What Life Became After You Left

by Andrea Aguayo

Dad, Seda keeps barking at unknown sounds and she is due for a haircut soon.
You probably miss her. The rain keeps pouring and
I keep watching happy children with their mommies and daddies every time
I wash and dry clothes at that busy laundromat.

December is here again. I have put up the Christmas lights on our little green tree, but
you are not here to fix the random ineffective, little light bulbs.
Yet I find you in the parking lot where someone left an empty pack of Marlboro Reds.
I smell your cigarettes’ smoke when I have time to

serve Clara some food and she asks for lime;
You ate everything with lime.
I imagine you breathing next to my mom’s sleeping, tired face.
I remember how your snore would let me know

you were home. I keep reading as a hobby when I find the time to treat myself with stories about other selves and I find out
you aren’t the only one who has disappeared. Others are also dealing with
the sorrowful process of merging memories with reality.

I’ve been realizing: This is what life became after we lost you. And the other day
I realized that you are still part of my daily tasks.
I catch a glimpse of you when we are drinking warm cups of Nescafé coffee.
Remember, you loved to prepare yourself a mug of it every morning?

Once more I thought about it, when brushing my teeth. Instead of your Colgate,
I used Crest and I realized you are sold at supermarkets
every single day. You loved saying, “In this life, everything is possible.” Nowadays,
I see you every time my customers watch me scanning

their Marlboro Reds, Nescafés, and Colgates. I run back home
from work to finish checking off my to-do list.
Before leaving the bathroom I catch a glimpse of a girl who once had a father
and I feel so sorry for her.

As soon as I realize the girl is me, I tell myself you live on shelves and inside
shopping bags. You are distributed around the world and

I miss you, but I’m finally accepting what life became after we lost you.

the maps we drew

by Laura Murphy

desert psychedelic blues celebration of vast liberation from sorrow
far-out above and beyond the beyond
human folly and follicular obstacles of limited mammalian vision
primal wondering musing holistically and rhizomatically
in solitude teachers educate our heart of hearts
expanding in unison tugging support strings balancing on galaxies
rooted inner worlds meaning absolute meaninglessness
quiet desperation to Live as we have feared to Live

for the vibrancy of color spectrums and crystallized continuums
blind believers into messy doers tripping on love
falling bowing woven whispering of fearless devotion
ruminating percolating reaching shaking grasping
dreaming Life into fragrant blossomed manifestation
the language of one cosmic breath at a time
perfectly imperfect and words can hardly explain how we feel
and the knowing supersedes, anchoring the guttural feelings
missing the mark yet aiming anyway

crooked arrows pierce ecstatic hearts
we know where our desire guides us
even when we’ve forgotten
the maps we drew together
are we willing to go there
have we faith in ourselves to risk perceived failure
we exclaimed, smartly, “one day we will need these maps”
we thought we would outwit time but did we
or did time benevolently deceive us so we could learn our lessons

sand dunes slip listlessly through obsolete hour-glass receptacles
floating toward bottomless bed-rock pillows like feathers
surreal thunder storming lightening landscapes illuminate
feathers like snowflakes each one unique trembling
fluttering gracefully seemingly with no direction like butterflies
journeying to the full moon circle dance ritual
lift up your hearts in mourning on this morning

all is well

the bigger picture sings resonates orchestrates cohesive elements
marches onward to the heart beat of the Earth Drum
in concert in symphony in cacophony in order in chaos
no need to fear what is bigger than we
yet take heed when wandering in the desert on your vision quest
for the four directions bleed together like an oasis on a canvas
like pigments of a rainy-day mirage

The American Dream

by Hannah McCage

Behind the face of every stranger is a frightened child, lonely for the comfort of a womb to crawl into. Beneath the ocean of wrinkles drowning old men extend the warm tips of fingers reaching for the moon and the stars. For the heavens above.

These men and children are playful bandits of misery and love. They claim the streets are a warm bed, and a good night’s sleep is the dream of dead soldiers and the discipline of living mannequins.

I met a man of bones and shadow who sang with a broken tongue, about duty and trash, about youthful days chasing life by the tail and the head. Tunes of heartache, like a man feels in his feet after walking for miles just to feel the breeze. Songs of changing weather and anxiety from the thunder and clouds.

He sang to me slowly with a voice full of sorrow, nurturing each word as he spoke: “Garbage country. . . by God, the streets are gold. . . my pa taught me. . . where was I to go?”

