The Glass

By: Charles Hess

There was an island once, somewhere in some forgotten hemisphere, which carried a curious people on its back as it waded through the endless ocean; that ocean was, to that quiet folk, an ocean of permanence, a cautious and inquisitive body, a force through which Nature was contained. Those people only knew that island and that ocean; those people only knew that world and that space around it. Then, one day, the breathing waves spat forth a device from its weightless foams: a framed and gilded mirror, no larger than the oval of a coconut. It was fortunate that the first man to find it was a sagely wanderer; it was convenient that he did not try to free the man inside. The man then retreated to the center of the island and built, with shoots and palms, a modest hut. As the years circled the sun, the people rumored the man to be some strange Shaman; they would often visit him, one at a time, to see his magical device. Look into it as deeply as you may, he would whisper; there is always something more, he would repeat. Everyone that looked into the glass saw themselves and marveled that they could now know the details of their own faces. This was enough for them to acclaim the Shaman and his wonderful instruments. It would be years before the Man, a common villager that had visited the Shaman many times before, would enter again into the light of the palmed hut. He had seen himself in the glass hundreds of times before, but he believed in the Sage’s words. He believed there was something more. So, on this particular visit, the Man looked as deeply into the glass as he could. He looked into his eyes; he saw himself looking into himself. He then exited the hut and wondered what he would see if he looked into his eyes in his eyes in his eyes. The Man then realized that the Sage was correct. There is always something more.

 

ROCKS FELL ON MY HEAD

I did not know what I was supposed to do.

 

“Excuse me … Ms. Corgan, what are we suppose to do?”

The most hateful glare I had ever seen arose from her desk. She had black tuft for brows and old, serpent eyes, pointy lips and angry looking creases in her cheekbones. Red-nailed claws wrapped around her pen like a scorpion. I felt vultures perched in the corner of the classroom, hungrily stretching their necks over my young corpse. By her veiny hands, a bright, red apple made of clay sat on her desk. It matched her nail polish. I wondered if she made that apple. And did she have gold leaf in her earrings? A shiny bronze pendant beneath her earlobes made me think about a statue in city hall, and I began to think how city hall wasn’t that

“Do you listen? I have said what to do three times.”

Her voice was not soft. It was raspy … or choppy. It was a coarse voice, but not as bristled as it was stern. Her voice stabbed me. I began to answer, choking between my chest and eyes, stuttering for an ans

“Class!” she called.

Every 2nd grader from planet Earth turned their head to look at me, the peasant, shivering in front of Ms. Corgan’s throne.

“What are we suppose to do?” she crowed.

The class answered in unison like a lifeless children’s chorus. And I could not hear them. I could not understand. I listened hard. I listened close. But I could not translate the words. I was crying. But no one could see that.

I turned back to Ms. Corgan in hope that she would repeat the directions once more. Her face had grown darker, and when I saw her spearing glare, a most hateful glare, I turned on my heel and walked to my desk saying,

“Oh. Oh yeah. Of course.” And yet,

I did not know what I was supposed to do.

I clasped my hands between my legs and hung down my head, dripping tears on the waxy-wood table. Ms. Corgan would sometimes tussle the hair of her students. If I could have this blessing, all my life tasks would become trivial. I wanted to make her proudto impress my greatest fear.

The corner of my watery eyes spied around the classroom. Angelica had construction paper. I could hear scissors clipping. I saw the butt ends of pencils and I could tell that Hayley was writing. We had put up paper screens to hide our work. Spying was never easy, but I had become good at it.

I took out some construction paper from beneath my desk and began to fold. A frog? A crane? I did not know how to fold animals. I knew how to make a paper airplane, but not a very good one.

        I began to fold after observing moving elbows. When the paper walls came down, my vultures spread their wings. The class had written nouns and verbs on slits of paper and folded them into little books. On my desk was a half-crumpled, one-winged, paper airplane. Angelica snickered and Cary, a girl with blue and orange hair, laughed out loud. I did not persist with my work.

        Ms. Corgan talked with me after class.

