Tilt

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

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Parallax Fiction and Poetry Scholarship Contest

Idyllwild Arts is an arts boarding high school nestled in the mountains of Southern California.  Our Creative Writing majors intensively study poetry, fiction, and dramatic writing (in addition to running Parallax Online!).  If you are in high school and you love to write, consider taking your passion to the next level by entering the Idyllwild Arts Parallax Fiction and Poetry Scholarship Contest for a chance to win a $25,000 scholarship to attend Idyllwild Arts!
Deadline: December 2, 2016
Open to: High school students entering 9th-12th grade in Fall 2017.

Click the link for details.

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Sea Cucumber

When I was little, I only ate cucumbers. My mom tried to put them in salads and on sandwiches, but I’d pick them off and eat them alone. He asks me why I’m talking about cucumbers. I kick my shoes off the side of the couch and rub my toes against the fabric. I tell him his couch is the color of a peeled cucumber and I think about the way food tastes with pill coating in my mouth.

The air in his office smells like sea salt and onions. Sometimes, I tell him, I think about drowning myself. I tell him that everything happening has happened before, and that I watch myself contribute to it. I inhale salt water, and he asks me if I’m breathing heavily because I’m agitated, and that agitates me.

In the bathroom, I gargle a handful of sink water. I see a different person in every mirror, but if I could cut the skin off my face I’d find myself. I’m a product of my repetition. Back in the office he offers me coffee, tea, and I think about what fish drink. If you put them in a tank of beer, would they get drunk? If you walk sixty steps from the left wall, you can make it to the right one, but he calls this pacing. I stopped counting out loud. Eighty-six weeks ago I would have called it crazy, but now I’m just waiting for a finger to tap against the glass.

I tell him that I lost my virginity sitting on a baby changing station at a truck stop, and when it was over I felt like a mother and a fetus and a whore and a queen. Is the predominant difference between a sea cucumber and a land cucumber that one can sustain itself and the other needs a vine? He doesn’t answer. I lie on my back on the love seat across from him and wonder what his home life is like, even though I’m not supposed to. If I stare at the ceiling for too long, I start to see big gold triangles and when I close my eyes, they stay there and glow. In my dreams I swim out of my skin, but when I tell him about them he calls them nightmares. Sometimes I’ll look up and see the sun behind a skin of waves.

He taps his pen on his clipboard and I ask him what his ideal day would be. He asks, without answering, what mine would be. When I say a day underwater he asks how often I think about killing myself.

“How often is too often?” He writes this down. I bring my knees to my tummy and hug them—fold my chin into my chest. “Did you know that fish never close their eyes?”

“Hmm,” he says, and looks at me like I’m leaving something out.

I tell him about when I was thirteen and tried to make soap. I dumped a pot of boiling water on my foot and I had to use a fake name in the emergency room so that they couldn’t bill our house. He asks if that upset me and I feel inhuman. I try to count how many seconds I take on each breath to gauge my agitation.

I ask him to identify key differences between happiness and unhappiness. They say I have a chemical imbalance. Fish can sing, you know, I say, and he nods–hits his pen against his chin. He asks me how I occupy my time here outside of our sessions. If something could make me feel anything, I tell him, I’d do it every day.

I am a half-dead fish, floating on top of the water, watching patterns of pelicans. I’m waiting for one to swoop me up and cradle me in the bath of its beak. I sink further into the crease of the couch cushions and feel like I’m in a cucumber coffin.

I think about killing myself three times a day, exactly three, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That’s why I don’t snack. He writes this down, and I take a deep breath.

 

Alexandra Lewis

Alli Lewis is a high school writer from Michigan and Ohio, and she goes to Walnut Hill School for the Arts. She would like to dedicate this piece to her late feline companion.

Artwork by Diana Ryu

 

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Sunday Dinner

The family comes bubble wrapped, prepped to eat over synthetic discourse.
Prayer first. The future’s passed around; patrons pile on the collection
plate. The oven is hot and the timer cheats. Women leap at the beep,
unrehearsed in their assembled domestic burst. Another spring chicken:
underdone meat, dry like chalk. She’ll learn. The men are robust with
compensating promises, raises and grease simmering at the table, lingering
green outside the confession booth. They lurch. A bubble pops and the
curtain drops. Chairs adjust, scrape back singed skin. Faith and heat
converge.

