Here I am answering the door when it could …”

“It could what?”

“Want revenge.”

“What the hell do you mean?”

“I mean if it is really as smart as you seem to suggest …”

“I didn’t suggest anything, Frank. You have this whole time.”

“No, no, you told the joke. I’m just extrapolating.”

“Fine. Sure. Go ahead.”

“And if it is as smart as you say, with its penchant for abstract thoughts, social norms, and speaking patterns, it might realize what we have been doing to all the other bananas on Earth.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Bob, we eat them whole. We eat the banana’s people. We put them on our damn ice cream.”

“Ya, but—”

“But nothing. This banana might strike against us and I might be its first target.”

“No. It’s just knocking.”

“How do I know?”

“Because it’s knocking on your door.”

“But robbers can knock too before they plan to jump me in my own home.”

“It’s a banana. Not a robber.”

“And yet, it’s so much more than any banana before.”

“So what then?”

“Well, I’m at my door, right?”


“And the banana has already knocked, right?”


“And I’ve answered?”

“Get to the point already, Frank.”

“Well I’d be incredibly cautious. I’d look through the eyehole and seeing nothing—because it is a regular, small banana at the base of my door—I’d be immediately suspicious. Scared even.”

“So what would you do?”

“I’d have to play it smart. I’d cough and puff my chest and before I opened the door—who knows if I would anyways—I would say, ‘Banana who?’”

“And the banana?”

“I’m not sure. If it’s harmless, it may repeat its name because that answers the question.”

“I see. And if it’s not?”

“If redemption is in its blood, or glucose, or whatever, then it may employ the same tactic. ‘Banana,’ it’ll say in a cold, hard manner. The banana may be a master of subterfuge after all.”

“And if it said that then?”

“I’d keep sharp, keep the banana on edge. Show them the human spirit with a, ‘Banana who?’”

“Smart, Frank.”

“I think so too, Bob.”

“So, what then?”

“It’s the banana’s move. Either it can peel away, or keep going.”

“I see.”

“Exactly. Who knows—it could very well knock again and we’d be back at the beginning.”

“So, Frank, you’re saying it’s the banana’s show and we’re just monkeys in the middle.”

“Yeah, Bob.”


“Well is right. Good we got that out of the way.”


“So what was the joke anyway?”

“I don’t remember exactly.”


“That’s alright. It’s over now.”

“I’ll say.”

“Well after it all, I’m glad at least it wasn’t an orange. Imagine that.”


Kacper Niburski is a twenty something year old pretending he’s thirty who writes like he’s fifty about things that happened when he was ten. He’s been published in Stoneboat Poetry, Ars Medica, and others.


hoto credit: Banana. Clip Art. Britannica ImageQuest. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 May 2016.
http://quest.eb.com/search/186_1626436/1/186_1626436/cite. Accessed 17 Oct 2016.

High and Bright

Fall 2016, Uncategorized

James Prenatt


Photo by David Kinney

Photo by David Kinney

“Are you excited?” Mom asks.

Mandy won’t show it, but she is.

Her mom drops her off at Lee’s Airpark, just off Route 2, where she’d seen planes take off and land almost every day, but never dreamed of seeing up close. It was bigger and more intimidating than expected.

Her mom walks with her across the tarmact. It’s a sunny day, perfect and blue, like her eyes, He says. He’s leaning up against the white plane, almost as tall as it, that short dark hair blowing in the wind, aviators on, and no one could be as cool, as sexy. He waves to Mom and Mandy holds back her smile until it hurts. He hugs her, but does not kiss her.

The takeoff is the hardest to stand. She’d flown before, but you feel it more in light aircraft. She’s scared, almost pees herself, but once they’re in the air, He puts his hand on her knee and she calms down. He soars, swoops like she never knew a plane could move so quick. Beats model rockets in Dad’s backyard. Look at that sky. Look at this man next to me who loves Mom better than anything. Will he say he loves me too? It’s so bright. I’m so high.


Euphoric, after days of waiting for Him to come back from his most recent flight, she watches the kite glide through the humid August breeze and wants to go up in the air again. Only next time she wants to be in control.

He walks through the yard, finally back and she wishes she was wearing something sexier than too-big jeans and His worn out Katastrophe t-shirt she took from the laundry when Mom wasn’t watching. What if he gets upset she stole it? Oh, I hope he says I look good in it. He doesn’t say anything though.

Instead, without words, He reaches his arms around her from behind and puts His hands on hers in order to show her how to do it right. The kite twists involuntarily, free but controlled. She likes it this way, him holding her close and showing her the way through the wind.

In that calm time as the sun sets orange, almost vermillion over the River Lethe, Mandy, Mom and Him eat dinner on the back porch as he tells stories of his journeys. He once flew to Venezuela just for the hell of it and stayed there for some time, living out of a rental van and learning to cook Tequenos and serenading pretty girls (an eyebrow raise at Mom). Maybe he’ll fly me and Mom there sometime, or the Caribbean or Europe or why not Canada or California? She was told to help put away dishes and when Mom sees how entranced Mandy is, she lets it go. They get along and that’s a blessing. He has a politician’s way of looking at no one and everyone as he tells a story about almost crashing his first time in the air and having to do his first landing by himself because the man teaching him had a stroke.

He could teach me guitar, too, Mandy thinks. He and Me and Mom and can get out of this. She makes a request, Katastrophe, please and he chuckles a bit. He plays the opening riff of “Trazodone” and sings the chorus as Mandy tries hard not to smile. Once he gets to the end he doesn’t really sing it, but whispers in a way: I like it, I’m not gonna leave. I like it, I’m not gonna leave…


She’s adult and normal and bored now like everybody else, off duty and going back up in the air soon. She’s in the grocery store, trying to decide which bag of chips to buy, a thousand flavors and brands in front of her. What was once so simple an affair now seems an overwhelming duty.

Across from the snack aisle, she spots Him placing ground beef in his cart. His dark hair now a salt and pepper white, His high and taut face, now sagging a bit, the crows feet more noticeable from so much glinting in the sun, but still as handsome as the day He took her up in the plane. She positions herself next to him, too scared because what if it isn’t him?

He makes eye contact and smiles. She smiles back, a middle school girl again.

“They really charge you an arm and a leg nowadays, huh?”

As if it’s her first time being flirted with, she’s not sure what to say and instead shrugs.

“Quiet one.” He looks at her uniform. “Naval Academy?”

She nods.  

“I’m a pilot myself, actually,” he says, like it’s a question and even though she knows He’s still the cocky man He used to be, comfortable with His cool, but unimportant station in life. She still loves that sly humility. “Small cargo and personal passengers mostly. Amateur stuff, really. It’s not the same as The Blue Angels, but I have a good time. Hey, you look familiar.”

That’s when he’s greeted by a woman ten years younger than Him and prettier than Leah, now going by her middle name instead of that childish first name. With the woman is a child, a girl of maybe seven.

She does not remember her response, but she gets out of the conversation and leaves Him to hurt someone else. How dare you leave mom and me. How dare you not remember me. You flew away and never came back. It takes time to admit it, but more than anger, she’s flattered and glad He saw her make it in the air.

Up there it’s just blue. Up there, you’re a god. The takeoff used to be the hardest part, but now it’s just the landing she struggles with. A few more months and she’ll have it down perfect. If only they’d let her go where she wanted. If only they’d let her fly until she’s out of oxygen. She once thought I could die up here, His hands around hers, guiding the way. High. Bright. High.  

James Prenatt has published in Crab Fat Magazine, Cactus Heart Magazine, and 34th Parallel. He lives in  Baltimore with his dog, his thing, and a little human. He graduated from Towson University with a degree in English and an OK GPA.


Photo of a Tiger

Summer 2016, Uncategorized
Bengal tigerAndy Rouse / Nature Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed

Bengal tigerAndy Rouse / Nature Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed


By Shauna O’Meara

Aiming his camera carefully, a little boy photographed the world’s last tiger.
At the flash and click of the device, the tiger stopped on the track he had worn in the dirt beside the finger-smeared glass of his enclosure and regarded the boy with mournful green eyes. “What do you see when you look at me?” the tiger asked.
“A tiger,” replied the boy.
“What makes me a tiger?”
The boy blinked at that, the question seemingly obvious. “Your orange and black stripes, of course.”
The tiger studied his coat’s reflection in the enclosure glass: long, branching lines of black cut through with burnished gold, like a forest at day’s end–the sunset of an entire species marked upon his flanks.
Stripes for camouflage, stripes to warn both prey and competitor alike to give his ferocity wide berth; though there was little need for either anymore: the zoo had long rendered his patterns redundant, a sign of remembered majesty. The cat asked, “Is that the only thing that makes me a tiger, what I look like?”
“Well, I heard you growl before, and I bet you could purr if you tried,” the boy replied.
“I was raised by humans. I have never spoken to another tiger in my life. I am not sure how one is to act, what one is to say. Tell me, can I still be a tiger if I’ve lost my language and my culture?”
“I don’t know,” the boy murmured. He sat down on the ledge at the foot of the enclosure window and put his hand against the glass. After a while, the tiger sat down opposite,  and, lifting his great golden foot, laid his pads against the boy’s palm, just the pane of glass between them. 
A woman passing by the tiger alcove with a child in a stroller clicked a photo of them and moved on.
The boy studied the tiger’s foot, where just the white tips of the claws were visible. “How about hunting?” he suggested. “I mean, I know other species hunt, but tigers are the biggest cats in the world and everyone knows cats make the best hunters.”
The tiger withdrew his paw and studied it, flexing the scythe-like claws. “My food comes to me dead. I have never had to kill.”
An awkward silence fell between them. The tiger listened to the background hum of human visitors admiring the zoo’s rare and elusive animals; heard them clamouring for ice cream, for toilets, for the animals to come out of their vegetation and sleeping quarters for photos.
They hardly looked before clicking and moving on. The tiger studied the black camera slung around the boy’s neck. He wondered if the images were something the humans admired over and over or if the visitors merely hoarded them in preparation for a day when pictures were all that remained of his kind.  
A bucket banged and otters twittered, snapping the tiger out of his reverie. Their feeding time always drew a crowd: people laughing, children squealing, the snap, click and boop of images being preserved.
In the distance, a lion roared.
“It seems I am not much of a tiger, for all that I look like one,” he said.
“You are! You are!” the boy protested. His face creased with concentration as he tried to think of some other feature that would confirm the animal before him a tiger. “I know! You can make baby tigers! That definitely makes you a tiger!”
“Not alone I can’t, and not as a male.”
That brought the boy up short. “What are you then, if you look like a tiger, but don’t know anything about being one? If you can’t speak tiger or hunt like a tiger or even make other tigers?”  
The tiger indicated the camera. “I am what you all wanted–a picture of a tiger.”

Shauna O’Meara is an artist, writer and veterinarian based in Australia. She was a winner of the 2014 Writers of the Future contest and her short stories have appeared in several Australian anthologies and magazines. Her work and links to her art portfolio can be found at:

Photo credit: BENGAL TIGER. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Jun 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/138_1152503/1/138_1152503/cite


The Rememberers

Summer 2016

by Joseph G. Smeall-Villarroel

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…

King penguin couple/De Agostini Picture Library/Universal Images Group / Rights Managed When Allis was three years old and living with his parents in Wisconsin, his great-aunt Meropia came to visit from North Dakota. It was the middle of August, when Catholics remember the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, at the end of her mortal life. For the occasion, Tía Meropia brought presents—a gift certificate for ice cream, and a VHS copy of the movie Mary Poppins. On the video cover, Mary Poppins and Bert the Chimney Sweep danced around with a flock of bow-tied penguins.

The ice cream was delicious but short-lived. The movie, on the other hand, enthralled Allis. It became the extended metaphor that defined his early childhood.


Like you, Allis would grow up to become someone who remembered more details from his past than most people do. He remembered Tía Meropia’s gift well, without understanding why. Its significance would become clear years later, after he had met you.

The following year, in Worcester, MA, you sat in the backyard playing with your sister. You were three years old. You both looked for lizards and toads and all sorts of crawly things. Any that you found, you added to your elaborate make-believe games. Your sister was a budding director, and you were only too glad to play the starring roles in her stories.

You had often felt troubled by things that didn’t seem to bother other people, like defining the boundary between imagination and reality. This day, your sister had invented a story in which all the dinosaurs got herded onto a boat that floated above a flood that covered the world. You saw there were storm clouds on one side of the sky. You were used to seeing it rain. The sun was setting on the other side of the sky, between two of Worcester’s seven hills. An arc appeared across the storm clouds—purple inside blue inside green inside yellow inside orange inside red.

These sights gave you such a feeling of looming terror—unfamiliar, overwhelming and magnificent—that you began to cry. You didn’t understand why the sun should shine at the same moment that it rained, nor what had caused the rainbow. Your father ran outside and took you in his arms to comfort you. Then you knew there was nothing to fear.


A few years later, your mother began taking you both to the Mendon Zoo on Saturdays. You would look at the animals, and then go to the main pavilion to get ice cream, from a stall shaped like a lion’s head.

The zoo ritual seemed like more of your sister’s make-believe games, although you didn’t fully realize it yet. Your interest in animals had waned since those early days of looking for backyard critters to populate her dramas. Nature did not, it seemed, mean for you to develop much of a connection to animals. But the Blessed Virgin Mary intended to override Nature’s thoughts on the matter, late in May, when you were seven. And she did.

That Saturday was hot. You had just finished your ice cream, when you caught sight of the Royal Penguin exhibit. You had seen the penguins before, but never truly noticed them. Something about the penguins struck your fancy that day, where previously they had seemed indistinguishable from the other animals.

You asked your mother if you could pet the Royal penguins.

She said no, it was against the zoo rules.

