Roots

In her poem, “Roots”, Katherine Mallory uses poignant imagery to explore the family dynamics and personal history.

i.

uncle used to climb mountains.

he was a lion: the king who emerged

from unnatural mountains composed

only of gunpowder and the orders

of one man against another.

his skin is a map composed of ghosts

and places and ancient stories-

it is older with this knowledge,

but the strong golden of his hands

still holds remnants of the old summer’s striking sun.

ii.

grandmother was a pearl right out of the sea

when she stepped onto the land of the free.

grandmother sowed the seeds of the most beautiful

flowers. she planted them in crevices where light

was a stranger; she wove them in her hair.

i carry grandmother’s flowers, i keep the seeds in my heart.

i know she watches me by the sea where she stepped.

iii.

my father runs through smoke. through the dusk

he dodges ghosts and the cruel tongue of fire-

and leaves; a hero to the glass children and their mother.

father made castles out of autumn leaves and music out

of thunder.

father finds light in the dark: he chases the sun as

he carries me on his strong back.

i feel him as he holds his kind hands out- i

think of father’s golden heart.

he echoes grandmother. they both plant flowers

in the core of dark soil; a new beginning.

iv.

the canyon that is my skeleton,

the pang of my copper heart

preserved against the tough rock of my rib.

it is a song for them.

Katherine loves to write because it serves as both entertainment and a learning outlet for her. She currently serves as the editor of her school’s newspaper and literary magazine. Katherine’s writing focuses on her family, her favorite places, and anything else she finds interesting. Her favorite form of storytelling is poetry because she loves to experiment with all of its different styles. When she’s not writing, Katherine is either watercolor painting or reading a good book.

Two Poems By Caroline Coleman

Caroline Coleman captures a vivid sense of yearning, nostalgia, pain, and beauty in her two gorgeously crafted poems, “graduation,” and “party portraits.”

graduation

It’s summer now so the call of the trains
bounding in the distance is closer
and the loudspeaker of the neighborhood pool
drifts through my window in between dusty sun.
She comes to me, railroad irises, 9:30 air,
cigarette clouds shirking their celestial duties.
Her fingertips are wise where I am not,
but here she is, flush with hairpins and lips tangled.
Flyswatter dreams and basement couches
mark the precipice of our staged world;
stage left: she cut her window screen and rained
stage right: the subway blues, always running,
always late. They say all the world’s a stage,
but all the world’s a macabre diorama of
my childhood fantasies, home address laced
in tongues and her, hitched in outer space:
fleeing lines and a cast party queen.
I turn the light on and the fan sings spoiled,
so I keep and devour in the dark.
There’s a two-year warranty on the corpse
that keeps screaming the family dynamic
hearse. Keep me in mind at the fork in the road,
toss a coin in my sullen ear, say something
to smother these early morning fears of perpetuity.
The tracks in the woods are silent, but
you can hear her departure in the birdsong:
the wicked echo in the bones of the station,
our lonesome whistles in harmony;
you can hear it like an audition tape acting
as stitches, like the shrieks of a fallen dancer,
like the syncopated footsteps of the mailman
in his last throes of communication,
his final steps leaking from his honeyed throat
in perfect cordial dial tones.

party portraits

the honeyed rising fills the shutters in between measures
reaching us in our huddled gasping bedroom

stately shouts creep from the basement roughly
every hour or so, dancing with the kitchen timer

the thermostat grows jealous and forms hardwood volcanoes
my tears simmer on igneous cheeks and run back groundward

we play three-story merry-go-round on the railings
all sorts of vocal leaping into non-stick pans

the martyr is praying in the bathroom
later she will shotgun a beer in canonized ecstasy

but for now she asks god to pierce the holy clock hands
and shorten the pendulum so her beloved swings back faster

the nighttime zephyr uncurls all the windows
and whistles from the very heart of the matter

the house never fully sleeps nor fully swings
the door handles and sock drawers rattle into jitterbugs

while the clown in the attic composes a symphony
all in minor, locked out of the dance hall

or having misplaced the entrance for a tin of lemon squares
and the bodyguard for the soft-spoken summer spiders

there are no eyes here which see the color of rage
but just because it hibernates doesn’t mean it sleeps

still, we make merry, and I officiate in full gusts
the light of the morning too much for the feeble instrument

I call them out one by one to be wed on the porch
and in the meantime, the pancakes burn

a spell of damning truth, what can be understood and not said
and the reverse, and drive, and park, and forbearing neutral

all leading towards the endless conversation home
to swim for land or call a taxi? finish the sentence or jump the fence?

I murmur damp soliloquies into the shoulder of your sweater
unraveling the harness that keeps your name etched in mountains

and forging bronze apologies for mere identity theft
the arterial jailers fell upon their knees for forgiveness

which comes only after bottling the rest for later and much coaxing
the silver-laned queen drives her fur coat home

and sleeps upside down, toppled by worldliness
she knew every language except opening and closing

it is her birthday, which comes every other century
and with much paunch and circumference

she stands atop the rails and sees a tongue slinking
thick with turpentine and a thousand never-closing eyes

it cuts corners and divests lonely maidens of their wits
fast and painless as a hailstorm, musical as the belly of a snake

I am ears to the ground as the grass sings envy
drinking songs to the birds passed out in the bath

where does intimacy live if not here?
some country greenhouse lane, strolling 12 bar blues

you: in women’s clothing, me: a coroner
the windows shut with molasses and still frostbitten

party portraits bathed in dawn, pennies for the erratic painter
sparrow song for the sunken half-full mugs

they towed her car on her 17th birthday and now she wanders
the backstreets looking for candles to blow out

my bedroom is a pale anemic impression of the real thing
I’m a parlor dweller I guess, refusing pearls left and right

in between changing the record I hear the neighbors whispering
but my friends are floating countertop, sweeping the races

and now the record is spinning conquered heartbreak
well—it’s unreleased, this conquering

but I can march and form garden gnome ranks any old day
today is the hole in time’s second-hand pockets

the secret to spinning and keeping balance
to sit round robin and not demur, to chew and mean it

even if it requires a little manual loosening
twenty-dollar bills and terra incognita time of morning

I want to see my love taken apart so I can build for once
see how he works, see what ticks in him and why

he cancels lunch and walks too quickly and shows early
and maybe with the operating table bare I’ll see

what went wrong, and why my heart no longer beats in his jaws
the discord like a dead bee in a soda can

after they leave I hear my mother’s breathing again
from the middle-class freeway down the hall

my brow has gathered icicles overnight
to be melted with the intensity of her moderation

knowing what the headstone says doesn’t help with the dying
but the ambiguity elbow greases my strung-out reflection

the clocks are out on strike but there’s a sneaking
into my rusted liver via the closet door

there’s a suspicious lack of blood on the floor
but punchy bluntness litter the depth of every angle

every unused rich kid soapbox obstructing the exit
the backstage pass like the upstairs at a party

party’s got to end, like the failings of the decade
the shot glass is still warring with the highball

and the roads all look the same down here
mid-morning hinges on goodwill regardless of intention

I’ll remember their sleeping faces in celluloid for as long
as eyes read between the grain and find breakfast

I can see summer from the window facing the street
and spring with it, on bicycle, going out for the day

at the latest possible sunset, she’ll go home to mother
with bruises peaching her howled mouth

and make up excuses for why the sky is so green this year
and why the flowers two-step to jazz drizzles

whittle my prospects in a cradle downstream
for someone’s more loving hands with longer fingers

better for reaching heart-itches in the subcutaneous
do the seven rivers of hell really slink upstream?

and do I? I want to be better at cooking breakfast for two
and seeing the sun for each ray, infinite in an inconvenient direction

so even when I’m scrubbing ceaselessly and skipping lunch
my house holds more river water than I have to give

and was built on top of words laced the old-fashioned way
with more whole hands than fingers can count

Caroline Coleman is a student and writer in the DC area, interested primarily in poetry, theatre, and film. She has also published work in Haloscope Magazine.

