Winter 2018

Table Of Contents

  • The Girl of Many Names – Allyson White
  • Playcenter 51 – Renuka Murthi
  • A Place Called De Jango – jay.m.chross
  • Restless – Lydia Grace Herron
  • Breathtaking – Adrianna McGeehan
  • Love Is A Midnight Thunderstorm – Derrick C. Brown
  • A Love Poem – Dawson Holloway
  • Linen Thoughts – jay.m.chross
  • A Better Man – Olivia Miller
  • Mirror – Benjamin Smith
  • Grunting – Justine McNulty
  • Matter – Thor Bacon
  • Under The Moonlight – Dawson Holloway
  • Faded Away – Eman Isa
  • Southern Trees A Retelling – Mitzi Jackson
  • Heart Racing – Dana Heidtman
  • MT – Ron Riekki
  • Bloom – Margaret Sicilia
  • They Told Me – Jared Braun
  • Capture The Moment -Breanna Perkins
  • The Seller – Whitney Wellman
  • Giving Time Reason – Mitzi Jackson
  • Hindsight – Benjamin Smith
  • Thief – Taylor Boes
  • The Woman – Ashley O’Brien

The Girl of Many Names - Allyson White

Her father’s protruding stomach bumped and bumped again at her nose. Then he bent, low enough for her to see into his wide eyes, low enough for her to smell the rotted remains of what had been a ham sandwich. His face seemed to wax and wane in its melon-like rotundness as he leaned in and out; standing straight with his stomach punching at her nose, then bending again, assaulting her with his putrid breath.

Well, her father could be charming should he choose. That is what so perplexed her about him. He would come home beaming with his teeth white, as if they carried the smell of fresh mown grass. She knew that they did not. Oh, he would chirp on about his work. Stocks were up. The conference said the market would fall soon but he was ahead of it. He even got to hire two new Mexicans fresh off the border. He liked these best for the cheap wages. The girl did not understand his ramblings, but if he was happy who was she to complain. “Those Mexicans are quick little things,” he would say, making his mustache bounce with excitement. “Had one cheat me few months ago. He’s probably living in a box somewhere, now.”

She had never met one of those sly Mexicans personally, being only eight as she was. She thought that they must be fascinating creatures and wondered if they made good pets. She quite liked animals. She’d always asked her father for a pet dog but he never got her one. Rather than giving up on that front, however, she would travel out to her yard on safari, in search of a good pet. She’d found worms, pill bugs, centipedes, salamanders, and even rabbits, snakes, and birds. Never had she found a Mexican. It was the same as with something her father called “Democrats.” She did not know what a Democrat was but the way her father said it made her think it must be something similar to brussels sprouts and sauerkraut.

Once when he was watching news on T.V. she heard him pouting about something she’d heard him say before, “Republican Party.” He talked an awful lot about this party, though it didn’t sound very fun. She asked him, then, if the party had any cake and whether he went there often. At this he glared down at her and laughed. There was something about it that made it sound like rusted gears clashing together. “No, no. I ain’t in no Republican Party,” he huffed, “I’m sure they do have cake though.” She told him they must not be too bad if they had cake, but he only returned to his conversation with the T.V.

His stomach bumped her nose again. He was yelling. He had been
yelling but she only just noticed because his face had begun to turn red. Soon it would go purple but that would only come after the spitting. Her vision was blurred. It wasn’t that she wanted to cry, or even that she was really sad or afraid; but it is instinctive to cry as a child, even when you’re eight, and she couldn’t help it. The tears rolled gently into her mouth as she tried not to make the cry audible. She sucked the tears in with the air and they tasted sweet, reassuring, like sugar and salt together. But as she sucked the air in and felt the warm liquid on her tongue a sob, like a siren, escaped from her throat and barreled out into the open air, out into her father’s stomach.

Now came the spitting. She could no longer see but she didn’t need to. Flecks of spit leapt from his mouth onto her face and into her mouth and eyes. The tears washed the spit away but they too left her defiled. How she could betray herself every time with tears was beyond her understanding. She wished she could learn not to cry, but it came, and with each new word it came again. He called her things she did not understand. Words and names that were beyond her education. It occurred to her to ask her teacher later, to remember the words, so as to improve her vocabulary. She always got top marks on vocabulary, and tried to keep track of words she hadn’t heard before, to ask her teachers. But these words came too quickly, and with such a well versed tongue that it was like another language. Just as she caught hold of one, another would rush in and bump the old one out of her mind. She could catch the last word of the sequence. But the last word was always “sorry,” and that one she knew. It always happened this way. He would go on, bumping her and using his strange language of names, sometimes he would shake her or let his hand fly when he was very upset; but at the end he would sit down with his head in his hands and let color in his face drain from purple to red to a pale white. Then he would say that final word, the only one she could remember, and hug her. She could not help but flinch as he moved in for the hug, even though she knew this was all it was. Sometimes this flinch would frighten him, and send him hurling through the rendition all over again. Though she did not know the meanings of the names she was afraid to be like them. Every once in a while she would learn one, or he would sprinkle in some familiar adjectives for flare. These did not make her like the names any better. “Pitiful” and “pathetic” were two of his favorites. She had been quite ecstatic when these words had been on her vocabulary test. No one else in her class spelled “pathetic” right. But when she went home her father had laughed and said that it was of course she who could get “pathetic” right.

She was not so silent as her shadow. One thing she thought might be pathetic was being silent. But, of course, she was only eight, which is good as being silent if you have anything important to say.

Her shadow mostly lingered in corners and rarely spoke.
She had come from her shadow, and had once thought that it was there to protect her, but learned when she was three that this was not the case. She was five when her shadow had read Peter and Wendy to her; and she learned quickly that it is better to be cut free of one’s shadow than to be fastened to it, being as helpless a thing as it is. So, now, it simply creeps along the walls or hovers near her or her father as if on a string that, if she gets too close, could snap at any moment.

Her shadow has no name these days. It used to have one. Then it had many, and then it had none. Its name when she was young, though, had been Diana. But when she learned of Rome and looked to Diana to be her goddess, she found that the shadow had not been Diana after all but all those names given by her father. She did not find the false Diana to be those names either however, but noticed that she was not even human let alone a goddess. The false Diana was nothing but a shadow.

She did not have a name, as she would not take the ones given to her by her father, nor the one given by her shadow. She refused to name or rename herself because she thought she must earn her name. Though she was not as silent as her shadow, she was not loud either. She mostly watched. She did see that she was an observer, or more accurately a searcher. The teachers sometimes whispered about her searching. They were worried, they would murmur to one another, that she was not loud. She knew many loud people. King of these was her father. She determined, therefore, not to be loud. Her books read of searching people. But no, they were writ by these kinds, she thought. Peter Pan was a loud boy, but he searched at the same time. Only, he forgot too often. She wondered if she could ever forget. She didn’t think so.

Her father came home happy. Her shadow lingered in the kitchen, cooking pork chops and pounding on a pair of hapless potatoes. He chattered to her shadow about stocks falling just the way he’d said. The shadow nodded, beating furiously at the potatoes. She observed. She was not sure what she was searching for, but she squinted at the two as if there were a problem to solve. He went on about his Mexicans again. He’d fired another and hired what he called a “Don Juan,” a new word. He seemed quite fond of Don, she thought. He spoke of him almost as if he were a friend. She recalled one of her classmates talking about his favorite dog that way. He went back to stocks and then started salting the air with numbers. Her head always spun, trying to hold those numbers, but she fastened her grip and held on. When his lungs finally forced him to paused for air she spoke up.

“Daddy.” She allowed a pause to prove his disinterest, but started just before he could continue with the shadow. “Is a Mexican a kind of dog?” She knew there were many breeds of dogs, her favorites being German Shepherds, and she knew she did not know all of them. She’d asked her father what he did at work sometimes. She had wondered aloud if he worked with animals at all, because that is what she wanted to do. He told her that he did.

“Yes, little thing, it is a kind of dog.”

She was excited at the prospect of a new pet. Maybe he could bring this new Don Juan home, because he liked him so much. “Can we get one? Please.”

“No, no. We have enough.”

“But we haven’t got any.” She put her hands together, as if praying. He liked this. He thought a moment. The thought brought a new crevice to his face, just between the brow, but he said nothing and brushed it away. He began to talk again about the market. She didn’t mind however, because she found that the strange crevice had left a mark, in spite of his washing, and found that this may have been what she had been searching him for.

She realized that night that crevice had been deeper than she thought. She wondered that it might have dented his heart. That night he was afraid again. He went purple without even touching red, a new achievement, and grabbed her by the shoulders even before he started spitting. The names ran over her like freezing water as all the time she watched that little crevice grow and grow, just between his eyes. The crevice seemed to frighten him in greater and greater waves, however, and she found, after the whispered “sorry” and the flinching hug, her first bruise.

A bruise to her was like a gold trophy. She knew it meant words. Words she could not hand out herself because she was too small for them. But a bruise could do it. The problem was keeping them. It was a Friday when that crevice had broken open on her father’s head. By Monday the bruise was gone. She was exceptionally curious about this crevice and asked her teacher what might cause one. “Oh, an earthquake, or something else that inflicts a great amount of force,” her teacher told her. She asked what causes earthquakes. “Vibrations deep in the core,” the teacher answered. She nodded and walked away.

What, she thought to herself, could cause a vibration that strong? She’d asked for a puppy. A simple pet dog. Why had that had so much force? It only occurred to her after she got home to ask her teacher what kind of dog a Mexican is.

The next day she sat in the office. She’d asked. There was no answer but a gasp from the teacher and the students. They stared at her blankly, as if they were not looking at her but at a “Democrat.” She felt like a piece of rotted meat that had to be thrown away with one’s nose plugged up and eyes covered so as to avoid its grotesqueness. The principle was of a similar creed to her father. A bulbous belly stuck out from behind his desk and thin, squinted eyes glared at her as if sticking her up and down with needles. He asked her why she was there.

“I asked a question.”

“Why that question?” he asked, refusing to repeat the words.

“Because I was curious.”

“You know you are in a lot of trouble, young lady. A child, hell, a
person cannot go around saying things like, like that.” He poked and pricked at her with his eyes causing her to squirm about in her chair. “You must write an apology.” He leaned back, arms crossed. “You must write it a hundred times.”

“An apology to who?”

“To whom? To everyone! What a scoundrel you are. ‘To who,’ well why not the country of Mexico.” He leaned forward again. “And the United States for that matter.”

“A country is called Mexico?”

The principal threw his hands up. “Well do my teachers teach or do they simply entertain rude questions all day?”

“No, sir, they teach.” She thought a moment but felt she had to ask, “Do, do they come from there?”

“Who?” he puffed.

“The Mexicans.” She regretted it the moment it escaped her lips. The principal began to grow. He seemed to be swelling, blowing up like a pufferfish. His face turned red and his neck bulged until there were two and then three chins. He rattled off a long speech but she couldn’t hear. She was crying in shame. Of what, she knew not, but it was shame. He ordered her out of the office and told her that he would call her parents. He knew, he said, that respectable people such as they are would handle her. He spoke also of suspension.

With her father silently boiling beside her they drove home. He had left work early to have a conference with the principle and teacher. She was not allowed to attend. From the other side of the door she could hear the murmurings of consoling voices being offered to her father and something like sobs coming from him. Now his eyes were glazed only with rage. It had been decided that she should stay home for a week, to reflect on her actions and write apologies to each of the thirty students in her class, as well as the teacher and the principle. Her father gripped the wheel tighter. His hands were white, but everything else was purple. The crevice was flooded with sweat. The car slowly began to pick up speed until they were flying along at ninety miles an hour. Suddenly, he slammed his fist against the wheel.

“Why would you make a fool of me like that. What the hell were you thinking?” He shouted above the roar of the car engine. Some of the strange names flew into the wind, but were lost as they sped away. “Your friends, no, you have no friends. They all hate you. Your teachers hate you. Do you even understand what you’ve done to me. Now they all think I’m a bad father! And your mother! How could you betray her? How could you betray me?” She was crying, but the sound was drowned out by his shouts. “You just wait till we get home,” he kept saying.

She did not believe it when they did make it home because of the treacherous ride there, but her father stormed like wildfire into the house. She followed like a single drop of rain. “Diana!” he shouted. He’d called her on their way home and reported what had happened, and what was going to happen. The shadow had pleaded with him, for something, but the plea fell away. She seemed to forget what it was for. Her father ordered her to go in search of the shadow when it did not come. As she went he caught her arm with a grip that would surely leave a trophy bruise, “and bring that old belt,” he said. She gulped but obeyed. The old belt had never been used on her. Her father kept it as his own trophy from his childhood. It sat framed above the bed in his room.

She went back slowly, expecting the shadow to be in his room as well (it slept there too) and as she creaked the door open she found the shadow floating above the bed. She found this odd. The shadow didn’t normally float, and it certainly didn’t swing if it was to do so. But there it was, swinging away, staring wide-eyed at her, acting as if it couldn’t see her. She implored the shadow to come down. It swung a bit slower but would not come down. Then she began to be afraid, at the eyes that wouldn’t blink. She ran quickly past and snatched the belt within its frame. Running from the shadow. She carried the frame to her father who took it, and hit her over the head with the frame, asking her how she could be so stupid.

“I’m not stupid,” she spoke up. He hit her again. He used the glass side this time. It shattered and something cold, no, something hot, she wasn’t sure, tickled the side of her head.

“I was only afraid. The shadow kept staring.” He went to swing again but stopped. He asked her if she was crazy.

She told him she was not. “It’s only that the shadow never stares.
It always keeps its eyes down. But there was a rope and it swung and it stared at me.”

Her father dropped the frame. He ran to his room and she heard, but it couldn’t be him, a scream. He called for a knife but she would not move. She simply stared at the frame, broken, and the belt, dappled with blood, snaking out from its prison. He called for the police. She would not bring the phone. He called for God. He could not find Him. When he came back he looked afraid. “You did this,” he told her. He took the belt and wrapped it, almost sentimentally, around his fist. Then he rapped her. She could smell the sharp metallic liquid but the feeling had fled. She could see the red but it faded in and out, like a bad radio signal. He stopped.

He picked up the frame and set it on the table, placing the belt neatly in its place. Then he grabbed the phone and dialed the police. She watched the clock. It was 3:19 when he called. It was 3:48 when the blue, red, and white lights flashed against the wall of her house. They walked in pairs.

Her father resurrected the tears as they questioned him. The ambulance took away the shadow and one took her away too.

She sat at the back of the truck, watching the lights flash against her house. She wore an orange blanket and sipped juice from a cup. The gauze on her head itched but she ‘must not scratch it’. The policeman asked her questions. She nodded, or didn’t, and he took notes. Finally he stopped, and asked if she had any questions.

She looked up at him. “What is a Mexican?” She asked simply.

He fidgeted uncomfortably. “Er, you mean like a Latino American?” He searched, to see if she was mocking him.

“I am.” She looked at him and cocked her head.

“You?”

“Yes.”

She squinted and her mouth twisted in a puzzled way.
“I thought…” She looked at him again. “But you’re just a person.”

“Yes.”

“It is a name? Like Diana and Father?”

“Sort of.” He was soft at the name of her mother. But she did not notice. She felt like her father was spitting out numbers. She was trying desperately to grasp them.

“Did my dad say what happened?” she asked.

“Only that you came home and…” he drifted off.

“There was a shadow.” His eyes grew large. “You know, I think I’ll have a lot of trophies to show you.” He asked her what she meant. She pointed to the cut on her head. “From my dad.” She said this as his radio flared up and he answered the scratchy voice inside.

“What’s that?” The voice in the radio warbled again.
He looked down at her. “How did you say you got that cut?”

“My dad.” She answered carefully.

A tall man with a thick mustache lumbered over, his hand casually tapped his holster. He pulled the younger cop away to speak with him quietly. Suddenly he burst with ridiculous

laughter. “Tim! Do that?” he cried. “Now look here, rookie, I’ve known Tim since we were kids. He’s a good friend of mine. You may be new to town but we grew up here.
Tim didn’t do that.” The officer pointed at her.