He was such a sad and lovely man whose face I would never know. A lonely child, clinging to ragged clothes and newspaper blankets in the cold. Held up only by an old wooden cane and the songs he sang.

He was starving mad, hungry for the American Dream. The world was his friend and the world was his enemy.

The Borgia Apartment

by Pamela Chew

I have entered contemporary religious expression
On a cloudy Tuesday in October.
We are all pressed together,
But my eyes have space enough
To see Gaugin in wood.
I remember him in Brittany,
Having fanatic visions of nuns
Swirling in circles, preparing for flight.
And Matisse, this chasuble
Quietly sewn in red and yellow silk
Screams faith.
My fingers press the glass case
And form a cross on my reflection.

Black Leather

by Marc Cogman

She said her Perfect Man would have one,
an old leather jacket, worn ten years.
So I went out and bought you, on
Newbury Street, down at the punkrock end,

Where the skaters whizz by like stray bullets.
You fit snug at the shoulders, even then,
short-waisted, cut for the rough road.
A “motorcycle jacket” you’re often called,

the way the perforation along the square shoulders
suggests a venting-in of rushing wind.
I’ve never owned a motorcycle, not even a fast car.
Nevertheless, you cap off the cliché

I’m willing to be: boots and tattoos,
outlaw chic, armor-skin, wild animal hide.
I couldn’t afford you but I’m convinced
you’ve been worth it. Folks from every circle

have stopped to compliment your rugged beauty,
fashionistas and rockers, even the highway-worn
men at truck stops, nodding approval as they climb
back on their bikes to spray dust across the parking lots.

You were all I needed for warmth on lonely cross-
continental treks, all I needed for storage, walking
to cafés with pen and pad and cigarettes.
I know it was you that caught the eyes of girls

in dim saloons, you that made me seem darker,
brooding against the walls. And on dark, chilly nights
in Charlestown, you propped up my scowl and kept
muggers poised but reluctant, thinking
he’s not worth the trouble, don’t risk it.
These recent years, I like you best in L.A. winter,
the grey weeks near the turn of the year, the temperature
dipping into high forties by the beaches at night.

She found her man some time ago,
perfect to her I’m sure.
Their babe nearly crawls now.

But you and I remain, in the sensible apartment, in the four-door sedan.
Draped over a chair, in fading window light
you still have the rebel hunch, like ten years ago, like
you’re still as tough and wild as when we were new.

But scars have appeared: a red speck of oil paint dots your cuff,
some lost drop of blood, where I brushed an unfinished canvas.
And a handful of change, placed in your mutilated left pocket
would eventually lead me back from whence I came.

A Shelf of My Grandmother’s Books

by T. Allen Culpepper

She had collected the Harvard Classics too,
in their dark green faux-leather covers, but I
have chosen the other set, from a publisher called Black’s,
bound in red cloth embossed with black and gold,
Smythe-sewn spine, small print, and rough-cut pages,
because the editors’ quirky choices—
they sometimes get it right, as with Shakespeare,
Hawthorne and Ibsen, Byron, Dostoevsky—
but Bret Harte? And who the hell is Haggard?
But the randomness reminds me of her,
who without discrimination read
voraciously—romances, mysteries,
biographies, how-to books, the Bible—
often three books, or four, simultaneously.
Intelligent but from hard times, she’d never
been to college, though she dreamed of it,
wanted to write, took a correspondence
course in writing children’s stories, assignments
picked out on a little Olivetti,
sent in by mail, and then her anxious wait
for the reader’s letters, her certificate.
She and I sometimes got on, sometimes
not so much; she made the move “back home”
when I was an independent teen,
not wanting all the attention she longed to give me.
Only later did I want to hear
her stories, and by then, it was hard—
her hearing had been badly damaged when she
worked on radios during the war, and a plane
took off unexpectedly when she
had forgotten her ear protection,
and her deafness grew worse and worse with age;
much later, an accident injured her eyes, and then
she become displaced in time, unsure
if she was speaking to me or to my father.
And then I felt remorse for my behavior,
regretful about what I might have learned.
Often I suspect that my love of books
comes from her, so upon her death,
the remembrance that I wanted was
a set of books reflective of the desire
for education that she always harbored.
Despite our conflicts and her flaws, despite
how she become impossible near the end,
I loved her, and I know she helped shape
the career path that I would take.
Perhaps her influence primed me as a poet.

The Long Goodbye

by Nina Smith

The crackling fire had dwindled, leaving a bed of glowing embers and a few wispy trails of smoke snaking up the chimney on that cold November night in 1950. Sleepy sentence fragments and occasional chuckles had replaced the boisterous laughter and animated conversation of earlier in the evening.