Visual Art by: Cherry Guo

Chance Block

Hewson Duffy showcases the atmosphere that a senior in high school experiences through his humorous yet suspenseful piece, “Chance Block.”

Rosey first heard about the fire after club announcements ended, as all the students filed out from the auditorium toward Chance Block. Some of the freshmen were talking about it, and flowing down the hallway with the vast tide of tired high-schoolers, she caught snippets of their conversation.

“In the cafeteria… someone said… fire—”

“UHNUH,” a senior boy grunted, drowning out the freshmen’s chatter.

Rosey put her fingers in her ears. She knew all too well after three weeks that grunts were contagious: first the other senior boys would grunt back, then all at once the hallways and classrooms would burst into a many-layered chorus of grunts, each louder than the next, as the younger boys struggled to prove that they, too, were masculine enough to bellow like angry cavemen.

Rosey walked halfway across campus before she took her fingers out of her ears, sure that Mozart’s Sixth Symphony in Grunt had subsided. Ugh , she thought, remembering the freshmen’s conversation. Probably another fire drill . At least it’ll be during Chance Block.

Nobody, least of all Rosey, understood Chance Block. Held after the final class every three days, the 45-minute period was one of those weird experiments to which private schools lik the Winthrop-Hall Institute for Technical Education (or WHITE, as all their sweaters read) occasionally subjected their students. Its official definition was completely incomprehensible, brimming with hallowed education buzzphrases such as “cooperative learning” and “21st century citizenship.” But as far as Rosey could tell, Chance Block boiled down to an awkward 45 minutes that athletes often missed for games. Since no administrator had the guts to send kids home early, they needed the time to be crucial—while also inconsequential. The only problem was, nobody had yet figured out how to make the period both vitally important and wholly unimportant. Instead, every few weeks the administrators opened up an old Monopoly set, picked a new Chance card—hence the name—and imposed whatever instructions they found on the students.

This week, the administrators pulled a blank card and decided the school would test its most revolutionary idea yet: assigning each teacher to babysit a random group of students who would figure out for themselves how to make the time educational.

Rosey couldn’t remember which of the middle-aged math teachers she had been assigned to (they were all just nerdy white guys in various stages of balding), but she did know that Courtney—the talkative girl from her AP Auctioneering class—was in the same group, so when the crowd thinned out, Rosey approached her.

“Hey, do you know where we’re going for Chance Block?” she asked, tapping Courtney on her shoulder.

“What’d you say?” Courtney said, whirling around to face Rosey. “Sorry. God, I’m so tired—I was up until five a.m. doing the Auctioneering paper. That book took, like, forevvvvver to read.” A five-page paper discussing the eight pound real estate book they’d read was due that day.

“You read it all last night?” Rosey couldn’t believe it. After all, they had been assigned little sections of the book each night for two weeks.

“Yes! I mean, okay, no, but like, Sparknotes takes a while to read, too.”

“Right,” Rosey laughed nervously. “Anyway, do you know where we’re going for Chance Block?”

Courtney giggled. “Of course, silly, I love Mr. Borkus. Follow me.”

As they walked, Rosey remembered that Courtney had announced a club.

“Hey, which club did you say you were starting?” Rosey asked. Everyone started clubs at WHITE, although only two or three of them ever got past the first meeting.

“The Diversity and Inclusivity club! It’s me and a bunch of my friends.”

“Oh,” replied Rosey, grimacing. An all-white diversity club. “Are you into, like, social justice and all that?”

Courtney shrugged. “I mean, enough. Whatever. Gotta get into college somehow.”

When they reached the math room, five or six other students were already there sitting around a large table with blank looks on their faces. There was Harry, the lacrosse player whose voice was usually hoarse from grunting; Samantha, the girl who was always doing homework; and some seniors Rosey didn’t know very well. Courtney sat across the table next to Harry, immediately opening her laptop—a rose gold Macbook—to the Brandy Melville website. Rosey, on the other hand, sat in the nearest empty seat.

While they waited for Mr. Borkus, Rosey watched Courtney’s fingers run absentmindedly through her hair. Maybe I should dye my hair blonde, too , Rosey thought, and straighten it. Her eyes traveled down to Courtney’s neck, where a golden letter C hung from a rose gold chain like an expensive name tag. I could be like her , thought Rosey. She imagined herself with the other girls taking pictures like the ones she always saw on Instagram, all of them in that pose that said “I’m not showing off my ass, but like, did I mention I have an ass?”

A clatter toward the front of the room yanked Rosey from her thoughts: Mr. Borkus had arrived.

“Hey guys, welcome to Chance Block.” Mr. Borkus began in a bored voice. “About half an hour ago a fire started in the cafeteria when a burnt-out teacher tried to panini press his computer. Unfortunately, all the fire extinguishers were crushed in that one experimental art project. Now, the principal said we’re supposed to let you all decide what to do about the fire, okay? He said it’ll be, like, a collaborative, 21st century, student-driven alternative assessment.”

Rosey looked around. Some of the students were on their computers; others were fast asleep. Rosey’s eyes began to feel heavy, too. Mr. Borkus was still talking. “—and so the only rule is you can’t be doing homework.” At this, Samantha’s eyes shot up from her work.

“Sorry, but can I do homework? There’s an Honors Puppetry assignment due tomorrow.” She motioned to two worn socks with frowny faces drawn on. “And did you say fire?”

“Yes!” Mr. Borkus seemed to be realizing how little anyone cared. “Guys! There’s a real fire—not a drill. It’s already spread to this building, so we need to figure out how to extinguish it.” Some students raised their heads, looked around groggily for a moment, then put them back down.

“We could use the water fountains—” offered a quiet boarding student named Tim.

“But can we please do homework?” Courtney interjected. A couple of students nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, why can’t we, like, work on our own stuff? Someone else will put out the fire,” agreed Harry, who, with his whirling mouse and laser-like focus on his computer, was clearly engaged in an epic round of Fortnite. Mr. Borkus looked to be at a loss for words, and an awkward silence fell over the room. Rosey tried to think of something to say, but the vast apathy of her classmates was paralyzing.

No one spoke. Harry was trying to conceal clouds of vapor as he puffed on his Juul. The room started to feel hot, smoke drifting in through the cracked door—or was that just another of Harry’s clouds? Mr. Borkus began to pace frantically, muttering to himself about student-driven death. Rosey was still deciding what to say when tongues of flame came under the door, ready to engulf the classroom.

Hewson Duffy is a 16 year old writer and photographer who attends St. Anne’s Belfield School in Charlottesville, VA. His work has been published in Aerie International and Polyphony Lit. When not writing, he is probably drinking chocolate milk.

Visual arts by Anastasia James. 

Pulse

Krystal Yang in this piece explores the voice of queer Chinese-Americans and how cultural influences can shape a person.

 

i.