“But she said…” the younger officer started angrily.

“Look kid, if you want to write up the papers then that’s your job, but this is Tim we’re talking about. City treasurer, Tim. He’s on the town council. Everyone knows Tim. I don’t want to separate a loving father from his traumatized daughter. Kid’s lie when they’re scared, rookie, you’ll learn that. She found…” he dropped to a whisper again, then his voice rose once more. “The way Tim tells it, the girl flipped when she saw,” whispers again, “and cut her head trying to climb up and tear,” whispers, “down. And I’m much more inclined to believe Tim than this poor little girl who is in shock.”

The young officer protested once more but was silenced. He looked once more at her, now in a doubtful, mistrusting way and came to say goodbye. He gave her a card with numbers

‘in case she needed them’ then walked off. Leaving her to be collected by her father. He came up behind her as the lights slowly, one-by-one drifted off liked fireflies at
the end of twilight.

“You called a person a dog,” she told him as if he hadn’t known. Her father looked down at her as if he really hadn’t and hugged her tight. Something warm and wet fell on her shoulder and this time, he flinched.

Playcenter 51 - Renuka Murthi

Julie’s blonde curls bounced as she kneeled down in front of me, holding a sippy cup to my lips. I eagerly latched on, letting the crisp, sweet taste of apple juice trickle down my throat as she flashed me her pearly whites. Her artificial smile was the biggest I’d ever seen. It reminded me of my dolls back at home, the ones with perfect blonde curls like Julie’s, who had perfect plastic smiles that didn’t seem to be happy at all.

A wave of sadness washed over me as I thought of my dolls. I hadn’t seen them in months. I hadn’t seen home in months—Mama had dropped me off at Playcenter 51 a long time ago, making me promise I’d have fun until she came back. That felt like nine billion trillion years ago. At first, I didn’t even notice I’d been away from Mama for longer than usual—I was too busy playing with my playmates all day, and being visited by Julie. Julie was our “teacher,” which made no sense, because we didn’t learn anything. She was just a girl who fed us, gave us drinks, and reminded us to go to the bathroom.

I spent day after day with my four playmates in our Play Area, a giant room that was basically heaven. We had a ball pit, a trampoline corner, a giant playground made of sponge, TVs with my favorite channels, and boxes full of toys. Each of us had a special wristband with a button, and if we pressed it, Julie rolled a cart of our favorite snacks into the room. She was the polar opposite of Mama. Mama forced me to eat vegetables and fruits, but Julie showered us with unlimited cookies and candy and soda—and, of course, apple juice. The only one who didn’t eat tasty delicacies was Stanley, who demanded meat and carrots. He was probably worried that his Mama would find out and get mad if he ate too much junk.

Stanley was the only one in our entire Play Area whose name I could remember. When I first got here, I had at least fifty playmates, but as time went on, more and more of them got picked up by their parents and left. Now, there were only five of us. By the time I learned everyone else’s names, Mama would probably pick me up, and I’d never see any of them again.

Still, they were my friends. My favorite out of all of them was a boy with curly brown hair, who always made me laugh by screeching like a chimpanzee. He always switched the TV channel from Cartoon Network to Animal Planet just to check if there were any monkeys on. As I finished my last drop of apple juice with a satisfying gulp, I scanned the room, looking for him. Sure enough, he was watching some dolphins on Animal Planet, a look of disappointment plastered onto his face. His eyes met mine, and his lips curled into a pout. I chuckled softly to myself. I’d miss him and his monkey obsession when I went back home.

Julie plucked the sippy cup out of my mouth, ruffled my hair, and placed it back onto her cart as she stood up. She made her way towards the exit, a metal door in the very corner of the room. The way it violently lurched open and shut scared me, planting the image of Julie’s chopped-in-half body into my mind. I always wondered what was outside the door—I came in through it ages ago, but I’d forgotten what the other parts of the building had looked like. I faintly remembered white hallways and bright lights, but trying to recall details beyond that felt like trying to hold grains of sand in a fist. They always slipped away.

Sighing, I got out of my chair, crossed the room, and plopped down into the beanbag chair next to my friend’s. I watched the dolphins chortle and splash in the waves, having fun under the sun. My heart sank, more sadness washing over me as I realized that I hadn’t seen the sun in a while. No amount of trampolines, junk food, or TV time could replace a day at the beach.

The more I watched, the more I wanted the beach. What was taking Mama so long? I bet she’d take me.

***

I was in the middle of playing with Legos when Julie came
back the next day, this time with a couple boys. They were taller than Julie and had big, bulging muscles. One had a stylish beard and moustache combo like I’d seen in the movies. All of my playmates were still sleeping on their cots except Stanley, who was holding a stuffed animal and muttering to himself.

“Rise and shine, playmates!” Julie chirped, her voice oozing with cheer as fake as her smile. “Everyone say goodbye to Peter! His daddy has arrived!”

Who was Peter? I scanned the room, and to my dismay, it was my brown-haired friend. He rolled off his cot, rubbing his eyes in his confusion before Julie’s words registered in his mind. His head whipped towards Julie, his eyes darting between the two boys to her side, before his eyes locked with mine. His expression was unreadable. I gave him a small shrug, trying to hide my sadness and jealousy. Today was his lucky day, the day I’d hoped would come to me for at least three months now.

Then, it happened.

Peter opened his mouth and let out a loud, shrill screech that made my heart stop. I froze, a yellow Lego man dropping out of my left hand, as his screeches grew more intense. These weren’t like his usual screeches, the ones that entertained me—these were cries of alarm. He ran away from his cot and pounded at his head with his fists, flashing me a look of pure fear that made the air around me grow cold.

The boys next to Julie started to sprint towards Peter, weaving through the playground and extending their arms, trying to catch him. Every step they took fueled Peter’s panic; his shrieks slowly turned into blood-curling screams.

What’s wrong with him? I thought to myself, watching the
boys catch Peter ten seconds later near the ball pit. They held his arms behind his back, and he wriggled and thrashed against their grips as they led him towards the metal door. Why doesn’t he want to go home?

The boys left, Peter still screeching, and Julie began to follow them. Her trademark smile had faded, and her eyes were brimmed with glassy tears. She briskly stepped through the metal doors while two of the playmates and I watched her in a haze. Stanley was still talking to his stuffed animal. As the doors lurched shut behind her, I caught a glimpse at a stark-white hallway.

I felt bitter that I’d never gotten to say goodbye to Peter.

***

Life was growing stale at Playcenter 51. All the TV channels kept playing the same episodes over and over again. The unlimited snacks were starting to make me feel sick and sluggish. Worst of all, it was just me and Stanley left in the giant room. My two other playmates had been picked up, and they’d left with excitement, unlike Peter. His episode still bothered me—I replayed it over and over in my head, particularly the moment when his blank expression had transformed into one of dread. Did he not want to go home? Was he afraid of his Mama? My Mama could be pretty scary, but I missed her more than anything. I tried to think of my memories with her to pass the time, but I found myself struggling to remember what her face even looked like.

As minutes grew into hours and hours grew into days, my boredom grew into agony. The anticipation of getting picked up that I’d once felt turned into hopelessness. It didn’t help that Stanley’s Mama was probably going to come soon, and I’d be all alone after that. If I had to wait for Mama all alone, I’d go crazier than Peter.

An idea dawned on me as I fiddled with a nearby Fidget Spinner. If my Mama wasn’t going to pick me up, maybe I’d need to leave this place myself. Then I’d find her. I sat down and pressed my forehead into my cupped palms, something I always did when I had to think hard. I tried to think of a way I could leave the Play Area. I knew Julie wouldn’t let me out, so I’d have to be sneaky.

Finally, a plan popped into my mind, as if out of thin air. I’d simply hide inside Julie’s snack cart, which always had black cloth draped over it. She’d wheel me out through the metal doors, I’d leave when she left the cart alone, and I’d be free!

Stanley was inside a little tunnel that connected to

the rest of the playground. Knowing I’d need his help to go through with my plan, I got out of my chair, walked to the tunnel, and crawled to its center until I was a foot away from him. He sat there idly, hugging his knees to his chest and staring at the sponge. He was never that much of a talker.

“Stanley,” I said, nudging his arm with my elbow. “I need your help.” My voice was dry from being quiet for so long. I was used to being quiet—Mama always yelled at me to shut up, after all—but never as quiet as I’d been at Playcenter 51.

His gaze remained fixed on the spongy tunnel wall. He barely reacted to anything, but I knew he’d heard me. Stanley was smart.
I continued.

“I need to leave this place. I don’t think my Mama’s ever going to pick me up.” I swallowed, looking at his wrists. His wristband, barely used, hung limply over his bony forearm. “I need you to summon Julie and ask for snacks so I can sneak into her cart and leave. If she asks, tell her I’m in the tunnel or playing somewhere. Can you do that, Stanley?”

No answer. I started to grow anxious, my heart beating faster, as he kept staring at the wall. Maybe he didn’t understand what I was saying. Or he didn’t care. Maybe he didn’t like me.

My breaths grew shaky. “Stanley,” I pleaded, desperation creeping into my voice.

“Yes.” He muttered, in a voice so low and deep I barely picked up on it. Had I imagined it? Silence lingered between us for three seconds, before he said it again to erase my doubts: “Yes.”

His head turned, and for the first time in all the months we’d been here, his glassy eyes bore into mine. His expression, solemn and calm, made some of my anxiety wash away. “Thank you,” I stuttered, shocked and relieved by his response. He began to crawl out of the tunnel’s other side, not saying another word. I owed him a ton. I crawled after him and readied myself for the plan, hiding behind a shelf of toys stationed right next to the tables where Julie always parked her cart.

Thirty seconds later, Julie burst through the doors with it, her fake grin back on her face. She rolled the cart towards Stanley and knelt down, hand-feeding him carrots and grilled chicken, as his usual blank, idle expression returned. Julie never questioned where I was, so his mouth remained shut. It was time.

I tiptoed behind the cart, holding my breath. It was the stealthiest I’d ever been in my life, even sneakier than when I played hide-and-seek. Thankfully, Julie had parked it right where I’d predicted, about two feet to the left of my shelf. Gingerly, I lifted a corner of the black cloth just enough to fit myself into the nook it concealed. It wasn’t hard squeezing in—I was a small boy who didn’t weigh too much, certainly much smaller than all my former playmates. The only exception had to be Stanley, who was the smallest, shortest, boniest boy I’d seen. Maybe it was because his dark skin was so wrinkly, even wrinklier than Mama’s.

Stanley took a while to finish his carrots. I waited in the wooden cart for about twenty minutes, crunched up in an awkward position that made my body ache, until Julie finally wheeled it out. The cart bumped around as it rolled over carpet, making my whole body shudder against the wood. I was surprised Julie didn’t notice how much heavier the cart had become as she pushed it.

Soon, the cart’s bumpy, rocky motions transitioned into a smooth roll. My veins froze—I had just left the Play Area, and was now rolling over a floor. The eerie, quiet lull that hung over the room I’d been enclosed in for months turned into a buzz of chatter, voices piercing my eardrums from every angle. My spine tingled with excitement as the cart glided to a stop. Escape was so close—Mama was so close. The prospect of freedom was intoxicating
beyond measure.

I heard Julie walk away from the cart, her heels clacking against the floor—an alien sound to me. A few seconds later, a door swung shut, and the chatter dissolved into silence.
I was alone.

I lifted the cloth and tumbled out of the cart, stretching
my limbs and squinting at the blinding light above me. It was white and bright, unlike the dim Play Area lights. I smiled, the light reminding me of the sunlight I craved.
I was getting closer.

After my eyes adjusted to the light, I looked over at the door. It was metallic like the Play Area’s double doors, but it was a single door on a hinge with a glass window and a handle. I peered through the window, my eyes reuniting with the pristine, white hallway I’d seen for a microsecond before. It connected to a large foyer, also white, with a huge, beautiful crystal-like structure hanging from the ceiling, adorned with thousands of diamonds. My jaw dropped as I took it all in.

Tons of boys and girls walked briskly through the foyer, some of them in white lab coats and others in normal clothes like Julie. The girls were all pretty and plastic-looking, and the boys were all muscular like the boys who’d taken Peter.

I felt a sudden pang in my chest over Peter’s departure, wondering if there was more to it than I’d thought. This place didn’t seem like a Playcenter at all.

I paced the room I was in, looking around for things I could use to disguise myself. If I went outside in my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt, jeans, and crocs, the very clothes I’d worn since Day One, they’d send me back to the Play Area, and I’d have to wait for Mama even longer. After looking through dozens of cardboard boxes and shelves, I finally managed to find a white lab coat and drape it over my ratty clothes. I was uglier and skinnier than the other boys out there, but this would have to suffice— after all, all I needed to do was get to the exit without being noticed.

I smoothed down my matted hair and swung open the door, blinded again by the hallway’s stark-whiteness. Though seemingly impossible, the lights in the halls and the foyer were ten times brighter than those of the room I’d just been in. I took a quick look around, trying to get a sense of where I was. Where was the Play Area? Where was the entrance to this place, where my Mama was supposed to come to pick me up?

I took small steps towards the foyer, brushing past a girl in a coat just like mine. She walked past me in a rush, not even looking at my face, holding something on her ear while she talked to herself. She reminded me of Stanley.

When I finally entered the foyer, dozens more people brushed past me, some rolling carts and others talking to themselves. The circular room was enormous, its diameter easily spanning the length of a football field. I stopped walking when I reached its center and stood there, entranced by everything that was going on. Sets of double-doors were lined across its walls—half were metal, and half were as blindingly white as everything else.

My stomach dropped.

Those were Play Area doors.

I twirled around slowly, barely noticing that boys and girls around me were starting to give me strange looks. There were dozens. Hundreds. A billion trillion. Metal doors just like the ones in my Play Area lined the halls evenly, alternating with white ones, and girls with carts draped with black cloth glided in and out of them. How many play areas were there?

I felt sick. Sick at the thought of so many boys and girls waiting for their Mamas, way more than fifty. Sick at the sheer confusion I felt as my twirling grew into pacing and shallow breathing, sick at the panic I felt as I tried to find a door that wasn’t metal or white—an exit, a way out of this place. Were the white doors exits? Why were there so many of them?

Boys and girls all around me halted, and the chatter that buzzed through the room began to die down. I felt all their eyes turn to me, which only intensified my panic. Suddenly, I knew exactly what Peter had felt when he was being chased. I began to hyperventilate, breaking into a run—I ran out of the center of the room, shrieking as my white coat unbuttoned to reveal my clothing. I saw boys to my left and right advance towards me, the same way they’d sprinted towards Peter.

I had to get out.

I didn’t understand what this place was, or why there were so many Play Areas, but I knew I had to get out. I had the sickest feeling that maybe Mama wasn’t coming for me after all. What if she had come for me, but these boys and girls refused to give me back to her? What had happened to all the other boys and girls if they’d never left with their Mamas? My ears roared, and my eyes blurred—I couldn’t process anything, and the calm strength Stanley had instilled in me was completely gone. I felt like I was in a nightmare, like there was a bubble in my chest slowly expanding, about to burst. I ran and ran and ran and ran, my legs searing in pain as I channeled all my energy and confusion and panic into escaping the boys. I had to get out. I had to get out. I had to—My thoughts were interrupted as I crashed to the floor. The boys had caught me; one had dove at my side and knocked me over like a bowling pin. I felt my shoulders crack as they stood me up and violently pinned my arms against my back, Peter-style, before marching me towards a set of white doors. I was too tired to fight, too tired to hope my Mama was coming. At that moment, I knew that I was about to go wherever they had taken Peter. My reality felt shattered. As I was forcefully thrust forward, flailing like a fish in iron chains, I could feel every pair of eyes in the foyer watching every twitch of my limbs, every jerk of my neck as I tried to look back. The last thing I saw before entering the room was Julie, who was rushing to catch up to me. Her lips were trembling, her eyes were watery, and for the first time, the expression on her face seemed real. It was terror.