Fiora Elbers-Tibbits
A senior creative writing major at Walnut Hill School for the Arts.

Art by Florence Liu

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Robin the Noble

My dearest Princess Delilah,

            I have been watching you for months through this window. I know that sounds a little creepy, but I promise that I looked away every single time you were changing out of respect. That being said, I think you look beautiful every time you dance quietly to yourself in front of the mirror, or read that one text book on molecular biology, and that little twitch you’ve got below your left eye is just adorable. I love you dearly, and I think that if you consent to marrying me, I could make you very happy. If you’re interested, I will come at once to your aid and rescue you from the tower. Please send word immediately through this carrier pigeon.

                        Yours truly,

                        Robin the Noble

 

Dear Robin the Noble,

            Thank you kindly for your letter. I think its sweet of you to like the twitch below my left eye. I’ve always been self-conscious about it and I haven’t been able to leave the tower to get it checked out. Before you come to rescue me, though, I would like to know a little more about you. Like, I don’t know, what do you look like, and what’s your favorite color, and what would name a pet guinea pig, and so forth.

            Sincerely,

            Princess Delilah

 

Dearest Princess Delilah,

             I have brown hair and blue eyes and white skin, and all ten fingers, and all ten toes. My favorite color is fuchsia, and as for the guinea pig I would name it Cornelius Bernard. I would want to endow a guinea pig with a magnificent and noble name in order to make up for the poor animal’s size, and the seemingly insignificant, perhaps even embarrassing, role of being one’s pet. I would always address it by its full name, saying “Here is your breakfast, Sir Cornelius Bernard,” or “Do let me clean out your cage, Sir Cornelius Bernard.”

 I hope this letter has served well enough, and I do hope you are still interested.

            Love,

            Robin the Noble

 

Princess Delilah was, of course, still interested, and sent word right away that she would most definitely like Robin the Noble to rescue her from her tower. Princess Delilah waited many weeks for her sweet Robin, and was beginning to become a little doubtful, when she finally heard a knock on her bedroom door.

“Just a minute!” she said, and ran to the mirror to fix her hair before posing herself perfectly at her desk, molecular textbook in hand, angling her face towards the door in such a way that she was sure, would display the twitch below her left eye. “Okay, okay, come in.”

And there he was, inside of her room, perfect brown hair, perfect blue eyes, and he would’ve probably had white skin too, had it not been for the scorch marks all over his face and arms.

“Princess Delilah!” he said, and got down on one knee to bow to her highness.

“Robin, my most noble!” squealed Delilah, throwing the book to the floor and jumping with glee. “You’ve made it at last!”

But the man rose, scratching his head. “Robin? I am no Robin. My name is Prince James. Perhaps you’ve got me confused with another?”

Princess Delilah did not understand. “Another? What other?”

“Well, princess, I know you can’t see because your little window points conveniently in the opposite direction, but the front door of your tower is guarded by this huge fire-breathing dragon. Perhaps you’ve got me confused with a suitor who failed to get past it. Either way, I got past the stupid dragon and so technically, I am to marry you.”

Princess Delilah clasped her hands as tears welled up in her eyes. “But… My dearest Robin… Do you mean to say that he is dead?”

“I know not this Robin, but I saw the dead scorched bodies of many men lying along the pit that leads to your front door… I’d say if he hasn’t come yet, he’s probably dead.” At this, Princess Delilah collapsed the ground and began to sob into her hands.

Prince James got to his feet and found himself standing awkwardly in the room, not quite sure how to go about cheering up his bride-to-be.  “I mean—I’m not so bad, am I? I’m rich, charming, handsome” At this, Princess Delilah cried even harder. “Geez,” he said, scratching his head. “How do you know this Robin anyway?”

Princess Delilah lifted her face, wiping away tears, still beautiful despite the blotchy redness of her tear-stained face. “He- He sent me letters.”