The boys share a single room. They sleep on the floor, stomachs splayed on bamboo mats, passing stories in muffled whispers as their mothers’ incense filters through the sliding door. They lay in clusters and pop sunflower seeds in their mouths the way their grandmothers do every night in the kitchen, sticky rice glued to their gums to fill in missing teeth. Tonight the boys debate whether they can sneak beer from the night market. Zhou thinks that there will be pretty girls from Beijing, the ones with wide set hips and straight eyebrows and fake double-eyelids carved on the front of cheap magazines that the boys hide beneath the floorboards. The boys lick the salt from their lips and under the blankets you can taste swordfish and pickled vegetables fermenting between their teeth. Yong claims an old man once beat him for stealing cigarettes from a push cart. He rolls down his pants to show everyone his purpling bruise. Wang Wen doesn’t believe him, kicks Yong in the shin and cusses him out with words that would later be washed out with his father’s fingers down his throat. Limbs push and pull against each other as the boys arm-wrestle, placing bets to see who will be the first one to sneak through the window. Bei Qing bumps into another boy, the one named Chao Cheng whose chin grows facial hair as sparse as the fuzz on rambutan fruit. Piss off, duanxiu, Chao Cheng shoves him away. He spits from the space between his two front teeth. Bei Qing rolls over, feels a foot come down on his neck, hot and thick against his throat. Duanxiu, dianxiu, the other boys chatter. Short-sleeves, short-sleeves. They pile on him, a feast of humming termites and whistling cicadas, snapping their fingernails against his back, dotting his skin with red bites. In the other room, the fathers slide their hands across their laps and the mothers get on their knees and pray, pray their sons go off to university and become doctors in America and marry delicate wives with V-shape chins and thin calves perched upon tiny feet. Behind the symphony of fluttering hands and cracking belts and rustling clothes, Bei Qing’s mother prays for her son to marry a lady, marry her until she drowns in oranges and rice wine and her stomach swells twice times—once for a boy and once for a girl.

ii.

Bei Qing. The professor never gets his name right, always pronounces it bitching. Bitching, bitching, bitching. The class laughs and the professor flushes red, blue veins popping out from her forehead. The girls sitting behind Bei Qing giggle in sharp intonations. Mei guo qi, American flag, they cackle. Today the class studies Emperor Ai of Han. All the students remember the story from high school, but the professor insists they don’t. When she opens her mouth, Bei Qing realizes she does not speak in an English he understands. He squirms in his chair and watches the boy sitting in front of him. The boy spits on his desk and uses his finger to spread the wetness across the table. When it dries, he reaches his hand under his shirt and wipes what’s left on his stomach. The girls behind him shift around, hike their skirts up a little higher and gossip in a dialect Bei Qing doesn’t recognize. The professor is engrossed in her own motions, pointing to an image on the projector. It’s a painting of the emperor and his commander. The commander’s head lays on his lap, face fixed in a calm smile. It’s the passion of the cut sleeve—rather than waking his commander, the emperor simply cuts off the sleeve of his robes, leaving the other man undisturbed. The professor uses a yardstick to outline a triangle on the painting. Renaissance beauty, she explains. This three-sided composition. Heavily inspired by Italian artists, no doubt. She shrugs her shoulders, pushes her glasses into her bulging forehead. How many of you are familiar with the story of the cut-sleeve? It’s spectacular, really. Spectacular. The boy sitting in front of Bei Qing wets his thumb and forefinger again before raising his hand, slick and shiny. He ignores the professor’s glare and asks, did the emperor also chop off his arm off? 

iii.

Bei Qing proposes to the girl on her nineteenth birthday. They fly back to Beijing but lose themselves on their way to City Hall. They stop at street vendors and old men huddled on cardboard boxes, mouths forming shapes but sounds getting caught on their tongues. It’s a hellish midnight hour and they’re whisked underground by the enticing smell of salt and smoke. A single room, surrounded by heavy limbs and heavy breath and heavy bodies swaying in the hiccups and the laughter. Everywhere bleeds music, and Bei Qing feels the bass pass through him with every stroke. His wife sits next to him at the bar, one leg draped over his, the other clinging to a stranger’s ankle. Bei Qing finds the boy thrashing against the far wall. He is dressed in a silver suit with matching pants and nothing underneath. His jacket throws blue and white across his face. His neck is pink from a single shot of baijiu, his chest as bare as the professor’s engorged forehead. Mei quo qi, mei guo qi, the words are passed under tables and between wadded bills. There’s a not-quite-throbbing in Bei Qing’s head. Thoughts protruding in sharp angles, begging for release. So he waits, runs a hand down his wife’s calf and teases her hair with his middle finger. He stares past the crowd to observe the curve of the boy’s Adam’s apple, to count the red marks on his collarbone. The boy is swarmed with bodies, bulging thighs, fabric and flesh cut from broken wine bottles. Ya nan, Bei Qing’s father would call them, whisking the young boys out of the night markets, ya nan ya nan ya nan. Bei Qing feels one slide up next to him, dressed in a sleeveless white shirt and metal cuffs, a holy uniform, the kind his mother wore when she bent in half between Buddha’s legs and prayed for her son with her mouth wide open and she prayed so hard and she prayed until her upper lip melted with sweat and her tongue tingled with a bitterness she couldn’t swallow. Bei Qing’s hand tightens on his drink. He takes a sip, curls his lips around his teeth and holds the ice cube there, numbing his chin. But the pounding in his head gets louder, more insistent, and Bei Qing knows this warmth, this slow buildup of warmth in his gut and the drumbeat heat radiating off his cheeks. He loops his fingers through his belt loops and swallows. Across the bar, the boy continues to dance, his spine bending and bowing, still searching, still seeking. A ya nan rips off his jacket and three more bear down on the dragon tattoo etched on his shoulder. China’s symbol of divinity, legs spread, mouth weaving through slick bodies, dribbling saliva as the boy waves and ripples beneath the pulsing lights. Krystal Yang is a high school senior from BASIS Independent Silicon Valley in San Jose, California. Her work, inspired by her travels and personal experiences, has been featured in Crashtest Magazine, Polyphony Lit, and Rising Star Magazine. Aside from writing fiction, she is also a lover of dance, sharks, and green tea (unsweetened).

Revitalized

Mina Kim explores the intensity and emotional turmoil that romantic relationships can bring in “Revitalized.”

 


 Thank you.
Thank you for the love.
Thank you for the fear.
Thank you for the tears.
Thank you for the rejection.
Because I learned to like being alone.


Thank you for the love.

Your cheeks are aching from all the smiling.

It is around dinner time when the baby blue color of the sky fades into shades of pink and lavender. Leo’s hands intertwine around your waist, and his head rests gently on your shoulder. The smell of his cotton perfume, which he adamantly argues is not limited to a woman’s scent, fills the space around you (and the entire apartment—it is quite strong). Staring out from the slightly dusty windows of the living room, you and Leo watch the sunset and frequently comment on some of the bizarre outfits of your neighbors outside, laughing a bit too loud when cranky Mrs. Dallows leaves the complex to walk her three Pomeranians in an electric purple jumpsuit paired with knee-high striped socks.

“Look! Mrs. Dallo—oh god—” you breathlessly manage to get out. Leo’s chuckling from behind, and you can feel the soft vibrations of his chest on your back.

“I feel like I’m in The Wizard of Oz all of a sudden!” he laughs.

Then, mindlessly, you crook your head to the side, locking your eyes with his doe ones. Bliss. It’s the only word that comes to mind when you’re with him.

Leo faces you, his eyes lingering a second too long on your lips. When he looks back to your eyes, which are still gazing at him, his cheeks wrinkle as he smiles, and he’s hugging you tighter.