“We’d better head for home,” said Jo Bolding, our neighbor. “It’s getting late.”

As she yawned, stretching her arms high into the air, her husband Floyd rose from his chair and began putting on his coat. The Boldings, our closest neighbors, lived within walking distance of our house and often spent cold winter evenings with our family sitting in front of the fireplace, eating popcorn and telling stories.

Before the door closed behind them, Mama grabbed a broom and started sweeping.

“You girls, pick up these newspapers,” she said as she tipped a cane-bottomed chair backward to retrieve wayward popcorn flakes from underneath. “And then you need to get ready for bed.”

“Don’t put those in the fireplace,” Dad said, watching me pick up the newspapers we’d folded into cone-shaped containers to hold our individual servings of popcorn. “They might catch the chimney on fire.” Wadding up the butter-stained papers, I headed toward the wastebasket in the kitchen. Heaven knew I didn’t want to catch the chimney on fire. I’d only seen it happen a couple of times and it terrified me. The accumulation of creosote in the flue ignited, sending a column of flames up and out the chimney with a deafening roar. Mama extinguished it by pouring a pan of water on the burning logs in the firebox, creating a cloud of steam.

It was past our usual bedtime—10:30 or later—and we’d made our final preparations for the night. We washed, dried, and put away supper dishes. Mama made sure the cat was outside. Dad banked the fire for the night and we three girls had donned our nightclothes and settled into bed when the phone rang three long rings—the coded signal indicating that this particular call on our party line was meant for the Lowery household. Again, three longs rings.

“Who could be calling this time of night?” Jerry said, rushing through our bedroom buttoning his jeans. Barefooted and with his shirt slung over his shoulder, he hurried toward the dining room, a look of concern on his face.

“Hello,” Dad said into the mouthpiece of the wooden wall-mounted telephone. “Yes. What? What did you say?” A long, long pause. “Nan!” he roared.

Mama rushed from the kitchen into the dining room where she met Dad stumbling toward the kitchen. “War Department…about Ted,” he said, choking on the words. “He’s…he’s missing.” Dad rushed out the kitchen door into the backyard and our mother, sobbing, ran toward their bedroom. Frightened and confused, my siblings and I just stood there, waiting.

“I’m gonna go talk to Dad,” Jerry said, going out the kitchen door. After what seemed a long time, Jerry came back in and said Dad was lying on the ground, hugging himself and crying.

“Mama?” I said through the closed bedroom door. “Mama, are you okay?”

She didn’t answer. It was as if their grief was too consuming to include us. I stood outside their pain not knowing what to do or say—frightened envisioning my dad, whom I’d never seen cry, lay on the ground in the backyard wailing in misery as my mother, behind her closed bedroom door, was crying without pause. Having never lost a close family member, I didn’t know how to act or feel. I’d been to numerous funerals for acquaintances in the community, but death had never taken someone I loved. And now, judging by my parents’ reactions, I feared our oldest brother Ted might be dead. After awhile, not knowing anything else to do, the four of us went to bed, leaving our parents to their grief.

Early the next morning, Mama’s voice, heavy with sorrow, penetrated the wall separating their sleeping porch from our bedroom.

“Nina, go take Ted’s picture off the piano,” she said. The awfulness of what had happened the night before washed over me as I came awake.

“No, leave it there,” Dad said. “We have to learn to live with it.”

A heavy cloud of anguish hung over our family in the days and weeks that followed. Every time the phone rang, my heart pounded praying it might be good news, yet fearful it might be a message that would end our hopes for a happy ending.

In school, I often fantasized that Ted was going to walk through our classroom door, tall and handsome in his uniform, with a big grin on his face. He’d wrap me in his arms and tell me that the army had made a big mistake and everything was going to be just fine. Then Mama and Dad wouldn’t be sad anymore.

After a few months my parents learned that one of the radio stations planned to announce the names of army personnel who had been taken prisoner by the North Koreans. Dad bought new batteries for the radio, and at the designated time my parents stationed themselves near the radio in the dining room. This happened on several occasions with family and friends joining them. Walter and Dessa Shoemake, Jo and Floyd Bolding, and Inez Campbell and her mother Florence sat with the family on a regular basis.

The announcer read the names in alphabetical order. As he neared the L’s, the adults shushed us children and all movement and chatter stopped as we waited to hear his name: Lowery, Theodore. But we never did.