“Well how much can you really tell about a person from a letter?”

“Well, he’s funny and smart and loving and accepting, and and and his favorite color’s fuschia.”

“Fuschia?”

“It’s like a pinkish-purplish-blue.”

“Don’t you think that’s kind of girly?”

“A color’s a color. Besides, what’s wrong with girly?”

Prince Harris chuckled. “Well, no girly guy’s gonna be able to get through what I just got through back there with that dragon.”

“And why not?”

“C’mon, don’t make me explain.”

“Well, what’s your favorite color?”

“Blue, I guess.”

“That everybody’s favorite color. What would you name a guinea pig?

“I don’t know, Fluffy? Squeakers? Miss Piggy?”

Princess Delilah sighed again.

“What’s wrong with those names? What else would you name a guinea pig?”

At that point, both Princess Delilah and Prince James heard footsteps running quickly up the tower stairs. Princess Delilah jumped to her feet. “Do you hear that? It must be Robin, coming for me now!” Prince James rolled his eyes. He thought about bringing up the whole first-come-first-served rule, then drew his sword instead in order to challenge the oncoming suitor. But Princess Delilah didn’t even notice, for she was too busy staring at the doorway. They both stood staring for several minutes, until Robin finally made it all the way up the winding stairs and into Delilah’s room, at which point Princess Delilah let out a gasp and Prince James dropped his sword. For there was Robin, perfect brown hair, perfect blue eyes, perfect white skin, visible even beneath the ash and bloody wounds, but Robin was a woman.

Princess Delilah and Prince James stayed frozen in shock, their eyes fixed upon Robin, whose body was covered in steel armor save for the helmet which she carried with one hand. Everything else was caked with soot or blood, but there she stood, ready to battle a thousand more dragons if they got in her way. Then, she turned to Prince James and recoiled, dropping the helmet.

“Seriously?” she said. “I’m second?” But they merely continued to stare. “I—I spent so much time training. I swear, princess, I’ve tried to beat that stupid dragon of yours thirteen times, but I barely started fencing a few years ago, and well I could get past it sure, but killing it was a different story.”

Killing it?” said Prince James. “You killed her dragon?”

“Yeah. That’s what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Kill the dragon, marry the princess…”

“I thought it was just get past the dragon, marry the princess.” They both turned to look at Princess Delilah.

“R-Robin? Is that you?”

“It’s me.”

“But-but you’re a…”

“A what?”

Prince Jamess, suddenly regaining his confidence, laughed a little. “Why, you’re a woman.”

“Yeah, I’m a woman. I didn’t think that would be a—wait—is it a problem?”

Princess Delilah nodded slowly. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t—I mean I just, I’m just not… like that.”

“Like what?”

“Well, I don’t really… go for women.”

“Go for… Oh, you mean you…” Robin suddenly understood, but the lump in her throat grew so large she could hardly speak.

“I’m sorry.”

Robin looked away, trying to hold back the tears welling in her eyes. “It-It’s fine, I mean, maybe I should’ve put that in the letter. I guess I just assumed…”

Prince James laughed again. “Why would you just assume something like that?”

Robin’s face turned red as she stood ashamed and embarrassed in the middle of the room, her heart ripping to shreds. She turned to leave, but before she started walking, she twisted once more to look at Princess Delilah. “Your, um, your little eye twitch… It’s even more adorable in person.” And with that, Robin turned to walk back down the stairs from which she came.

But before Robin could go down a couple of steps, she was stopped by Princess Delilah. “Wait!”

Robin halted. “Anything you wish, princess.”

“Maybe we can start over, huh Robin?” Princess Delilah smiled shyly. Maybe we could just be… friends?”

Robin smiled sadly and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s fine.”

“How would you like to be my lady-in-waiting?”

Robin thought about it. She would be around the ever-gorgeous Princess Delilah every single day, doing anything in her power to make her life a little easier, to make her a little happier. It was all she ever wanted. She accepted the job immediately. Princess Delilah then ran back up the stairs to Prince James and agreed to marry him as Robin stayed halfway below on the same step, drawing sloppy hearts on the soot of her helmet.