“I love you,” you suddenly blurt out.

“I love you, too.”

And even though you’ve been together for three years, that’s all it takes to get your hands clammy and your heart beating erratically.


Thank you for the fear.

Your cheeks are sore from constantly gnawing on the insides of your mouth.

Sounds of light rain echo through the busy streets, and people are still out and about, socializing even during the darker hours.

You’re waiting. You’ve been waiting for an hour and twenty minutes now, and there’s still no sign of Leo.

Today is supposed to be a reunion date, where you both can catch up, after Leo’s month in Spain with his friends. Specifically, catch up on the past few months because you’re both living hectic lives: Leo with his new office career as a manager and you with your graduate school schedule and studies in English. Classes overlapped with business projects, internships with late-night shifts. But, despite the conflicts, it wasn’t like you to easily give up on a relationship, especially when you still think about Leo wherever you go. So, you desperately cling onto hope.

You wince when you accidentally bite your tongue and grab for the cup of water, which stands alongside a glass of Coke—his favorite—that stopped fizzing an hour ago. It’s pitiful. The side-stares you’re getting from the happily married couple on your right, the glances from the waiters, who are too nice to ask you to leave, and the replies you have yet to receive from your missing-in-action boyfriend.

You wonder if it’s worth calling Leo when you’ve already texted him every five minutes. But, scrolling through the previous messages in your conversation, you decide against it. He hasn’t messaged you anything longer than “no” or “sure” for over five months now.

It’s okay, you think. Leo’s probably jet-lagged and sleeping right now, you attempt to comfort yourself. But, your heart clenches funnily, and your lips begin to quiver.

The fear of losing him has haunted you for too long for you to spit out another reassurance. So, you leave the restaurant in hopes that the blackness of the night will hide your shaking shoulders.


Thank you for the tears.

Your cheeks become stained from crying.

It’s been a long day of classes, and, in between each one, you are either half-running to a building on the far end of campus or haphazardly stuffing a bagel into your mouth to satiate your grumbling stomach. It’s one of those days where Professor Helen didn’t get much sleep and screamed at you in front of the class about how your essay papers weren’t double sided. One of those days where your clumsy hands decide to spill hot coffee onto your new jeans and where you want to be with Leo, even after months of your daily calls going ignored and your date plans postponed.

Are you two still together? In your heart, yes. Even now, he has you wrapped around his finger.

The afternoon wind brushes the exposed parts of your skin, chilling your ankles and slapping against your face and neck. You are walking back to your apartment, choosing this over the bus or taxi so that the coldness of the winter will completely obliterate the thoughts in your mind.

Strolling through the city, you feel mocked by the buoyant sounds of laughter coming from the restaurants and cafes at each block, and there is a twang of jealousy every time an elderly couple or family walks past you. But, all the pessimistic thoughts come to a halt when you see him. The man who you cared for and loved; the one who made you feel so worried for the past seven months; the one who seemed to carry no worries as he walks towards you, his hands enclosed with another woman’s.

The clicking sound of your shoes ceases at once. You can’t take your eyes off of Leo, and maybe it’s your rapidly heaving chest or your tear stained cheeks that reflects the city lights, but his eyes meet yours. His smile falters at the sight of you.

Please, don’t leave me here like this, you plead with your eyes.

But perhaps her beauty is more outstanding than yours. Perhaps you look too embarrassing for Leo to approach you. Perhaps he can no longer conjure up his feelings of endearment for you. Maybe that is why he averts his gaze to her, scratches his head as if he sees nothing, and calmly walks past you.

Are you two still together? In his heart, no, and the thought of that breaks you.

Muffled whimpers escaped from your throat while streams of tears burn your numb face. The signs of the restaurants become far too blurry to read. Once again, you hope the city lights will disappear and the darkness of the night will hide your shaking shoulders.


Thank you for the rejection.

Your cheeks squish against your pillow.

You wake up on the couch with stains of wine on your shirt, but it doesn’t bother you. For the last few weeks, you’ve greeted every morning on the couch.

Since the breakup, or so you assume, you’ve come to realize that you can swat away or ease sadness, but you can’t avoid loneliness. Loneliness clings so tight that you begin suffocating. Loneliness can’t seem to get enough of you, hindering your ability to properly eat, sleep, study, or function as a normal human being. It creeps into your dreams, your mornings, your nights, and into your mind. It constantly reminds you of the image of Leo and that woman.

Do people drift away from each other this easily? you wonder.

You can’t help but look through pictures of you and him when there was happiness at the very beginning of the relationship. At the time, Leo was the type of guy who would walk you past your home so that he could spend the ten minutes it takes to go around the neighborhood to be with you. But now you realize that he was distancing himself because he was too much of a coward to tell you directly, I don’t love you anymore. Then again, could you handle the impact of those five words?


Because I learned to like being alone.

Your cheeks are getting hit by the rays of the sun.

By the time the sun has fully risen, you’re skipping from your bedroom to the kitchen to make breakfast. Pancakes have become your favorite breakfast food these days, and you begin mixing the batter after you turn on the turquoise colored record player, a recent splurge for yourself, to play some Frank Sinatra. From the refrigerator, you pull out a few strawberries and a handful of blueberries to top the pancakes. Sitting on the couch, you look out the window and smile, seeing the beautiful cherry blossom trees and dainty flowers fully open to admire, for the new season of spring had finally come.

Sometimes, when you’re greeted with the scent of cotton or see your still oddly dressed neighbors, you think of him. Sure, there was no exact closure or apology, but you’ve come to a point where there are no poignant thoughts about him. It took time and the understanding that you can depend on and be satisfied with yourself to stop rebuilding the walls that had been torn down from hurt and rejection. You even learned to embrace doing the activities you used to do with Leo alone—taking walks around town, enjoying Friday nights with movies and wine, or dancing to music.

Feeling fulfilled, you munch on your delicious pancakes, grin at the sight of Mrs. Dallows walking her Poms, and feel content with only the sound of music filling your apartment.

 

Mina Kim is currently a senior at Henry M. Gunn High School who has been enjoying creative writing through her class at school this year. She especially loves freewriting on sense or specific detail. In her free time, Mina likes to travel with her family, drink coffee, and doodle in her journal.

Photograph, titled “Inhale,” by Jules Landa Ventre.

Tilt

Tilt explores a taboo subject seen through the eyes of a small boy. Ashira Shirali uses a childlike voice to depict the hard realism within the piece.

This summer Mummy, Daddy, Bunny and I are going to visit Grandmammy in her house by the sea. We don’t visit Grandmammy often. Mummy says it’s because she lives so far away.

When we visit Mummy lets me and Bunny play at the edge of the water near Grandmammy’s house. Bunny gets all fat and bloated and then Mummy has to put him out to dry. Mummy says best friends can’t be stuffed toys but I know she’s wrong because Bunny is mine. He always wants to play the games I think of and he never laughs at me like the boys in school.

The last time we visited Grandmammy I was only in kindergarten. Grandmammy told me she’d buy me a chocolate sprinkle cone if I tell Daddy that I want Grandmammy to live with us. Mummy was angry when she found out. I didn’t get ice cream and we came back three days early.

I like looking out of the window to see the big trees at the side of the road. There are only small trees where we live. Mummy points out pretty birds and a little monkey sitting on a rock. The monkey acts very funnily, jumping about and scratching itself. I yell out, “Mummy, it’s touching its bum!”