“This listening problem is really an issue,” she said, as I focused on the center of her nose. Could she notice that I wasn’t actually looking at either of her eyes? And could pigeons nest in her perfect, black shrub of hair? Wait, pay atten

“Are you listening?”

I had dug my own grave.

“Yes.” I told her.

“What did I say?”

I had dug it very deep.

“…I don’t listen,” I said.

Ms. Corgan reconciled for something. But I could not hear what she said. I watched her pointy lips move.

        I left my paper airplane on the desk with only one wing. Inside the folds of the plane I had written: “I am sorry. I think a rock fell on my head. And it is hard to listen.”

        The next day, Ms. Corgan tussled my hair.

She did not know what she was supposed to do.

But she did the right thing.

by Graham Schickele

A Recipe for Turning Your Life Around

by Samantha Brodsky

 

2 brave hands to peel away the stiff sheets from the week-old pajamas clinging to your flesh. The striped material—that as you fan past your nose trails the lingering smell of vodka and potato chips—is sprinkled with cookie crumbs the size of small pebbles from the night before. A wince curls your chest over as you study the imprint your body has left in the mattress, a sunken mold like a sorrowful, wingless snow angel.

1 pair of fresh clothes that somehow feels too tight, soiled, and unfamiliar.

1 shot of tequila you’ve measured free-handedly into a Cinderella sippy cup. You take it down straight. The intense bitterness compliments the numb nature you have grown so accustomed to, and you attempt to shake off the shivers shooting up your torso like snaking bolts of electricity. You welcome the warmth into your belly. It’s an old friend, but one you’ve sworn that after today will be one soon forgotten.

Do not mix.

1 mirror to confront your clouded gray eyes that remind you of the echoes of your nightmarish thoughts like polluted puddles. You must tell yourself that the reflection you see through the speckled glass will soon be a mere memory. You must tell yourself that the lurking terrorist sitting cross-legged in the corner of your mind will dissolve into nothingness, but that it will take time. Your trembling fingers weave themselves through your knotted, neglected hair, and the cold water against your face is a reminder that you can still feel. The crispness of its lather will revive your senses and make this day bearable for the most part.

1 lullaby you whisper through tense teeth. You know it all too well. Each lyric lags behind like wisps of smoke, draping the air in thick, black veils. You become a prisoner entangled in this web you yourself have spun.

1 wooden broom to sweep dust along the floor into piles of weightless bunnies. You imagine them hopping about, their padded paws sliding on the tile, their little pink noses fuzzy like the slippers she used to love. You imagine hearing her laughter—oh, what a sound—and this sparks your heart into motion again as if someone has reached through your chest, rhythmically squeezing it like a perfume pump. But then you remember, and it settles back down into its cold, dark stupor. An empty cavity.

Do not mix

1 shot(s) of tequila for the pain.

1 phone call to your ex-husband. “Today’s her birthday,” you say and extend your arm out in front of you as though gloating over a perfect manicure. You study the winding wrinkles that twist around your fingers like vines. You remember the last time you touched her bow-strapped braids. You remember stroking her smooth-as-velvet skin. “Have you drank anything today?” he asks, and when silence bolts your mouth shut, he tells you that he has to go. You try to argue, but no words escape your lips. He is good-as-dead to you, but today you need something, someone.

1 glass of water for your thirst to be happy again. Or as an attempt to erode away the knot that has latched itself so firmly onto your throat. You can’t remember a time when breathing came easy.

Do not mix.

1 trip to the kitchen table where you aimlessly stare at the white walls as if they will share their secret of how they can be so bare, stripped of all spirit, and still manage to stand tall.

1 hour to weep in front of the front door beyond which is a world you’re not quite sure you’re ready for. It’s been almost a full year: four seasons of change, four seasons you have remained unchanged. There will be people who pass you by—most people, that is—who will be blind to your misery. They will stroll around you without the slightest bit of pity toward the vacancy of your mannerisms, the lifelessness of your footsteps. But you soon step out into the sunlight and walk down the street to her old pre-school. And you sit there, on that creaky swing she used to love, watching those precious infants, chubby-cheeked and red-nosed, sauntering through the leaves with a freedom and carelessness you envy. You simply sit there and miss her. And that’s good enough for you. For now.