You protested that if you could touch and even eat the ice cream, then it stood to reason that you should also be allowed to touch the penguins. To prohibit one but not the other was an unfair double standard.

Your mother replied that the penguins and the ice cream were two entirely different things.

When nobody was looking, you tried to scale the fence at the penguins’ enclosure. The zoo attendant pulled you down. She asked you what you were doing.

You told her your wish to pet the penguins. But like your mother, she said no touching the penguins. That was the zoo rule. You told her about the double standard, but she remained unimpressed. The penguins and the ice cream were two entirely different things.

Your mother came over looking for you. She apologized to the attendant. By this point, you were starting to cry at being thwarted in your efforts to do the one thing you had ever truly desired to do at the zoo. Over the insistent sound of your bawling, the attendant asked your mother if she understood that the penguins and the ice cream were two entirely different things, and requested that she please keep a closer eye on you, because otherwise you might get hurt.

Other kids around you were staring, and their parents were starting to move away quickly, dragging them by the wrists.

You had glimpsed briefly the boundary between where the play-acting ended, and real life began—it was like the eerie silence you hear the split second before a tornado touches the ground. You had crossed the line. You couldn’t go back to ice cream now that you had discovered the superior charms of the Royal penguins. Why didn’t anybody understand that?

For some time, your mother would not take you back to the zoo because of the embarrassing scene you had caused. But she eventually did take you back, right around the middle of August that same year. You ran for the penguin exhibit. But it had disappeared. Then you saw the sign across the front of the empty enclosure—the Royal penguins had been a traveling exhibit.

First you couldn’t touch the penguins, but now you couldn’t even look at them. The one thing you had ever truly wanted to do at the zoo! It was all so unfair. You burst into tears.

Your mother said she was sorry about the Royal penguins. She asked if some ice cream would make you feel better.


Many years later, at a college in western Massachusetts, your memory about the Royal penguins and the ice cream found its way into a story you published in the college’s literary magazine. That was the same year you began playing guitar for the campus Catholic mass, under Allis’s direction. He was one grade ahead of you.

Allis read your story. He thought it sounded familiar, without understanding why. Your friendship with him was weird. Sometimes, arguing with Allis, or even just seeing him briefly across a crowded room, he gave you a feeling you also got every now and then, catching sight of your own reflection in the bathroom mirror, where for just a moment, it seemed truly like you were looking at a perfect stranger whose life story—warts and all—you happened to know intimately.

A couple of years after that, you and Allis were sitting at dinner with other people in the college dining hall. You mentioned the earliest memory you had, of how you had cried the first time you saw a rainbow during a cloudburst, and then your father had comforted you. The feeling Allis got from the story about penguins and ice creams returned to him. This time it stayed and grew, despite that (or maybe because) you and he took paths that diverged after college, first gradually, then suddenly.

You both graduated. Some years later, wandering the streets of a faraway city, also built on seven hills, Allis found himself revisiting the memory you had imparted about the rainbow and your father. At times, it replayed in his mind like an infinite loop, against his will. Allis couldn’t understand why he still talked to himself about that memory of your memory. It had been years since you and he had spoken. It felt like your memory had happened to Allis, but he was sure he had never cried about seeing a rainbow, or about penguins and ice cream. He would have remembered things like that. Sometimes he wondered if it was just because of the rainbow’s associations with the indigenous political movement in Bolivia, his mother’s home country. Or maybe it was because rainbows made him think of leprechauns and pots of gold, since he saw you as Irish-American? The rainbow, the penguins, the ice cream, and the crying bedeviled Allis.


It was early spring, right before Allis’s nervous breakdown began. He sat in an ice cream parlor in Boston. He had just finished visiting the aquarium with some college friends who were in town. They had seen a display of Royal penguins. Allis’s mind floated back to the eerie feeling of familiarity that you had sometimes given him.

Then he remembered something he hadn’t thought of before.

When Allis was in eighth grade, five years before he first met you, his father took him and his brother on a long road trip from Wisconsin to Oregon to visit his aunt Aretha and her partner. She had been estranged from the family for many years. The trip was a mending of burnt bridges.

Passing from South Dakota into Wyoming, the Black Hills’ jagged forms leveled out. The car entered a wide plain, and stopped at a gas station to refill. Looking back on that trip years later, sitting at the ice cream parlor in Boston, Allis could still remember the wind when they stepped from the car. He would never forget, as long as he lived. He had to push against it—it felt solid—to cross the parking lot into the nearly deserted station. They saw no humans for miles after that. As they drove, the wind howled all around the flimsy vehicle.

The wind gave way to billowing clouds—tenebrous, gray and purple. They gathered across the plain, piling up against the first ridge of the Rocky Mountains that blossomed from the horizon. Allis’s father drove straight towards it. If you had been there at that moment, you too would have heard the sprinkle of rain splattering against the car as it pushed through the wind, like a little yellow bird. The rain turned into a torrent and the wind continued. If you had been there, you would have seen bolts of lightning at the exact spot where they touched the barren ground of the Wyoming high plain, and the sky all around, and the thunder purred and snarled after it. Allis didn’t cry, but deep within himself he felt a looming terror—unfamiliar, overwhelming and magnificent—of what? Maybe that lightning would strike the car, or that the wind would flip it over.

Still they drove. As they neared the western ridge, sunlight streamed out through the thunderhead against the mountains. Looking back over his shoulder, Allis saw three gigantic rainbows inside one another—purple inside blue inside green inside yellow inside orange inside red.

“God is watching us,” his father mused aloud, in a tone of voice that sounded like he was both awake and dreaming. Then Allis knew there was nothing to fear.


Sitting at the ice cream parlor in Boston, Allis’s mind floated back over this memory again as he thought again of how your father had once comforted you when you felt frightened by the storm and the rainbow at the age of three. It floated over the exhibit of Royal penguins he had just seen, and the ice cream he was licking slowly now.

He understood better why your childhood memories had haunted him across the coils of space and time that had separated the two of you. Tía Meropia did after all have a knack for giving gifts that turned out to have a weird resonance later on, at a certain distance. Silently he toasted her health and wealth with his ice cream. And the thought also crossed his mind, as he licked the cone: Royal penguins mate for life.

Far and away—at that moment, somewhere in Wyoming, close to the spot where Matthew Shepard died once—you sat alone, watching a rainbow on one side of the sky while the sun set between two mountains on the other. You felt a spring breeze rustle your blue and orange baseball cap, so that it momentarily rose into the air just above your head. The wind whistled around you. It’s such a weird feeling—when your heart remembers something that your mind cannot. You began humming John Coltrane’s cover of “Chim Chim Cheree,” without understanding why.


The following winter, after Allis’s nervous breakdown had run its course, he went to the freezer one night, a few days after Christmas. He was at his mother’s house, in Wisconsin. His mother Nadia had forgotten about one of the ice cream drumsticks, out of the ones she had stocked in the freezer, the previous summer. He fished it out from the back of the piled up food items, and ate it when he got sleepy. And then he dreamed he was trying to charm a flock of penguins so they could fly. He’d been shouting esoteric gibberish with amulets and all manner of occult hokum, but to no avail.

Then Allis’s mother came over looking for him, carrying a rainbow-colored umbrella. She asked him what he was doing.

He told her his wish to make the penguins fly.

“Oh Allis,” Nadia said, “why do you always complicate things that are really quite simple. Here:”

She waved her hands once in a graceful motion.

The penguins rose into the air, just above the ground. With a flap of their stubby wings, they barreled high into the sky, far and away, towards one of the seven hills of Worcester. Allis turned over in his sleep. He smiled slightly, without understanding why.


Joseph G. Smeall-Villarroel graduated from Amherst College with a B.A. in English and music in 2010. Since then, his work in fine arts, education and academia has taken him through the cityscapes of Green Bay, WI, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Massachusetts Bay area. He lives in Newton.


Photo credit: King penguin couple (Aptenodytes patagonicus), Spheniscidae, Neck, north coast of Saunders Island, Falkland or Malvinas Islands (British overseas territory). Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Jun 2016.


Stop and Shop

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Grace Cook

John Burcham / National Geographic Society / Universal Images Group

John Burcham / National Geographic Society / Universal Images Group

You were in the bread aisle that morning stocking loaves of Wonderbread. I was startled that your hair was pink. I don’t know why that startled me, especially since mine was blue, but it did. Your hair was pink and you were stocking bread. I needed that bread, but you had the bread. To get it, I needed to talk to you, look at you, and maybe even touch your long fingers that could play piano (I was sure they could).
I stood there far longer than I’d like to admit, my hands twitching and my blood buzzing, hot, through all of my veins. The decision felt like one of life or death, honestly, like all new decisions on crazy days. If I didn’t get my bread, I couldn’t make tuna, tomato, and bacon for lunch or dinner. If I didn’t make lunch or dinner, I’d have to order it somewhere. Ordering it meant speaking to someone over the phone. A phone call would mean a fast, stuttering death, I was convinced.
I had to go get the bread, so I did what any sane person would do—approached you. You looked at me and smiled your sunshine, daffodil smile, and I began to burn. You asked if you could help me in your windy blue voice and I apologized, turned around, and left.
I put my basket down somewhere and went to another store.
I saw you again after lunch while I was at the library. My mind was all colors and buzzing static like a broken TV. I was touching every single fiction book individually, because one might be something other than a book—maybe something new, and then there you were again, next to me. Your pink hair smelled clean and you had your piano fingers pulling a book that I had touched and wasn’t previously struck by. But now you touched it, and when you touched it, my ears had big ringing alarms in them. I needed to open it now, but you were holding it, and I couldn’t do it. I fumbled and picked up a book that was smooth, had no interesting binding, and was nothing but a decoy that I used to distract myself from you.
It would have been easy to get the book had you not had pink hair or green eyes or a flabbergastingly calm, gentle air about you.
The more I thought about you and your kind vibes and soft skin, the more skeptical I became. Who were you? Why were you following me? Were you following me? Why are you nice to sit next to? Why did you have to be at the R’s while I was at the R’s? WHY DID YOU HAVE MY BREAD?! I was so lost in my own racing, muddy head that I didn’t realize I was staring at you. You stared back. I messed up. Oh my god, you hate me. I panicked. I couldn’t breathe or hear. Everything was too bright suddenly.
“Hi,” I said.
“…Hi?” you said back in your voice—still windy, but now green instead. You were green and I was orange. We clashed, I knew we would.
“Can I see that book?” You handed it to me and I took it, my hands shaking like leaves blown by your presence. I held the book. It was warm, and I shook and struggled to open it. Caressing the cover, I flipped through the pages, one by one. You were looking at me, gently, but still you were looking. I squeezed it and thrust it back at you, apologized, and—once again—ran away.
I got outside and ran to my car and cried. I had disturbed your day—I was sure of it. My brain ran like a lawnmower: “You hate me hate me hate me HATE me hate me hate me” and I had upset you, scared you, worried you. You: warm, sunny, spring day you. I didn’t even know your name, but I hurt you, I knew it. My veins were full of angry stinging bees, my tears were boiled water and my head screamed like broken brakes. I took a breath, deep and staggering, and leaned my head back. Suddenly—tap tap tap. I jerked up, tightened like a spring, and turned to my window. You again.
“You forgot this.”
You held up the book. You smiled kindly, gently, and your eyes were like a cup of tea after the rain. I rolled down my window and wiped my face with my sleeve.
“Thank you.” I took the book from your piano fingers.
“I like your hair,” you said. I bit my lip and looked down, hiding a stupid smile.
“I like yours too.” It was quiet for a second and you looked directly into my eyes.
“I hope you feel better. That’s a good book,” you said, and you turned and started walking away.
Maybe because you were a new day full of sun and music, or maybe because I was delirious from crying, I asked, “Do you want it back when I’m done?” You smiled a big Wonderbread smile, but tried to hide it and nodded. I gave you my name and you gave me yours. We parted, and I ran your name over and over in my head like it’s the only word I knew.

Grace Cook is a student at Worcester State University studying Elementary Education and Theater. She hopes to become a reading specialist to help better kids’ understanding of reading.

Photo credit: A row of shopping carts.. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 9 Jun 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/137_3304019/1/137_3304019/cite


Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Andrea Gregory

Alone 1994 Daniel Nevins, 1963, American

Alone 1994 Daniel Nevins, 1963, American

Every night I watch my father get shot in the head by foreign terrorists on a hijacked plane. I’m in therapy for it.

All of a sudden no one is invincible. My parents are just people. And my dad is one of those people who flies all over the world for business. I’m scared, and I’m not allowed to watch the news anymore.

I make my mother check on him. I expect her to scream when she sees his head has been blown off. But she doesn’t scream. She looks over at him. She assures me he’s sleeping and not dead. It was just a dream. She wants me to go back to bed. She falls back asleep with me standing there. It happens almost every night.

I’m the worst speller at school. We are tested every week, and I’ve started cheating. I write the words out on a small piece of paper and keep it in my desk. Evidence of my wrongdoing. There’s talk of holding me back, what with the spelling and all the school I’ve missed. We went to Germany for a few months. I missed a lot of spelling tests.

I have more books than friends. During recess, I hide in the coat closet and read. No one notices I’m not outside playing. You would think I would be a better speller because of all the reading I do, but no. I like the Sweet Valley Twins books. They’re about twin sisters. I have a brother, but he’s younger and always has a runny nose. If I had a sister, everything would be different.

Do I have to go through things alone? We read a poem in school about how no man is an island. Am I an island?


I get caught. Not cheating on my spelling tests but reading in the coat closet. My teacher’s name is Norma. I think she thinks it’s cool to go by her first name. The problem is Norma really isn’t a cool name. She takes my book away and tells me to go play.

Everyone is teasing Julia outside. Someone calls her ugly. Someone calls her gross. She doesn’t brush her hair or teeth. I know this because we had a sleepover once and she came with no brushes. But everyone knows this because it’s obvious by just looking at her. She might actually have cooties. Now, she has to wear glasses.