 

Sabrina N. Melendez

Sabrina Melendez is the 2013-2014 senior editor of Parallax Literary Journal. She enjoys writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, dramatic fiction, and songs. She is  from El Paso, TX, but likes to identify as a Puerto Rican because Puerto Rico is a far cooler place to be from than El Paso. Aside from writing, Sabrina likes to play piano, sing, spend hours in the ceramics studio, and make puns that inspire others to leave the room. 

Art By Eunji Kang

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Oh Writers, Writers

Ana Garcia explores the desperation of writer’s block in her beautiful and comical Non-fiction piece, “Oh Writers, Writers.”

My words are gone. Sitting among crumpled papers, suffocating characters’ voices, vanishing landscapes and tangled stories with every sheet of paper torn off the notebook spiral. The lights are dim, stains of bergamot tea and coffee decorate the tables and the cups are dropped around the room, some of them broken and the porcelain pieces are scattered on the floor, making company to the cigarette butts. Really fancy. I stare at the computer screen with red eyes, big bags growing under my eyelids, evidence of the days gone by. Yeah, it’s both depressing and amusing.

The characters, their eyes, dilemmas and tragedies are still spinning in my mind. It’s not a joking matter when I say the thoughts weigh on my head, the fingertips going numb of hitting the keyboard so many times. Gathering courage, I re-read the last few paragraphs I’ve written so far and I hate all of it. There’s not a single line worthy of rescue. The rage takes over me, reverberating from within my ribcage, later cursing my limbs, which leads me to flip my desk, and sincerely surprised, because as I said, I’m a writer, and I am not strong enough as to do such a thing. The laptop bounces on the floor but doesn’t break, thank god because my novel process is in there. The feeling of regret immediately takes place and I attempt to clean up the mess. Yeah, picking up the cigarette butts will do for now. I open the window to let the sunlight in, but you know what? Let’s not, the sun reflects on the computer screen and it’s painful for the tired eyes.

I sit back on my armchair. Yes, now I’m prepared. I can do this. I’ve suffered enough, so now the words should start slowly flowing, true writers create their masterpieces like that, right? The blinding white from the Word page attracts my sight and the hypnotizing process starts again. Yeah, I see it. The setting is perfect, the characters come well together: the hero with a despairing story, the villain’s just fascinating, and the tone I’ve planned for this is the cherry on top of my cake. Feel jealousy, my readers and fellow writers, because this is the story that will change generations. Now, just how to word it? I am a fucking writer and my biggest obstacle is writing.

Truth is I cannot write just like that. Look at me, I’m using the word “like” way too many times, ugh? I cannot even speak properly. I am supposed to have an extensive vocabulary and have a gift for storytelling. I can’t even, like, explain myself. For all I know, I might not even be a writer. Great stories don’t make great books if they’re not successfully portrayed in the readers’ uncreative minds. Workshops and master classes have denominated it as “writer’s block” but after years of experiencing it, leaves you thinking it’s lack of talent. Still, I lead a writer’s life: drink, smoke, read, write, erase what you just wrote, drink when you realize it was not so bad, read some more, and on Fridays I’d attend slam poetry readings. That’s when I learned part of my problem: the lack of confidence I had in myself. Because if I was that girl with curly hair that used to go on stage every week, my words would be poetry. And if I was that guy with the planked hats my work would sound original and sophisticated. The problem is my words and my hands, they just do not… work their magic. It was like being ready and eager to fly, but still needing to find pixie dust or your feet will just stay frozen to the ground.

So the antidote was to write fearlessly, according to my genuine self then. It did not work, my dear readers, because it was just part of the problem. I wrote a lot more than I used to, but I wrote really crappy stuff in a failed attempt to be sophisticated. I’d unfold crumpled papers that I had written before and they were so much better than they used to be. My work used to be honest, and it transformed into a pretentious vomit of long words.

And now this is me. Sitting across the table, trying to figure out how on earth to get back my words. Writers go through this all the time right? Despair enforces their art… although, if being like this is the only way I’ll become a good writer, maybe I do not want to be an artist anymore, not if it brings all this exasperation and pain.