***

I couldn’t contain myself any longer. I flung myself through the white set of doors before they slammed shut, tears streaming down the corners of my eyes. I rarely showed emotion during the procedures all defects eventually underwent, but Benjamin’s was the exception. There was something different about him—something that gave me the feeling he didn’t belong here. Every procedure that occurred felt sad, but his felt sad and wrong. The feeling of pure, unadulterated dread that’d crept up my spine when Benjamin was tackled by the men in the foyer had nearly stopped my heart. How the hell had he escaped? I’d always known he was smart, but the fact that his cognitive abilities were advanced enough to conduct a successful escape plan made the thought of his procedure all the more sickening.

I followed the two men into the room, a squirming Benjamin between them, blabbering incoherently as he drew sharp breaths. The room’s shape was identical to that of the defects’ Play Areas, but the similarities ended there. It was much more brightly lit, its walls lined with medical equipment. In the center was a large metal board with straps, covered by a thin white cloth and a pillow in a pathetic attempt to provide defects with touches of comfort in their final moments.

The men strapped Benjamin to the board while gagging him, and his wild, haggard eyes met mine. He was about thirty-five, though he looked younger, with messy black hair and piercing blue eyes. His physique was gaunt, and he was of average height. I felt my lower lip tremble as I looked away, unable to bear his pleading expression any longer. I brushed my curls out of my eyes and shuffled towards one of the men. He was readying a contraption intended to perform medical tests on Benjamin, injecting various experimental drugs, treatments, and chemicals into his body before recording his physiological reactions.

“Please don’t do this,” I whispered, my voice hollow and weak. Nothing like the daily chirpy greetings I delivered to the defects as I flashed my most convincing smiles, feeding them their favorite foods and trying to bring happiness to their final moments. I hated the job more than anything, but with the rise of automation in nearly every industry, people either took the jobs they could find or slept on the streets.

The man gave me a hard look, his dark eyes making my
voice falter. “Why not?” He asked gruffly. “I don’t want to
waste a defect.”

I grimaced when he said the word. Benjamin was hardly a defect. He had Dissociative Identity Disorder, clinging to the belief that he was a child, along with mnemonic issues and infrequent panic attacks, but he was functioning and intelligent—certainly not deserving of isolation from society, medical experimentation, and euthanization. His aging mother had dropped him off shortly before he was assigned to my Play Area, unwilling to care for him anymore. Even she didn’t seem remorseful in the slightest. Was I in the wrong for feeling empathy for him? Defects, or individuals with substantial mental deficiencies, were blatant obstacles to the country’s Eugenics Initiative. But who gave the government the privilege to decide who lived and who died?

“Please… he’s different. I can’t see him go like this.” I
rummaged through my pant pockets, feeling Benjamin’s eyes on me, and fished out a Benjamin of my own—a crisp hundred dollar bill. Though punishments for bribery attempts were severe, I gathered enough courage to slip it into the man’s lab coat pocket, my voice croaking with the same amount of despair that Benjamin’s eyes contained.

The man’s jaw shifted, as though he was considering it. “Fine,” he said flatly, setting down a large metal syringe. “This one’s going out directly,” he called out to his colleague, who was preparing similar equipment across the room.

The colleague flashed him a puzzled expression, but
decided not to question the command—he was likely a
trainee eager to impress his superior. He sported a young face
and trendy clothing, in contrast to the first man’s old and weathered features. “Sir.”

I looked back at Benjamin, whose eyes were tightly shut.
I knew him well enough to know he was calming himself down, willing his panic to go away. A mixture of sadness and relief flooded over me. He wouldn’t meet the same fate as the other defects, going through hours of painful torture—he’d simply
drift into a peaceful sleep, life painlessly ebbing out of him until he silently passed.

I gave Benjamin one final smile. It was smaller and subtler
than the flashy, ostentatious smiles I used to hide my remorse.
It was a bittersweet smile, a mixture of happiness and melancholy. His eyes were expressionless, which I took as a good sign. He’d finally calmed down. Feeling content, I whirled around and walked out the doorway, my heels clacking. I would never forget Benjamin.

***

“Whew, she’s gone,” Monty said with a chuckle. His assistant Wolfgang flashed him a coy look, making his way back to the medical equipment to finish setting it up.

“I don’t understand why people actually think we go through with their requests,” Wolfgang said, amusement dotting his words. “How much was it?”

“One hundred!” Monty exclaimed. “She must love this one.” He readied his syringe once more, getting it at its perfect angle before plunging it into the defect’s neck. It was a sensory-enhancement serum, designed to heighten every sensation the defect felt during its medical testing in order to obtain precise results.

The machines whirred as they started up, their buttons and lights coming to life. Wolfgang flashed Monty a grin.

“Cleansing society, one defect at a time,” he said jovially, raising a tube connected to the machine as if he were making a toast. “Making advancements in medicine, too.” Monty laughed heartily, raising his tube in a similar manner. It felt as though they were doing God’s work.

On the count of three, they plunged their tubes into Bejamin’s sides, attaching a few probes to his neural hotspots before leaning back in relaxation. The first stage of testing had been initiated.

Playtime had just begun.

A Place Called De Jango - jay.m.chross

Coffee Shops spit out some of that slow hubba bubba,

comin’ down the rafters quick as lightnin’

from the jazz band playin’ up the stage

like somethin’ from the 60’s when Grandpa talked about Temptations.

Spinster Sir behind the counter got his gold stashed

in tune with the music, busy pourin’

aromatic drinks to the kid who won’t never leave,

just mindin’ nothing but the midnight drone buzzin’ through young blood.

I says, ha, and sip my steamin’ cup, takin’ time to revel in the circuit

corners where the extension cord blows out white smoke

and whistlin’ catepillars, causin’ all sorts ah slam and holler –

Well, ain’t that cool? We’re keepin’ it real, if real’s a keepin’ thing.

Sista Chicka from Laksna Lane jack up so fast she give NASCAR a scare,

run out with her books stumblin’ ‘round like tumbleweeds underfoot,

but, I got the lucky catch – Huxley’s Brave New World – so I

sit back neat ’n’ good to thicken out the pages:

Coffee Shops sure are great for thinkin’. The sun goes down if you listen.

Restless - Lydia Grace Herron

Restless, ever changing, unhesitant in any motion

Bringing a commotion of beauty against sand

Pulling its strings, causing all the rocks to sing

And reveal their soft cores

Consistent battering, yet soft as silk

Layering on, layering off.

Pull me closer is its whisper.

Soon it will roar.

Though we deafen it with light and deaden it with dams

It will ever be reaching, breaching, seeking

do you understand?

Breathtaking - Adrianna McGeehan

The following poem was inspired by details in Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones, depicting the attempted genocide of Haitian people by the Dominican Republic dictator Trujillo during The Parsley Massacre of 1937. Page number citations are included as a footnote. I hope this poem attests to the unfounded resilience, strength, and dignity of the Haitian people as they’ve withstood centuries of personal and political discrimination.

A fluttering peace calms me.

The seas of La Romana burst in sapphire and royal blue,

indifferent to our bodies falling,

toppling, scattering six by six off the cliffs.

The tide swallows fleeting ripples, fleeting lives, too,

as it gives and pulls and gives and pulls and pulls.

Sharp screams surrender; the Wind wins

(is hers the only victory?) She drowns

out the shlak klak shraking of echoing bones on boulders.

What will it feel like? Dying or flying, both?

Six by six: some leap quick with hands hung

tight together, prompted by bullets and bayonets

and babies latched to breasts.

Six by six – and I, one, blank yet balanced at the edge

of La Romana, the edge of life and love and fluttering peace.

Even our blood is strong.

It bubbles through the turquoise glass, a bright maroon

casting our worth across the giving, pulling tide.

Yet the stains won’t stay; they’ll wash out like sins on Christ’s cross

and tomorrow only turquoise and white will remain.

It’s a breathtaking view.

Six by six, we take our breaths and soar –

Inspired by Danticat, p. 173-175

Love Is A Midnight Thunderstorm - Derrick C. Brown

A kiss like that

is a breakthrough

the same way a gray whale

breaching right as a strobe of lightning erupts

sees herself in the water before the belly flop and thinks

Holy shit I’m huge

How long have I been this beautiful

Two nude swimmers in the distance, cheering

Help me remember when I complain that I had a leg buckling kiss once

I marvel at my losses too often and forget

we are alive for 12 seconds—

brief as the last flare zigging up

dying at the floorboards of God

hoping for lovers to reunite before the credits

No one can tell me what love is

It’s a midnight thunderstorm

and it’s as lame as a cheese knife present

It is horny pajamas,

watching someone more talented than you

vacuuming in peace

a fresh batch

of fat nasty breaking open the sea

It is seeing leg braces

lying on the beach

with no one in sight

A Love Poem - Dawson Holloway

You’re a temptress

You have been since I first met you

The first time I saw your glamor

Calling my eyes

I tried so hard to drive past

but, I will never regret

pulling over

for you

You were standing sideways on the corner

of Williams and Elizabeth Lake Road

The shine of your weathered skin as the sun blazed upon it

Caught the glance of my innocent eyes

I had seen others like you before

And I would have never guessed your sweetness

Your cloying richness

Would be anything against theirs

But, as you wrapped your spindly fingers around me

Nesting that delicacy

In my lap

Against my weary lips

I knew

I was wrong

You wield your temptress tongue well

As you’ve taught me to use mine

Promise me you’re not overusing it

Promise me you will only show me

Your creamy wonders

Because you are who I escape to

When the old woman’s talon fingers crawl

against the nape of my neck

I must have you to survive

I must come to terms with

What I have known for a very, very long time

I love you

Mr. C’s ice cream stand

Linen Thoughts -jay.m.chross

Seems the majority poll is death by drowning.

And by God, I couldn’t figure out why.

I remember the moment, as pristine as my Grandmother’s
white linens flapping in the sun – except less white, less smooth. My feet touched the bottom, the cold clay sucking me down still further, my first warning the murky waters meant to keep me.
But I kicked loose, sprung free like lock-and-key and opened
the door – to nowhere.

The air never came.

The sunlight – that gentle, powerful warmth everyone takes for granted – did not touch my face, but mocked me by sinking lower into the bastard horizon. When finally I was dead, it had gone completely, darkness taking the mantle above my drifting form. How fitting it had been – black water below, black hum all around, black paint above – everything black. All of it I had loved, respected, but the whole lot had let me die, all of them still the same as before even though I had changed irrevocably within them. I cursed the merry band to hell.

And the darkness – the damned darkness – chained me, slithered over my paled skin as sly as those leathered pills I’d taken once and sank its fangs right in, never once relinquishing its hold. Being barred and constricted that way had the effect of suffocating all over again. The grainy water blistered my eyes and stung my nose; the ends of broken knives choked my throat, shoving down even when there was no more room. And escape just laughed at me. So, I screamed – I tell you – I screamed louder than I’ve ever screamed in my short life. Which, obviously, let more wet bile flood right in. Even though that wasn’t possible, it apparently was. And it played on repeat. I died. On repeat. If there was a God like my Grandmother used to tell me there was, He evidently didn’t like
me very much.

Or at all.

I was consumed, dying again and again and again and forever and forever and all the et ceteras beyond. Honestly, how many times could a person die in the same way and in the same place? I wondered that some time after losing count. It was clearly a lot – too many – times.

Suffering became my number one fan.

My prison guards, the too-long tendrils of aqueous shadows, of which had embraced me the same as a traitor embraces his hanging, began to grow even heavier upon me. They sprouted tiny whips, just as black as their father, and burrowed beneath my taut flesh, flowing outward through my hardened veins, patterning me inside and out with poisonous black scars, even my eyes. The iniquity practically radiated from my pores. A demon, I supposed that’s what I looked like then.

Turned out, though, that didn’t bother me. Not one tinsy bit. Because I had the hatred of a thousand.

I stared so long and so hard and with so much anger at the sky I should’ve burned a hole right through it. I just kept thinking I’m not really going to be suspended in a black, foggy, venomous, nobody-knows-the-name-of-this-pond forever, right? The sun’s got to come up again at some point, right?

Nope.

Immortal darkness.

So, then I kept thinking even if God didn’t like me, he liked the natural cycle of the sun enough to keep it going anyways, right?

Nothing.

Not even for other people on the planet?

I thought for sure – or maybe hoped for sure – on that one, but I never got to see the sun, which got me thinking again that A) there really wasn’t a God or B) He just didn’t give two shits. “God allows suffering,” the Priest said. What righteous and all-loving being would allow that!? Yeah, if there was a God and He didn’t like me, maybe I didn’t like Him either.

Maybe that explained the whole thing, really.

And since I didn’t want to focus on the water in me and around me or me dying that same way again and since I needed something else to think about while I scorched a hole in the sky waiting for nothing, my brain drifted to a different place altogether. I wondered whether it was my due payment for all those injections I’d never said no to or all those prescriptions I’d popped when my Ma hadn’t been looking. If Dad had been hurt by any of that, oh well for him, but I felt sorry for the first time on the other side. I knew what she’d say, “Rosaline, you are selfish.” And then she’d cry even though she’d try not to. Could be why I never told her.

But I wondered if Grandma would be disappointed. That almost

seemed worse, like a stain. Would she be disappointed I’d got my foot ensnared in a stupid-ass, old, anchor cable and drown myself? The drugs were a reconciliation; the actually-winding-up-dead-part was just plain stupid. I expected her to be disappointed about that one. And she probably was. It only made sense.

I could recall all those times we’d be out on the lawn hanging
her whites to dry in the sun, to become even whiter than before
just because we did it. We would sit on the deck and just watch
the linens ripple in the breeze, the rustling reminding me of the water’s waves I loved – used to love – so much. And she would talk to me about God like He could be a dear friend, a protector, someone to count on. And I liked her talking, liked God when she talked about Him.

So, you have to understand, when they pulled me out and wrapped me in one of those white sheets and sang, “It’s a bloody miracle!” while I frothed out ink and stained the thing, I didn’t know if I believed in God or not.

But I sure as hell fucking hated water.

Yes, I know. Lord, forgive me.

A Better Man - Olivia Miller

He gripped the steering wheel as the sun began to set and glanced over at his wife in the passenger seat. She was turned away from him, but even the back of her head looked perfect. Her blond hair was gently tousled, and the delicate curve of her neck was visible. He imagined kissing her neck, causing her to let out an inviting sigh in his mind. Something in his chest tensed up as he felt a familiar wave of guilt. They had been driving all day and he decided to break the silence. He cleared his throat and brushed his fingers against the bare skin of her arm. The air blasted from the vents and made her icy to the touch.

“I’ve been thinking a lot since we left. About what you said,” he started. His wife remained gravely still, and his words hung in the air like a thick fog. “I’m really sorry. I think you’re right about everything. We can work things out. I want you to forgive me.”

He nervously rotated his wedding ring on his finger, waiting for a response. His brown eyes were alert, but apologetic. The lines on his face were more pronounced than usual, and his mouth was dry. With one hand he traced the sharp line of his jaw, skimming the stubble as he thought. A night like this was typical for the couple, one where she would be bothered by some insignificant situation and he would try to win her over. It was essentially a game for them. His eyes brightened as he thought of the most persuasive penance in his arsenal.

“Do you remember our first date?” he pondered playfully. “I was so nervous. I can’t believe you even wanted to go out with me,” he chuckled as the memory was resurrected in his head. “It feels like it was only yesterday.”

The scenes of a jubilant young couple at an early summer carnival replayed in his mind like the ghost of his favorite film. She had shown up wearing a short, white sundress and a faded denim jacket. Everywhere she went, eyes followed her. He remembered her throwing her head back laughing, her white teeth shining under the lights of the Ferris wheel. He could still taste the cotton candy from when she planted her sticky, sweet lips on his at the end of the night. From that moment on, he had been hers.