One of the boys pulls them off her face. He holds them above her head and laughs as she tries to jump for them. Everyone laughs. No one is an island? Julia is an island right now. I yell out for them to stop. The boy throws her glasses on the ground and everyone walks away to play foursquare on the other side of the playground. I pick up Julia’s glasses and hand them to her. She’s crying. She says this happens to her all the time. It’s worse on the bus, she says.

I know all about the bus. They call me animal because they think I’m not human or something. I think when people tell you something long enough, you start to believe it even if you don’t want to.

I’ll show them animal. I bite Kristen on the arm. I bite down as hard as I can, leaning over the back of my seat as she tries to pull away. Everyone thinks it’s funny until she screams. I leave a hole in her shirt. I’m sure there are bite marks on her skin. But no blood. I never tasted blood. She says I’m going to pay for this.

Greg lives two doors down from me. He goes to a different school and rides a different bus, but we’re the same age. When our parents get together, we play in his finished basement. It has an old black and white television set that’s always on, but no one is ever watching it.

We color a lot. Greg’s mom lets us tape our drawings on the walls, and she doesn’t even take them down when I leave. Our pictures feel permanent.

Greg’s father is sick. We don’t know what that really means. The adults don’t either yet. Greg says he doesn’t want to talk about it. Then he says they still go fishing all the time, more now than ever. I ask Greg if he’s going to cry because he looks like it. He tells me no and calls me stupid. Then he stares at me, and I can’t tell what he’s thinking. He dares me to kiss him on the lips. We count to three and kiss for a fraction of a second.

I know what it’s like to feel like you’re flying. There’s a bike trail that the older kids made. Or maybe the older kids before them made it. It’s been there forever. It starts with a really steep hill. You go down it and get a ton of speed. Then you just have to steer. All the neighborhood kids line up. We take turns, cheering each other on. It’s a wild ride.

I’ve done it a million times, but this time I lose control going around the second bend. I fall off my bike and land in poison ivy. My knee is scraped. I think I’m crying because it hurts, but I’m embarrassed. The kids laugh at first, but then leave their bikes to see if I’m okay. Greg isn’t here. His dad’s in the hospital. I get up and run home, abandoning my bike in the bed of poison ivy.

My mother asks what’s wrong, and I just hold on to her as tight as I can. My dad’s at work somewhere. My mom says all I need is a Band-Aid, and she lets go of me too soon. I never want to ride my bike again. But she tells me that’s not how it works. She says everyone falls off bikes. I tell her the other kids don’t. She says they will. What matters is getting back up.

I wait until the other kids all get called in at dusk before I go get my bike. I don’t get back on. Not right now. Not this time. I walk it home with one hand on the handlebars and one hand on the banana seat.

Tonight I will dream about my father getting shot.

I have another spelling test tomorrow. I make another cheat sheet. I will get another 100 on it, and everything will look like it’s okay.


Andrea Gregory is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She is currently working on a memoir about living with multiple sclerosis. This is her first published piece of creative nonfiction.

Photo credit:  Alone. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 9 Jun 2016.

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. http://quest.eb.com/search/109_155594/1/109_155594/cite

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.

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 http://www.mortmather.com. 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. http://quest.eb.com/search/109_145842/1/109_145842/cite

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

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.


Of a Man Drinking Wine

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16

by Thomas Matthews


Young Man Drinking ,Bartolome Esteban Murillo (Attributed) National Gallery, London

Young Man Drinking ,Bartolome Esteban Murillo (Attributed) National Gallery, London

He drank wine all night of the 6th, and kept thinking of her: freckled flesh, her lovely black dress, a combination stronger than any wine he ever drank. He thought of her smell and became lightheaded.

Drinking straight from the bottle like the winos do, he heard her laugh and the hairs on his arms stood up as a chill went spiraling down his back. He shook his body in an attempt to rid himself of these intruding thoughts. He took a swig. He remembered the nights she drank wine, always red, and he heard a saxophone’s cry come creeping through his open window like a gust of wind from the street below. He remembered the nights they danced together in a close embrace. He got up and grabbed a box of matches, lit a candle on his desk, watched the flame dance for a moment and, as the wax slowly melted, emitting no scent, finished his bottle of wine.

“Don’t leave it lit,” a voice called out.

He licked his thumb and put it to the wick, suffocating the flame, walked over to his rickety bed, climbed inside, and slept alone.

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

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Photo credit: Young Man Drinking. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 4 Jan 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/107_3351221/1/107_3351221/cite

In the Forest

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16
Mist rising above the Searsburg Reservoir, in the Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont, in fall.

Mist rising above the Searsburg Reservoir, in the Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont, in fall.

by Emma R. Collins

The silence of dawn hung on the wisp of a fragile breath. The cool of the night, wet and heavy with a slow, steady rain, sank into emerald moss as though to quench a great thirst that had hollowed the earth. The water in the air settled with dense wings around her body. She lay supine in a small hollow. The world was cast in grays, hanging, suspended between time. Tendrils of ether that promised something whispered blurred the crossroads between heaven and hell. The darkness of a jade so deep it was endless slipped between the black, soaking trees. The slightest drip, drip, drip stilled the world with a gentle metronome.


Sam took in a long, slow breath. The earth was in her skin, the water in her hair. She sank down deep into the forest’s bosom. She was a petrified lover stupefied and naked beneath her damp jeans and heavy jacket. A chill had settled deep in her bones, aching her joins with sweet motionlessness. For hours she lay there, still.

Eyes wide open.

Thoughts of blood and the smell of animal singed her memory. The nausea she had once felt was now a thrill, a hunger deep in the pit of a barren stomach. She shivered in the atoms of her being to think of the kill she would take today, in the hours before the sun’s still birth. The grays began to creep, ailing into shades of gossamer white that turned the watered blacks to sleek slate.

Her heart was steady. The rifle nestled into her shoulder was as solid as the world she gripped. Her hands were numb, but they were poised to the hair trigger of an instinct. Her eyes flickered and, as the forest woke, Sam felt it all in the core of her spine. Soon, she would know it in every hidden place of her body.

She stepped into the small depression where once a river had run to sip at the sweet, pure trickle of the rain-swollen creek. She was small and lean, with a long, elegant neck. Her eyes were as black and smooth as river stones nestled in fertile mud. The rain had mussed her auburn coat and Sam could imagine where the small fawn that would never be would nestle into its mother’s softly rising side.

The doe dipped her head to drink. Further down, her herd materialized like memories from the wet underbrush. Sam inhaled, exhaled, and her wrist creaked as she readjusted her scope. She watched the large ears of the doe flicker this way and that, listening to birdsong and the water that drip, drip, dripped. Five in all, with a handsome buck. The doe moved to sip from a deeper pool and the smallest flicker of her tail flashed white.

The bang sent the deer wild. They scattered like leaves. Gone, like the ghosts they were, they left their sister to bleed. Sam bowed her head to the earth and trembled. It was a goliathan effort to rise to her feet after being one with the soil for so long. Her clothes weighed ten thousand pounds and she could feel rivets of water warmed from her body running down the inside of her thighs.

Her hands shaking, heart pounding, she shouldered the heavy black rifle with the handsome cherry wood stock. Her blood was alive and the wetness in the back of her mouth began to slick her tongue as she picked her way carefully to where the doe had dropped. Fifty yards and the blood smelled rich as it soaked into the earth.

Sam knelt to rest a hand on the still-warm shoulder. The small black hole that wept had punched through the heart, neat and clean. The doe’s lovely onyx eyes were still opened wide, staring now at a place Sam could not see. She settled her rifle and drew rope from her pack. The doe was smallShe tied it at the rear hooves and began to pull. Sam dragged the warm carcass from the small creek. With one end of her rope anchored by a small rock, she tossed it over a tree that suited her purpose and began to pull.

The sun had risen and the world was gray as though it meant to snow. The fog still moved in careful steps as it circled between the trees. It hung back with nervous witness as the sweet child of the wood was strung up to drain. Sam drew her large knife across the doe’s supple neck, quick and hard, just as she had been taught. The red-red water flowed sweet and heavy. The smell was toxic. Sam took a small breath and closed her eyes, her red-red knife held with white-white fingers.

Contributing Editor 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: Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 14 Dec 2015.



Panic Button

Uncategorized, Winter 2015-16
 Assunta Del Buono / John Birdsall MR / John Birdsall Social Issues Photo Library / Press Association Images / Universal Images Group

 Assunta Del Buono / John Birdsall MR / John Birdsall Social Issues Photo Library / Press Association Images / Universal Images Group

by A.J. Andrews


Mom fell off the bed today and fractured her distal humerus, commonly known as the elbow. A knock at the door in the early morning caused her to startle and jump. Doc says she’ll wear a ring fixator on her upper arm for the next couple months, or until the bone and soft tissue heal. Nothing major.

Mom’s at Brookdale Oceanside Senior Living Center near San Luis Obispo, where grassy knolls tempt drought and panic buttons rest around the wrists and necks and in the hands and bed stands of the aged and infirm. She should have moved to Brookdale eight years ago, when she had two back-to-back massive heart attacks. But she was too proud. It wasn’t until her cardiologist told her she was at high risk for another heart attack due to her 86 years and declining health that she conceded.

Upon reluctantly moving into Brookdale, she acceded to the reception of a panic button only if she could place it on her bed stand instead of around her neck or wrist.

The ergonomic panic button fit comfortably in her wrinkled and vascular right hand, the same hand that held mine and dissipated my insecurities as a child. I’ve imagined her last seconds in my mind more than once since I was a child, but I never imagined the panic button. Or the cat.

One morning at the door of her apartment, unit E7, she found a caring couple inquiring if the Siamese cat seen wandering about the Whispering Oaks section of Brookdale was hers. Apparently the cat had a fondness for E7, and had been seen loitering around the unit for several weeks. Perhaps a former owner had lived and died there.

Mom has an unfavorable history with cats, specifically the Siamese that belonged to her first husband, whom she married at the age of 15. Her husband hated women. He was a trainman, a stiff-haired miser, set in his ways. This was in Appalachia in the 1940’s, home to the good old C&O railroad, hauling coal with enough swingin’ dicks to shovel it.

His savings accrued compounded interest, and he amassed a moderate fortune. The Siamese cat, he felt, was his lucky charm.  He was a drinker and a fighter and an abuser. He was superstitious at home and a Christian when he went to jail. He and that cat were kindred souls in meanness, perhaps brothers in a former life. He told Mom he found it on the train. She liked neither of them. Mom considered cats feral animals who take and do not give.

One night back in Appalachia, alone, with waddling baby girls 11 months apart in age drifting off to sleep, and her stress slowly ebbing, Mom took a seat in the living room to spend an hour before the children’s father returned from work.

Sitting in her chair with an opened King James in her lap, she saw the curtains covering the closed transom window—which was about eight feet from where she sat—swaying. I can only explain what happened next as an acute stress response. On the babies’ father’s liquor shelf sat an antique crysta,l Irish-cut brandy decanter. She grasped it by its neck and swung and thrashed at the curtains until a couple or several or many resounding thunks and piercing shrieks prompted her to stop. With heart racing and mind following suit, she thought, “I got ‘im,” and the curtains ceased to sway

From the ledge of the window fell the cat, making a final thunk on the trampled-thin nylon carpeting below.

When the cat woke up it didn’t walk right. Pondering an explanation and dreading retribution, she remembered it was her husband’s night to go to the The Depot, a hole-in-the-wall for trainmen to congregate and drink and get a woman or two before they went home to the wife and kids. So she had a few hours to spare and some laudanum to calm her down and help her feign sleep before the creak of the door and stumble of work boots on the kitchen floor signaled his arrival. But in the drunken man’s stupor he wouldn’t notice anything different about the cat.




Back at Unit E7 in the Whispering Oaks section of Brookdale Oceanside, there was movement at the transom window was open a few inches. No breeze to note, but the curtain swayed. A Siamese cat put his svelte head in through the curtains first, and, not sensing danger, contorted herself in such a way that she slipped through the opening and proceeded to plant herself on the polyester-upholstered chair that sat beside the bed stand that held the panic button. Mom’s anxiety set in at the sight of the cat, her heart rate increased and the dreadful pain she at first attributed to her broken elbow spread to her chest and neck. The cat watched, licked its forequarters. The panic button beckoned, but was not pressed.

She looked at the cat tenderly, smiled, and went to sleep.


A.J. Andrews escaped Los Angeles to live in relative obscurity in Eastern Europe, where he milks goats, makes cheese and writes about challenges of human condition. This is his first piece of fiction.

Photo credit: Older People. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 14 Dec 2015.

Eddie and His Peacoat

Fall 2015, Uncategorized

by Tom Matthews


By Sirimiri at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

By Sirimiri at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

Eddie Florence usually wore the peacoat. It was his best winter coat, a Christmas present from his his mother. He never left the house without it on.

Eddie got off his train at Union Station and took the city bus to his house. He climbed up the steps of his family’s modest two-floor home and burst through the front door.

“I’m home!”

No reply. A bit surprised, Eddie placed his bags on the living room floor. He walked out into the kitchen and hollered. No answer. Not wanting to waste a minute of break, he grabbed a pen and paper and jotted down a note: “Going out. Call if you need me. -Eddie”

Eddie called up Sally and asked her to pick him up, and  minutes later he heard a car honk outside. He threw on his peacoat and hurried outside. Sally was parked in front of his house, checking her makeup in the rearview mirror.

Eddie climbed in. “Long time no see my friend, how are you?”

“I was awful, but now I’m great because it’s break and I get to see you, but mostly because it’s break.”

“Ah, but you said it, so you mean it.”

“Yes, Eddie, I was just dying to see you.”