Mummy says the monkey is acting in this Shameful Way because it isn’t intelligent like me. I look away quickly from the monkey which doesn’t know not to show its Private Parts in front of others.

We finally reach Grandmammy’s house. When I enter Grandmammy smiles and says, “Who is this handsome young boy?” I laugh and run to the other room to sit on the bed and watch Scooby Doo while Daddy and Mummy talk to Grandmammy.

During dinner, Grandmammy puts rice on my plate and says, “Such a shame that he has to grow up an only child.”

Daddy says, “We’re a happy family of three.” I feed Bunny some of my rice.

“Those who cannot do better must be…” Then Daddy is yelling at Grandmammy and Grandmammy is yelling back. Mummy is

trying to get Daddy to sit back down. Bunny falls off his seat.

Daddy goes straight to bed without clearing his plate. I ask Mummy if Daddy wants to play I Spy but she says no, not right now. Grandmammy says she can play with me, but I say no, thank you and sit with Mummy and colour my notebook.

On the last day of our visit, I make sandcastles till Mummy says it’s time to pack. I run in, put my clothes in my blue sailor backpack, and try to run out but Mummy stops me. I have to wait there while she and Daddy carry our bags to the car.

I sit on Grandmammy’s blue sofa and swing my legs. Grandmammy keeps strange things on the side tables – little stones from a riverbank, a mood lamp, a prayer wheel from Tibet. Grandmammy doesn’t have any toys or comics.

Bunny and I are playing cross and noughts with my red jumbo crayon when Grandmammy comes into the room. She starts taking out jars and boxes and putting them noisily on the table. Mummy says it isn’t polite to make so much noise but I don’t say this to Grandmammy because I don’t want her to feel bad.

I know I have to listen to Grandmammy because she’s older than me. I stop and make more crosses.

“You’re acting like a cat in heat,” Grandmammy says in an odd voice. She’s looking at me strangely. I look down at my notebook paper. I wish Grandmammy would go back to moving the jars. I wish Mummy would come back into the room.

I try to focus on my notebook. But Bunny falls off the sofa and I’m trying to win the game and I’m used to shaking my leg when I sit.

Grandmammy is yelling at me now. “Stop it! Shaking your legs means you want sex. Is that what you want?”

I stop doing everything at once.

I feel like when Vicky from class hit me on the head and I couldn’t breathe or think, I just waited silently for Mummy to come get me. My eyes are burning. I nod like a puppet.

Grandmammy said the s-word.

The Dirty and Wrong Thing you shouldn’t say.

The Secret Thing grown-ups do in movies after they take off their clothes, even though you should never show anyone your Private Parts.

The Very Shameful Thing you cannot say.

The Chinese paintings on Grandmammy’s walls are tilting. It makes my head hurt. I want Mummy to come and take me away like she did after Vicky hit me. I want to go far away from Grandmammy who says these Terrible Things.

But my arms and legs aren’t working so I just sit there.

Mummy and Daddy come to take me to the car sometime. They say bye to Grandmammy. I say bye to the plant next to Grandmammy’s feet. Grandmammy says she hopes we visit again soon. I hope Daddy forgets the way to Grandmammy’s house.

The small pebbles in front of Grandmammy’s house are jumping. My Lightning McQueen sandals are tripping over them so Mummy takes my hand. My eyes are open too wide and I look at the dancing pebbles so Mummy doesn’t notice and make me repeat the Bad Thing Grandmammy said.

In the car I open the window and look out. Mummy asks me if I want to sing a song. She asks if I want to play I Spy. I pretend to sleep and she stops asking.

I feel like I’ve fallen in a very muddy and smelly puddle. I don’t touch Mummy’s hand when she gives me a sandwich so the dirt won’t get on her too. When we get out of the car to go home I see the sandwich fallen on the floor.

Only at night, when I’m pouring shower gel and water into my ears do I realise that I left Bunny behind.

Ashira Shirali is a high school student from Gurgaon, India. She loves books, music, good food and the colour blue. Her work has been published in Teen Ink and Moledro Magazine.

Visual Art by Paulina Otero

I’ll Sing to Both

Sophie Coats explores the intimacy of music and family memories in her poem, “I’ll Sing to Both”.

 My father dances to women
singing jazz, black birds and blue
jays. I dance to the sound of his
footsteps and stand on his black
 
penny loafers. We don't talk
about my parents' childhoods except
for Midwest winters, but I wonder if they played
jazz on vinyls, what it sounds like when it gets scratched
       if the sound still echoes.
 
My mother doesn't like jazz or
poetry. She listens to Sheryl Crow
on broken CD players that skip my favorite
parts in the summer, and I want to sing
 
to sunshine and sadness, but my mother
says I'm no good. So I listen to Alicia Keys
on my sister's portable CD player that isn't broken and pretend
she is singing to me, calling my braided hair beautiful, while I wait
        for the click of my father's heels back from work.
 
My teacher says she doesn't trust the new
ipods, says they can't sound like records
on Sunday afternoons. It's just not possible
that something so tiny can hold so much.
 
My father doesn't know that Uncle
Kracker's song Follow Me is about adultery
so I download it along with Sheryl Crow's
album, but I sing to both when no one
               is watching.
 

Sophie Coats was born in Texas, but raised a Jersey girl. Junior year of high school, she traded out
public school life for the boarding school experience at Interlochen Arts Academy where she studied
creative writing. She was awarded a gold key for flash fiction and a gold key for poetry in the
Scholastic Art and Writing awards. Her work can also be found in the Interlochen Review.
Art by Sarah Little.

Masi-America

This is a review of ‘Pig Park’, an incredibly relatable novel by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, depicting a lovely summer story about the hardships of a failing town just outside of Chicago, and the families trying to keep it alive after its economic downturn.

Pig Park” by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

 

“I thought myself into a circle-or maybe a knot–like a dog chasing it’s tail. I arrived at an impasse. Like I said, even if things didn’t work out, at the very least my friends and I would get to spend our last summer together. It was something like my last meal or–since I’m the Cinderella of crumbs–having a fairy godmother grant me one last wish.”

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, of El Paso, Texas, has written a lovely summer story about the hardships of a failing town just outside of Chicago, and the families trying to keep it alive after its economic downturn.

After the lard company left Pig Park, many of its inhabitants left with it. The high school shut down, businesses lost customers, and everything seemed to be going wrong until the last man making money offered up a way to save Pig Park. “A pyramid is little more than simple geometry. Two triangles here, two triangles there. I can lead the construction project,” he said and waved his hand. The grown-ups huddled together. Colonel Franco had hit on it with fewer words: a crazy plan had to be better than no plan at all. They were desperate enough that they decided every girl and boy would report to the park to help Colonel Franco with the construction.”

If you’re thinking that manual labor is not the way you’d want to spend your summer, you wouldn’t be alone. But for Martinez’s protagonist, Masi Burciaga, it was the perfect excuse to get out of her family’s bakery and into the sun with her best friend, Josephina. Unfortunately for Masi, Colonel Franco moves all the girls inside temporarily to write letters telling government officials all about Pig Park and La Gran Piramide. Masi, unsure of how to ask complete strangers for their attention and money, writes dozens of drafts before deciding on the two brilliant sentences that she thinks will save her town:

“So a bunch of us want to hang out, build a pyramid in the middle of Pig Park and save our neighborhood. Are you in?”