History of an Almost Relationship

By: Monica Chen

Their friendship develops like the tuning of an orchestra. A single violin plays and slowly, slowly more are added in until the harmonies swell and fill the room. They’re in the same high school. Same grade. Same chemistry class. Their parents are friends so they see each other at parties. They sit next to each other on the couch in one house, at the dinner table in another, on the floor at someone’s potluck, on the bed at another’s graduation. His gaze rests on her a little too long when he should be paying attention to the movie. She giggles and brushes her hair behind her ear.

Harmless, her mother calls him. Harmless, her brother calls him. When he sees her, he sees the sun, whole and bright, warm and strong. When she sees him, she sees bruises and blood. She sees force and pain and a man as old as her father who shouldn’t have but did anyways. When he tries to hold her hand, she flinches and pulls away. She apologizes and apologizes and says it’s not him. She’s just not comfortable with physical affection. He doesn’t push her. He never pushes her and yet all she can see is force.

All he wants to do is take care of her. Find out why she’s so sad. How could someone so bright, so warm be so sad? Her smile may be his favorite sight in the world, but it’s so rare. So rare. He tells her jokes when she cries. Her laughter is breathless as it escapes from her mouth. She looks up at him with her deep brown eyes and whispers thank you’s in his direction. He sits next to her when she cries. They greet the silence like an old friend and she thanks him for always being there. He tries to hug her when she cries. She squirms out of his reach and apologizes and apologizes and wishes things were different.

He tells her he loves her. He’s never felt like this before. He tells her that he would never hurt her and that she’s all he needs. He tells her that he loves her. She tells him not to. She tells him she’s too broken to be pieced back together. He can’t piece her back together. She loves him too. She loves him too, but she’s not ready. She has to figure herself out, solve her own problems. She tells him that one day she’ll tell him why she’s like this. She doesn’t. He tells her that he’ll wait for her. He doesn’t.

Sam’s Story

by Jeremy Robson

When the time came, we were drunk. We were tired and numb. We were nineteen. We were old, with nothing but a bottle between us. We let the breeze drift under our hair. Mine combed, Julian’s not. We could see the people gathering across the water. Sam’s house looked small. I couldn’t remember if the shutters were black or dark green. Looked like both from where we were. Julian nudged me with the bottle. I took it without looking and held it by the neck. I sighed and spat. The saliva struck the water in front of us and the ripples carried it back, almost to my heels. I dug them in deeper and drank.

The morning was dull. A few wisps of clouds lay scattered over the pond. Beach trees hung down to trace their leaves across the surface, like fingertips curving along a face. The air was slow. It shifted around us and lingered inside my collar. I lifted my hand from the bottle and used a finger to let my neck breathe. I gave the vodka back to Julian and closed my eyes. I couldn’t help it. In the darkness inside my skull we were moving fast. Sam was smiling next to me. Julian stretched out in the back, one arm over the headrest next to him. There was glass clinking on the floor as we rounded the corner to Sam’s.

Julian cleared his throat. I opened my eyes and looked over at him. He was thinking too. He almost said something but I put my hand out for the bottle. He pursed his lips and passed it off.

We stared together. At the water. At the shriveled leaves that dropped, floated by, and sank. We watched the sun get hotter as it slanted off something metal in the distance, making us squint. We cooled our eyes in the shallow waves and bowed our heads as a quiet wind swept over.

I could just make out Sam’s mom, coming through the back door. She moved as if walking through deep snow, stopping as an older man put his arm around her. I looked away. Julian was staring at me.

“What are you gonna say?” he asked. I reached in my pocket and tossed him a piece of paper. I kept gazing out at the water. It was strange being at the pond in the morning. Seeing it in the daylight, unshadowed. It was too clear. We were too exposed. Tiny fish swam along the shoreline. I wondered if they knew we were there. If that was significant to them.

“You know you can’t say this.” My eyes were on the fish.

“I know.” He gave me back the paper and I crumpled it again slowly. I could feel Julian watching me as my hand smudged ink into the margins and folded the blue lines over each other.

“What were you getting that night?” he asked.