He put his hand to her forehead, “Ms. Hayward, you are looking rather ill and could faint any second now, please, let me treat you.” He quickly leaned over and kissed her.

“I forgot to tell you I have mono.”

Eddie rolled his window down and spat.

“Looks like you’re gonna die with me.” She  winked at him.

They headed toward downtown.

“I can’t remember the last time I ate today,” he said.

“What do you mean you can’t remember?”

“I don’t know, but please pull in somewhere before I pass out.”

“No. You are a prisoner in my car now. We aren’t going anywhere. Except for a really long drive until you pass out, and I can throw your body in a ditch somewhere.”

They pulled into the parking lot of The Fix, a small 50’s style burger and shake joint. They were seated at a red booth across from one another.

“I want a chocolate shake,” she said.

“Just a shake?”

“Yeah, I’m not too hungry.”

“Are you sure? I don’t wanna hear you whine later.”

“Yes, I’m sure and shut up!”

Sally ordered her shake. Eddie ordered water and a burger with American cheese, lettuce, mustard, and ketchup. He stood up to take off his peacoat and hung it up on a hook attached to their booth.

He sat down and pulled a cigarette out of his pocket. He put it to his lips and raised a lighter to it slowly.

“Eddie, stop! You can’t smoke in here!”

“Why not? I thought this place was like the 50’s.”

“You can’t smoke in here! What are you, crazy?!”

“Relax, Sally-boo, I was just messing with you.”

“You are such a jerk.”

“If you don’t relax we really will have to call up a doctor.”

Their waiter, a tall, burly man, who showed no sense of urgency, brought their food.

“Anything else?” he asked insincerely.

“Yeah, can we get an EKG for this lovely lady?”

“Stop it!” Sally blurted as she playfully hit his hand.

The waiter let out a sigh, mumbled, “Good one,” and walked away.

“Gosh, you’re an idiot. You can’t even make a waiter laugh, and they get paid to pretend to like you.”

“That guy probably doesn’t laugh.”

Sally mumbled, “Mhmm,” as she stirred her straw around in her chocolate shake.

Anyways, how are you? I mean, how’s school and all?”

“It’s good, I mean it’s, you know—school.”

Eddie was putting his burger away quickly. Sally noticed him eating aggressively and warned, “Slow down before you choke.”

Eddie looked up and nodded.

“Anyways, how’s school going for you? And please, don’t talk with a mouth full. Chew first.”

“It’s okay.”

“Care to elaborate?”

“Uh. Not really.”

“Okay. Let me call Jake West, he’ll talk to me.”

“He’s a douche.”

Sally struck a stern face at Eddie and looked him in the eyes.

“Okay, okay, I’ll talk. But he’s still a douche. Anyways. I hate school. It’s awful. I’m surrounded by all these pseudo-intellectuals, and I can’t stand it. I mean, you can’t have a normal conversation with any of these guys. They all think what they have to say is the most prophetic, earth-shattering jargon to come out of a 20-year-old.”

Sally sat silently. She watched as Eddie became more and more excited with his words.

“They all walk around in their Oxfords and peacoats as if what they’re doing is so important.”

With a confused look on her face Sally interrupted, “You wear a peacoat.”

“What?” Eddie snapped.

“You wear a peacoat. You wore one here.”

“Seriously, Sally? My mother gave that to me for Christmas. You know how she takes gifts so personal. What, am I not supposed to wear it?”

“No, but why are you criticizing other people for wearing one?”

“Because they wear it for a different reason. They wear it because they think it makes them look important and that it accentuates their pseudo-intellect.”

Sally recoiled at  each word.

“Okay, whatever, Eddie. I was just asking how school was, I wasn’t looking for a rant.”

“Rant? Who’s ranting? You asked me how school is and I’m telling you.”


“Am I not allowed to have an opinion? Am I supposed to think everyone is great? Is that what you think? Everyone is great? Everyone is just so damn funny and smart and nice?”

“Eddie, can you please stop. You’re causing a scene.”

“You think this is a scene? This is a conversation. We’re talking.”

“No. You’re being obnoxious.”

Eddie starting laughing in a high-pitched hysterical laugh.

“You think I’m obnoxious? Hahahaha!”

Sally was turning red. She stared at her shake.  She lifted her purse from the booth and put the strap over her left shoulder.

Eddie took a loud sip of water and finished it off.

“Are you gonna finish that shake?”


Sally’s phone rang.


Eddie sat there with a bored look on his face. Sally pulled the phone away from her ear and mouthed “sorry” to him.

“I’m at the Fix with Eddie…who’s there?”

Eddie got up and put his peacoat on and headed to the men’s room. Walking with his hands in his pockets and a pissed off look on his face, he replayed in his head Sally telling him she wasn’t looking for a rant. He kicked the door open and stormed in. “Rant! That wasn’t a damn rant. I can rant if you want!” He shouted to himself.

He walked up to a sink and turned on the cold water. He cupped his hands and let the water fill them and splashed it on his face. He grabbed a paper towel, and dried his face. He stood briefly staring at a picture of a jukebox hanging on the wall. He started thinking about how many fights jukeboxes must have caused when someone used the last quarter on songs no one else liked. He walked back over to the mirror and looked at himself for a few seconds. He punched the mirror. The mirror shattered instantly, and his hand started bleeding, dripping blood on the black and white tiled floor. He walked over to the paper towels and ripped a bunch out to wrap his knuckles. He took his peacoat off, walked over to the trash, and threw it in. He crouched down and frantically started trying to pick up pieces of the broken mirror.

The bathroom door swung open, startling him. It was their waiter. Trying to collect himself and not look too spooked, Eddie said, “Scared me there,” and walked out.

Sally was off the phone, and was sitting at the table reading the back of a ketchup bottle. Eddie walked up to the table.

“I don’t feel so hot, let’s go.”

The waiter opened the bathroom door and hollered, “Hey, kid!”


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

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God’s Eye

Fall 2015, Uncategorized

by Emma R. Collins

                                                                                                                                      Helix Nebula / Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech

                                                                                                                                      Helix Nebula / Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech

    The day she died, I became a man of God.

    All my life, ever since Dad went up with the Jupiter missions, I was a child of science. I grew up truth-seeking. I was all-knowing. There was no myth nor legend that could escape my inquisitive, ever-probing mind. I hollowed out the world one line at a time between the pages of books upon books upon books. All the planet was a wonder to me. I marveled in the majestic and fragile beauty of circumstantial chemical bonds.

    When Earthly wonder became mundane I turned my lusting to the stars. It was only natural that as an adult I found myself stepping into Dad’s silver boots. Twenty-two years later, I watch over the Genesis Project, a lone, benevolent engineer drifting through the infinite emptiness. I am inside the womb of the Eden shuttle. I am her child, we are her children, cradled so lovely within her titanium and steel. She is a good shuttle.

    My shuttle.

    Yes, it is mine, all of it. All of them, my cosmic siblings in utero. They sleep in their artificial wombs, sleeping while I drifted, while I watch.

    I became a man of God the day she died.

    I look out into the thunderous black beyond Eden’s sound womb and hold the edges of the viewport with white knuckles. I am still sick in the seat of myself, that place where hot things go when you feel good, and cold things when you don’t. I am pale around the edges of my jaw and lips, but it had been at least twenty-four hours and the vomiting was finally over. There is nothing worse than vomiting in zero gravity. I try to collect the mighty calm of the universe from that small, insignificant window, breathing slowly, tasting Eden’s faint, metallic breath. It will take me several moments to slow the rapid beating of my human heart.

    A tear wells in the corner of my eye, rippling free with the faintest trembles. It is a tiny silver pinprick of glinting life that catches the light of God’s Eye as it drifts before the view port. That’s what I have decided to call the nebula that came into view off the starboard wing over a month ago. For a long time I called the roiling blue dusts that haloed the core of brilliant gold Draco’s Eye, but now, remembering her rubies, I know what it truly is.

    God watches me.

    I gaze into the brilliant shimmering of that omnipotent nebula as though I could take it into my skin and dissolve into its dust. I want nothing more than to return to that place of peace, the place we all must come from, and to which we all must return. That is where Eden is taking me. I close my eyes to force away the last of the tears. They drift from me and I must turn from them, because the sick feeling is back, and I need to distract myself to make it stop.

    But I cannot keep the memories from resurfacing. I am not God. I am not strong enough to face this on my own. I need His grace to hold me and protect me from myself. I move slowly as my body drifts through Eden’s hollow. I try to keep myself busy with the electrical system. There had been a few shorts recently and I know that if I don’t keep a close eye on them, Eden may turn on herself. But even as I sift through the and fibres and tracts, I cannot stop it.

    I am not God.

    In hot, heavy flashes my chest tightens and I taste something at the back of my throat. I am thinking of her, how she was before. I am thinking of the smell of her hair, of the way it moved in the sunlight. All the women on the mission cut their hair, but she had kept it long. She had kept it long even through training, even when she was no more than a sailor on a ship. She flew for the Navy, that’s why they wanted her. Pilots, it was always pilots. They kept a close eye on the men and women who dared to do what God had not intended.

    But maybe it was just because she was beautiful.

    To me, there were no other women. From the first moment I saw her face, to the moment they put her away in Eden’s womb, I was in love with her. I am still am, in love with her, even though I must bear the burden of her absence now. The space she left in the fabric of the universe is a festering pit in my chest.


    I am completely alone.

    Her name was Gwendolyn, Gwendolyn Eve. She was kind, intelligent. She spoke to me sweetly, even though the others thought me odd. I like to keep to myself, and to the people who are strong and sought out for these kinds of things, keeping to oneself is odd. But, that was one of the reasons they had picked me, because they knew I could be alone.

    But now, I am so completely alone.

    I strip a wire to fix a connection, but my mind is no longer with Eden. I am back in the days when I would watch over her as she slept. I was her guardian, her protector. I was charged with the responsibility of her life, all their lives, but hers was the most precious. Every day I went to see her, every night wishing her peace before I slept. I grew to know her even in her silence. No man could have loved a woman more.

    But it was lonely.

    Is lonely.

    I am so completely alone.

    To think of it now will only make me sick. But I can’t help myself. I should have seen it coming. Humans are not meant to be alone, even if they seek it. Humans are not meant to be left with only the sounds of their thoughts to keep them company. You see, our thoughts, our racing whispers that spin and spin and spin in the infinite emptiness of the universe, are louder than a rocket’s roar. I was drowning in the sound of my own mind. And she was there, my riptide, my unrelenting tsunami, washing over me and taking me under.


    She dragged
me down, down, down into the darkest reaches of man, until the unraveling of loneliness was more than I could bear. I remember it as a daze, but I know I was completely awake. It was no dream. It was no fantasy. I was in charge of every flicker of every fibre of my body. And still, I did not stop it. The surging and crashing in my mind were too great, and I had been drowned too deeply by her undertow.

    I didn’t think she would wake from the stasis. They’re aren’t supposed to unless Eden tells them to. That’s the beauty of technology, the beauty of God’s plan. Because even as I held her, kissed her, I never thought she’d wake. I was blind.

    It happened in the midst of my drowning. I was gasping for air and suddenly her eyes were on me, eyes like brilliant sapphires. I could see all our world, all myself in them. I saw God, and He saw me. He knew me, knew what I had done, and so I knew what I had done, and suddenly the tides fled and my oceans dried up. I became parched and barren. All that was left was the weight of my sin.

    Blood in zero gravity looks exactly like rubies.

    As it drifts through space, it catches the artificial light, magnifies the star light. It sparkles, brilliantly. It is one of the most beautiful things you could ever see.

    She screamed. She wasn’t supposed to be awake.

    Her body was fragile, my sweet Gwendolyn, after sleeping for so long. What I did is unforgivable. Her heart seized from the shock. All I had wanted was to love her. I tried to bring her back, tried to force Eden’s pulse into her. But Eden would not have her. She was aborted and my hands were red. With every shock she convulsed hideously and I think that was when I first vomited. I couldn’t do it. I am not God. She was gone, and I had killed her.

    And God had watched me do it.

    I gave her back to Eden’s womb, because I could not bear the idea of her body being lost.  She would go with them, wherever it was they ended up. They would take care of her and I would go to God.

I must go to God,there is no other place left for me now.

    But first, I must fix the wiring.

    I slip the panel back into place and check the circuits. Everything works. There is no illness of Eden’s that I cannot cure. I just can’t bring the dead back to life. I am not God. I wipe away more tears as the memories begin to subside. My hands are shaking as I return my tools to their bag. I need to check the panelling in the upper compartments. If I don’t keep myself busy I know today I will go to God.

    But she’s there.


    My Gwendolyn.


    I cannot breathe. I am frozen, holding on to the wall so that I don’t drift away like a fool. I cannot speak. I can only stare.

    As naked as the day she was born, she is more beautiful than any goddess. Her hair is undone. I undid it. I set it free. It moves softly around her face, as though in water. I grimace, catching my breath then. Her face, her beautiful, gentle face, it is a mask of rage. There is a darkness in her soft blue eyes, one that fills me with a cold, hollow feeling. I swallow back the sick of my guilt, the tears floating away from me in great numbers now.

    “Gwendolyn,” I gasp. I want to reach out to her and beg her forgiveness. Dear God…please. Let me repent. But my body refuses to move.

    I do not see what she holds in her hand.

    When the pain goes in between my ribs, it is short and quick and makes me give a little gasp. At first I do not understand. And then I see them, all around me.

    Brilliant, beautiful rubies.

    I look down to see the utility knife buried in my chest. She has made no sound, her jaw tightened up in an ugly snarl. My rubies float slowly towards her as my pulse forces them out. They splash against her bare skin. She screams and the moment is shattered. She has killed me and she sobs now, trembling, heaving, shaking in her birth throes. She comes alive now, violent, thrashing and screaming. She is so unlike my Gwendolyn that I am scared, not for my death, but for her rebirth. What have I done?