His handsome face was fixed in a smile as he described the events of the night out loud, like he had done many times before when she was upset with him. She always had a smirk waiting for him at the end of the story they both remembered so fondly. As he finished, he peeked over to the other side of the car, but his wife was still turned the other way. He could see the slight reflection of her face in the window from the faint lights of the dashboard and he shuddered as he looked back to the road, defeated. A feeling of neglect rushed over him, quickly replaced by anger. As he drove, the feelings subsided, and he focused on the task ahead.

The car finally jolted to a stop alongside the banks of a dark, muddy river. The headlights barely reached the other side of the rushing water. He calmly unbuckled his seatbelt and turned toward his wife. The sudden stop had caused her head to roll forward and rest on her chest. He gingerly placed two fingers beneath her chin and raised her face to look at him.

“I know you’re upset with me,” he whispered, his hot breath hitting her face. Her glossy eyes were fixed open in a blank stare, but his expression remained unchanged as he licked his thumb to wipe a crusted bloodstain from the corner of her mouth. “But I can be a better man.

Mirror - Benjamin Smith

I am a bottle, diagnosed,

A vacancy in glass that you address.

You’ve caught me shining, the

Child of convergence, a consequence,

A meeting.

Such knives of light are not my own

Yet I throw, I throw. Do not poke

Holes in my generosity. I court

The corner of your eyes, I entertain the

Flesh you’ve long neglected.

Do not prod the hungry.

I’ve aged into a fine chameleon,

A jeweled thing boasting a face of

Two starved caves that crave your

spoon. The fat lump of gestures, of cues.

I eat scenery. I eat the atmosphere –

Memory cares not what it swallows.

My panes, pleated and aligned,

Are inestimable. It is your ideals,

Your inflections that heat my sides.

I ooze and dry,

Angular, deliberate.

My lips, my selves curl

In this skin of situations, this

Gown you gave to me. Transparent,

Flaking like dreams.

The lie forks. Do I satisfy?

Do I lack? Pattern rots to prophecy.

You turn your back and I spring a leak –

Something has cracked.

Grunting - Justine McNulty

Worm grunting had been in the family for generations, and Wren knew that. Her father had done it, and her father’s father, and his father before him. Not only her father, but his brothers, his sisters, his aunts and uncles. That’s where they met, Wren’s mother and father, out on the moss flats. Wren’s mother had come out with her brother to the worming barrens one bright, cold afternoon in late autumn, and there he was, Wren’s father, alongside the other boys from the neighborhood with their wooden stakes and rods of matted iron, pocked and bent with endless rubbing, the monotony of the vibrations.

As Wren’s mother sat on a wet stump with the bucket and waited to be told to trudge back to the Roadside with the haul, her eyes wandered over to Wren’s father, pant legs rolled up past his knees, hands dirty and pale with cold, running the rod of iron over and over the wooden stake, repeating vibrations into the soft soil, lifting the worm’s writhing bodies from it and plunking them down in the buckets. She watched as he straightening to smooth hair slick with sweat to his forehead. When Wren’s father saw her mother back at the Roadside that afternoon as they all counted and documented their hauls, he asked her to go with him for a drink at Beau’s, the tavern next door. And now, here Wren was.

But that was years ago—fifteen to be exact—and her father had given up grunting. Well, he hadn’t exactly given it up, but his body had. His back was bent and aching, hands knotted and stiff. Wren’s mother still worked as an ER nurse down at the big county hospital along 75, and that was enough to support the three of them. Wren’s father stayed at home now, parked in his brown armchair, the glow of the television bright and blue on his broad face, a dark brown bottle of beer clutched in his thick fingers. Before Wren when to school in the mornings—just before her mother returned from work—she would kiss the top of his head and tell him goodbye. He would shift in his seat and mumble in his sleep, and she would head out the door, being careful to latch it behind her.

Selfishly, Wren was disappointed that her father had stopped grunting. She had always loved to go out into the cold mornings with him as a child, watch as the worms rose to the surface with each pull of iron across the wood, grab their wriggling pink bodies from the leaves and dirt and drop them into the metal pail.

“They think its moles,” her father told her one of the first times she went out with him, jaw clenched with the effort of the grunting. “The vibrations. They think it’s a mole tunneling toward them full force from beneath. So they dive for the surface, hoping to outrun it. And we’re here to catch them.”

At the end of the day, she and her father would make their way to the Roadside, the little wooden building where wormers logged their catch for the day. The worms were then stored in long plastic boxes filled with soil and stacked in dark, cold rooms where they waited for trucks to come and pick them up and cart them off to convenience stores and pay-lakes so fishermen could twist them around metal hooks.

Wren loved to help her father count them, sliding their wriggling bodies around on the slick countertops, pulling them with the tips of her fingers into glossy piles, adding them up. Wormers were paid by the count, and Tanner—the only man Wren ever saw working at the Roadside—would thumb out crinkled bills for them at the end of each shift. Wren’s father would usually head to Beau’s for a drink or two with fellow wormers after his workday, and he would bring Wren with him. She would sit at a barstool and stare at the wood paneled walls, listen to the men’s booming voices and deep laughter, watch the women that milled about the dark tables along the walls. The place was always dark, always warm, neon beer signs gleaming behind the counter, the heads of deer and moose and boar dotting the walls. Liquor bottles lined the mirrored backdrop to the bar counter, all bright and gleaming beneath all that neon, brown and white clear liquid behind thick, smudged bottles.

The men would smile at her, wink at her, tweak her elbows and touch her cheeks. They would clap her father on the back and say things like, “You’re in for it with this one,” and, “Bet you have to beat the boys off with a stick already!”

Wren would hold her Shirley Temple with both hands, suck on a neon-red cherry and smile at them. She would look down and at her drink and let her hair fall in front of her face, and they would croon. She kept quiet and smiled, accepting their comments, their touches. She would listen silently as her father told loud, crude stories, smell the men’s cigarette stale beer breath and listen to their mud-soaked boots pound the floor as they roared and laughed, and silently hope she would never have to leave.

But now, her father had been home in his chair for nearly a full year, and Wren hadn’t been back to the worm barrens for months. She had wormed by herself a few times, but it wasn’t the same. She didn’t quite have the rhythm down, her father had told her once when he was still going out regularly. But it would come, in time. She tried to get other girls to go out with her to worm, but none ever seemed interested. She had gotten her closest friend, Joyce, to go a few times, but Joyce usually just sat on stumps and kicked at the wet leaves while Wren ran the iron rod over her stake, struggling and sweating in mostly silence, only the low, muffled grunting between them. She would pluck up her meager crop of worms and trudge back to the Roadside with Joyce in tow. Inevitably Joyce would ask if they could to go to the comic book store near the Kroger in town or back to Wren’s to play video games, and Wren would comply.

So when Greg asked her if she wanted to go worming that week during gym class, she had jumped at the opportunity. Many of the boys in her class had also wormed with their fathers and uncles on the weekends, and now they were getting to the ages where they could do it themselves. Wormers made their own hours, set their own pace, and made their own money. It was a good way to make a few extra bucks to spend on the weekends, and local boys would often go into the woods on Friday nights to worm, hooting and laughing as the sun set and the moon rose over the tops of the trees.

The same day Greg asked, Wren begged Joyce to accompany her so that she wouldn’t have to go with the boys alone.

“Come on, why can’t we just stay at home and watch a movie?” Joyce said, frowning as Wren collected her books from her locker. She shut it with a clang.

“Joyce, you know I want to get better at this, and no one will go with me. I think it will be fun—and Michael Conrad will be there,” she said. Joyce smiled and looked at her feet. Wren nudged her as they made their way down the hall.

“Fine, okay. But when we get home, I’m making you watch The Blair Witch Project the whole way through, and you can’t back out this time.”

Finally, Friday had come, and Wren needed to get ready. She made her way home from school as she did most days by walking along 1193, clutching the straps of her backpack and keeping close to the drainage ditch as cars whizzed by. She always told her mother she took the longer route through the neighborhoods so she wouldn’t worry. She didn’t mind the cars as they blew past, sometimes honking, sometimes veering so close to her that she had to jump into the leaves in the ditch, her breath in her throat as she watched them disappear around the next bend. This seemed to be happening more and more recently, often accompanied by the whooping of faceless boys, arms jutting from open windows, open mouths and grinning teeth flashing through the trees as they careened out of sight.

Wren unlocked the door, kicked open the screen. She could hear the TV blaring.

“I’m home!” she said, turning and pounding up the carpeted stairs before her father had a chance to reply.

She dropped her bag by the to her bedroom and sat in front of her vanity. She ran a brush through her hair, clipped a black choker around her neck. She pulled overalls over a dark t-shirt and strapped on thick hiking boots. She pulled her hair into a ponytail and spritzed herself with a bottle of pink, sparkling body spray. The label had long been rubbed off, the plastic sticky and clouded with age. She wrinkled her nose at the bubblegum-sweetness of the scent and heading downstairs.

“I’m going grunting,” she said, standing back a few paces from her father’s chair. She saw him crane his neck back toward her, his silhouette black and formless in the glow.

“So late in the day? You know they’re best at dawn.”

“I know. But you said sundown is a good time, too.”

“Sure, sure. Who’s going with you?”

“Joyce. Can she spend the night?”

“’Course. Need any dinner?”

“No, we will heat something up when we come back,” she said, moving toward the door.

“You girls have fun,” he said, his voice fading as she shut the screen behind her.

Joyce was waiting for her out by the stop sign where their streets met, where the entrance to the worming flats were. She smiled.

“Don’t you smell nice,” Joyce said.

“Shut up,” Wren said.

They stopped in the Roadside so Wren could grab her buckets, her wood and iron. She wondered if the boys were already in the woods waiting for them. Greg said that Michael would be there, along with Abbott, Dean, Tony, and Gavin. Wren asked if any other girls would be joining them, and Greg said he didn’t know.

“I ran it by a few of them, and I think Tina and Megan will be coming down around 10. They said they’d bring a group.”

“Cool,” Wren had said. She had hugged her books to her chest, pressed them beneath the small of her neck. She couldn’t imagine why they’d want to come out so late, far later than the worms would be active. They’d never get a good enough haul.

It was only 4 p.m. when she and Joyce began making their way to the flats, but this late in the season the sun was already starting to set. Joyce and Wren trudged through the forest, Wren making sure to keep her head down to watch the path as it wound toward the worming flats. Joyce huffed beside her.

“Do you know if Michael has stopped talking to Trish yet?” she said.

“You know, I can’t remember if he has,” Wren said, glancing up at the sun as it began to sink down between the bare tree branches.

“I hope he has,” Joyce said. Wren glanced back at her friend’s blotchy red cheeks, the ashy blonde hair that fell over her upturned nose like cobwebs, and smiled.

“Me too,” she said.

When they reached the flats, the boys were there. There were beer cans strewn about the moss at their feet and in their hands, the top of a thirty-case ripped open by a nearby tree. They shouted and laughed. Wren couldn’t see any stakes in the ground, no iron rods. She scanned the clearing for a bucket, and Greg called out to her.

“Wren! You made it.”

She smiled, approaching with Joyce behind. Greg raised his eyebrows.

“Wow, Wren. Nice getup,” he said, eyeing her up and down. The boys snorted. She felt her face grow warm. She was suddenly very aware of how baggy her overalls were, how heavy her boots.

“Have you all caught much?” she said.

“Nah, we haven’t really started,” Abbott said. “Want a beer?”

Wren felt Joyce grow still beside her. Joyce was a sophomore like her, but one of the youngest in their class, still only fourteen. She knew Greg, Michael, and Dean were juniors and that Gavin and Abbott were seniors. Wren wondered who among them had bought the beer, if they had solicited an older sibling, or even a parent. She straightened.

“Sure,” she said.

Abbott smiled, held a can out to her. She took it, cracked the tab, and took a long, deep sip. The warm carbonation reminded Wren of the stale saltine crackers her mother always crumbled into her soup for her when she was home sick from school. She must have made a face, because the boys laughed.

“Here,” Gavin said, pressing a can into Joyce’s palm.

“Thank you,” she said in a weak voice. She fumbled with the tab, the blotches of red on her cheeks deepening. She sipped gingerly.

Wren placed her bucket beside her boots.

“The sun is going to go down soon and the worms won’t be out much longer,” she said. The boys roared, clutching their cans to their chests. She stared at Greg.

“Wren, come on. Just relax. Let’s hang for a bit, huh?” he said. The boys lounged against trees, grinned at her. She felt her stomach clench.

“Sure, okay,” she said.

She sat on the fallen tree near the edge of the clearing, and Joyce beside her. They sipped their beers, smiling as the boys talked, about what, Wren was never quite sure. The girls watched them as they laughed, white teeth gleaming in the fading light, eyes bright. The sun sank lower into the branches.

The last time Wren had been worming was about eight months ago. She had gone with her uncle—her father’s older brother—and his children, Wayne and Daphne, both of whom were only 9. She had worked for hours, sweating into her knit cap, huffing into the cold air, her nose running and eyes blurring with tears as she blinked away the cold. Her cousins watched in silence as she and their father worked, pitching in a few times when Wren’s uncle called them over to show them another technique, tried to get them interested. But they hung back, quiet and sulking. Wren knew they would never be wormers, not really.

She had gotten a substantial haul and her uncle credited her for their earnings that day.

“You’re a natural, you know that?” he’d said, smiling at her, ruddy-faced. “You really are your father’s daughter. Here,” he pressed a crinkled fold of bills into her hand. “You earned it.”

When they got to Beau’s, they climbed atop the tall stools and her uncle clapped her shoulder through the thick burlap of her overcoat, one of her father’s that she had borrowed. He handed her a small, thick glass, filled with amber liquid. When she stared back at him, he’d nodded at her, winked. “Go on.”

She raised the glass to her lips, threw it back. It took everything she had not to cough against the burning. Her uncle and the rest of the patrons cheered. She opened her eyes to see the bartender grinning back at her. Her uncle clapped her shoulder again.

“My girl,” he’d said.

The men laughed and boasted, and Wren went along with them, smiling and laughing and feeling light and thin in the darkness of the bar. They touched her arms, her back, and their eyes twinkled in the dark. They brushed close to her when they stopped by to say hello to her uncle, and she could smell the whisky on them, their cigarette-stale clothing. Her cousins huddled at a table near the back, picking at a basket of French fries.

When she walked home that night, she felt like she was walking slightly behind herself, like she couldn’t feel the air on her face or the crunching gravel beneath her boots, as if she was watching herself do these things from the confines of a warm, quiet pocket in time.

And that’s how she felt now, two beers in, watching the sun set through the naked trunks, Joyce’s nose tinged pink with the cold and the drink. Greg moved closer to Wren on the fallen tree as the others continued to swap stories. He reached out to touch her arm.

“Wanna go for a walk?” he said. Wren nodded without hesitating, stood with him. When she passed Joyce, she felt her friend’s eyes following her into the trees, the boy’s voices echoing through the flats.

“Shouldn’t we stay closer to the road?” Wren said as they made their way deeper into the woods. She scanned the trees, looking for the creek she knew was nearby. She couldn’t hear it, could only hear the last of the fall crickets and cicadas buzzing weakly in the chill. The sun had set completely now, twilight staining the sky deep oranges and blues. Greg took her hand.

“No, it’s fine. I know where we are going,” he said.

That night with her uncle, they had stayed out later than Wren ever had before. She wondered what her mother would think, if her father had realized she hadn’t come home yet. When they’d left, before she had started her walk home, before her uncle climbed back into his truck with her cousins, he kissed her. His breath was hot and his cheek rough. He touched the tips of her hair.

“Get home safe, bug,” he’d said.

As she walked home, she thought about how they were family, about how it wasn’t anything to think too hard about. When she got home and laid down in her bed, she stared up at the dark ceiling for what felt like hours, the sheet tight beneath her chin, straining to hear any bugs or animals outside her window, anything that might be moving in the darkness.