“What?”

“At McDonald’s.”

“Oh.” One fish kept darting around the others. I followed him closely. “Sam got a McChicken.” Julian smirked. I looked at him, chuckling. “Always fucking got the McChicken.” We laughed like children and took a few hearty sips each. But the conversation was over. We were both back behind our eyelids. The smell of stale car freshener hiding behind the warmth of burgers and fries, mixing nicely with the undertones of empty beer bottles. It was a Tuesday. A fucking Tuesday. The day before we’d been playing pickup soccer at the high school. It was a rare summer day that got us up before noon, but we were there. Barefoot on the sunburnt grass. Some guys we grew up with were there too. We played till the sun knocked us down and our shirtless backs stuck to the hard ground. I walked back with my shirt slung over my shoulder, my flip-flops in my hand.

Julian was playing with the bottle, twisting circles into the sand. “I should’ve been driving.” He wasn’t looking at me. He clenched the bottle tighter. “I wasn’t as messed up. I was fine.” I didn’t say anything. The fish had lost interest in us. I set my gaze across the pond, memorizing the grooves in a fallen log.

“Sam always drove,” I said. He had a lei hung over the rearview mirror. We’d all gotten them from a party this girl had thrown in high school. I remember seeing it laying half hidden under the floor mat that night.

        “Give me the bottle.” It was empty now. We’d been there all morning. I still had the paper in my hand. I crumpled it smaller and stuffed it in. A single sheet of notebook paper. It didn’t come close to filling the bottle. I stood and Julian followed suit.

        “You wanna do it?” I asked.

        “You mean…” He looked at the water. I nodded. “You got it man,” he shook his head.

        “Alright. I’ll meet you over there.” He nodded and started along the shore. I watched him arc his was around the pond towards Sam’s dock.

I sat down and stared at the bottle for a while. I picked at the sticker but couldn’t get it off. I wouldn’t be buying Russel’s for a while. Maybe ever again. It’s what we drank when we were home. It’s all we drank in high school. Ever since we found a bottle of it Julian’s brother had left in their mom’s car. So it’s what we came back to when we were home for break.

The glass had grown warm from the morning and from our sweating hands. I looked out to the water, imagining the splash. The sinking. The slow descent to the leafy bottom. Finding its place amongst the waterlogged sticks and rocks that were skipped only to dive down and disappear. I put the bottle down and started digging. I clawed at the sand, feeling it collect under my nails. I got through a layer of wet sand and stopped. I placed it in with the Russel’s logo up. I did it carefully like putting a baby to sleep in a crib.

When it was covered I started towards Sam’s. I made fists in my pockets as the fish followed me on my way. I was only a couple of minutes from the friends and family all neatly littering Sam’s lawn in perfectly aligned folding chairs. I took my time, kicking sticks out of my way. I could see Julian in the second row, behind Sam’s parents and his little brother.  I was stalling. When I realized it, I sped up my pace. Julian looked confused when I sat down next to him. I smiled and put my hand on his shoulder. I didn’t know how I was supposed to look either.

Sam’s dad turned around and we spoke quietly for a moment. There were hushed voices for a few minutes until Sam’s granddad got up and started things. I listened at first but was soon back, trapped in my mind. Trapped against the warped metal of the car door. The driver’s side was crushed in, pushing Sam right next to me. He wasn’t moving and my leg hurt. I yelled for Julian. He grunted.  I tried the seatbelt. It was stuck. I nudged Sam and told him to wake up. “We have to call the police,” I said. “My leg is fucked man. Julian! Get your phone out.” I squirmed in the seat, trying to get free. I could hear Julian wrestling in the back. The windows on the left side of the car were shattered. Branches were coming through. The front of the car was buckled around an old-looking birch. The sirens came. The windshield started to flicker. The lights were too much and I closed my eyes.

I heard Sam’s granddad say my name. It was my turn to speak. I got up slowly, in what I thought was the right manner. There was nothing in my head as I shook the old man’s hand and took the podium. I remembered I was drunk and started to speak.