    I try to speak, gasp. She slaps me and screams again.

    I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…

    I see God in her eyes. I see His wrath, feel it plunged into the chambers of my punctured heart. My rubies go everywhere in Eden’s womb. They splash and break across her smooth, plastic surfaces, slithering little ounces of me into her. Gwendolyn is still screaming, a ragged, terrible sound.

    I reach out a hand to soothe her and she slaps me again, hard. I see flashes of white, my head twisting to look now out of the view port. It has grown dim. My world grows dim. But I want to see it. Just one more time. I want to see God’s Eye.

    I reach for it, but the rubies are all around me. I am sick.

    I feel small.

    I am not God…

    I am not God…

    I am…



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.


Fall 2015, Uncategorized

by Anashua Madhubanti

                                                                                                                                                      photo by sasha kohan

                                                                                                                                                      photo by sasha kohan

The day I finally find myself visiting a sequence of past events in my life, Mother had slipped into a coma, where I imagine her surroundings are darkness, as opposed to the bright, sterile light of the waiting room, where I sit without feeling, unable to distinguish where the hard edge of the chair ends and my thighs start, where one more hour of a machine beeping and the vapid reports of a subordinate doctor will push me farther into the numbness of my own mind. The hospital glass is dark with specks of light that shine like stars, and I look out, trying to find another space in time, only to be drawn back to the reality of my own existence, the stars burning into my reflection. Mother is distant from me now, more distant than she has ever been, more distant than the day in March when I heard her hushed voice on the phone with the doctor, more silent than the silence in the ultrasound room when the core of the curve of my belly was projected onto the screen for the world to see in the first of a series of violations to come.

That day in the doctor’s office, my life really started. Before, everything swam in a haze of incoherence. But after those few minutes in that office, I achieved a new awareness – the awareness of my womb, which held the capacity to be the size of a raspberry and a cavern, all at once. Suddenly, in a moment, those narrow confines of muscle, mucous, and liquid made room for a lifetime of dreams, possibilities, and unbearable losses, each the size of blue elephants. A whole sea of submerged marine animals filled up the space in my womb. There were trees whose trunks were hung with yellow and green mosses, and an undergrowth alive with creatures that looked strange and smelled strange and hummed darkly.

With the knowledge of the new universe I carried within me, I walked out of the doctor’s room, and the world outside became remote to me. I saw everything from a distance; it was as though my feet did not touch but merely glided over the crowded streets of my city, Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh. I heard the usual noises, the cacophony of cars honking, the chicken seller’s coarse calls rising out of the bazaar. But over the din of it all, I could not recall anything I heard. They meant nothing to me.

It was spring and the sun was still making its way to the tropics. The day was warm but not unbearable, and when I reached home I found father sitting on the front porch, drinking sweetened milk tea and eating digestive biscuits. Avoiding his eye contact, I crept into the bedroom, closed my door, cried, and made the call to break the news to D. We were both silent for a long time, because we did not know what to say or do, and the silence was comforting. When I saw him in the afternoon, I knew I had changed, but though he could feel that I had changed he could not define what had changed. ‘Why do you have your thousand yard stare,’ he asked, and all I could think about was something I had read in a book, the name of which was lost to me then. If two people meet after a long time, they both imagine themselves to have changed greatly, but neither can perceive the other to have changed very much. To him, I remained the same person that I had always been.

That afternoon, D and I made love unhurriedly, slowly, painstakingly, as though it was the most important thing in the world. But it would be wrong to say that D and I made love, for, really, the three of us made love. The whole ecosystem that had grown out of my womb made love with us. The tops of the trees bristled together, the tall elephant grass danced in the wind, a tidal wave rose from within the sea and swept over everything. And afterwards, the three of us were together on his big, white bed which seemed to rock like a boat.

Later, we reached a decision. Or rather, a decision was reached. “It would be stupid,”’ he said, “And what about college?” I agreed, for life was long, and we were just at the start. He stroked my hair as the last of the sun seeped in and warmed his bed. ‘I never noticed your hair was brown,’ he said.

After a while, I asked him, “Should I tell Mother?” “You have to,” he replied.

That’s when it started, the silence. Silence when I told her, silence afterwards, it was as though her voice was silenced. Even on the phone she whispered. And I, sitting in my room, put together all the S-words I knew like a string of pearls. Silence. Shame. Society. Seclusion. Sex. Silence. Shame.

One day soon, she said, “Come, Daughter, we have to go. Tell your father we’re going to your aunt’s.’” But I sat in my room, not in any hurry to get moving, and I stared at the open pages of a book before me. At some point, my tea turned cold, someone came in to put fresh laundry in the drawers, and finally, the shadow of my father crossed the door. ”What are you reading?” he asked me. ‘Siddhartha,’ I said. Father talked at length about his dislike of Herman Hesse and words streamed out of his mouth, of which I only caught a few. My father looked old in the light. He had missed shaving spots of his beard, which were grey specks against his dark skin. His was a life that had no time for mysticism or romance. Having come of age in a decade of wars, he was truly modern, and the specifications of bombers interested him more than magical realism. The images of burning Buddhist monks were burned into his mind, and he had quit Eastern mysticism altogether. Though I felt immense affection for the man, I also knew that if he knew my situation he would never forgive me.

My mother entered the room in haste, made excuses about where we were going, and soon I found myself in the car, the unreality of the city rushing by. Though she sat only a seat away from me, the distance between us was so great that I could not touch her, even if I had reached out for her. The rest of what passed between us that day remains hazy to me, for all I remember are the cold whitewashed walls of the medical facility and waking from a deep sleep with a start, only to confront a hollowness that resounded within me. The calm waters with landscapes of hills underneath had disappeared; now there was the tremendous crashing of waves on barren sands. And I found myself more alone than I had ever felt. Everything I had imagined was no more, the name that was so real to me now sounded laughable, and I felt my worth as a person to have lessened. I was without purpose. I found myself stringing together S-words once again. Silence. Stillness. Sanity.

At that time, one thing I had not wondered was why she had helped me, especially when that meant going against her morality, religion, and honor. It had meant days spent making excuses for my appearance, as intrusive relatives had asked her one question after another. “Why does she look so sickly? Why did she lose so much weight?” What had happened to me, asked my father, unable to put together the connection between my sudden emotional withdrawal from the world and my hourly physical withdrawals into the bathroom. Many other things surfaced to me at that time, the most ironic realization being that I was only beautiful when I was sickly. Relatives, fat aunties in monstrous hair buns, snickering cousins in skin-tight jeans, suddenly took it upon themselves to comment on how much weight I had lost, and how beautiful it made me look. As they complimented me and suggested new clothes that I was now worthy enough to fit into, all I could think about was the dead-chicken smell I carried in my nostril everywhere like a bane, that would make my stomach turn when faced with food.

Mother, Mother, I had always wanted to ask, why are you still here for me? For the next five years, neither of us ever mentioned what had happened. I moved on with my life, broke things off with D, flew ten thousand miles to painfully separate myself from my roots, changed house, found bits and scraps of paper that were clues to my Mother’s life, of which I took no notice in the perpetual hurry I found myself in. Yet, sitting in the waiting room, I had begun to piece my mother’s life together.

I recalled the love-letters, hidden away from prying eyes for many years, containing illicit conversations with boys, testimonials to the subversive South Asian teenager that existed within the Mother figure I had always known. I thought of the imprints upon the notebook pages where her first rose must have been, and I thought of her first kiss, which must have echoed from her feet to her breasts. I imagined her marriage at eighteen, a hasty affair, pushing her forward into a societal role that she was not braced for, only to be solidified by her first and only pregnancy, me.

I had always held Mother in such reverence, that I too had been a part of the societal forces that shaped her. My own secret was so taboo that I had to tuck it away and forget it, in doing which I had to put away a part of my own history. It left many gaping questions that I should have addressed, except both our selves had been shadowed over by the same system of shame and silence. In the waiting room, for the thousandth time in my life, I was putting together S-words. Shame. Silence. Suppression. Subversion. Self. The list would keep growing longer in the years to come.

It was only when faced with impending loss of such magnitude that I could put into perspective the other great loss of my life.

Anashua Madhubanti, a geography major at Clark University, Worcester, Mass., is from Bangladesh, but believes home has no geographical location.



Fall 2015, Uncategorized

by Scott David

Ian Grimm wanted to be part of the Boston Marathon bombing.  

“We’re all victims, Marcy,” he told his wife. “You, me, anyone who was touched by this.  As much as those poor bastards who actually got limbs blown off.”  

“If I were you,” his wife advised, “I wouldn’t tell anyone about this.”

But it was too late.  Ian had already begun experimenting. He had started with non-Bostonians, of course, those sweet yearning souls who had reached out from the West Coast and Budapest and Auckland to see whether the Grimms were OK, persons whose concern was gratifying and touching, but ultimately based on the same impulse Ian had: to be a part of something greater.  

To satisfy the needs of this audience to feel connected, Ian had fabricated a few details that exaggerated his personal involvement: shrapnel embedded in his backside; ringing ears; blood-spattered forearms; and the shrieks and wails of the dying nearby.  None was precisely true, but his sister in Cleveland was especially grateful for these particulars, because she had desperately wanted to talk about the incident with someone who would understand Boston’s draw on native daughters like herself. The bombing, she said, had literally changed the course of her life. She could offer no sympathy for the killers (mercy was not hers to authorize), but she had experienced a profound and renewed sense of gratitude for her own health, her children’s brilliance, the lack of a military draft, the first ripening tomatoes in her garden, and the relative peace of Cleveland Heights.  

“Thank you, Ian, for your service,” she whispered.  

Unable to retreat from his inventions, Ian doubled-down.  He protested that he had only done what anyone in his shoes would have done: rescued a grown man with a leg wound by putting his fingers three inches deep into the man’s femoral artery.

“You’re so brave,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it.”

“Sometimes,” Ian said, “when you’re tested, you learn things about yourself.”

Having achieved such a gratifying connection with his sister, Ian turned to studying the genuine victims’ first-hand accounts of their experiences.  According to most accounts, there were 275 wounded, and he pored over the account of each and everyone of them and purloined only the best details.  When he had the facts sufficiently committed to memory and had polished and developed his story for a local audience, Ian tested a provisional version on select Bostonians.  

The feedback was good, the commiseration most gratifying.  

“I had no idea,” most of them said.

“Yes,” Ian confirmed, “I had come down to see Marcy finish, with the girls in tow. Had it been a moment earlier….”

“You’re lucky.”

“Thanks be to God,” Ian agreed.  

Patiently correcting people when they got the facts wrong, Ian variously positioned himself and/or the girls near the first bomb or the second, outside the Forum Restaurant or at the finish line, or, finally, looking out for his beautiful bride on the catwalk above the finish line among the press and paparazzi.

Marcy, who had in fact been stopped just short of Kenmore Square by the cops and told the race was over, initially hoped Ian’s story would quietly go away if she ignored it. Later, she shot him dirty looks, and yet, when his interlocutors at a dinner party politely involved her in the telling, she offered very careful, very noncommittal answers so as not to give Ian away.  

She was the first to agree the experience had changed him.

She was the first to say he was not the same man.

Ian loved her for these concessions.  For her restraint. If she hadn’t truly loved him, Marcy never would have humored him and indulged his storytelling.

At the prompting of well-meaning friends who heard his tale, Ian set up a foundation. It was nothing formal. The funds he collected he just deposited in his own bank account and tracked them in a separate spreadsheet until his Kickstarter and Facebook pages went viral and he lost count.  

Soon after, at a dinner with Marcy’s extended family, Ian solicited additional donations from her relatives.  Marcy’s brother the lawyer was present.  Playing idly with his smartphone, he asked whether the foundation had applied for and received nonprofit status from the IRS, and he politely suggested that Ian again recite the facts of that terrible day so that all might be edified by his example.

Gratified, Ian launched into his account.

Marcy’s brother let him rattle on for half an hour, before he took one of the story’s inconvenient loose threads and pulled.  

“How exactly was it,” the litigator asked, “that you saw the bomb explode and yet shrapnel hit you in the ass?  Not the front side.  The ass.”

“Well, it was sort of on the ass.  I was kind of turned sideways.  You know what I mean?”

“On the catwalk?”


“Shrapnel shot a half block down the crowded street and hit you standing twenty-five feet in the air on a catwalk.  On the ass.”


“Show me the scar.”

“It healed nicely.  There’s hardly any ….”

“Show me.”

Marcy begged her brother to stop, just stop, and her mother repeated, “Stop, just stop,” and someone spilled a gravy boat, and Marcy’s brother zeroed in for the kill.

“Pull down your pants, you son of a bitch!”

With great dignity, Ian loosed his belt and pulled his pants and underwear down about a quarter inch.

The litigator snorted derisively.

“There was no shrapnel, was there, Ian?”

“Not exactly.”

“And you don’t have a press pass, do you?”


“So you weren’t on the catwalk?”

Ian hiked up his pants and buckled his belt.  

“More like, sort of close by,” he admitted.

“In fact,” the litigator said, as if delivering a closing argument, “if I had to guess, at the time of the blast you were actually holed up in a bar in Southie nursing your fifth beer and complaining to anyone who would listen that Marcy had decided to run without inviting you to join her. Isn’t that right?”


Her brother pounded the table. The spilled gravy boat jumped.

“Isn’t that right?!” he shouted. 

Ian gaped and stammered and finally said, “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say that you are a liar,” the litigator suggested politely, “trying to fleece your own family for a few bucks.”

“Stop it!  Just stop it,” Marcy cried. “I wish this damn bomb had never happened.”

She looked directly at Ian.

“I wish,” she said, “I had never married you.”

After the dinner, which Marcy’s family would be talking about for years to come, Marcy begged Ian to give his story a rest.  