My head hit the keyboard as a groan escaped from my throat, of pure redemption. My words are gone… oh wait, that’s actually a good line for a story, or even a poem. I am a writer, and it’s almost required for me to hate my work, but maybe it’s not so bad once my fingers tremble and hit words on the keyboard.  My words are gone…

By ~ Ana Garcia

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The Enchanted Family Forest


Visual art by Brent Terry. 

A man in the throes of middle age sat at his study going over his bank reports. Every note told him the same story: too much output, not enough input. There was enough to last ten years if the man dug himself a very big hole, maybe fifteen. The man picked up a fountain pen and bled the ink onto the yellow paper he had used to tabulate his financial ruin.

 

     “I can’t believe he’s missed another dinner!” Greg explodes in a whisper to his wife, Cheri, in their kitchen. The family has just gotten back from dinner in town.

     “I know, but.”

     “But what? What’s his excuse?”

     “But what did you expect? Did you really think he was coming this time?” Cheri asks, setting ten birthday candles on a cake too big for eight people who were filled with expensive pasta. There will be leftover cake, and Cheri reminds Greg, “It’s been nearly a year. If he was going to show he would have months ago.”

     Greg roughly plants four wine glasses on the old serving tray he hates. The tray has a nineteen fifties style Coca-Cola Ad painted onto the metal. Cheri loves it. She picks up the tray while Greg grabs the red and white from the fridge. They don’t need two bottles of wine for four people. Wine doesn’t pair with children’s birthday cake, but they don’t drink beer. Greg trails behind his wife into the living room with his dripping bottles and a corkscrew, a birthday present from his mom right before she died at sixty-four. Cheri sets her metal tray on her Pottery Barn coffee table and asks everyone what they want.

     “Don’t forget you have to drive me home,” Cheri’s mother, Delilah, laughingly warns her husband, Mike. She glances at Cheri and stops jabbing, “I’ll have the red tonight dear.” Mike asks for the same but, after a surreptitious look from his wife, changes his order to the milder white wine.

     Two years ago Mike was driving home from an outdoor music show Delilah dragged him to, and he fell asleep at the wheel for what he swore “could not have been more than five seconds.” Delilah threw a fit that effectively startled Mike’s eyes open. Now Delilah strictly monitors how he drinks in her company.

     Greg and Caroline, Delilah’s other daughter, are poured red. Cheri doesn’t have any. She only drinks white, and she refuses to drink the “hippy wine” her sister brought.

     Cheri asks her son, Jason, with a large smile, “Okay, cake or presents first?” It’s hard to tell if Cheri is faking the large smile. She doesn’t blink enough, but there aren’t any children around to notice, besides Jason and his younger cousin, Lulu.

     Jason laughs as he chases after Lulu. He yells, “Cake!” over his shoulder as the cousins playfully run into the largely lived-in family room.

     The kids have to put up with these unfailingly frequent family dinners and have learned to mostly ignore them. Jason’s real birthday party will be with his friends playing laser tag, and at least they have each other for escaping their parents’ purple teeth parties (a name Lulu gave these sorts of events after a secretly viewed rerun of Cougar Town).

     Cheri disappears into the kitchen as Greg dims the dining room lights. This is their signal for cake time. Caroline pulls her video camera out of an over-sized red purse that is propped up against the couch, while everyone moves into the dining room. Cheri calls out from the kitchen, “Is everyone ready?” And Delilah yells for Jason and Lulu to come get to the dining room.

     When everyone is settled, with Jason at the head of the solid mahogany table, Cheri walks through swinging doors holding the lit up cake. Jason cringes when he sees the candles. He is getting sick of trying to blow out novelty candles that have to be thrown in his water glass to be extinguished. Jason is a little insulted that his parents thought he wouldn’t recognize the candles after years of dirtied water.