As Greg lead her deeper into the trees, Wren tried to look over her shoulder to see back where they’d come. She slowed and their arms arched apart.

“Greg, let’s go back,” she said.

“But we just started,” he said.

“Joyce and I need to get back home—I told my dad we wouldn’t be late.”

“Come on, a little farther,” he said. He moved closer to her. He took her other wrist in his hand. She could smell the hot beer on his breath.

“He’s waiting for us,” she said.

Greg pushed her back against a tree. She slipped some, her back landing hard against the rough bark. She could feel it even through her overalls. Her boots skidded along its roots.

“Greg—” she said, leaning her weight against him. He kissed her, wet this time, forceful and deep. She felt like she was made of pocked iron, straight and ridged, eyes open, staring at his long, dark lashes as he breathed stale air into her lungs.

She pulled her hands away, but he pinned them back. She started to squirm, and he leaned into her, solid as the trunk of the tree. She made a sound in her throat, and his hands moved up to her overall straps, moving across her breasts. He grunted, moving against her. She closed her eyes, quieted down so that she could only hear the cicadas and crickets, no crunching of leaves or snapping of twigs, just bugs and breath as the forest continued to darken.

As they approached the flats to rejoin the others, Wren could hardly make out their dim outlines in the trees. She saw Joyce sitting on the log where she’d left her.

“Let’s go,” Wren said, grabbing her friend’s arm. Joyce stood.

“Where are you girls going?” Greg said. “There are more people on their way—you’re going to miss everything.”

Wren didn’t look at him, didn’t look back at any of them as she tugged on Joyce’s wrist. The boys snickered and mumbled behind them. She tried to not pick any words out of their chatter, struggled not to hear their taunts. She heard them nudging Greg, clapping hands on his back, chattering nonsense at him. Wren pulled Joyce to her feet.

“See you on Monday,” Greg called to her. She stomped through the trees, Joyce in tow.

Wren didn’t look back as the guys erupted in laughter as they made their way back toward the Roadside, the clicking and hissing of beer tabs being pulled and leaves being kicked following her into the dark. She didn’t look back at her bucket and iron slab and stake, forgotten in the dark leaves, untouched. She clenched her jaw as she listened to the laughter and slapping of hands, the hooting and calling into the trees as they moved closer to the lights of the road.

“What happened? Wren?” Joyce said as they reached the edge. Wren could see Beau’s glowing just ahead.

“We just needed to go,” she said.

When they entered Beau’s, the music and laughter engulfed them like the opening of an oven door. They made their way through the thick crowd, toward the bar. Joyce hung close to Wren, glancing around at the dark bodies that shifted around them.

“What are we doing here?”

“Just hold on,” Wren said.

She hopped up onto a stool, Joyce struggling up onto one next to her. The bar tender eyed them.

“What do you girls need?” he said.

“Two shots, please,” Wren said. He laughed.

“No honey, you ain’t old enough for that.”

“Two of them.”

He watched her, studied her face. She wondered if she had any lipgloss left, if her mascara was smudged under her eyes like charcoal.

“Now just cause I know your uncle Benjy, I’ll do this for ya. But just this once,” he said. He smiled at them in the dark, eyes twinkling. He placed two thick shot glasses on the counter, filled them with amber liquid. He set the bottle back by the register.

Wren grabbed a glass, threw it back. Her head seemed to float off her body, out into the noisy darkness. The lacquered wood of the bar beneath her pale hands seemed out of place, almost unreachable. She looked at Joyce.

“Wren, please. Tell me what happened?” Joyce’s voice was almost completely lost amidst the ruckus of the bar. Her eyes were shining, cheeks bright red.

“Just drink it,” Wren said.

Joyce tipped the glass slowly into her mouth, eyes squeezed shut. She coughed and gagged, wiping her hand across her lips.

The bartender laughed and joked with a group of men along the other end of the bar. Wren grabbed the bottle from next to the register and slipped off her seat. Joyce jogged to keep up as she made her way through the crowd and into the night.

When Wren opened the screen door, she heard the TV booming. As she and Joyce moved into the living room, she heard her father’s snores along with it. They moved past him, out the sliding back door.

Wren led Joyce to the side of the house and began climbing a ladder that had been leaning against the dirty paneling for months, out onto the roof. She sat down, and Joyce joined her. She opened the bottle and took a drink. She handed it to Joyce. She heard the bottle tip back, the whiskey slosh inside. Joyce handed it back to her.

“Joyce, I’m sorry I made you go out there,” she said.

“It’s okay. I know you were excited. I’m sorry it wasn’t what you expected,” Joyce said.

Wren nodded. She took another drink. She stared at the open sky, the stars bright and scattered. She laid back, the rough shingles digging into her scalp through her hair. She strained in the dark, tried to heard into the woods, see if what Greg had said was true, if the group was growing out there in the dark, pulsing and moving and lurching on the worming flats, beer cans kicked through the mosses and tucked down between tree roots, boots scuffing along the creek bed and sweatshirts dangling from tree branches. She imagined going back the next morning to survey the carnage, and Greg rising from his spot on the fallen tree, his thick eyelashes heavy, smiling at her, through her.

Joyce lay down beside her. She touched Wren’s hand in the dark. Wren clutched Joyce’s fingers, squeezed. Joyce moved closer to her, slung an arm over her waist and leaned a cheek on her shoulder.

Wren closed her eyes and let the bottle roll away from her hand and into the gutter, heard it catch with a clunk in the layers and layers of decaying leaves. The tears stung her cold cheeks, and she tried to keep herself quiet so she could continue to listen in the darkness, listen for anything that knew she was there, all the things that she knew were out there trying to get to her.

Matter - Thor Bacon

(On “Victory” in Japan Day, 2015)

No matter how we soothe the flute

it keeps on with the story of the upturned boat,

a kingfisher perching on a rotten stump

as drizzle rattles the reeds.

No matter. We know there is a mask

hung with fangs, streaked with charred bone,

hair as ragged as the orphan’s scream: I see it

on the pundits’ faces when I turn the volume down.

“No matter survives an atom bomb except

for the smallest portion of the coccyx,

at the base of the tail bone.”

Night has fallen, no sign of the mountaineers.

No mat or rug is comfy when you’re used to a bed.

A boar turned aside; the guard looked away.

Though we couldn’t speak, Sachiko and I sat

as she taught me to fold cranes.

Under The Moonlight - Dawson Holloway

The moon shined its hollow white glow onto the endless pastures that Old Don, on his old rickety porch, had presided over since the world was black and white on the television screens. There it was in front of him – the faint starlight gleaming in its twin orb eyes – the deer that came to his yard every night, always just after sunset. Just after the last moment of the day he could fire a rifle at it. It was a monster – a muscular, burly young buck, an easy ten pointer, the prize of his life if it had only come ten minutes earlier.

“Here it is!” he shouted to Sue, to Charles, to all of the people he had loved once, all of the people whose faces were now shadows on the walls, memories in his aging head. He rocked in his seat, his crumbling weathered hands wrapped around his chair, his long, slimy gray beard flowing in the cold darkness of the autumn wind. “The sumvabitch came back!”

A piece of Old Don wished for a response, but the bulk of his mind

was glued to the buck. It returned Don’s intense stare as the old man sat, watching, rifle tucked out of reach against the house. Beneath the moonlight hanging still, the old man and the buck stood alone together, knowing that they could never harm each other, knowing they could find each other here every night, both knowing that they’d spend the rest of their lives together, here in the dusk – that they’d watch each other age and grow old. They knew that once one passed, the other would only have inches of his mortal existence left. Old Don knew this as he began to cough in the cold, his body ready all too soon to head back inside.

Faded Away - Eman Isa

While I sat in the airport waiting anxiously, she looked at me with her innocent eyes and began to speak to me, but with all the discomfiting thoughts that raced in my mind, I could not pay attention to a thing. This strong powerful woman was slowly fading away, I thought, like smoke flowing in the distance and disappearing into the air. She was helpless and fragile like a flower when it reaches its last stages. Her eyes looked faded, her face still and settled, and her voice as gentle and soft as a child’s.

Soon enough my father approached us and said, “We’re ready, let’s go.” I watched at her again, watching as a small man held onto her wheelchair and pushed her towards the departure gate. I followed, not a word escaping my mouth.

When they finally stopped and waited for me to say my goodbye, I took a moment to deeply study her, attending to every detail that composed the features of her face. I held her hands, leaned closer to her, and buried her in my arms. I made sure that I let those tears which I suppressed deep in my eyes, fall as lightly as a sprinkle of rain so that she didn’t sense my sorrow and my pain. I then wiped away my tears, looked back at her face, stressed a smile and said, “Have fun… enjoy your family.”

They pushed her wheelchair away from me again towards the gate, but this time I remained, watching, nothing much I could do. Noticing that I wasn’t walking behind her, she looked back at me with confusion and worry and said, “Let’s go, aren’t you coming with me?”

“I will soon…  I promise,” I answered back, only to realize
a few months later that this promise had become an unbearably
broken promise.

“Wake up… wake up now!” my mom shouted from the laundry room across my bedroom. She did this every morning during weekends, the only days I got to sleep in without worrying about school. “It’s already twelve in the afternoon and you are still asleep” she harangued, only it wasn’t twelve in the afternoon. It was only nine in the morning.

     

“Kill me now,” I murmured to myself as she continued to obnoxiously ruin my sleep with her unbearable shouting. I ignored all the chaotic yelling, praying she would find some chore around the house that would distract her from me, but that only made her angrier until she eventually barged in my room and went straight to my sheets and jerked them right off.

“Nooooooooo…. please nooo…. This is my only day I get to sleep,” I shouted.

“Wake up! The house needs cleaning!” she yelled back at me.

A few minutes later I was downstairs, the kitchen slippers, as my mom called them, on my feet, broom in my hands. I was sweeping the kitchen, watching my older sister make breakfast and thinking to myself, at least I don’t have to worry about feeding everyone.

My mom was the most determined, consistent, attentive person I knew. She was very precise and clear about what she wanted and how she wanted things. She had a striking personality, one that made those around her dare not say or do something deceiving because her honesty was brutal. She did not seem to show much care in how her words affected others because, to her, the truth was ok no matter how harsh.

My mom applied her bold, distinctive qualities to everything she
did, especially to the two things that mattered the most to her: cooking and cleaning. When she cooked, she had a way in the kitchen that no one else had. She was smooth, confident, and knew how to create meals that stunned anyone who had the chance to taste them. It was not easy making the food my mom was able to make. She insisted that everything she cooked with was fresh and healthy. To her, cooking was a precious art, an art that she knew had the power to heal or harm those who partook of it, so she made sure that her family only received the healing.

In addition to cooking, my mom was also very strict when it came to cleaning. Of course, cleaning was not a bad thing, but because she made cleaning mine and my sister’s responsibility, I hated it. She insisted on our keeping the house clean to the point where I would at times have nightmares of her yelling at me to clean something. Even when the house was clean, she would magically find a chore for me to do because, to my mom, there was no such thing as sitting around doing nothing.

Overall, my mom was the structure of the house; she kept the house alive and under control. Without noticing it at the time, her firm rules were what kept everything in our lives functioning smoothly, from having specific days to do the laundry to making sure that we all ate healthy, clean food.

However, we did not have the chance to appreciate how important my mom was until everything about her personality began to change. Slowly, during this change, my mother grew quieter and more to herself. She started to pay less attention to the chores and cooking. Her Saturday and Sunday routines started to fade slowly away until she completely stopped waking us up or telling us what to do. All this change surprised us. Even my friends noticed the sudden stillness that filled the house. “Why is your mom so quiet?” they would ask, but I did not have an answer. At that time, I was still enjoying the fact that my mom was not yelling and forcing me to clean anything.

However, things started to become stranger. My mom
began forgetting things like numbers, addresses, and names.
She would always tell us, “I don’t know what is wrong with me. I can’t remember anything.”  But because we couldn’t imagine my mom being helpless, the only explanation we could give her was that she was probably being paranoid and that there was nothing wrong with her.

She was not only forgetting, she was misplacing everything she touched: white cloths mixed with colored ones, underwear mixed with shirts. Even worse, she was burning everything she cooked. My mom burning her food? That was something shocking to all of us. “Something is seriously wrong,” I told my dad. “We need to take her to a doctor.” And when we did, the doctors insisted it was only depression.

Then one night, when it was time for all of us to go to bed since it was a school night, I followed my mom up the stairs and watched as she led the way into the laundry room. That’s odd, I thought. It was a Tuesday – it’s not laundry day. Suddenly, I heard a sound that still to this day rings in my ears. It was the sound of water pouring on the ground. I froze in place, my eyes widely open with disbelief. Could it be what I thought was?  No! God, please no! I begged. I slowly walked towards the laundry room and when I reached the door, my vision became blurry at the sight of my mom’s urine dripping down her legs. She looked at me laughing and said, “I thought this was the bathroom.” She continued laughing.

I heard my dad coming up the stairs with my little brother. Speechless, I walked up to him and right away he asked me what was wrong and why I looked so pale. “Why aren’t you talking? Say something, answer me!”

I could sense his fear beginning to escalate. “Umm… my mom… she… she…” My voice was shaking, I couldn’t find the words to describe what I had seen, but mostly I didn’t want to use those words. All I managed to mumble was, “She did something in the laundry room.”

Before my father could approach my mother, we heard my sister gasp deeply. I could tell she already started crying. My dad then sprinted to the laundry room, and when he saw the situation, he gently took my mom’s hand and walked her out, telling my sister calmly, “Clean it now.”

However, to my sister’s shock, she was unable to move. My dad quickly grew impatient and screamed, “I said clean it!… Clean it now!” and aggressively, he shoved my sister to the wall, still screaming for her to clean it. I had never seen my dad in such panic and distress, but this was the moment he realized he had lost his wife of thirty-two years and the love of his life, forever.

After hours waiting in the emergency room, the most unexpected news was delivered to us. We were shocked, horrified! The words came out of the doctor’s mouth like a poisonous sting that shot through my body, leaving me paralyzed, unable to even catch my breath. Cancer! Brain cancer! Fourth degree brain cancer!! This thing has levels and my mom had the highest level of brain cancer! No, no, no, no, this could not be real. This had to be a nightmare. I had to wake up, right away!!! All these thoughts swirled in my head, making me dizzy. Of all my years hearing and reading about cancer, I never in my life had come close to even imagining I would one day come in contact with anyone who had such a dangerous illness, let alone my own mother!

The cancer took control of her body, stealing away her ability to think and act on her own. She became unaware of what was happening around her. It was hard to believe that someone with a powerful independent personality was now in desperate need for support in every aspect of her life.  She had been the one in control of everything that took place in the house and now she was clueless about everything around her. At the same time, however, it seemed as if the cancer freed her mind of all the worries in the world and turned her into a blissful child living in her own peaceful version of the world, which was probably less burdensome than the world in which we are living.

After a whole year of the cancer’s progression, my mom had become more and more like a child. Realizing that her condition was getting worse, my dad broke the news to us that my mom had to visit her family in Yemen. He said that her family had just as much right to see her and spend time with her as we did. I did not like that news. None of us did, although not because we didn’t fundamentally agree with it. It was because our hearts cried out: how could he take our mother out of the country when we needed her the most?! No one had as much right to spend time with her as we, her children, did! But she had to go.

So there I was in the airport, waiting anxiously. My mother to my right, my older sister to my left, my father, my brother, and my future brother-in-law behind us, getting all the luggage ready.  Still, during that moment everyone was invisible. I did not sense anyone around me; how could I when I did not want this to happen? My mom was leaving us. She might not get the chance to come back and we might not get the chance to visit her. The uncertainty of the situation distressed my mind and my body! It hurt worse than anything I had ever felt in my life, I felt impaired. I wished that this was one of those moments when I could just take an aspirin to subside the pain, but it wasn’t. How do you heal emotional pain, I asked myself?  What can you do to make it heal? Eventually it was time for her to go.