“For God’s sake. Turn the money over to the OneFund.  If you really want to do something for the victims, run with me next year, OK?  Isn’t that enough?”

 “Run?  The marathon?”  Ian was aghast.  “I couldn’t even consider running.  Not anymore.  Don’t you understand, sweetheart?  I thought you understood.  The bombing traumatized me.  Crowds — they skeeve me out.”

“I understand that right this minute I’d love to loop a shiny pair of New Balance around your neck and pull the laces tight.”

Despite his wife’s misgivings, and despite his grand humiliation at the hands of her brother the litigator, Ian persevered in telling his story.  He had no real choice in the matter.  There were greater truths than what could be proved by some pompous windbag.

Besides, Ian had spent much of the foundation money. Though he had tried valiantly to meet expectations of the donors by spending on things and causes he believed anyone would support, like for example, a bomb-free marathon (with a bit on the side to pay himself a small salary and housing allowance, of course), Ian eventually siphoned some funds to support causes equally worthy but perhaps not equally universal (e.g., casino gambling in Massachusetts, in which he had a small stake as a real estate broker). Ian had reasoned that the giver was happy and the recipient more so.

    Moreover, the genuine fraudsters, who were in Jersey on the day of the attack but filed for recompense from the OneFund on behalf of a dead aunt formerly resident in West Roxbury, made Ian’s claims to having been present positively benign by comparison.  Unlike them, Ian’s heart was in the right place.  And, truth be told, it could, after all, have been Ian.  He hadn’t been in New Jersey that fateful day.  As Marcy’s brother had so skillfully gotten him to admit, he had been in a bar in South Boston complaining loudly about his wife.  Not ten blocks away.  Well, maybe ten.  Or twelve.  But the point was, it had been mathematically possible for Ian to have been present at the finish line.  Had his luck been different.  Had he been, for example, more supportive of Marcy.

Accordingly, as the pain of Marcy’s brother’s cross-examination faded, Ian quietly shored up some of the more obvious contradictions in his account.  He retold the story frequently, and he told it well, and he didn’t give a damn what anyone thought.  Indeed, though he didn’t reveal this conceit to anyone, Ian considered himself to be the unofficial poet laureate of the bombings.  None other had yet emerged, except the unnamed bastard who fashioned the phrase Boston Strong but failed to trademark it.  

And no matter what Marcy’s brother had to say about it, Ian was now a better person than he had been.  A kinder and more patient father.  A more empathetic lover.  A more engaged citizen of the Commonwealth.  Now, for example, Ian genuinely welcomed — even craved — another municipal emergency, so he could respond to it with the same grace and courage with which he had imagined responding to the bombing.  He was absolutely certain that he would rise to the occasion.  Or, maybe not certain, but part of the thrill was not knowing whether he’d run from the blast of toward it.

In the next few months, while waiting patiently for that next municipal emergency to present itself, Ian steeled himself against intervening with bullying parents or abusive boyfriends too much in their cups.  Such injustices simply weren’t a big enough stage for his ambition.  He only cheapened his connection to the bombing by getting involved in these essentially domestic matters.  So he didn’t respond to people who called his bullshit.  Or those who tailgated him or called him a faggot or treated his wife or children badly.  

At the bombing’s anniversary, while Marcy gave a second shot at completing the marathon, Ian brought his girls to the crime scenes.  He explained the physics of the pressure cooker bomb (which he called the Crockpot Bomb, because he thought it was endearing). Together, he and the girls recited the names of the dead and injured.  Not all 275 claimants, which number seemed preposterously high to Ian relative to the twenty or so actual victims.  Just the principal injured.  He wasn’t accusing anyone of faking it, but in Ian’s humble opinion a booboo on the knee couldn’t compare to a prosthetic limb.

“Isn’t that right, girls?” he asked.

As they had been taught, the girls loyally agreed that only bona fide amputation could elicit their sympathy.  (Their mother’s road blisters, for example, would earn only studied contempt.)

Outside the Forum Restaurant, Ian and the girls left a pair of sneakers.  They were a child’s size five, which not only made them more pathetic and cute and entirely devastating, but also would deter homeless people from taking them, and they’d be therefore more enduring and more likely, for example, to be preserved in the future bombing museum.

When Ian learned authorities were no longer allowing backpacks at the Marathon, but instead requiring all belongings to be carried in clear bags, he trained his eagle-eyed daughters to spot non-conforming bags.  As they identified likely suspects, he personally hacked apart several such packages with an axe he had brought along because you never know when you are going to have to cut your way through police barricades or temporary viewing stands to reach the victims of some civic disaster.  

The judge who presided over Ian’s case let him off with a mild warning and a fraternal fistbump, after Ian testified to his intimate connection with the bombing and his still fragile mental makeup and his adorable girls and his plucky wife, who had finished the course in record time, all of whom he loved so very much.  

Years later, Marcy would make jokes at Ian’s expense, saying, “I stayed with Ian because after the whole bombing fiasco I
felt I had seen the worst of his character.”  

Everybody laughed at her wry recollections, and Ian was OK with that.  He had nothing to prove.  He had been in the right, and he knew what it took to be a hero, and he knew what it was like to be in the shit when the shrapnel was flying. And when you’re right and a hero and have been deep in the shit, it was OK when people laughed and called you ridiculous.  When it came to questions of homeland security, Ian would rather his wife and his girls rested easy and stayed unafraid and remained blissfully unaware of the dangers that lurked in backpacks and crockpots and the terrible things men had to do to keep the enemy at bay.


Under various pseudonyms, Scott David has published dozens of short stories, a memoir, several novels, and a guide to wine and cocktails.  He lives in Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts.  For more information, go to scottdavidboston.com. Scott David is a Featured Writer and welcomes correspondence from Journal writers.

Death and His Wife

Summer 2015, Uncategorized

by Laura Barker

                      Egon Shiele/ Bridgeman Art Library/ Universal Images Group

                      Egon Shiele/ Bridgeman Art Library/ Universal Images Group

Death couldn’t find any toothpaste. He opened the cabinets above the rust-rimmed sink. All he could find were little plastic packets of floss, his wife’s antidepressants, and the candy-colored bottles of Bubble Fun that his son used to love. Death swept a finger along the metal shelves and frowned at the grime that coated his nail. Their apartment was falling apart, with them still inside.

Death popped his head out the bathroom door, “Honey, do we have any toothpaste?”

Death’s wife, Lisa Mercy, stood at the kitchen sink. She was three pills into her daily nine-pill routine. There were so many different ones, some squat, some oily, some square, some teal. They all came in acid-orange containers, each one promising to be the miracle drug to bring back the sunny-smiled bride Death had married ten years ago. She took two more pills before answering her husband, “In the top drawer.”

Death pulled open the drawer. Nothing but a stick of deodorant and random Lego pieces, “Nope, nothing here. I think we’re out.”

“How can we be out, I just bought like twelve at Costco.” Lisa started towards the bathroom, but stopped herself. She turned back towards the kitchen sink and grabbed her water glass. “Check the lower cabinet,” she called.

Death sighed. Looks like it was going to be a mouthwash day. He closed the mirrored cabinets and blinked at his reflection. People always pictured Death as cloaked in a threadbare black robe with a gleaming white skull and skeletal fingers that beckoned people to their graves. In reality, Death looked much less gaunt. He was a tall, bespectacled man with thinning brown hair and teeth that badly needed braces. He wore college sweatpants and a t-shirt instead of the medieval robe, and carried an iPhone instead of scythe. It was an average phone, with a chipped glass cover, but it had an app to inform him of the latest death. It buzzed, and Death would have to put on real pants and escort the deceased to the Other Side. Not a glamorous job, but it paid the bills.

Death unscrewed the bottle of mouthwash “Oh, before I forget,” he called out the bathroom door, “Guess who I met yesterday?”

Lisa dug her nails into the glass at the sound of his chipper voice.

“Remember that singer you used to really like? Peaches?” Death threaded a waxy string of floss between his fingers, “Yeah, she died yesterday. Man, she did not want to cross. Kept whining and complaining about how she deserved a second chance, and how she didn’t do that much cocaine.” He rolled his eyes, “Divas.”

He listened for her to gasp or give him that little chuckle where he could hear her smiling, but he was greeted with hollow silence. Death went back to flossing. He should be used to it by now. Lisa had been sulking ever since Death carried their son across to the Other Side. For some reason, she blamed it on him. It wasn’t his fault that David fell off the swing set and broke his little neck. Death didn’t force him to pump his legs higher and higher, sending the swing so high that for a second it seemed to defy gravity. Death didn’t tell him to jump off to see if he, too, could hover in the air for that magical moment. The only thing he did was hold his son’s hand as he passed onto the Other Side.

Lisa had begged Death not to let David go. She begged, she bargained, she cried, she even threatened to divorce him. But Death would not compromise his responsibility. He had made no exceptions for his own father or best friend. He’d carried the best man at his wedding over after he was hit by a group of joy-riding teenagers. Sure, it was sad, but it had to be. Mortality was as much of the life cycle as birth was. Death only wished Lisa could see it this way.

Death’s phone buzzed again. With his free hand, he swiped to the home screen, “This might interest you,” he said.

Unbeknownst to Death, Lisa was lying face down on their collapsed couch. She rolled onto her side and saw the little toy duck David used to love that had slipped under the TV cabinet. Shortly after his son’s parting, Death had quietly donated all of David’s toys and clothes to charity, but every now and again, Lisa would find a stray sock under the sofa, or Goodnight Moon wedged under their bed. When she found them, she started towards her son’s room, and then when she remembered, a horrible sound would catch in her throat, and she’d lock herself in the bathroom with a bottle of vodka and a trembling handful of aspirin until Death came home.

Death laced floss between his fingers, “Oh, and guess who was my last delivery of the day? Mrs. Doris!” Death chuckled, “Oh, Mrs. Doris. Such a trouper. She didn’t complain the whole way down there. She even said–you’ll love this–she said ‘That damn head ache’s finally gone!’”

Lisa remained on the couch, eyes fixed on the toy duck under the couch. She rolled her sixth pill between her fingers. Lisa had been to a slew of psychopharmacologists, who also listened to her worn story and prescribed a rainbow of pills: Zoloft, Celexa, Sarafem, Xanax, Prozac. The drugs made her brain feel hollow and numbed the ache in the center of her chest, but nothing could get rid of the pain of being too busy on the phone to take a good last look at her David’s sweet gap-toothed grin as she sent him to his last day of school.

The phone perched on the edge of the sink buzzed. “Huh. Danielle Brooks. Isn’t she the nice little sixteen-year old from down the street?”


Death shrugged, “Hope it wasn’t anything too bad. She was a sweet kid.” He pulled back his lips to check his teeth, “Looks like we need to book a new cat sitter pronto.”

Lisa covered her face with her hands. She couldn’t stand the way that Death talked about it. Like dying was nothing more than a spilled glass of apple juice. It didn’t bother her when she was young, and the only people dying were friends’ grandpas and aging rock stars. But as she grew older, the people who were dying became closer and closer to her. First it was her college roommate, who died in a plane crash. Then her best friend from high school, when cancer came roaring back to fight a third time and won. Then her sister, who was crushed under the wheel of a truck after she pushed her son to safety.

The deaths kept growing, a horrible weight building between Lisa’s shoulders. She’d beg Death to overlook one death, and even held onto his legs to prevent him from collecting her father. But years of screaming, pleading, and threatening didn’t even put a dent in Death’s dedication to his job. Then David’s death came. What killed Lisa was that Death didn’t even let her have a few seconds for a goodbye, a final hair smoothing, a few words of love that he could carry with him into eternity. No, he just helped his son off the ground and delivered him before picking up the phone. That destroyed her.

Death peeked his head out of the bathroom door, “Hon? You okay?”

Pretending not to hear him, Lisa stood up and walked back over to the stove. She stirred the eggs half-heartedly.

“Well, T.G.I. Wednesday, am I right?” he laughed to himself. Lisa didn’t even move, “Hey, know what’s getting me through this week? Our date this Friday.” He ran a hand through his thinning hair as he walked out of the bathroom, “You know, we haven’t gone out in forever. But this Friday is gonna be great. A fireside table in the Oak + Fig, a piano concert downtown, maybe a few cocktails afterwards….” He walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. Lisa startled so suddenly that Death drew back, “Hey, take it easy, tiger. You act like you’ve just seen the Grim Reaper!” The joke was almost as old as he was, but it never failed to bring a smile to Lisa’s lips. But with her back turned to him, Death couldn’t be certain.

Death started back towards the bathroom, but stopped just before turning the corner. “Hey,” he said quietly.

Lisa turned around. Her eyes were glassy. Her face still looked young, but was creased around the eyes from years of crying.

“Just wanted to say you look beautiful today.”

Lisa smiled, but her eyes looked even glassier. She turned back to the eggs. “Scrambled?”

“That’d be perfect. Thanks, hon.” Spirits lifted, he went back to flossing. He always knew just the right thing to cheer his wife up.

Once her husband left, Lisa opened the sliding door to the balcony. She took a step outside, the cool cement chilling her bare feet. Her bathrobe caught in the late September wind and billowed around her. Lisa took another cautious step forward. She gripped the metal bar and looked over the edge. The city was spread below her like a child’s drawing. The tiny cars looked like beetles scurrying along thin strips of grey, and the trees looked like drops of lime candy. The playground just below them was empty, making all the army-green play equipment look lonely in the middle of the urban jungle. It was too much like the little worlds she’d make with David in their playroom out of Tinkertoys and Legos. She could still see his small hands interlocking the wooden toys together, carefully outlining a world that would be destroyed seconds later.