     Cheri and Greg worry a lot. It happens with only children. Carcinogens in plastics, violent video games, not being socialized enough, too much socialization, brain development: Should he play with toys marked in his age range? Toys above? Will that shatter his confidence?, his school teachers – qualifications and temperaments, healthy cafeteria lunches, the right friends, family time, pesticides. Their most recent worry is Richard, Jason’s grandfather. When Richard stopped calling and stopping by after his wife died Cheri and Greg worried. They worried how this would affect Jason’s emotional development: the sudden loss of two grandparents. Greg worried about what Jason would do when it came time to build that family tree in school. Cheri worried how Greg’s reaction would affect Jason.

     Jason doesn’t like how much his parents worry. Sometimes it’s okay, not too big a deal, like the constant quiet hum of classical music that runs through the house and their insistence that Jason wears his bike helmet, a problem simply solved by taking his helmet off once out of his parents’ sight. Other things make Jason feel smothered, make his skin itch, like the time he couldn’t go to the school’s end-of-the-year party because there was a trampoline and “Your third cousin twice removed broke his elbow on one of those.”

     Between mouthfuls of coffee and hash browns the next morning Greg makes an announcement, “I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’m gonna go see him.”

     Cheri, who had given him one of her knowing looks right around “thinking about this for a while”, doesn’t like this idea. “Why all of this right now? Where is this even coming from?”

     “Where is this coming from? He just missed his own grandson’s tenth birthday! I just kept thinking about him and thinking and thinking. I was just sitting around here for almost half a year now acting like this helpless, pathetic victim.”

     “You didn’t do anything because it won’t be good for you, or any of us. He stopped coming by. He made it clear he didn’t want to be bothered when he stopped answering your calls and, hello, changed his number.” Cheri hates how Greg can’t let things or people go and how, as soon as an idea comes to him, he has to jump and see it all the way through.

     Greg grabs his coat off its wooden hook and leaves Cheri in the kitchen as she warns him, “You’re picking a scab!”

     Cheri huffs when she hears the garage door slam. Jason is sleeping in, enjoying his first Sunday as a ten-year-old. Cheri goes into his room to wake him up for breakfast.

     Greg boils on the way to his family home. He actually doesn’t know if his father still lives there, but the thought never occurs to Greg that he might not. To Greg, the house that is now a fifteen minute drive away is the only place in the world for his father.

     “It’s open,” Richard calls in response to the obtrusive doorknocker’s obnoxious sound. Richard hates the noise the doorknocker made. It is made of iron and in the shape of a lion’s head with serious teeth. His late wife, Clarice, picked it out.

     Richard is sitting in an over-stuffed chair in his sunlit family room when Greg storms in like Dr. H. H. Holmes’ tax collector. Richard sets his newspaper on a nearby side table as Greg begins, “Look, I know that you don’t want me here, you’ve made that clear enough, and maybe, for you, it’s just fine to seclude yourself and ignore your family. And maybe you are too good for us; I can’t walk into any restaurant in town and just say, Put it on my tab, and I can’t take Jason on the kinds of trips you took us on. But I couldn’t live with myself anymore knowing I never stood up to you. See, first, I thought that it was just because Mom died, and you wanted some time to grieve. After about two months and zero contact I should’ve gotten the hint, but yesterday I realized that I’d been lying to myself.” Greg pauses to take a breath and lets out a mouthful of air. Seeing how close he is to Richard now, Greg backs away. “I bet you don’t even know what yesterday was.”

     “It was Jason’s birthday dinner, seeing as his birthday was last Wednesday,” Richard calmly replies in his familiar voice.

     Greg is thrown off for a moment, but he quickly moves on and continues, “If you know, why didn’t you come?”

     Richard opens his mouth to respond, attempting to push himself up in the chair to sit up straighter.

     “No, I don’t care. I don’t want to hear what you have to say. I am here, so I can talk. It’s been too long for that. What I really want to say,” and then he repeats, “what I really want to say.” Greg’s mouth hangs open until he snaps it shut.

     “If there’s something you really want to say, you should say it,” Richard nudges in a way that reminds Greg of the time when he was eight and Richard bought the wrong detergent and Greg broke out in hives.