Pig Park is an incredibly relatable story that deals with everything from boys to divorce, baking to disease, in the eyes of a fifteen-year- old girl one summer where everyone seems to be getting the short end of the stick. Martinez does a fantastic job bringing up all of the beautiful, tiny, everyday details like burnt toast and melted chapstick to relieve the reader of the intense topic of a failing economy and its stressful repercussions within individual families. Pig Park is a great read with a great message about appreciation and rolling with the punches.

“Are we going to be okay?” I looked at my dad. My dad couldn’t give a simple answer to my question because he was hopeful. He was willing to gamble, but it wasn’t just up to him or my mom or me. Our entire neighborhood was on the line. The Nowaks, the Sanchezes, the Fernandezes, the Sustaitas, the Wongs and everyone else had as much of a stake in this. One thing was clear. This wasn’t MesoAmerica. MasaAmerica maybe. Or even MasiAmerica.”

 

By Kathleen Johnson

An Interview with Samantha Dunn

During her visit, the Parallax editors got to sit down and interview Samantha Dunn, fiction and nonfiction writer, about female representation in writing, the writing process, and how to deal with criticism.

Question: What is your main goal or intention you hope to achieve through your writing?

Samantha Dunn: One, to make a living. I’ve survived by the pen. There’s a certain amount of professionalism I have to maintain to keep a roof over my head. But really, that’s a complicated answer for me. I think it can be broken down to wanting to connect with someone other than myself, to break the illusion that I exist solely on my own. There’s an intense loneliness everyone walks around with, but for writers it’s exacerbated. Truly, there’s a sense of putting that voice out into the universe and seeing if it hits anyone, to see if there’s something there. And also to witness others. We are unique entities and we exist in a certain place in time. How many worlds exist in a person? One type of mixture might have happened in 1972 and then again today, but they do not have the same experiences. Our lives are these incredible spinning orbits. What is real, for me, is to witness experience.

Q: How do you feel you have been successful in achieving this goal in your writing?

S: Most days, I do not feel that successful. Like every writer I battle the Who cares? Oh my God what am I doing with my life reaction. I know that, having done this for a while, people have read my works. I have been the recipient of many letters and communications that say to me, very directly, “I’ve read this, and it mattered to me. Thank you for writing this.” Or sometimes they will say, “You suck. You are so stupid. I can’t believe you still breathe air. Who publishes you?” Even that is engagement. If I can piss you off that much,  it means I’ve provoked something. Yay. We’re alive, we’re in discussion. We’re in communication. My big claim to fame, kind of jokingly, is there’s a store called “Title 9,” (which is all women’s sports and fitness wear up in Seattle), and at one point,  they had one of my quotes from my book on their bag. And I thought “Wow! Somebody’s reading.” It is funny. As writers, we are not glamorous. The paparazzi is not stalking us. I was at a faculty dinner one time for the New York State Summer Writers’ Institute, and we, the entire faculty, were walking down the street. In this group was Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Ondaatje, Russell Banks, William Kennedy. Basically, what I am telling is that I was the slacker in this group; I was the one who had not won the Pulitzer Prize. We were walking down the street and no one was even looking sideways at us. And I thought, “Wow, in Hollywood, if the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer were walking down the street everyone would be like ‘Woah!’” But, some of the most exalted writers in American literature were walking down the street unperturbed. That’s it. That’s the life of a writer. We are alone a lot. Yet, somehow, the message in the bottle does reach another shore. I don’t know how, but it does.

Q: How did it affect you (or your writing) when people would respond to your work, positively or negatively?

S: Great question. Luckily, a great many of my friends are truly famous. For good or bad, that has not occurred to me yet, even with the amount of attention I have received. I was in People Magazine once. The book was panned. It had my picture and then a lot of bad stuff was said about me and it really froze me for a while because I thought, “Wow, I’m stupid. People are just gonna make fun of this.” But, then, on the opposite end, I did get those letters that said, “This meant so much to me,” and I thought, “You know what. You just have to talk to your people.” Screw all the others. Fuck all of y’all. Just talk to the people for whom it matters. When I start to get into that mindset of “My writing is about me talking to you,” then I am able to maintain that intimacy with that reader. The more I am able to maintain that intimacy, the more relaxed and productive I am.

Q: Were there any events which prompted you to become a writer?

S: Yes, I can give you a little anecdote. When I was in elementary school I won a Campfire Girls’ National competition. I wrote a poem on what freedom is and I was the 2nd prize winner. I was like “Oh! Writer, this is what it is.” But it’s also a much bigger story than that. My mother was a single mom and always very busy and she loved to read. Culturally, her family was working class Irish. They were all storytellers. If I have to psychoanalyze myself, it was me thinking, ‘How can I get her attention?’ I wanted that validation. Her reading something was profound for me. That had a deep impression. It was the thing we did. We told jokes and stories. It was always very lively in my house.

Q: What inspired you to start teaching?

S: There was no reason for me except to seek human contact. I was living the dream. I didn’t have to get out of my pajamas for shit. Yet, there was no way for me to connect on a regular daily basis. My friend, Les Plesko, a very dear friend and a brilliant novelist, taught at the UCLA Writers’ program. He said “Sam, you should just teach a class. It’ll get you out on Tuesdays.” That was why I did it initially. I had no other reason to be around people. But, I loved it. It is like my religion, my church, giving my life resonance and meaning. God, what privilege is that? To be a part in other writers’ journeys to discover their own voice; that’s an incredible privilege. I love it–I don’t teach for the money, honey [laughs].

Q: What inspires you to write fiction? And what inspires you to write nonfiction?

S: I really do believe they’re different, fiction and nonfiction. The muscles we put in are different. I think for fiction, the stories arrive. Nonfiction, for me, has to be circumscribed by fact. It’s what happened. It’s me making meaning about what happened; insight done beautifully. It is the thing that kind of holds the world together. With fiction, the stories arrive on currents. Out of scenes, physical experience, taken off on their own. I wrote a short story called “The Tortilla Construction Handbook” that ran in a journal called Black Clock. That story arrived with a voice in my head, a young guy kind of talking. He was talking about tortillas. It was like a rant on tortillas! I sat around and waited for more of that to reveal itself. It’s like dreaming. You just wait for it to reveal itself to you. It arrives in a different way. I don’t have much time for fiction, because fiction comes out of silence, which is not the case for me right now.  Memoirs are the most powerful thing we can do for ourselves and others. No safety net. It’s you trying to make meaning out of what’s going on.

Q: Was there an event that prompted you to write your novel, Failing Paris?

S: The anger at a girl in my workshop class who wrote a story romanticizing Paris. It’s not all puppies and Luxembourg! It’s sexism and racism! The most beautiful and yet the most debase. It’s all of these things at once. It exploded from me, This is how it is.

Q: Do you think your writing is empowering for young women, especially your nonfiction article “My Not-So-Bikini-Body”?

S: I hope it is, but you can’t write hoping to inspire. You can just witness your own experience. David Walcott says, “A writer’s job is to state the condition.” Hopefully, you as the reader will find meaning in it for yourself. I can’t hope for a message. I’m just telling you what it is to be like in this body.

Q: Have you ever felt that there is a lack of female representation in famous, frequented literature?