Lisa clutched her bathrobe closer to her, closing the gap between her breast and her robe. The smell of exhaust made her head feel light. Wordlessly, she lifted herself over the balcony’s railing and rested her feet between the metal bars. Her stomach pitched as the wind gently pushed her forwards and backwards over forty stories of nothingness. The wind howled in her ears and blew her untidy strawberry blonde curls around her like she was underwater. She leaned forward, fingers still hooked under the railing, and looked down. Her grip loosened.

Death’s phone buzzed.





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Laura Barker was born in Chicago and is a junior at Clark University, pursuing an English Major with a concentration in Journalism and Creative Writing. She enjoys reading, is working on a novel (The Brycean Files), and is active in musical theatre and student government.

Photo credit: Death and the Maiden . Schiele. Encyclopedia Britannica ImageQuest. Retrieved 17 June 2015 from


Visions of Foster Excerpt

Summer 2015, Uncategorized

by Jeremy Levine






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       “I’m just saying,” Evan was saying, wielding the diner’s glass ketchup bottle, “if Dunkin’ sells doughnut holes, someone should be selling bagel holes. Little rolled-up balls of dough, stuffed with various kinds of spreads. Cream cheese, butter, jam.”

        “How is this about my story about Cheryl’s breakfast?” Clint asked.

        “It’s not. It’s about my bagel project.”

        “Fine. How would you get the fillings in there?”

        “How do they get the jelly in the Munchkins?”

        “How would I know?” He gestured for the ketchup bottle. Evan handed it to Clint, who began shaking it over his burger with little regard for how the high volume of condiment would soggify his sandwich. “But maybe there’s something different about bagels that makes it not possible.”

        “Or, I’m the only person who’s had this idea so far. Oh Jesus.” He dropped his grilled cheese sandwich back onto his plate and drained his film canister-sized water glass. “That was so hot.”

        “I’m pretty sure everyone’s had this idea before,” Clint said, watching Evan fish into the bottom of his glass for an ice cube.

        “Why haven’t you done it, then?” Evan popped the ice into his mouth.

        “I figure everyone else had tried and failed.”

        “This is why nobody votes.” Evan pointed an accusatory french fry across the table at him, ketchup dripping onto the table in prodigious splotches.

        “Is that why?” Clint asked, mopping up the wayward condiment.

        “It is.” Evan didn’t help Clint out with the ketchup absorption effort. “It’s called the collective action problem. I read about it.”


        “I don’t know, wherever you read about this stuff.”

        “That’s not really what the collective action problem is.”

        “Regardless. When a bunch of people have the ability to do something, the incentive to actually do it yourself is incredibly small.”

        “I guess that’s true.”

        An intermission of munching followed. Evan had finished half of his sandwich (apart from the crusts, which he never ate) when he broke the silence with “You and Cheryl are pretty serious, huh?”

        Clint finished chewing. “We’ve only been together a few months.”

        “Yeah but you’re living like you’re pretty serious.”

        “Whaddaya mean?”

        “The story you told me about making her breakfast and meeting your editor.”

        “What about it? Girls sleep over at your house and you make them breakfast, are you serious with any of them?”

        “No, but the fact that you thought that swinging the ever-so-perilous run-out-of-the-house-and-cook-her-breakfast maneuver even qualified as a story that I would be interested in alerts me of something serious.”

        “But the two of us,” Clint made a little pointing gesture so that Evan knew that he was the one being referred to, “have been friends for so long, this is the kind of stuff we talk about. I’m out of really good stories.”

        “Well, we could be talking about more interesting things than a breakfast you made three weeks ago, but you shot down my bagel idea.”


        “Look, all I’m saying is that your readers better not get shafted by your new definition of a good story. Because they don’t want to read three hundred pages of you making breakfast.”


        “And that, when you two do settle down and have your 2.5 kids, don’t forget about me and all the bullshit you put me through over the years.”

        The patty on Clint’s burger nearly slipped off the bun. “Have I made it seem like that that’s what’s going to happen?” he asked.

        “I don’t know. The breakfast thing seemed like a bad sign.”

        “I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.” Clint raised his teeny diner glass. They clinked and Evan tossed his back so one or two ice chips unstuck themselves from the bottom and fell into his mouth. He crunched on them for a little while, then said “So, once you saved the world by preparing breakfast, how’d your meeting with your editor go?”

        “Fine. This book is weirder.”

        “How so?”         

        “Like, it’s kind of fucked up, structurally speaking.”

        “Why’d you write it like that?”

        “It just felt like it needed to be that way. The narrator’s life is totally collapsed—“


        “And so it didn’t feel psychologically right for the story to be told in a normal way. It needed to be more haphazard because, as she remembers it, that’s how she sees it. Trauma isn’t chronological, it just all hits you at once. Like if you were sentenced to twenty years in prison, the effect of that dread would happen to you all at once, as a unit. You wouldn’t think about the fifteenth year and then the sixteenth year.”


        “Did that make sense? I’m going to have to explain it a lot and I don’t want it to not make sense.”

        “No I think it makes sense. I mean, I haven’t read it, so I can’t really put it in context, but that didn’t sound too out in left field.”

        “Thanks.” Clint picked at his coleslaw and spent a minute or so ogling a particularly Kramer-esque gentleman across the diner. “Besides, I would never ask Cheryl that kind of question.”

        “About your writing?”

        Clint nodded.

        “Why not?”

        “She hasn’t really gotten over the fact that I’m a famous novelist.”

        “Hey, Mr. Modesty.”

        “I mean, it’s true. And sometimes, you know, it’s great. Like, I’m sure it helped me get that first date—”


        “Shut up. But I can’t run an idea by her because she still has too romantic a view of
the whole process. You’re jaded enough to give me a real opinion.”

        “Plus I’m not wooed by your incredible breakfast-making skills.”

        “That too.”

Jeremy Levine is a recent graduate of Clark University, where he now works. He likes to read, write, and write about weird novels. 



Summer 2015, Uncategorized

by Charlotte Rutty


                         Dante Fenolio / Photo Researchers /Universal Images

                         Dante Fenolio / Photo Researchers /Universal Images





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     The day after the first dream, I meet Jeremy. In this dream, crocodiles are falling on me. I’m running—it must be through the woods because it’s dark and green all around me. Crocodiles seem to take shape out of this heavy greenness, as if perhaps they are made only of leaf and shadow.

     I know it’s stupid but when I wake up I check for claw marks on my back, for blood in my hair. I am clean. Still, I can’t shake the green haze it leaves me in, and before I know it it’s five in the afternoon. I let myself in after work and find a boy in my living room, in banana-patterned boxers, waiting for my roommate to wake up.

     I want to talk about my dream. “I dreamt of crocodiles last night,” I tell him.

     “Okay,” he says.

     “I have this theory,” I say, by way of explanation, “that dreams just circulate the city, and if you’re sleeping close enough to someone you can swap. Where were you sleeping last night?”

     “Uh,” he says, with an uncomfortable glance at my roommate’s door. “Not here.”

     “I know,” I say. “Lena never brings boys home at night.”

     He clears his throat. “Does Lena bring a lot of boys home?”

     I look at him with a little pity. “Yes.” I don’t tell him that every afternoon, I come home to find another of Lena’s lovers in his boxer shorts, whiling away the hours until Lena wakes up and looks at him again with that silver glow of hers. Nor do I tell him that when she does wake up, she will not be looking at him like that again.

     Instead I tell him that he can stay for dinner if he wants, but that since we are not the sort of roommates who share food, he’ll have to settle for granola and skim milk. This seems to be the only thing that Lena eats.

     “Do you think I could go and get my clothes first, if I’m really quiet?” he asks, and because he looks so sad, I ready his granola for him while he slinks off to Lena’s room like an abused cat. Scraggly and unimpressive, he is one of the many lovers of Lena who are nowhere near her league. I think that his confidence in his own sex appeal has been badly inflated and then popped in the space of about five hours. Still, I reason, he’s not so bad looking. His eyes are dark and his cheekbones are high.

    â€œShe sleeps like an angel,” he says when he returns. I’m surprised to see that he’s wearing glasses now. They give him an elevated look, accentuating the cheekbones rather than hiding them.

    â€œAn angel?” I say. “Lena sleeps more like a vampire.” Every morning at three she comes home from her night shift at the hotel. The door unlocks and then locks again, the hall light outside my bedroom switches on and then off again. And then she paces and paces, up and down the creaky floorboards of her bedroom. She haunts our apartment like a murdered woman. When I wake up she is always in the shower singing gospel songs. I don’t know what she does all day, after padding out of the bathroom with her streaming silver hair and shutting herself back in her bedroom.

    â€œWhat’s your name?” I ask. I make a gesture for him to eat his granola, even though I’m still standing at the stove watching him.


    He doesn’t ask for my name so I tell him. “It’s April.”

    He looks confused again. “It’s January.”

    â€œMy name,” I clarify.  â€œApril is my name.”

    â€œOh. Right. I get it.”

    â€œWhere do you work, Jeremy?”

    â€œThe library,” he says absently. “On March Street. I hope I don’t get fired. I didn’t go back after my lunch break.”

    Lena’s lovers usually don’t. Today is Wednesday but Lena is beautiful, and when she touches your arm in the line at Subway, the library is not the place you want to go back to.

    â€œI work for a Russian guy,” I offer. “Mr. Mikhalev. Do you speak Russian, Jeremy?”

    â€œNo,” he says. “Lena told me her mother was Russian.”

    â€œSometimes I wish I spoke Russian, so I could understand the things Mr. Mikhalev mutters about his clients. When they’re rude to us he calls them names after they leave, but when I ask him what he’s saying he can never find the words in English. You should eat your granola—it’s awful when it’s soggy.”

    He takes a bite and gives me a milky smile. “You’re right, it is. What do you do for this Russian guy?”

    â€œLots of things,” I shrug. “I’m his personal assistant.”

    â€œHi Lena!” Jeremy says, jumping to his feet.

    I turn and see Lena in the doorway, wrestling her long white-blond hair into a bun. She’s dressed for work in the coarse navy polo, its Best Western logo perched over her heart. Her name tag glints silverly. LENA.

    â€œI’m running late,” she says brusquely.

    Lena’s an art school dropout who seems to have chosen the life she lives with some amount of purpose. She requested the overnight shift. She requested me, too, in a way—after my former roommate’s mental breakdown she responded to my classified.

    â€œWhere are you going?” Jeremy asks, but she’s already gliding out the door and clicking it closed behind her.

    Jeremy turns to me. “Maybe you could give me her phone number? She forgot to give it to me.”

    I just shake my head no. After Jeremy leaves, I find his number pinned to the fridge.


In the warm but feeble winter-morning light, I eat breakfast alone. I savor the steam over my mug and the sounds of Lena showering, singing gospel music as the water thrums around her. You may slip, you may slide. Lena’s voice is viscous like honey. Stumble and fall by the roadside.

     Apparently she likes h
er showers scalding, because when she opens the bathroom door the steam billows around her like  a white dress. Still, Lena’s skin remains as pale as ever; not a tinge of pink betrays the temperature. She is so white as to appear silver—white-blond hair, pale skin, luminous gray eyes—and she gives off a sort of lunar glow as she pads down the hallway to her bedroom. Don’t ever let nobody drag your spirit down.

     Her lover for the day is a boy in blue striped boxers. When I get home from Mr. Mikhalev’s that afternoon, he doesn’t greet me. He looks at me haughtily from beneath a pronounced brow line.

     I go to the fridge and take down Jeremy’s phone number, twirling it with my fingers until it’s curled up like a little wisp of smoke. It’s a tenuous connection, I know.

    â€œShould I call Jeremy?” I ask the striped lover, taking a seat beside him on the couch.

    He folds his arms across his bare chest. “Is there any food in this house?” he says.

    I pull out my telephone and call Jeremy. “You’ve reached Jeremy!” the phone chirps. “Leave me a message!”

    â€œIt’s April,” I tell my telephone. “Lena is not going to call you.”


In the second dream, I am not running from crocodiles, but eating them. It leaves me in a better mood than the first one, but with a funnier taste in my mouth. For some reason in the dream I expected them to taste like lettuce; instead, they had a thick, leathery flavor. It has persisted all day and through an entire pack of chewing gum.


     The dreams trouble me. I feel hazy again, like something green is haunting me, and I dread having a third dream of crocodiles. I stop at the library on the way home and find myself in the 612s: human physiology. I select a big, somnolent-looking book called The Science of Sleep, by S.W. Miles, which hasn’t been checked out since 1983.

     Jeremy’s at the circulation desk when I get there. He looks quite librarial with his glasses and his high cheekbones, stamping book after book for the man in front of me.

     “May,” he greets me.

     “April,” I say.

     “April. Nice to see you again.”

     Thinking that maybe he believes my coming to the library was a pretense to see him again, all I say is, “I guess you didn’t lose your job.”

     “I told them my cat had to go to the ER,” he says. “I felt bad about it.”

      I shrug. “You couldn’t help it.” Poor Jeremy—boys like him are helpless.

     “The Science of Sleep,” he says. “Still investigating that theory of yours?”

     “I keep dreaming of crocodiles, Jeremy,” I confide in him. “I don’t know what it means.”

     He shrugs. “Maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Have you been watching a lot of Steve Irwin lately?”

     “You think it’s stupid,” I say. “But it’s frightening, Jeremy, it really is. They’re not like regular dreams. I’ve had two now and I don’t want to have a third.”


A week later, I have a third. It’s the day I come home and find Franklin on the couch in his tartan boxers. Unlike Jeremy, he doesn’t seem the least bit embarrassed about it. He is more muscular than Jeremy, which might have something to do with it.

     “Hey,” he says to me. He’s picking at what seems to be my guitar and he lifts some of the fingers on his right hand in greeting.

     “What did you dream about last night?” I ask him.

     “Nothing,” he says. “I don’t dream. Haven’t in seven months.”