     “You’ve lost touch. All that talk when I was younger about how important family is, and when you’re dealing with Mom’s death you don’t bother coming to us? You just decide that doesn’t apply to you anymore and you hide? I lost my mother just like you lost your wife. Did you think I wouldn’t understand? Well, I don’t understand now, and I’m not here for an explanation. I’m just here so that you know that what you did has consequences and repercussions and.” Greg’s palms have begun to sweat, and he wipes them off on his pants.

     “And?” Richard rests his temple against his fist.

     “And I won’t bother you ever again. I just hope that one day, when you’re sitting in your big house reading your newspaper or lighting cigars with money or whatever it is that you do, that one day everything will hit you, and you’ll know that it’ll be too late. You’ll know that your family isn’t there for you anymore,” Greg finishes, red in the face and out of breath. He feels a wave of relief wash over him and crisply walks out of the house he grew up in.

     “Good-bye,” Richard says to his son, who didn’t notice his father’s complexion or how thin he’d gotten. With shaky hands full of protruding veins, Richard returns to his daily saver but can’t stop staring at the food stamps hiding underneath it.

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Warm Smoke in November

Visual Art by Kumi Sweely

It had to happen. Eventually, it had to happen. You knew it, and I knew it, and last week it finally did. You made it seem so easy, so flawless, so… perfect. I do hope it was easier for you than for it’s being for me. You were always so scared of that moment, but when it finally came you performed as if you had been rehearsing for it your entire life, behind everyone’s back. But I know it was as unexpected for you as it could have been for anyone else. I know because I could see the turbulence in your eyes when you knew it was going to happen; I could see it as clearly as the fog that used to escape your mouth when you sang to me in the cold. It sometimes seemed as if it were your soul, which you were singing out. But it was just water vapor, and the turbulence in your eyes was nothing more than tears pouring out. I tried to dry them, but they only kept coming back. So eventually I just held you in my arms and wished that you would give me some of your grief; that we could maybe split up the sorrow so that you wouldn’t have to deal with all of it, because like the groceries that you brought home everyday and the way that you so incessantly insisted in carrying all the bags at the same time, it was too much. And when you looked into my eyes and said thank you, a brief moment of happiness came over me like a lonely patch of blue in a cloudy sky, because I knew that was your way of letting me know that I had helped, with some of it, at least. Still, the tears kept pouring out.
After that, you tried to be brave. You stopped showing your fear. I could still see it, but I guess that is only because of all the years I have spent with you. In some ways I understood why you did this. You had, after all, quite some pride. But on the other hand, the whole world would’ve understood if you had cried yourself dry, and they would’ve brought you buckets filled to the brim so that you could keep going. Because at night, when you lied in that white bed thinking that everyone else was asleep, I could see the glistens of the drops that roamed in your face, sliding from your eyes as if they were cars driving full speed towards the dead end of your hand wiping them away.

You used to wonder how they were able to do it. Breaking it to someone, just like that. And not just anyone, either; we had been going there for at least 6 months before he told you. Before he told us. But those 6 months meant nothing when he walked into that sterile room to announce that the ghosts of those cigarettes before, during, and after the concerts had finally returned to haunt you and we didn’t even need to ask when before he said that that November, that cold November in which the trees had lost their shame and had grown nude in the bone shattering cold, that November would be the final twist, the demolishing epilogue for the novel that your life had become.

Now you’re buried 5 feet under the soil on which I stand, and I would’ve cried myself dry had God not sent this rain so I could keep going.

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He Who is Birthed from Suicide’s Loins

 Visual art by Yulia Kuan

VIGNETTE ONE

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

Please pardon the smudges, as writing this is making me tremble.  In a few hours from now, you will walk into the house like always.  “Honey”- you will call- “Darling we’re home.”  Without my response, you will tip-toe around the house, assuming I’m already asleep.  However, No-Doz has put me in an eternal slumber.  I know this news will bring you great misfortune.  Please recognize that this is not your fault, but his.  You have always been the happiness in my life.  Let my ashes swim with the dolphins.