“Sam,” I said, “was my best friend.” My eyes landed on his dad. He was our soccer coach in elementary school. He used to say, “Good shit, kid” when I scored a goal and I thought that was cool because my dad never swore. I scanned the rows of people. I glanced at Julian and he looked away. “It’s weird. Being up here, in Sam’s backyard. I guess…everything…sinks in, at different times. Its amazing to see how strong everyone has been.”

Sam’s dog had his paws on the windowsill by the back door. I noticed his ears twitch as he looked out the window. He pointed his little brown nose at me and we stared at each other.  Over the heads and passed the eyes of Sam’s family, of Julian, of other close friends, and people who probably knew the family but not Sam. The dog kept looking at me. He seemed to know. Not what happened. Or what was going to happen. But that things were different. I stared at him till my eyes watered. Till I was crying.

I looked back down on the exhausted faces. “Sam…I don’t know what he would want me to say. But I know that we all love him.” I nodded and kept my head down as I shuffled to my seat. I could feel Julian staring at me as I sat down. I didn’t look at him.  

I sat still for the rest of the service. Perfectly still, except my toes were tapping in my shoes. When it was over I told Julian I’d meet up with him later and I darted down to the water.

I reached the sand and sprinted till I got to where we were sitting that morning. I dug as fast as I could, tossed off the cap and fished out the piece of paper. I smoothed it on my thigh and read it aloud:

 

Sam,

        I’m sorry. I’m sorry Sam. I keep replaying it in my head, trying to change it. What the fuck were we doing?  And you were smarter Sam. We need you. Julian and I don’t know what the fuck to do now. I’m sorry man. I love you. Your mom gave us your copy of Asbury Park and it’s all we’ve been listening to. Last night I went to pick up Julian and we put the CD in and ended up just sitting in the driveway all night. It’s been the best time I’ve had since you left us. Do you remember when we were six and we ate so much peanut butter we had to go to the hospital? I never minded taking care of you man. When you were shitfaced at prom and Megan was pissed at you, Julian and I snuck you out past her dad and carried you home. We never told you that. I knew you never would’ve forgiven yourself for making us do that. We didn’t care though. I got a bottle of Russel’s and Julian and I are going to drink it for you. I know you’d get a kick out of that. We love you. I know you know that.

 

November

by Kayleigh McKay

 

 

I

        Go back to sleep.  Sink back down to the place where everything passes you by.  Regress; it’s like crawling back into the womb.  Under blankets it’s a warm, safe place.  Infinitely comfortable, a different planet.  You can shut the door on your failures and they cannot claw you when you’re asleep.

II

        I hate the sound of chewing gum, and the wind and the rain are too cold.  Raindrops dash against the window pane and explode on impact.  It’s not loud enough to drown out the gum-noise, though.  It’s the squishing, I think, that gets me.

III

        What’s the reason, what’s the reason?  Why do I feel this way?

I know “why”—but the world is still gray.  Clouds are thick and rolling in, the winds are from the west, I think.  Strong winds, blowing the shells of the leaves around, skimming the tops of the puddles, clogging the storm drains.

        I should be happy, but I guess I’m not better.  The summer experiment has failed—I can’t be without the pills, whatever chemicals are in them.

IV

        I had a dream the other night that I was floating in a river.

        But I think Ophelia is overrated.

        She’s not dead, this woman, there is harp music, and the woman’s hair is the longest and most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

        She and I—because she is me—float all the way back to where the river begins.  Up inclines, up small waterfalls, underneath strands of leaves hanging down from the bank.  The water is perfectly clear.  We go all the way back to the source.

        Then the world reverses itself, and we, high up on the steep mountain rocks, flow back with it.

        Her hair is brown, and her dress is rainbow.  Downstream we go, back, back, back, to where we started.

        Freud would say I’m a lesbian, or in love with my mother, or suicidal, but he’s even more overrated than Ophelia.  I wonder what he found when he turned his lustful eyes inside his own head.

        Someone should’ve put him on my regime.  Serotonin and caffeine would fix him up—no more Oedipus Rex.

V

        I’ve never loved sweaters so much—sadness makes me cold.  I need distractions for myself.  Spend your money on things you don’t need—too much food, too many calories.  Cheerios are expensive here.