On July 23rd, 2013, three months after my mother left for Yemen, we received a phone call informing us that she had passed away. My mom was gone, and the last memory I had of her was the look she gave me when she turned back at me wondering why I stopped following. Repeating that moment over and over again in my head, I was aching inside-out, feeling as if my heart were burning through my skin, melting in the agony of my pain. That strong powerful woman that I had once wished would stop yelling so I could get my precious sleep was gone.

Every time I laid in my bed after her death, I longed for her to
barge in my room and yell at me one more time, except this time I would not argue back. I longed for the mesmerizing scent of her fresh Friday breakfast that filled the house and excitedly woke everyone up from their sleep. I longed for the lingering smell of her perfume that rushed down the stairs after her when she was done with her long day and ready to rest. Sadly, that is the way life functions; the things that seem obnoxious or meaningless in one moment become the most beloved in the next. My mom was gone, yet her image was carved in every inch of that house, the kitchen, the rooms, the hallways, the backyard, and that one spot on the couch she always laid on.

Two years passed and the changes that were taking place in our home were more unbearable and challenging to accept, we no longer felt like we belonged there. The liveliness of the house faded away and nothing was the same anymore. Unfortunately, it was time to move on and accept the new stage of life the house was taking on in the presence of a step mom who slowly eradicated the connection we felt with the house. Her emergence of taking on the rule as the head of the house was the family’s breaking point.

The traditions that were deeply rooted in our home for years, were ripped away and had no place in that house anymore. Our home no longer felt like a home, but a house we visit in the holidays for respect. Nonetheless, we still held on firmly to the deep roots my mom engraved in us so that we can plant them in our own homes to be passed down to our children. And despite the changes and hardships we are still facing to this day as a result of her death, her powerful spirit will forever live inside of us and keep us going until the day we encounter her again.

Southern Trees A Retelling - Mitzi Jackson

The sky hung over us a sea of indigo    still nothing like home

It is interrupted by a congregation   of Elders         Strong and limited

Some nights they sway together in debate

Their leaves quarrel     like sashaying ladies in petticoats

The coldness in the deep blue leaves

   Their fragrance stagnated in the air

    Same thing happens with the musk of our bodies

Yet they stand rippled and massive brown

Their history etched in their bark      strong and limited

At times though they crack under our weight

Tired of bearing the burden this new phenomenon to them too

This strange and foreign fruit seeping melanin like sap

    Reddish black and bitter

                You can tell by their twisted mouths

Very seldom do we stop and rest

Once though with my face smashed to the ground

I swear I heard the embrace of their roots

                          The crackling sound like fear too

The band always gets that way when the party seems to kick in gear

Dirt, rock gravel seemingly defy gravity         Jumping from their places

We picture them red and insane with thirst     and foaming

But it is not them   just others like us

Being moved by that One light   that One promise

     That Oasis      A pale spot fixed in all that indigo

So rudely at times       encouraging at others      interrupted by

      A congregation of elders that reminds me of home

Heart Racing - Dana Heidtman

I awoke to see

My mother, my father,

Tears swelling

As they embrace me, tell me

How they love me,

How they prayed for me

During the nervous waiting,

Hours beyond expected.

Of the doctor’s scalpel,

Unseen arteries

Behind my heart,

Collateral vessels

From my body’s years of fighting.

Of the bleeding—

Two-thirds of my blood,

Gone in mere seconds.

Brought back

By a stranger’s blood

Pumping through me.

Sustaining me.

Blurred behind their red, smiling faces

A banner, hundreds of cards, greetings, wishes,

Plastered the wall.

Beside my bed,

Flowers and a purple teddy bear.

A pink lamb—a bandaid across its heart,

A blue dog, and three crocheted blankets

Nestled around me.

Pieces of memory,

Like snapshots,

Filled my mind:

I recalled

The visit to the cardiologist,

A quiet murmur shouting death—

The coarctation of my aorta.

Thirteen years old and three months to live.

I recalled

Green walls

White tiles in a border

Around the ceiling.

Faces masked in pale blue

Peered down at me,

And I felt my body

Lifted onto a table,

Cold steel beneath a thin sheet.

As I counted backward

Aloud—10, 9, 8…

The images blurred,

Thrust me into a blackened tunnel.

I recalled

The pained cries of infants

Surrounding me in fitful sleep.

Images of Dalmatians, a girl dancing in streams of gold,

Talking toys, and a red-haired mermaid in the sea

Flashed across a static-laden screen.

The sound of familiar voices,

Loving voices,

Worried voices

Somewhere beyond.

Now, I look up at my parents’ faces,

Still full of love.

All that remains,

Only memories

And scars.

MT - Ron Riekki

Baraga County at one time had the worst employment rate not in Michigan but in the entire U.S. I was an EMT, a part-timer, lucky—I guess—to even have that job. The unemployment office told me that they were always hiring security and EMTs if you were willing to commute to Marquette or Escanaba and start off as a part-timer. The best was to apply right before the holidays and tell your boss you’d work Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. At least that worked for me. EMT seemed the route to go, as I’d had enough of security after a drunk punched me in the jaw with a smashed beer can that caught me just wrong and created a scar that people still ask me about. I hate the memory, so I usually lie and say I was jumping up and down on my bed as a kid and fell, landing chin first. They always believe that story.

The problem is that I couldn’t find full-time work. It was never-ending part-time, which meant no health benefits. As an EMT, I’d be exposed to every disease you can imagine, but if I caught that disease I’d have no money or insurance to get treated at a hospital. Welcome to America.

Most of the calls were for dialysis. Although, in the winter, I found myself doing a lot of car wrecks as well, a few of which left me with night terrors where I’d jolt upright in the center of the night. I had one ex-girlfriend break up with me, saying, “I can’t sleep next to you without being afraid. It’s like being in bed with a possessed ghost.”  I never told her what I saw; otherwise she would have left me even sooner. We had one MVA (a multiple-vehicle accident) that happened in the fog of Dollarville. (My ambulance company covered just about the entire U.P. at times.) There were four cars pointing in every direction: north, east, west, and to hell. I was treating a woman whose airway wouldn’t stay open. She had a gag reflex for both the OPA and the NPA so I was trying to keep her in a head-tilt chin-lift position when out of the mist came a man walking with no feet. He was swaying back and forth on his tib-fibs, his arms raised so he resembled a giant X, yelling, “Madison!  Mad-i-son!  Mad-i-son!”  The problem, I suppose, of why it kept recurring as a nightmare is that he was shouting my mother’s name. Of course, it was really his wife he was searching for, but the horror of the image and the sound would not leave. I went to the company counselor, but I felt like she was searching through the haze of my memory to find if I was unsuitable for work. I told her I didn’t need counseling and should never have come and that night I almost bit my tongue off in my sleep. I started brushing my teeth so forcefully that I developed canker sores on my gums.

Summer arrived and, with that, the absence of ice, which meant
I would primarily be doing the much less stressful but much
more monotonous dialysis transport again. I needed the break. There is a sheer repetition to dialysis. You see the same patients over and over. The boss calls them frequent flyers, but I find the nickname to be vulgar, inaccurate. There is no flying involved. Ambulances have none of the majesty of flight. They are earthly and doomed. Also “frequent” is an exaggeration. Being part-time, I would see them maybe once every three months, basically once per season. For a patient like Al, a kid with type-one diabetes who had no arms or legs, I’d see him in the cool summer, Halloween fall, exhaustive U.P. winter, and the spring that was really just a continuation of snow.

Our pager went off and I was happy when I saw Al’s address on it. The problem was that dispatch gave us the wrong name, where the patient and address weren’t matching up. We didn’t call it in, instead figuring we’d figure it out when we got there. We were overstaffed for ambulances so they wouldn’t miss us. The drive to L’Anse was relaxing. If it turned out to be a false call, we’d simply have a relaxing drive back. That was one of the best things about working on an ambulance in a rural area. There were always the long drives after you’d dropped the patient off where it was just you, your partner, and US-41, a road that could take you all the way to Florida if you let it. During those return trips, I’d sleep in back on the disinfected gurney and get paid to snore.

We arrived to the same house I’d been to a dozen times before, with the view of the L’Anse Bay that made it feel like you were looking at ocean. L’Anse is French for ‘bay,’ so it’s the equivalent of being called Bay Bay. I opened the door and walked in, as was the norm. Al would be sitting on the couch with his old school Walkman and his pillow that he’d bring with him to every treatment. But when we walked inside, we found no Al.

My partner for the day, Blake, started yelling Al, but it sounded a bit like, “All!” as if he was yelling about the totality of everything. Blake was a firefighter wannabe, a kid just out of high school with
a football punter body who had, frighteningly, just gotten his driver’s license.

“Try the name on the pager,” I said.

Instead Blake started knocking on walls and shelves and cabinets, yelling, “Howdy,” which made me cringe. Ninety percent of partners are annoying when they speak.

Blake wandered the house while I looked out the back window. Fractal tree branches led my eyes up to their peaks and then down to their pointing at the grass where I saw someone lying face down. I assumed he was sun tanning, except he had all of his clothing on. I figured he must be asleep. My instinct was to knock on the glass, but I stopped myself. For some reason, I had the feeling it might shatter. A partner had told me to touch as little as possible in patients’ homes. Anything broken, to a patient, might become a precious heirloom worth thousands with a good bad lawyer. According to policy, we were to touch as little as possible in
patient homes, including the patients if they didn’t want to be touched. A lot of EMTs forget, but touching a patient without their consent is battery. We’re supposed to ask permission before even doing something as basic as taking a blood pressure or a temperature. Of course, we all forget to do it, but that’s the
standard operating procedures for our company, at least in the handout you get at orientation.

Blake came back and I pointed out the window.

“Who’s that?”

I shrugged.

A medic told me that good EMTs aren’t talkative. He said it to me more than once. The medic was a lifer for the company who had dropped a patient once, which is the number one thing you can do to get fired, but he’d been there for twenty-two years with no signs of retiring. At this point, he could kill a patient and they’d keep him on board. I wondered if that medic had given the same advice to Blake, because he was pretty much a mute himself. It’s probably true though. When you understand medicine you basically just do what you need to do. Any television writer writing lines of dialogue like, “Get me an Epinephrine Auto-Injector to treat this patient’s anaphylaxis!” on one of those stupid hospital TV shows doesn’t know that nurses will have an EpiPen in your hand before you can ask for it. And if not, they’re a crappy nurse. Medicine is about anticipation. Nothing should surprise you. At least that’s what I’ve been told over and over by my old EMT instructor.

Blake knocked on the glass. I stepped back. He knocked again.

“I’m hungry,” I said.

“Hilltop just closed,” he said and walked to the back door. It was cracked open, not fully shut. Blake looked back at me as if this was significant. I didn’t think it was. We don’t lock our doors in Baraga or Marquette or Escanaba. This isn’t Detroit. Almost everyone up here is a hunter, so robbing a place is just not something people do. There are more guns than people in the U.P.

Through the window, I watched Blake go up to the person
in the grass, say something, and then look at me in the window.
I shrugged. I held up my cell. He shook his head no, then swatted at a mosquito. I looked down at my phone, realizing I had no reception. This was remote U.P., backwoods L’Anse. I’d talked with a cop who told me he felt more nervous going to calls in the U.P. than he did in Flint. At least in Flint, there was backup. Some of these back roads houses were just about impossible to find even if you could call for backup.

I saw Blake shake the body and before there was a response I ran to the ambulance and hit my knee on the gurney while diving for the bag-valve mask. I ran back and by then Blake had turned the body over. I hopped alongside.

“Pulse?”

He shook his head no. With my fingers on the man’s beard, I did a jaw-thrust in case there was a neck injury and Blake started CPR. The guy must have been sixty or seventy with a face like an artist who’d quit painting. Blake’s compressions were perfect from what I saw and it was, I guessed, his first time doing it on a person. There are things you forget from EMT school, like traction splints and pneumatic anti-shock garments, things you use rarely to never, but CPR is something every EMT makes sure they can do well and, if not, you’re basically what we call an ‘MT,’ an empty, a
nothing, a hindrance.

I remembered from EMT school that most EMTs don’t screw up the chest compressions; it’s the BVM where the mistakes are made. The problem is EMTs get excited, overexcited, and start doing too many breaths at too fast of a rate with too much air going in. This induces vomiting. Excess air goes in the stomach and it has to come back out, all over the EMT, teaching a quick and remembered lesson. With kids, it’s worse. A baby can have their lungs pop. That’s what I was told when I did CPR on my first plastic baby. You just blew up his lungs. Relax, relax, relax. After awhile you start doing CPR in your sleep. I’ve woken up to find one hand on top of the other and my fingers interlaced, as if I’d been practicing doing CPR on the nighttime air.

We did three cycles and then Blake got up and ran. I knew what he was getting—what I’d forgotten. The AED.

Alone, I worked quickly, realizing the only things I could do were checking for a pulse again and prepping the body for defibrillation. I took the pulse on the left wrist and felt nothing. It gave me time to give myself a break. I found I was breathing heavily and realized I needed to calm down. If I was nervous, the patient could get nervous. And the patient looked dead, but dead-looking patients can be alive. I’ve transported more than one person who seemed like a corpse but they were things like in hypoglycemic comas or had carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide poisoning or whatever it’s called or else they were ‘idiopathic,’ which is a fancy word that means we have no idea what’s wrong with them; it’s a cross between idiot and pathology.

I took the pulse on the other wrist to make sure there wasn’t a pulse on only one side, which might indicate v-fib or some other thing that’s bad that I forget the name of. I tried to think what it was while I looked out at the bay. The wind had picked up. It was summer and cold. It reminded me of a camp on Dead River I had gone to as a boy. It was to visit with a neighbor kid who went on to become a friend of the actor Daniel Craig. He met him in New York and became the personal assistant to 007. He told me Danny had a house hidden so deep in the woods of New York that you’d need homing beacons to find it. He told me Dan pumped his own gas, that he liked to cook Italian, that they got drunk while looking out at the Hudson River. I could almost see James Bond out on the water. There was a distant boat. I wondered if it saw us. I started to take off the man’s shirt when I saw blood on his belly. There was some on the ground, but dried blood has a color similar to dirt, so it only showed up where it was on the grass. These are the sorts of mistakes so common out in the field. In EMT school, they run you through foolish scenarios. Our school had fake rooms throughout it. You could walk into one room and it was set up just like a park. Another was a grocery store. A third was a nursing home. There used to be a fake playground, but they got rid of it and replaced it with a fake woodshop. For one of our final scenarios, we entered into the park room and we ran through all of our basic steps on an unresponsive patient who, we found, did not improve with CPR or AED. It was a hypothetical forty-year-old man (mannequin), and he was asystole with no improvements. The instructor asked what we thought had happened. We guessed things like coronary artery abnormalities and cardiac tamponade, which only made the instructor laugh. “Guy fell out of a plane,” our instructor said, “Guy’s dead.”

Blake came back.

“I think he’s a corpse,” I said.

Blake ignored me and started putting on the AED.

I pointed to the blood.

Blake put on the electric pads. You didn’t even have to think; the pads had pictures on them so that even a moron could do it. The AED even spoke, telling us every step of what we should do. Blake held out his arms and I stepped back. The AED didn’t shock the patient. AEDs, if they’re working properly, only deliver shocks to patients who need them. I know a guy who got fired for putting an AED on his chest. He wanted to see if it would work. It did, but it didn’t read an abnormal heart rhythm, so it didn’t shock him. He’s lucky. If it had shocked him, it might have thrown him into an abnormal heart rhythm, which, ironically, would have made him need an AED.

Blake started CPR again and I removed the man’s shoes and pants to reveal more blood. The pants stuck to the skin, the coagulated blood acting like cheap glue.

“He’s been here awhile, eh?”

“Breaths,” Blake said.

“Maybe a couple days. Or something. I think he’s dead.”

“Breathe for him,” Blake said, finishing his compressions. He picked up the bag-valve mask, giving me a dirty look.

“He’s dead,” I said.