Love Eternally,

J

 

THE PILLS

She looks at us with her lusty eyes.  Lightning tears make war with us, melting us into her.  Slowly, we become her, one by one.  As we individually make our way down her larynx, we are greeted by the residues of her dinner.  And like sugar cubes, we dissolve into her hot lava blood stream.  We float through her, changing her, polluting her.  We graffiti our chemical identities in her brain.  In her, we exceed maximum occupancy of “one every three hours”.  Our colony over-populates her adolescent form.  Slowly, we kill her.

 

No-Doz

Mom’s overdose

Hospitalized

Pumped clean

Saved from her ghost

The hospital- where she met my dad

Alchohol- induced psycophrenic

Tragic

Iliad

Dad’s disease made him call himself Jehova

Mom and Dad fuck

Backseat

Toyota

Positive test

Deciding what’s best

Mother torn

Adoption, abortion, life

Baby me born

VIGNETTE TWO

 

Please refrain from judging my following words, as exposing my soul to a stranger comes with great reluctance.  I pray your promises of confidentiality are legitimate, as only the night sky knows my secrets.  I am writing this in the solace of my four-walled bedroom. I would have no need to write this if not for he, the cause of my recent metamorphosis from lover to single mother.  Looking out my window, I can see the leaves are turning that venom piss color, not unlike the hue of his booze.

Seasons change with love’s rolling tides.

And within my soul, a lost identity hides.

Unwillingly Yours,

J

 

MARAJUANA

We are the shit that turns fathers into criminals.  We tempt the youth generation with our promises of social acceptance and popularity.  We produce burnouts, high school drop-outs, addicts, abusers.  We produce users.  We live in their lung lobes and modify their brains.  We are the writers of tragedy and the murderers of identity.  We bomb their brains with false imagery.  We develop synthetic serenity and plastic euphoria.  Encripting dream-like visions.  Phantasmagoria.

Dad chooses drugs.

The real one he loves.

Paper wrapped green.

Crumbled love dream.

Scream.

Dark.

Moon beam.

 

VIGNETTE THREE

 

Every day, I disappear deeper into my bed of petunias and daffodils.  My tattered comforter provides no comfort at all, as these feelings of inadequacy are becoming me.  These feelings are engulfing me.  Perhaps even killing me.  My caccoon is inhibiting my true-nature as a butterfly. This sorrowed bedroom of lavender and gold suppresses my identity with the passing days.  My son’s eyes are searching for his inadequate mother trapped in hybernation.  And my little boy fears that he’s the cause of my tears.

Unwillingly Yours,

J

PROZAC

We inhabit the bodies of mental hospital patients and housewives.  We create mannequins out of men and fabricated females.  We are the craze of the crazy.  We are guilty murderers with innocent labels.

Tin-foil wrapped wishes

Hershey’s Kisses

Codependent candy dishes

It’s daddy she misses

Diamond tears

I fear those diamond tears

 

VIGNETTE FOUR

 

     Perfect specimen

Absent father, bound with aggression

Bed-trapped mother, lost in depression

Shit births obsession

Compulsion

Disorder

Whorish hands

OCD demands

Tapping

Brain trapping

Checking the lock on the door

“Go do God a favor”

“Die”

“Gay whore”

Peace no more

Afraid of loss

Tap the possession

Anxious obsession leads to depression

Meditation versus medication

Prozac

Remeron

Abilify

Chemical shit gets me by

 

 

 

Now, I’m becoming what’s prescribed to me.  Truth be told, the apple doesn’t fall far from the family tree.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Rebellion

Visual art by Caine Wong.

The nurse closed the hatch and sped away. You aren’t supposed to touch things in museums. But she had. Rebellion. A psychologist would say that it’s because she didn’t do drugs in high school and she lost her virginity on her twenty-fourth birthday. But she knew why, it was because things made by humans were meant to be touched and used. In a thousand years, the scale in the ER she worked in, that hundreds of people stepped on everyday, would be placed behind glass as a valuable untouchable thing. The old footprints on it were history and the new ones would be destruction. And yes, ruining that fifth century BCE artifact even just a little bit made her feel bad. Who knows what she might do next? She smirked and wondered if she could get a way with masturbating while lying down on a sarcophagus.

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