S: Fuck yeah! If you look at most of the award winners, they are guys! Dudes! Hello! Even this year, Kirkus did a list of “The Most Important Books of 2014.” One of them was written by a woman. If I throw a rock, I hit 15 incredible female writers. There’s still a long conversation to be had about where the female writers are. That’s why people like Cheryl Strayed, whose success has been phenomenal with the book Wild, are really important. That’s a book about a woman going into the woods, not because she had a bad romance—I mean, sure, she went through a divorce. But, it was really about the death of her mother and about the incredible grief she suffered. It was her on a journey of transformation, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It doesn’t terminate with her being swept off her feet by some handsome stranger.  It terminates with her on her own two feet. And the success of that book has been astronomical. I cannot underestimate the importance of that. It is huge. Cheryl’s story hit the vein, but there are amazing stories like this written by women all the time. That’s not to take away stories written by our brothers. It’s not. But, for so many centuries we were not even allowed to write and that still hangs over our heads, culturally and personally.

Q: Who are some female writers that have left their mark upon your work?

S: For better or for worse, Kate Braverman, because she was my first “bad mother.” But, also, when I read Virginia Woolf in college, she kind of blew the top of my head off. I did not know anyone could create a sentence like that. I did not know you could be so intensely personal. Same with Anaïs Nin. I read her, and her sexuality and writing so honestly about what was happening to her, my God! It was an access of freedom that I never knew. Also, Judith Krantz, who was a crass commercial best seller. I read her books when I was fifteen and it was the book, Scruples, a supermarket paperback. But, the heroine was defining her own life and doing her own thing and becoming a millionaire on her own! She was leaving men broken-hearted, she was not being left broken hearted, and I found real power in that. And also, I must say, from college on, Joan Didion has been my Alpha and Omega. I met her once at a reading and I was that geeky girl with fifteen of her books. I had nothing to say when I got up there, and she very politely signed my books while I stood there like a dummy. It was a huge moment for me. She really is the one writer I think I would most like to emulate.

Q: Could you describe your writing process? How do you pace yourself when writing longer pieces and how do you plan them out?

S: Before becoming a mother, I would write everyday.  The morning is the most fruitful for me. I would usually write from about seven o’clock in the morning to around nine o’clock, then throw myself back onto my bed to go to sleep. Then I would get up, write for a couple more hours, and be done for the day. I couldn’t do anything else. So, about four hours of solid writing was the most I could ever get. But then as the projects really start to take shape, really form where you’re almost at the end, it really becomes this all encompassing thing. I would sleep with my laptop, I kid you not. But now, I have a son and a husband. It’s hard. I cannot be precious about my writing at all anymore. I have to write whenever I get the time. Now, if I don’t write between 8:30 and 1:00, it’s just not gonna get done. Because then my son will get home and chaos ensues. There is no space in my brain. There is no space in my life. There is no physical way for me to get to the space I need to. I mean, I have an office that is in a separate building from my house, but it’s still on the property, so they know where to find me, and they do. When I really need to write, I will write in my car.

Q: You discuss intense personal stories in your memoirs and essays. A lot of writers find it difficult to write non-fiction because it is hard to open up about your experiences. Do you have any advice for that dilemma?

S: That’s huge. Because there is this thing of, “Don’t tell.” The rule breaking in the family: you cannot tell. It’s sometimes not explicitly said but you know it. So, I would say don’t force yourself into anything. Just keep writing. Just know, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, it’s stemming from someplace important. If you are crying when you’re writing, it’s important. You have to say to yourself, What the fuck. I don’t care. That’s the space you need to be in, that emotional space.

Q: Did you ever feel a sense of uncomfortability as you were writing?

S: Yeah. A lot. Really uncomfortable. Like, Wow. I’m afraid. I don’t know what people are gonna think about this. When my novel went into Kindle, it went into a whole other audience—before it was just in this literary community with people who had read Sylvia Plath. Then it went into this world where people are like, “I’m vegan and I’m anti-abortion. I can’t read this.” Like, what? Or people would say, “Wow. This is really depressing.” Yes, it is depressing. The hateful reactions were kind of my nightmare when I was writing that book, but now it doesn’t matter to me. People who don’t get it are not my people. Because I know the work matters. I have heard from the people for whom it matters. Not all the people but, I know that it matters to some. More importantly, I know that it mattered to me to express it. It’s not autobiography, but it does describe my experience, my emotional experience, and, more than that, it describes what I know is the emotional experience of other women. And that’s important to have out there. Good, bad, or indifferent. Happy, sad, or whatever you want to call it. I believe it is important.

Q: How do you balance talking about the subject and inputting your own opinions on the subject? Do you ever add in other people’s emotions or opinions?

S: Yes. You have to. A writer’s job is to have empathy. I have to, as much as I find it difficult, find empathy for those people in front of Planned Parenthood protesting. That’s our job as artists. For Failing Paris, I really wanted to get into that complexity of choice. Why couldn’t that woman be a mother? Why couldn’t she be there? I wanted to explore all of that in all the ways I could. That deep sense of mourning. The idea for me is how can I create empathy, no matter where it is in the story.

 

Curiosity Killed the Coroner

Hannah Phillips’ play describes a coroner’s experience after his family’s death.

On stage, NELLIE, a dead woman in her early twenties, is lying on an examination table covered, all except for her face, by a white sheet. The sheet acts as a dress, not coming off when she sits up, which she will do in the play. There is a table about 5-10 feet away that mirrors hers. It is empty and the light over it is off. NELLIE is made up to look very dead and cold. She does not appear mutilated; just embalmed. The man standing over her- CALVIN- is a coroner in his early fifties. He looks tired and bored. He is holding a clipboard. Next to him is a tray on wheels that holds his clean dissection tools. There is a spotlight focused on him the whole time. It partially shines on NELLIE and when she is “alive”, she gets her own spotlight. CALVIN’s light does not turn off until the end. CALVIN is looking at the clipboard, walking over to the examination table. He squints his eyes at the name on the clipboard, thinking he recognizes it.

CALVIN
Ellie?

CALVIN looks up at the corpse, scared. He lifts up the sheet, sees the woman, and looks back at the clipboard, relaxing at her face and the name it says.

CALVIN (CONT)
Oh, no. Nellie.

He starts paraphrasing what’s written on the page on his clipboard, shaking his head at what it says. He is reading from behind the table.

CALVIN
Nellie. Hm. (beat) Died from a heroin overdose at only twenty-three. Parties, drugs, sex; you probably thought you had everything. Too bad you died so young.

He leans in to start the autopsy while saying this. NELLIE’s eyes pop open. She sits up on the table as her light turns on, almost as if she has been pretending to be asleep and listening to CALVIN without his knowing. She is energetic and happy. She looks at CALVIN and starts talking while she adjusts to hang her feet off the side of the examination table. As soon as she sits up and starts talking, CALVIN jumps back, stumbling over his tray and letting out a yelp, startled by her charisma and the fact that she’s talking. He raises an eyebrow and his eyes widen when she addresses him by name.

NELLIE
Oh, it’s been loads of fun, Doctor Calvin. (Sitting up) It sucks that you didn’t take the chance to party when you were young. You’re right: the drugs and the sex are awesome. And with crazy friends, it’s even better.

She says this with an almost sly smile. He looks at her, incredulous, and is unable to say anything. NELLIE waits for a response and, when CALVIN is finally able to talk (after 5-10 seconds of silence), he stutters.

CALVIN
Uh- But you’re-

NELLIE smiles, laughing at CALVIN.

NELLIE
Yeah, I know. I’m dead.

CALVIN
(Stuttering) How-?

NELLIE cuts him off. She pretends not to understand what he’s talking about.

NELLIE
How did die? Ha. Let’s just say the heroin was free and leave it at that.

CALVIN
Wha-? No, I mean how are you talking?

She rolls her eyes, speaking as if she’s stating the obvious.