I watched the lungs expand and descend.

“Lividity,” I said, “I think it’s called lividity.”  I showed him where the blood was pooling in his body. “Dead.”

Blake began CPR again, the AED repeating, “Continue care” with its robotic female cigarette voice.

“He’s dead, dude.”

“What if not?”

The robot AED voice said, “Continue care.”

Blake did compressions.

I looked over the body to see if there were any signs of
obvious death. I tried to remember what those signs were. All
I could remember other than blood pooling was decapitation.
They actually showed us a series of photos of decapitations in school and the instructor said, “You see this, move on.”  We were also told that patients could look dead and not be. Those were the ones you move to.

“You able to call on your phone?” I asked.

Blake finished compressions.

I put breaths into the body. Blake didn’t like the way I did it.
I could tell by his face. I wasn’t doing it with what we call ‘a
sense of urgency.’

Blake continued CPR again.

“He’s stabbed,” I said, “Those are stab wounds. Multiple. I count six. On his legs. And they’re not bleeding.”

Blake stopped CPR. “What do you want me to do?”

“This is a crime scene.”

Blake looked at his phone. I looked at mine. He called 911. He had no signal. I dialed 911, no signal.

The AED didn’t shock the patient.

Blake started CPR again.

“What’re you doing?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

I turned off the AED.

You can tell when someone is panicking. You breathe heavier. Hands tremble a little. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in. Something that has to do with ‘ganglia.’  I remember the instructor saying something about ganglia. If I was full-time, I’d remember more, but I was working anywhere from zero to one shift a week. I remember my teacher saying not to confuse the sympathetic nervous system with the parasympathetic nervous system. I still confuse them. I get minimum wage. They pay minimum wage to the people who come to your house to save your life. You get a dollar more an hour if you do the night shift, which would kill me. You get twenty-five cents an hour more if you do critical care, meaning the really bad patients. I don’t know who’d want to deal with really bad patients for a quarter more, but people do it. I tried to relax myself by looking at the water.

“We need to get him on the ambulance.”

“It’s a crime scene. Touch nothing. Leave the body. Let’s go. That’s my advice,” I said.

“And?”

“We go into town, call dispatch.”

“Are we even supposed to be here?”

I blew out air. It wasn’t a sigh. It was the inability to put
things into words.

The house was really a cabin. The roof was a bit triangular now that I had time to stare at it. It made me think of a teepee, but more sloppy. You couldn’t see much inside. There weren’t that many windows. It would be dark soon.

“Let’s go,” said Blake.

We stood up. Our knees were caked with dirt. Dispatch wouldn’t let us go to another call looking like that. The man’s hair blended with the grass. His mouth was open and head back.

“Should we cover him?”

“With what?”

Blake dusted his knees with no effect.

It was bad luck to have a patient die. I’d heard that before. I wondered if it was even worse to find a corpse.

“Are you sure no one was in the house?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s not go through the house.”

“I think we should cover him.”

“We shouldn’t touch or do anything. We’ll drive into
town, call dispatch.”

“I think we should call the police.”

“No, dispatch. Always call dispatch. They might have
us come back.”

“And do what?”

In February, I had quit the job but then a few months later I came back. If you totaled up all of my shifts, it was only about twenty or something like that. I’d tell people I’d worked for the company for two years, which I had if you didn’t count all of my off-weeks and the months away where I’d quit. I felt like a newbie. I went to put the AED back into its container.

“That has to be cleaned.”  Blake looked at the lake. I felt sick from the sun contact. I have a bad sense of smell, which has helped me on the job. I wondered if decaying bodies could put toxins in the air. I stepped away from the body. I looked at the water. I couldn’t believe how blue it was and how green everything was around it. It was like exaggerated colors. The AED pads hung from the cords gripped in my hand. They swung in the wind, like dying kites.

“I’m so hungry I could eat the sky,” I said, “The clouds actually look like marshmallows.”

Blake dropped to his knees and I expected him to start praying, but he started CPR again.

“What are you doing?”

He counted the compressions with little whispers. We were told to do that. If you say the numbers out loud, there’s less of a chance of losing count. Blake closed his eyes. I’ve seen EMTs do that when they’re trying hard. If you want a good blood pressure, you listen so hard that you go blind. You auscultate with nothing else in the world existing. Maybe he was praying. I thought I could see the beginning of tears. Maybe they weren’t there. I don’t know. He opened up his eyes and started doing breaths before I could tell. The chest went up and down. It was strange seeing a corpse breathe. If he was a corpse. I think he was.

I let Blake do that for a bit until he quit. Then we walked around the house to the ambulance. Neither of us talked about Al. We forgot about Al. For all we knew, Al could’ve been somewhere in the house. We didn’t know.

We drove for L’Anse, for Baraga, for reception. I watched Blake driving. The radio was off. The window was down. The engine hurt your ears a bit. Death was on our clothes. Death always creates more death. One thing ends and it causes another thing to end. If the corpse was somehow miraculously alive, we were in trouble. Big trouble. We’d lose our jobs. We’d probably never speak to each other ever again. But if the man was dead, then we’d have a lot of questions from the police. You can’t start and stop CPR like we did. You can’t forget an AED on the ambulance. We’d have to lie and make it seem like everything we did was textbook. We’d have to meet in private at a taco place and sit outside where nobody else was and go over everything we were going to say. Nothing makes you closer to another person than covering your mistakes. Maybe we’d even end up being good friends. I watched his jaw to see how tense he was. I started trying to think of a joke I could tell him to make him feel a bit better.

Bloom - Margaret Sicilia

As the daffodil’s bright yellow face

Is encompassed in unblemished white,

So is my heart protected by your love

Like an amaryllis petal waning from its home

Glides down a gently flowing brook

Does my soul float on the plumes of your devotion

And as a lilac bud removes her shell,

Becomes vulnerable to the Spring’s newness,

Do my eyes awaken anew to your beauty

They Told Me - Jared Braun

When I was younger, I would go

on adventures. All the time.

Every trip was unique in their own way,

yet all stirred the same excitement.

Each night, wrapped in a blanket burrito

I awaited my journey to the next strange land.

Countless nights spent in awe,

fascinated as I heard great tales of

bears in beds, cats in hats, and trees that gave.

Protected by the warmth of my bundled blanket cocoon

and the dim glow of my lava lamp nightlight,

I was safe.

Oh, the places we’d go.

Every rendition of

“Hungry Caterpillar,” “Goodnight Moon,” or “Rainbow Fish,”

transported me out of my bed and into a new world.

The same books still tucked in their own cozy home

of my white bookcase

I listened to these stories, amazed how

my parents would navigate these

bizarre lands like the backs of their hands.

“One day, you will show us new things

and take us great places too,”

they told me.

Capture The Moment - Breanna Perkins

Scorching heat glares upon my brow,

Wetsuit clinging to my body,

weighing my frail frame down, an anchor

keeping me from floating away.

Shivers crawl up my spine

as an array of tropical fish squirm across my toes.

What is that giant sea pancake? Gliding

beneath the waves, wings delicately

skimming the surface.

I freeze as it circles towards me.

Wide-eyed I watch as it drifts closer,

Gently brushing against my belly as it passes,

squishy, slimy yet soft.

Underwater camera in hand I dive in,

Longing to capture the majesty of this beast.

The Seller - Whitney Wellman

Every morning, at 5 a.m., Jane Dunn wakes, careful not to rouse her husband, Jim, or twin teenage daughters, Vanessa and Victoria, and starts the coffee pot. Making sure the Keurig is filled with fresh water from the purifier, she measures the specially-ordered grounds into a k-cup and waits for the water to heat. She then inserts her favorite ceramic yellow mug with a tiny chip on the rim, one Jim has asked her repeatedly to throw out, and thinks, as she always does, of her oldest friend, Jamie. She has chided Jane about her need to fulfill this process each morning, saying that machines are made with automatic settings to avoid the need to get up and make the coffee. That way you can sleep longer, Jamie says.

Jane never wants to sleep longer.

She spends enough time in bed as it is. Pushing these thoughts from her mind with careful practice, she
goes about the business of making lunches for the girls—turkey, apple, and coleslaw on wheat, the only thing
she can successfully get them to eat for lunch these days—and for Jim, who insists on having one of her homemade casseroles for lunch each week, with pie for dessert.
She could leave the task of lunch-packing for her housekeeper, Marta, each evening, but Jane feels it’s her duty to feed her family. Today she’s scooping chicken pot pie casserole from one of her prized Mario Batali baking dishes into a microwaveable container. As she scoops, packs, and prepares, she compiles tasks into a mental list in her mind: pick up Jim’s suit from the cleaner’s, half an hour at Planet Fitness, call to reschedule Vanessa’s orthodontist appointment…

Of course, there’s one more thing…

Wiping her hands on a towel, Jane sinks into a chair at her mahogany-stained oak table, warming her hands around her mug. She knows she’ll feel safe once it’s done, she’ll feel a burden lifted, but how can she go through with it?  She had spent months compiling research on statistics at the library during the day, wondering exactly how many people contemplate suicide, wondering how many people feel, as she has for so long, that sort of ending is unavoidable. What she had found had appalled her. The numbers were so much greater than she had previously realized. Instead of scaring her off, it had put her mind at ease. Plenty of people do this every day; it’s the best way to make sure no one else gets hurt.

Closing her eyes, and leaning back in her chair, Jane thinks of yesterday, of the hours spent curled in her bed and the despair that sunk over her, weighing her down, keeping her from getting up. She’d barely made it out in time to freshen up before the girls, and later, Jim, got home.

Could she really keep this up, keep going like this every day?
Jane’s shoulders slumped, as she realized she already knew the answer. No, she couldn’t keep this up, whatever “this” is. She’d been living this way her entire life, hiding, and lately she’d felt like it was all coming to a head, like she was a candle burned low and forgotten. She wasn’t sure exactly how long until what little light she had left would fizzle out, and she didn’t want her family to experience it when it happened. It wasn’t their fault, and she knew they truly didn’t understand. Worst of all, she knew—both because she had been told so many times, and because she could so clearly see herself from others’ perspectives—that she had no reason to feel this way. Darkness was not a state of being, but something her own mind had conjured. A self-procured prison from which, it seemed, she would never escape.

She had tried to talk to Jim about it many times. But in the end, she had ended up making light of it, changing the subject quickly before he realized just how deeply she was rooted in the grasp of Darkness.

The truth was Jane had experienced this Darkness her entire life. She remembered, vaguely, the first time she tried to tell her mother about it, when she was six.

“You’re just feeling a little blue,” her mom had said. “You’ll probably feel better with a good night’s sleep.”

But Jane didn’t feel better.

It took some time, with each dark spell, before Jane felt like herself again. After several failed attempts to tell her mother about it, Jane had stopped trying, probably around the time her younger brother, John, had started going to the hospital.

Not wanting to be a burden, she’d known not to keep bringing it up; it took very few instances for Jane to realize that trying to describe a Darkness—a loneliness when you’re not alone, an emptiness when you’re seemingly fulfilled—only makes people uncomfortable. And so she learned to hide it away.

On this particular morning, instead of continuing to think of the Darkness, or what she planned to do about it, she practices the only remedy she’s ever been able to use successfully. Jane takes a deep breath in through her nose, holds it, blowing it out slowly through her mouth. As she breathes, she pictures all of the things that comprise her Darkness, her unexplained feelings and overwhelming emotions, and envisions a large, sturdy box. In this box, she packs these things, carefully and intently, and closes the lid. Next, she imagines a shelf inside a closet. Storing the box on the shelf, she closes the door to the closet, leaving the Darkness until a time when she can face it again.

After rousing first Jim and then the twins, handing out lunches, seeing
the twins off to their carpool ride and receiving Jim’s standard forehead peck, Jane returns to the large Victorian home and meanders through it. She picks up some magazines and sweaters, left in the living room the night before by the girls, even though she knows Marta will be by later that day. She straightens some paperwork and unopened mail on Jim’s desk in his office, pausing as she always does to look at their wedding photo in a silver frame.

She carefully picks up the frame, tracing Jim’s face. She thinks of
all he’s done for her over the years, bringing her out of her home and her rural life and into this home, this life. Even though she’d never really wanted wealth, Jane felt there was a comfort to being surrounded by nice things, to not have to worry about money, or when bills might get paid. Jim, in so many ways, was her savior, and this house was her shelter.

She’d been just seventeen when they’d met, shy and deep in her Darkness. He hadn’t seemed to notice, and she had been so grateful. Not long after they’d started dating, she felt one of the longest reprieves from Darkness she had ever experienced.

But that was nearly twenty years ago.

She put the silver frame back on his desk. Making her way to their bedroom, Jane sat on the large, four-poster bed. As she sat, she was careful not to fully exert her weight, not wanting to wrinkle the coverlet. She thought again about what she knew she must do.

Two months ago, when researching, she had gotten tired of re-reading the same Google articles. She had exhausted the books at the library, and all the listings on the first few pages of every search engine. Deciding to delve further into the results which numbered in over several hundred thousand, she came upon a forum and began reading. She was hoping to find others who might have commented details of what they were going to do, maybe knew someone who had actually planned their End in a way that left everything neat, finalized. What she had found astonished her.

On a post dated from two years prior, there were a few dozen responses to a person asking for help from someone, anyone, on how to go about ending it. It was a young man, who didn’t want to admit his age, but Anna sensed he was young from his pleas. He seemed desperate. “Hi I’m just wondering if anyone can help me please I need this to stop if you have any ideas, I really don’t want to hurt my family but I can’t do it any more. Is there any way that it could…be an accident?”

Mostly, there were helpful comments from others about ways to make
it look like it could have been an accident. Carbon monoxide and convince a friend to remove (or plant) evidence. Untraceable drugs and pay to be planted on the side of a road. Then, about halfway through the comments, someone by the user name Anonymous627 had responded, saying, “Look, there is a way, but you have to have money and you have to be willing to abide by his rules. He works only on referrals, and once you sign his contract, you can’t go back on it. But it’s a guarantee.” The kid who had posted had immediately replied, asking for contact information. He hadn’t commented again.

Jane had sat entranced by the post until she had to leave to pick up the girls for practice. She had thought of little else for weeks. The question of who this man was, what he could do to guarantee no loose ends, and how he might be able to help her haunted her, no matter how she had tried to push it from her mind. She would be chopping onions for soup and realize she had been standing without moving for who knew how long, or loading laundry and stop midstream wondering how she might get his information. For weeks after that, she visited the forum every day at the library, reading the same thread over and over.

After a particularly dark spell one week, and missing her library trip for several days in a row, she thought she might avoid it, might have let go of the idea. It wasn’t until she had sat up one night, nursing a cold cup of tea, trying for tears that wouldn’t come for emotions she had never quite understood, that she wandered into the den, retrieved her laptop, and pulled up the Google search engine. She had never done the search from home before, and knew she was breaking one of her own rules. She vowed tomorrow she would call a technician to do a proper sweep of the computer and pay extra to keep it off the record.

She had memorized the forum name by now and pulled it up
easily. Clicking on the post, she scrolled down to the comment by the Anonymous user, and clicked on the link, following it to his profile.
She clicked on the button to send him a message, realizing she would
have to wait for him to accept it before she would receive a response, if she ever did.

Taking a deep breath, Jane typed a message quickly, giving as little information as she could, and making sure not to detail anything personal. She logged out, changed her password. And she waited.

It took two weeks for him to make contact. By then, she had nearly given up any hope that he might ever respond, resolving again that she would either deal with her despair indefinitely or be forced to face it on her own, leaving things messy and unsettled. When he did respond, he had made no small talk. Just curt, straight commands and facts. “No name. To you, he’s the seller. Number 870-330-0571. He decides where and when. He will have everything you need. If he doesn’t pick up, do not leave a voice mail. Do not call more than three times. Once you sign the contract, you can’t back out.” That was it.

Yesterday, she’d finally summoned enough courage to make the call, and when she dialed, she punched in the number quickly and pressed the phone hard to her ear before she could change her mind.