       

VI

Should I be happy?  My Grampy died little over a month ago.  He’s been ashes for a month now; my favorite month of the year—October.  I don’t cry often, but sometimes, only sometimes.

       

VII

        Going to sleep in the middle of the day—taking a nap is a denial of the rest of the world.  It’s perhaps the only measure of control there is, deciding that, for an hour, you won’t have anything to do with anything at all.

        Have another coffee before you fall asleep.

        Maybe one day you’ll have a daughter to stand over your fallen body because you were too stubborn to use a wheelchair.  Maybe she’ll be there when a nurse pulls breathing tubes out your throat.  Maybe you would have woken up if not for the hospital’s drugs.  Maybe there’s no such thing as a brain.

VIII

        Nature is slowing down—apple cores take longer to disappear on the sidewalk.  An unidentifiable cat-skunk-rabbit skulks in the corner between two walls.  It hides behind bushes and no one can pinpoint with any satisfaction what it is.  Dead leaves coat the world, and it’s too cold outside and too hot inside.

        What’s that mix of snow and rain that makes me want to stay in bed all day?  Something freezing, hard enough to sting your face, but not hard enough to bounce off after impact—it’ll stick there, like the memory of eating something too caloric, and sting you until you wipe it away.

IX

        It’s oppressive, having always to have something—don’t forget your medication.  Punished for forgetfulness, or a laziness that prevents you from walking back to your own dorm building in the middle of the night.  If you forget them, your mood will pay for it the next day.

        Something inside is lacking, a chemical imbalance that turns the entire world upside down.  A cataract of ugliness that reaches its dull, gray tentacles into everything.  A fog on the window that blurs all the things you see.  The shock wave that rippled out from the moment his head struck the table, with ricochets running throughout my life.   

Why do people ask “what’s the point”?  What arrogance!  Does there have to be a point?  Who are you that the world should explain itself?

X

        Is it abnormal, then, to hold your Grampy’s bloated, unfeeling hand?  When it feels too heavy, and the fingers are too thick—like too much meat inside a sausage casing?  Not to recognize him until the nurse peels back an eyelid?  What about buying that expensive coat you don’t need?  Or wanting that sixty-dollar fountain pen?

        Run, for God’s sake, run.

XI

        The Earth is spinning slower—but they’re playing Christmas carols at the mall.

        Thanksgiving is being absorbed by Christmas like how a black hole devours a planet, a galaxy, people’s lives, and an ancient tradition.  The harvest festival is being eaten alive by the fat, leering Santas in the displays of Rite Aid and Target.

        Christmas Eve and Black Friday are terrifying.  They turn shopping malls into war zones, full of zombified sale-seeking hordes that trample each other at the gates of Wal-Mart.

        I never leave my house those days.  I’m too sick of everyone those days.

        The fifty-thousandth cover of Jingle Bell Rock echoes soullessly inside my head.

        Once more unto the breach.

XII

Coffee floods my insides and now I feel better.  There are more colors in my room now—I see what’s left of the sunshine, the blues and purples and bizarre stains on my sheets.  Soy sauce from last year?  Salad dressing?  Semen?

       

XIII

        I’m an ungrateful little shit.  Yes, Grampy died, but he was an old man, and everything else in my world is good.  I’ve fallen in love, bought pretty things, seen good films—that’s not enough?

        Almost.

        But it can be fixed—this problem.  This fight for my job and the place I love.  It’s a tiny place high in the sky where the world is jazz music, good coffee and melting chocolate.  The fourteenth floor is a home of mine, and it has to stay.  This administrative failure—I won’t have it.

        This is a loss I can prevent.  I can try, at least.  I can be a warmonger, but I can’t be a neuroscientist who fixes smashed brains, or brings an eighty-nine year old dead man back to life.

XVI

        Perception is not a question of right or wrong.  Blindness is no sin.

        So excuse me while I go home.  Home to my nest, my burrow, my bunk-bed that looks like a pirate ship.  Excuse me while I return to the origin place, the world of dreams.  Let me crawl back to where I was born today and start again with a new set of eyes.