NELLIE
It’s your imagination, Calvin. No living friends, remember? When people get too lonely, they create imaginary friends.

He is confused at first, then offended. He stands up straight again, adjusting to the situation.

CALVIN
Wha- Hey! I have friends!

NELLIE
You do now.

She smiles, laughing at him as he realizes that what she’s saying is true. He looks away, growing more depressed at the realization.

CALVIN
Aside from you, I mean.

NELLIE
I don’t recall any.

CALVIN
Well, I have…

He pauses to think.

CALVIN (CONT)
Oh. I guess you’re right.

NELLIE laughs again. He looks back at her, narrowing his eyes.

CALVIN (CONT)
Well, what about your friends?

NELLIE
What about them?

Crosses around the table to down-stage right.

CALVIN
It’s just that you were saying how great your life was. Why did you give it all up just for some free heroin?

NELLIE
I don’t know. I got crazy. I had a good time! You can’t live your whole life without risk; risk promises excitement.

CALVIN looks at her skeptically.

CALVIN
Don’t be so sure.

NELLIE
Why do you say?

CALVIN does a sort of body scan and looks at his coroner’s report.

CALVIN
Well, it says here you were 23. That’s a pretty young age to die. I’ve avoided high risk practically all my life and my clock’s still tickin’ at 52 years old.

She stands up and walks towards him, stage right. He walks away, stage left.

NELLIE
Okay, sure. So you’re still alive. But it’s not worth it.

NELLIE gets up and approaches CALVIN. He tries to walk behind the table upstage right, but she blocks him. He tries instead to walk downstage but she grabs him.

CALVIN
What do you mean?

NELLIE puts her arm around him, but he rejects it, trying to move away from her. She takes control by moving closer to him and keeping him in place.

NELLIE
Oh, please. I bet you never have any fun. Your life is so boring that you actually had to imagine a friend for some entertainment.

CALVIN
My life is not boring.

NELLIE
Oh? What kinds of things do you do for enjoyment, then?

CALVIN smirks and looks at NELLIE’s torso.

CALVIN
You don’t want to know.

NELLIE shrugs.

NELLIE
I’m curious. Tell me anyways.

CALVIN
If you’re sure…

NELLIE looks at him expectantly.

CALVIN (CONT)
(Slightly ashamed) Alright. Sometimes I reorganize peoples’ organs in order of importance.

NELLIE’s eyes go really wide and she leans back a little bit in shock. She steps back.

NELLIE
You do what?

CALVIN
I told you you didn’t want to know. It’s relaxing, though.

CALVIN goes to the front of the table.

CALVIN
(Reassuringly) And I put them back afterwards. Plus, you’re the corpse in the situation, so I’m pretty normal compared to you.

NELLIE gets defensive, leaning forward.

NELLIE
Hey, you’re talking to me.

CALVIN
(Darkly) Touché.

Angry and pointing a stern finger at CALVIN.

NELLIE
(Approaching CALVIN)You’re fucking weird, man. You need to get a life.

CALVIN
You think it’s so great to live like you did?

NELLIE
Yes!

CALVIN
But it ends so fast!

NELLIE
So? At least I had fun!

CALVIN looks slightly annoyed.

CALVIN
Even if it were better to take the kind of risks you did, what would I do for fun? I’m an old man for god’s sake.

NELLIE sits on the end of the table.

NELLIE
(Laughing) Well, I guess it can be a bit hard to have fun if you’re just hanging around… (looks at him weird) and cutting up… dead people all day, especially since it looks like you’ll be joining them yourself pretty soon.

She smiles at her joke. CALVIN glares at her.

CALVIN
Watch it.

NELLIE
Oh, I don’t know. Don’t just focus on work all the time. It’s depressing lurking around a big pile of bodies 24/7. It’s going to get to you. Hell, it already has! You’re talking to a dead drug-addict. Go out and meet living people. Have fun. Form real relationships with functioning life forms.

She spots the wedding ring he still wears and motions to it with her hand. She becomes more encouraging and hopeful.

NELLIE (CONT)
Oh, or take your wife to dinner or go on a date with her or something.

CALVIN sits on the end of the table with NELLIE, twisting his ring around. He talks quieter.

CALVIN
I can’t do that.

NELLIE
Sure you can. It would be healthy to go out with your family.

CALVIN
Do you have any other suggestions?

NELLIE
If it’s because you’re not on good terms, this could be a chance to make it better. Maybe you’re at work too often or-

CALVIN
(Sparsely) They’re dead.

NELLIE slouches a little more.

NELLIE
(Sadly) Oh.

CALVIN
Three weeks ago. (beat) My two daughters were with my wife, Ellie… (beat)They were on a plane to visit her parents on the West coast. They’re big on holidays. I had to stay for work; it’s always a bit busier around Halloween.

NELLIE cautiously scoots closer to CALVIN and lays a hand on his shoulder.

NELLIE
I’m sorry. I didn’t know.

CALVIN
It’s fine. You’re probably the part of my imagination I kept that detail from.

NELLIE
Yeah…

CALVIN
So, any other recommendations on how a lonely old guy can have fun?

CALVIN gets up and crosses to stage left. He chuckles a little, trying to use humor to cover up his pain. It’s awkward for a few moments.NELLIE is grateful for the change of topic. She responds as if their conversation hasn’t just happened.

NELLIE
(Excitedly) Well, you could try meeting new people. (beat) Go to parties! Maybe you can find a girlfriend or-

CALVIN
You want me to replace my wife? And then die from overdosing with some skank, right? That’s how I’m supposed enjoy life? By screwing it up? I’ve seen tons of people like you, dead and alive. You’re all the same. You’re given a good life and then you waste it. You don’t appreciate the people you have, or you just don’t get close to anyone. My family isn’t something I can replace. Maybe you had disposable friends- an expendable life- but…

She cuts him off.

NELLIE
(Defensively) Hey, I enjoyed my life.

CALVIN
Did you?

NELLIE
Yes, I did!

CALVIN
Well… don’t you miss it?

CALVIN turns away while she’s talking, not wanting to listen to her criticize the way he lives.

NELLIE
That’s the whole point! I lived a life that I could miss. I don’t miss my beating heart; I miss the way I lived while it was still beating. At least my life was worth something to me.

CALVIN snaps his head at her and glares, resenting what she has just said.

CALVIN
What is that supposed to mean?

NELLIE
You don’t have any meaningful relationships anymore, you don’t know anyone, nobody knows you, you haven’t done anything with your life other than dissect people… You’re worthless without your family. There’s no point in living now that they’re gone.

CALVIN
(Quietly angry) Shut up.

NELLIE (CONT)
You don’t make a difference to anyone anymore.

CALVIN
Stop it!

NELLIE
It’s not worth living! You’re better off dead! It’s not worth living!

CALVIN yells at NELLIE, shoving her. As he slams his fist down and yells, NELLIE passes out again, going back to her dead state. He checks her pulse.

CALVIN
You’re wrong!

CALVIN is shaking from anger by this point, but now he’s alone in a silent room with a corpse, where he has time to contemplate what NELLIE has said. He backs away slowly from the table and talks to the audience.

CALVIN
(Slowly) It’s not worth living. (Beat)

CALVIN backs towards the other table, running into it and sitting down. He takes his ring off.

CALVIN
It’s not worth living.

He lays down on the table. Nellie’s light turns off at the same time the light over the table CALVIN is now laying on turns on. Lights out.

END OF PLAY

 

By Hannah Phillips

 

Art by Greg Ballenger