As she’d been instructed by the person who’d given her the phone number, she’d paid for the extra service to block her number, not that she figured it would matter in the end.

“Go,” came the sharp, dry voice after only two rings.

Jane was so taken aback, she almost forgot to answer. Explaining why she was calling in the briefest way she could, she was given a time and place to meet later that day. She was grateful she’d be home in time to greet the girls when they came in from the bus, though they’d long since stopped taking notice of such things.

As she sat thinking, she felt the urge to text her husband. Hi, sweetheart. How’s work? She waited what felt like a long time, nearly giving up, resigned to the loneliness she felt, when he responded. Can’t talk now. I’ll text you this afternoon. Or call. Bye.

She hoped his call would occur later this afternoon, after she had met with the Seller.

Jane had driven to the place, a part of the city to which she’d never traveled, and sat in her car a full fifteen minutes before she’d talked herself into going in.

She couldn’t believe he’d wanted to meet here. She had assumed this process would involve shady people in a shady neighborhood, but here? At a wholly nondescript second-hand store? Her contact had told her not to question the meeting place or time; the Seller simply wouldn’t negotiate. Still, Jane questioned for a moment if she had misunderstood.

Jane walked into the store carefully, making her way to the sales counter, as he’d told her to do. She knew she needed to say something to the clerk, a thirty-something man sporting thick-rimmed glasses, sitting on a wooden stool, reading a novel. Instead, she found herself standing awkwardly in front of him, trying to find the words, until he finally asked, “Do you have a meeting?”

“Yes,” she practically whispered.

Without a word, the man got down from his stool, propped his novel on the counter, and began walking toward the back of the store. Jane followed him, though she wasn’t necessarily sure she was supposed to. As they reached the back of the store, he led her through the sales area to the storage space in the back of the building, and then to a smaller area that looked like a place for sorting incoming items. Jane noticed several bins with slips of paper on them and items like books, clothes, and toys. The clerk walked to the right side of the room, pushing a clothing rack aside from the wall, revealing what appeared to be a closet. He opened the door just enough for a person to fit through and stood aside. Jane realized he must be waiting for her to go through it, and looked at him for confirmation. He raised his eyebrows, motioning for her to go into the little room. She stepped forward, hesitating a moment as she looked at the clerk, and then into the closet.

It was more than a closet, at least a little room, and it had no windows. As she stepped into the room, the clerk shut the door behind her. There was a small lamp on a table in the corner of the room, and next to it, a short man with a bald head and full, black beard stubbing out a cigarette.

“You made it,” he said in the dry voice Jane recognized from the phone. The Seller was leaning back in his chair. He gave Jane a look that met somewhere between a smile and a frown.

She wasn’t sure if it was sarcasm he intended, or if she imagined it. Either way, she decided to keep silent. Looking around, Jane noticed that the only thing the man seemed to have with him was a legal notepad and pen. She wasn’t sure why, but she had somehow expected him to bring some items with him.

“Just a guess, but I bet you’re wondering why you can’t see any of the ‘merchandise,’” he said.

Jane blushed, she hadn’t realized her gaze had been so obvious.

“Well, I had hoped…” she didn’t know how to finish.

Motioning for her to sit down, the seller explained.

“Listen, I’ve been in this business for twelve years, and this first meeting is all about me getting to understand your needs. There’s a protocol, ok? We get to know each other a bit, you explain your needs to me. We’ll go over paperwork, and—”

“Paperwork?” Jane couldn’t help but balk at this. She had wanted no trace.

The seller mustered what Jane supposed he meant as a polite smile. “It’s all standard. I do give a worry-free guarantee, but I have to protect myself in case anything should happen. Should anything be traced back to me, I have to have evidence that you hired me… but in twelve years, I’ve never had to use this paperwork. Not once. But we’ll discuss everything as we get to it.” He leaned forward, putting his hands on the table, meeting Jane’s gaze directly. “Why don’t we start with logistics? Do you have any idea what I do?”

“Well, I read that you help people…you aid in…” Jane couldn’t bring herself to say it.

“Yes, I help people find their End.” He smiled a sad smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “It’s a rough job, for sure. I’d say someone has to do it, but I’m not sure that’s true.” He paused then, looking away. Jane wasn’t sure if she should say something. He was so deep in thought, it seemed rude to interrupt. Before she could decide what to do, he brought himself back.

“Anyway, I started this business to help people like you.” Jane hesitated. Even though what he was offering was the answer she hadn’t known she was searching for, she still had a hard time thinking of it as help. She wasn’t sure how to think about it yet.

“I know what you must be thinking, ‘How can this be considered help’? Well, let’s just say I’ve experienced what happens when someone you know ends it all with no thought to how it will affect everyone around him. It’s not pretty.” His voice tapered off at the end, sounding more dry and gruff than before. Again, he composed himself, straightening in his chair before Jane could give it much thought. “So I decided to help people who wanted to leave their family a little less grief…and let’s be honest, for some, it’s about ensuring insurance will kick in. Insurance is usually a yes for accidental death, not so much when you end it yourself.”

“I have a question. How exactly do you make it look like an accident?” Jane managed.

“Now, that is confidential. Here’s the thing: I can’t ever share with you how it will happen. That is the one and only catch. I made the mistake with my very first client of trying to divulge when and where it would happen, and it ended very badly. Since then, I keep a strict rule about leaving clients in the dark, and it works every time. Unfortunately, because of this, I cannot guarantee there will be no pain, but I can guarantee there will be as little pain as possible.” He said this last part like it was a gift, something he was honored to ensure. “So, does this sound like something you’re interested in?”

Jane wasn’t sure how to respond. She knew she couldn’t respond right now. She tried to tell him so, but tripped over her words until he leaned forward again, looking her in the eye, and said quietly, “Look, you don’t have to make a decision right now. However, because of the sensitivity of my work, you have to let me know within 48 hours. You can call any time up to that point. If you decide to go through with it, we’ll draw up the paperwork and set a time and place to sign it. After that, it will be up to you to get your life in order before the end.” He stopped, and for the first time, he touched Jane’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze, the last thing she had expected from this man.

Jane left quickly, not wanting to discuss any further, and truly just wanting some time to herself before everyone got home. She entered her home, and wandered into her bedroom, sitting on her bed. She looked at the clock, two hours before the girls would get out of school, three before Jim would be finished with work. Just then, she remembered his text from earlier, telling her to text this afternoon, or that he would call. He hadn’t called, but she knew he often meant for her to call him, as he tended to forget.

She sat, phone in hand. The longer she sat, the further she sank in her Darkness. She thought about all the Seller had offered her, how it was the first time in all the time she had experienced this darkness that she had options. She thought about her girls getting home soon, and Jim, and what they might have for dinner. She wondered if loving them could be enough, even if she never did find a way to get rid of the darkness. Squaring her shoulders, she sat erect. For the first time in a long time, it was perfectly clear what she had to. She picked up the phone, sending the call before she could change her mind.

Giving Time A Reason - Mitzi Jackson

hollowness takes over

hanging onto my flesh

chills lost and forgotten             like ships

the breeze skating on top of me

whispers life force almost stone

yet my eyes see and my mind dream of …

the falling of flakes thousand not a one bearing the same

like humans

i want to open and consume like children do

but memories flash trying to kill spirits desire

and i am much too shy for my age

yet your eyes see and your mind dreams and

i get captured in your thoughts and the flakes continue to fall

and your mouth is open like children

i dance Venus out of hiding   only a shadow in color

you push light into existence

i consume giving birth to stars flowing from my thighs

your thrust knocks off a season of winter lingering far too long

and stone turns into clouds around my ankles

resting on blades of the sun beaming into darkness

pushing in light….making Owls cry

i open to you                 like you open to me

giving time more a reason

to do what he do

Hindsight - Benjamin Smith

Old Venus, neolithic,

Tucked in wads of plastic –

Lungs and loins heave in

Greeting as you go

Up in smoke.

You were my worst mother

In hindsight,

Your crooked finger beckoning me

To rest my head on hotel pillows,

My body on gurneys.

My musings of phalluses and armpits

Do me nothing as I shrink and

Reel myself back into the same

Earthen mouth, wet and hungry,

That I’ve always known would

Kill me in the end.

Thief - Taylor Boes

(Lights up in an office. A man, we’ll call him MAN, is sitting across a police officer, whom we’ll call OFFICER. The man sits in a leather chair across from the police officer’s desk.)

OFFICER

So, I know you already told me over the phone, but I have to follow standard protocol. Can you walk me through all the details again? It’s just for records’ sake.

MAN

No, I get it. Uh, well, I came home from a night out with some friends, and my window was busted open. Glass everywhere. I actually cut my foot on some of it when I came inside. Um, my TV was missing. I think that’s all they took. Oh, and they must have knocked over a picture of my dog that I had sitting on the coffee table. (Beat.) I really liked that picture. So that sucks. (Beat.) But, yeah, the biggest thing of monetary value that’s missing is my TV. And, you know, repairing the window.
(Beat.) And my foot.

OFFICER

Okay. Well, you know what, I actually get a lot of cases like this.

MAN

Really? Here? I’ve never heard of anyone else having this problem. I guess you guys keep stuff like this pretty low-key, huh?

OFFICER

Oh yeah, we get people like you in here all the time. And yes, we try to keep these situations pretty quiet. We don’t want people worrying for no reason.

MAN

(Beat.) No reason? I don’t know, I’d be pretty worried if I found out my neighbors had been robbed. And. . . I’m still kind of worried, you know? I mean, what if they come back?

OFFICER

Well, do you have any idea of who might have done it?

MAN

No. I mean, there’s no way for me to know. I wasn’t even aware it was happening. Don’t you guys have kits for this kind of stuff? Like, can you dust for fingerprints or something? Find proof?

OFFICER

We can, yes, but we like to save those kits for more legitimate cases of robbery.

MAN

What? They stole my TV. My window is broken. I’m confused, are you saying that’s not legitimate?

OFFICER

All I am saying is that there are a number of factors that could have led to the misplacement of your TV.

MAN

Misplacement?

OFFICER

To determine the legitimacy of this case, I am going to need
a few more details. Tell me, where in your home was
your television located?

MAN

Why does that matter?

OFFICER

I need to know as many details as possible so I can help you.

MAN

Um, okay. Uh. . . it was right across from my coffee table, which is in the center of my living room.

OFFICER

Is that visible from the window?

MAN

What, the TV? Yeah, I guess so. Why?

OFFICER

I am inquiring because it is possible that having your television on display through your window could have tempted the robber
to take it.

MAN

I’m sorry, what?

OFFICER

What kind of television was it?

MAN

Why – ? Okay, it wasn’t anything special. It was pretty small, like, I don’t know, 16” screen. . .

OFFICER

Really? Wow. Normally you’ve got people going for the 32” plasma flat screen, you know? You’re telling me someone took your tiny little 16” box?

MAN

Yes.

OFFICER

All right. Man, in a way, you should be flattered that someone wanted to take it.

MAN

Excuse me?

OFFICER

Okay, so, I’m just going to walk through what we know so far. We’ve got your 16” television, sitting in your living room in full view from the window. Nothing to hide. I’m going to need to know, do you have any lawn decorations?

MAN

I don’t see how that relates to the breaking, entering, and burglary that took place in my home.

OFFICER

I just need to know all the factors. Do you have any lawn decorations? Any flashing lights, flower gardens. . . I don’t know, a tire swing. . . ?

MAN

Uh, I have a tree in the front yard with a string of lights around it. I don’t know, I think it looks nice. There are a few flower pots by the front door. Why is this important?

OFFICER

I need to keep record of any elements present that might have given off the impression that you wanted visitors.

MAN

I don’t understand.

OFFICER

Look, if you have decorations up, you can’t be surprised if someone’s attention is drawn. You’ve got your lights up, your flowers all fresh and watered, and your TV is right there in the window. I’m honestly not so surprised that someone came by.

MAN

“Came by”? Really? They broke through my window and stole my TV. I hurt my foot. They broke a picture of my dog, a picture I can’t ever take again because he’s gone. I’m really upset about all of this. Where is this even going?

OFFICER

I just think that there are certain preventative measures that one can take to avoid something like this from happening. Especially if. . . actually, has this ever happened to you before?

MAN

Someone breaking into my house? Uh, no. The only people who have been in my house are the ones I’ve invited.

OFFICER

Have you invited a lot of people into your home?

MAN

I don’t know. I don’t really keep track of that. But I can assure you, no one has ever forced entry before this. I know the difference. Can we please move on?

OFFICER

Whatever you need. This meeting is all about helping you. Let’s try a different angle. Where were you that night?

MAN

What? Uh, out with friends. I told you.

OFFICER

I’m really going to need you to be more specific.

MAN

Right, fine. I was out getting drinks with a couple of
guys from work. There were. . . five of us. It was my
buddy’s birthday and we decided to grab a few beers before going home.

OFFICER

Have you ever had any of these friends over at
your house before?

MAN

Uh, yeah, my buddy whose birthday it was. John. He’s been over a few times, we’re pretty close. We just hang out and watch TV, have a few drinks, that’s it. That’s all though. Why, do you think it was him? I really don’t think he would do that.

OFFICER

Well, I’m just thinking. . . if you’ve had him over to watch TV before, then you might have led him to believe that he can come over and take the TV whenever he wants –

MAN

That doesn’t make any sense –

OFFICER

How many of your work friends know that John has been over to watch TV? Do you think it’s possible that because you have been so liberal with your leisure time with John that your other friends might have truly believed that they had a right to –

MAN

Excuse me, but where is this going? It just doesn’t seem like we’re getting any closer to a resolution.

OFFICER

These drinks, were they alcoholic?

MAN

(Beat.) Yes.

OFFICER

Okay. (Carefully.) I am going to suggest something to
you. I know you’ve been through a lot already, so I am
trying to handle this situation with as much sensitivity as I can. Do you think it is at all possible, even just 1% possible, that you were so intoxicated when you came home that you broke your window and disposed of your television without remembering it?

MAN

That is. . . absolutely, just. . . absurd.

OFFICER

Or. . . and I need you to be honest about this. . . is it
possible you broke your window and removed your
television from your home, broke your picture of your pet in the process, and regretted it so much that you called to
report the television stolen?

MAN

Why on earth would I do that?!

OFFICER

Hey, I am not here to judge you. I just understand that sometimes the things we do when we are intoxicated can be embarrassing later on. Sometimes we change our minds about what we’ve done and we try to find a way to get out of our mistakes. Trust me, I’m human too. I get it.

MAN

That is not at all what happened! You know what? I’m just going to take care of this myself.

OFFICER

Sir, I am doing my best to find the source of this problem. I am very sorry if you feel like we can’t help you.

MAN

That’s fine.  I’ll just save up for a couple of years and maybe eventually I’ll be able to cover the damages that have been done to me and my property.

OFFICER

You know, I am not trying to point fingers here, but maybe if you had just stayed home in the first place and paid attention to your belongings, this wouldn’t have happened.

MAN

That is – You know what, no, it’s fine. Thank you anyway.

OFFICER

I am sorry, sir. (Checks watch.) Whoa, it looks like we went a little over time with our discussion. I hate to do this, but I am going to have to ask you to leave. I’ve got a man coming in to report a domestic crime. It really sounds like something we can pin down.

MAN

(Dryly.) Another home robbery?

OFFICER

No, this is a bit more serious.

(Blackout. End.)

The Woman - Ashley O’Brien

The woman, majestic beast,

native all over the world.

Sometimes bares remarkable resemblance
to the species homo sapien,

But of course, this is simple mimicry,
much like the parrot.

The woman will sometimes shake her fist
or raise her voice.

Pay no attention. It is not actual anger.

The woman may cry for long hours. She may weep
for days. Do not heed. This is not true suffering.

These are mechanical biological reactions to changes
in hormones,

Automatic responses to her reproductive system
that happen every month.

Ignore it. It will go away.

Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of humanizing her.

Her feelings are not real.