     “That’s terrible,” I say.

     “I remember the very last dream I ever had. I was in a red latex balloon and when I poked the inside it popped. Outside, everything was yellow and I was falling.”

     “What a fascinating dream,” I say. “I bet that means something.”

     Franklin shrugs. “Nah, I’m not superstitious like that. When I was little my ma used to make me take a bath in saltwater on the first day of every month, for good luck. I got enough superstition from her.”

     “I’m not superstitious either,” I clarify.

     “Actually, my ma died last week,” says Franklin, his voice like a little boy’s, and puts down the guitar. I offer him some granola.

     There’s a banging at the door. It’s Jeremy, and when he comes in, wild-faced and out of breath, he doesn’t seem to notice Franklin.

     “You’ve got to help me, April,” he pants. “I ran here all the way from March Street.”

     “Jeremy? What’s wrong?” I say. He doesn’t look hurt. “Are you hurt?”

     “Yes,” he says. “I mean I’m hurt in my heart. April, I’m in love with Lena. I don’t know what to do. You’ve got to help me.”

     “Jeremy, I want to help you.” I want to help him. Like I want to help Franklin. But it’s out of my hands. Lena doesn’t love anyone. She’s just not that kind of girl.”

      He shakes his head forcefully. “You don’t know her like I do. She’ll change her mind, I know she will. You just need to talk to her. Sheâ
€™ll listen to you, April.”

     Lena has never listened to me in her life, but I want to help Jeremy, and besides, I like the way he says my name. I like the way he says Lena’s name, and I want him to say my name like that. “Okay,” I concede, “I’ll talk to her, but I can’t guarantee anything. And remember that I’m only trying to help you, so if it doesn’t work out you have to promise not to be hurt.”

      He beams at me with his milky teeth. “I promise. You’re a real friend, April.”

     That night, I set my alarm clock for three in case I fall asleep before Lena gets home. I don’t. Instead I lie awake thinking about Lena’s teeth and Jeremy’s teeth, and his teeth on her teeth. When I hear the door unlock I can’t believe that I’ve spent four hours this way.

      I creep to her room on ghost toes and find her combing her silvery, waist-length hair. This is something that I never knew she did, for it always looks uncombed, like a plant reaching its untidy roots toward the floor.

     “Hey Lena,” I whisper, my voice no more than a little exhale in a cold room.

     She doesn’t like me to be in here. “What is it, April?” she asks smoothly, suspiciously.

     I perch on the edge of her bed but feel like I suddenly don’t know what to do with my legs. “Um. You know that boy who was here a few weeks ago? Jeremy?”

     Her big gray eyes are completely empty. “Jeremy?”

     “Yeah. With the banana boxers? Dark hair? High cheekbones?”

     “Oh yes,” she murmurs. “I remember the cheekbones.”

     Her skin is so silvery I want to touch it to see if it’s hard. I take her hand in mine, as if we’re friends and I’m helping her through a tough time. Her palm is smooth.

     “I saw him at the library last week,” I tell her.

     “Okay, April. I don’t know what you’re trying to say.” She pulls her hand away.

     “Just that,” I say, and withdraw to my room, where I dream that tiny crocodiles are crawling across my skin like ants.


I go back to the library to tell Jeremy the bad news. “It’s not going to work out, Jeremy. It’s just not.”

     “It’s just not? Why not?”

     “She’s not right for you. Trust me.”

     “Did she tell you that?”

     “Of course she did. We’re roommates.”

     Jeremy chews on his lip as if it’s nourishing him. “Isn’t there anything I can do?”

     “Oh Jeremy.” I slide my new book across the circulation desk toward him. Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. S.W. Miles isn’t giving me any of the answers I’m looking for—all he’s taught me is that my entire pons shuts off when I sleep. That’s part of my brainstem and it shuts off so I don’t actually do the things I’m dreaming I’m doing. So I don’t run and kick and claw. So I wake up clean.

     Jeremy stamps it without looking at the title. “I don’t get it,” he says. “She seemed to really like me.”


In the fourth dream, the crocodiles are coming out of my eyes, like in the urban legend about the baby spiders that hatch from your cousin’s daughter’s friend’s cheek. It doesn’t hurt—the crocodiles are still just made of leaf and shadow, so it is more like crying than like giving birth. But it makes me want to throw up, and when I wake up, I do.

     The day after this dream, Jeremy kisses me. He’s shown up out of the blue again. Banging on the door again. But this time, he’s calm.

     “April, great news,” he tells me. “I made a mistake. I don’t care about Lena, and I’m not sure I ever did. April, it’s you I care about.”

     “Me?” It’s not that I think Jeremy has ever lied to me, but something doesn’t let me believe him. “That’s called displacement,” I want to tell him. Instead, I keep quiet, maybe because I think I can hide it from myself that way. That’s called denial.

     Because I like it when Jeremy kisses me. His lips are sugary and they help to take that persistent taste of leather out of my mouth. And I’m eager for him to share my bed, for it will give me the perfect chance to test my dream-swapping theory. I will take anybody’s dreams in exchange for these crocodile ones.


I stop dreaming. I stop sleeping. Instead, Jeremy and I lie side by side and listen to Lena pace. The sound soothes us; we can see each footfall in our minds’ eyes, the slender gray foot, a hand through the uncombed hair. While she is at work we listen to each other’s wakeful breathing as we wait impatiently for the pacing to begin. We don’t need Dr. Miles to teach us what insomnia sounds like. We are shamed insomniacs: we pretend to sleep, for each other’s benefit, and it makes our breathing shallow but measured, distinctive.

     As dawn rises bluely outside my window, we stare at the ceiling with our ringed eyes, watching it become gray. One room over we can hear Lena’s dripping voice, far clearer than it ever reaches the kitchen table. Don’t let nobody drag your spirit down… We stop eating breakfast so that we can lie here longer and listen before we have to put our feet on the cold hardwood floor and traipse to work. Jeremy and I now live in a shared haze of fatigue, like some foggy dream that we have both stepped into.

    We eat our dinners with Lena’s lovers and talk with them about Lena. About her hair, her eyes, her soft padding feet. I can see that her room still tugs at Jeremy with some invisible string. He can’t keep his eye
s off of its flaking white door, which seems like an impassable barrier though it is made of cheap and flimsy wood.

     “Don’t you want to know what Lena’s thinking?” Jeremy asks me. “Like if she’s thinking about us?”

     But I’m no good at finding answers. I finished Freud and moved on to Sheila Meyers, Ph.D., whose book—The Midnight Journey: A Spiritual Guide to Dream Interpretation—told me I was not sufficiently earthbound. But nothing helps. What doesn’t haunt me by night haunts me by day.

     One night I fall into a deep sleep around midnight. A fifth dream of crocodiles is starting—in it, I am finding that I myself am made of leaf and shadow and have sprung claws; I myself am a crocodile—when it is interrupted. Jeremy is shaking me awake.

     “April,” he whispers. “April.”

     For a moment I think he is going to scold me for breaking our unspoken insomnia pact, but he doesn’t. He says, “I need your help. Come to Lena’s room with me.”

     “What?” I say with sleepy stupidity. “Lena’s room? Why? She isn’t there.”

     “I know, that’s why we have to go now. I need to take something. A picture.”

     “Steal something? When she’s not there? Jeremy, I’m a good roommate.”

     “Not steal. It’s mine. Well, it’s of me. Listen, I just need to see this portrait she drew of me. She never showed me.”

     “What are you talking about?”

     “You know the day we met?” He doesn’t say, “the day I slept with Lena” because he thinks I believe he loves me.

     “The day you slept with Lena.”

     “Slept with Lena?” Poor Jeremy. He is too often confused. “I never slept with Lena, April.”

     “What? You didn’t?” I think about this, the parade of boys in their underwear. Blowing off their jobs to not sleep with Lena while Lena sleeps alone.

     “Never. You think she has sex with all those guys?” He sat up in bed and moonlight spills across his small chest so that it glows silvery. His words tumble out one on top of another. “She took me into her room and told me to take off my clothes. Which of course I did. It was the middle of the day. She made me sit on the bed while she drew my portrait. I had exquisite cheekbones, she said—that’s exactly what she said—and she wanted to capture them. I was happy just to watch her draw, you know. If I could only have a drawing of that.”

     “She drew your portrait?”

     “April, I need to see that drawing. I was starting to fall asleep, asleep for real—like a really deep sleep. And then it just hit me, this—this need. I have to find it.”

     We slip out of the envelope of my bed and it’s cold in the apartment. I don’t blame him for not wanting to venture alone to Lena’s bedroom. We’re both a little afraid of it, as if it really were haunted by a murdered woman. Inside it feels distinctly off-limits.

     Jeremy flicks on the light and we squint like blind little voles. “Here,” he says, moving toward the closet.

     “I don’t know, Jeremy, this feels wrong,” I say. My voice sounds so feeble in this room.

     “I just need to find this one picture,” he says, opening the closet and rifling around in the shelves. “Here.”

     He pulls down a big portfolio of papers, and as he opens it they tumble to the floor. Dozens of pencil drawings skitter about the room; in a moment they have all landed and a sort of paper-white silence falls over the apartment. The drawings are all of men, maybe a hundred—naked, covered, awake, asleep, close up, from afar. Jeremy’s has fallen at his feet, and he picks it up to study it.

     It shows only his face, unbespectacled, the cheekbones shown to full advantage. But though the features are Jeremy’s the face is not. It is cold and hard in a way that only Lena’s face could be. I shiver.

     I toe the papers gingerly. “Well,” I want to say, “well…well…”—lump in my throat, words leaping hurdles to pass through my lips—“Well, where’s mine?”

     I’m on my hands and knees, rifling. I’m a good roommate. The other drawings show exquisite collarbones, exquisite jawlines, exquisite noses. Heaped on Lena’s floor is a collection of exquisite bones. We grow icy looking at it—our hair feels silver; our eyes feel gray.

     “You’ve been in love with Lena the whole time,” I tell Jeremy, folding my legs and sighing on the floor. “Just don’t think I never knew.”

     “You can talk,” he says. “You’re in love with Lena.”

     We can’t defend ourselves. We are helpless and small, and no good at finding answers. There’s nothing for us to do now but give the portraits one last gentle kick, turn around, and switch off the light in that cold silver room.

Charlotte Rutty is a student at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where she studies English and environmental science.


Photo credit: African Dwarf Crocodile. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Retrieved 17 Jun 2015, from


American Child

Summer 2015, Uncategorized

by Emma Collins


             Emma Collins

             Emma Collins

Down I-295 coming up from Rhode Island there’s a stretch of shadowed corridor, a sinister unlit highway.  The turn signals wink as people drive along that darkened passage, fireflies dancing in the falling dusk.  Carcasses of animals line the shoulder with their broken bones, blank eyes.  Somewhere between the blackened blood of a doe and the silvery sinew of a possum I tell you I love you, rattling around in your old Ford pickup.  My teeth clatter and you barely hear me as I shout over the rattle and roar.

The sky burns purple, an angry color swollen by a noon-time storm, passed over now.  The reds and the yellows vie for a place in the heavens and your eyes as you flick your face my way, glancing quickly, one hand draped over the wheel, the other coddling the gear shift.  I see Orion in the matte blue of your irises while your mouth works, a handsome red-lipped fish gasping slowly.

I guess I drew the air out of your lungs with my confession, and we miss our exit and the turn signals wink away and the stars are just peeking out from under evening’s skirt.  You curse under your breath and duck your head the way you do when you peek from under the brim of your work Red Sox cap to merge right. The sky flames.

I lock eyes straight ahead. The smell of fresh-born leaves on the chill of an early spring evening caught in the back of my throat.  I bite down with teeth that were stained by the last disappointing iced caramel latte you bought me when the day was still sweat-hot.  I didn’t know what else to say now that my voice cracks and I’m swallowed up in the rattle and cough of an exhaust manifold you’ve been threatening to replace.  The clouds are deepening with rich violet and you find your way back to the stretch of blacktop that will eventually take us home to your apartment with the creaking floor boards and molding bathroom tiles.

I surprise myself as tears start rolling down my face and I’m embarrassed because I’m wearing Dad’s old Army jacket with his name over my heart and Daddy didn’t raise no crybaby.  I sit tall in my seat while I watch you out of the corner of my eye.  You stumble over your words because the whole thing is so childish, so high school. I’m not even sure if I hear your excuses, not really anyways, because I’m looking up at the first stars winking to life through a windshield splattered with bird shit and bug guts and I almost laugh myself.

Somehow we crossed into Massachusetts, the old Minutemen valleys collapsing slowly inwards.  I close my eyes and imagine sinking deep into the dark earth that raised me from Cali roots and Irish blood.  By the time I realise you’ve gone quiet again I’m already thousands of miles away.  When I open my eyes you’re asking with my name and I don’t hear you right so I have to cock my head and cough a little, shaking out the stardust that’s gathered in my breath.

Not today.  Not on this highway.  Not now after I looked at the blank eyes of that dead doe and wondered where her fawn had gone.  I just smile at you and shake my head.  A joke, a funny little thing for a long journey, something to take our minds off of the rattle and clunk and shimmy that’s beaten us to vibrating pulps.

I settle back and hook my heel up on the dash while the radio pops and fizzles back to life.  Something country for our New England ignorance crackles to tune and I hum along off-key.  I’d look good astride a thick-muscled pinto with a chestnut mane, one bright blue eye, one soul-black.  I think about big-sky country even if I’m not into faux cowboy boots and Daisy-Dukes.  I’m gone while you dredge up some off-hand topic that will steer us clear of anything too touchy that might make you stop and think awhile.  The sky is velvet blue as we pull back into the city and you grind the gears on an uphill.  I’m tight in my gut thinking about tonight on the air mattress I re-inflate every night before we go to bed.





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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.