As time passed, my hopes gradually faded and I learned to live with the never-ending hollowness in my life. After a period of three years—the length of time established by army policies and procedures—the War Department officially changed Ted’s status from MIA (Missing In Action) to KIA (Killed In Action).

My mother waited and prayed for a conclusive confirmation of what had happened to her oldest son, but she died thirteen years later in 1963 without any further information. My dad lived with the unresolved mystery forty-six years, until his death in 1996 at ninety-two years of age.

My youngest sister Jonann had always had a special bond with Ted. In 1996, with many of her family responsibilities waning, she launched a concentrated effort to learn as much as she could about Ted’s army life and subsequent death. She got in touch with the Department of the Army and after completing the required paperwork, gained access to Ted’s records. In the process, the Pentagon’s Office of Repatriation and Family Affairs assigned Linda Henry to be Jonann’s contact person. One of the missions of that department was to recover, identify and return remains of army personnel to their families. Jonann and sometimes other siblings attended meetings conducted by the Repatriation Department to keep family members informed of their progress. She attended meetings in Washington D.C., Dallas, Ft. Hood in Texas, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa.

Through chance meetings and other contacts, Jonann discovered that Ted’s Company held annual reunions and we went to two of those in Branson, Missouri. In talking with the men who had served with Ted, we learned many details of what army life had been like for him before and during his time in Korea.

We also learned the truth of what happened that day in November.

The First Sergeant of Ted’s Company took my brother Jerry aside and told him things he didn’t tell Jonann or me. He told him that in late October the Eighth Cavalry Regiment had advanced to within thirty-five miles of the Chinese border—their purpose being to relieve the ROK elements of the I Corps in the area. With much of the North Korean Army destroyed, the war seemed to be nearing a conclusion. In their march toward the north, Ted, who was the unit’s mapmaker and usually worked in Headquarters, had been assigned to drive a jeep with a major as his passenger.

On the morning of November first, the Second Battalion clashed with soldiers clearly identified as Chinese Communist Forces and when dusk fell that evening, enemy soldiers were on three sides of the Eighth Cavalry—the north, west, and south. At 11:45 p.m., the U.S. Commanders issued orders to evacuate and at that time the Headquarters portions of the First, Second, and Third Battalions began to move out.

By the next morning, Ted’s Company was running low on ammunition and rations were scarce. With pancake mix the only food they had left, the First Sergeant told the cook to cook every damned bit of it and they ate pancakes all day long. During the day, from atop two separate hills, they heard the sound of two Chinese buglers, one standing on each hill, bugling hour after hour.

With the entire area swarming with Chinese Communist Forces and with bridges destroyed and all roads blocked, retreating in vehicles became impossible. The officers in charge instructed their soldiers it was every man for himself, and that they were on their own in trying to escape. Finding themselves against impossible odds, the men with Ted decided to wait until dark and try to walk out.

With darkness came the enemy. Wearing tennis shoes to silence their movements, Chinese soldiers infiltrated Ted’s Company and engaged in hand-to-hand combat. “They absolutely slaughtered us,” Ted’s First Sergeant told Jerry. “Only a few of us got out.”

A small number of soldiers found themselves at the bottom of a deep ravine and amidst the blinding glare of intermittent flares and with gunshots coming from every direction, a soldier crawled up the bank to the top of the ravine “to assess the situation and look for a possible way out,” the First Sergeant said.

Within seconds of reaching the summit, the soldier dropped and rolled to the bottom of the ravine where fellow soldiers turned him over. “Who is it?” someone asked.

“Lowery,” another answered. My brother had been shot in the forehead.

“Thank God he was killed instantly,” the First Sergeant told Jerry. “You wouldn’t have wanted a loved one to be taken prisoner by the Chinese Communists.” He said Ted was an excellent soldier and a good man; our family should be proud of him.

Over the years, magazines and newspapers published articles about American soldiers still being held captive by the Chinese government. And even though I knew the improbability of Ted being one of the prisoners, the articles had served to keep alive a faint glimmer of hope. But now, with the telling of the events of November 2, 1950, by Ted’s First Sergeant, I accepted the final truth and was left with only memories, a soft mourning and a quiet peace.

One night about three years ago, while working on a genealogy project on my computer, I Googled “Theodore Emmett Lowery” and a website established by The Korean War Project popped up. There I found two letters in the “Remembrances” section posted by a retired army man named Carlis Huggins. The letters were testimonials of his friendship with an army roommate and buddy he’d had while stationed in Japan fifty years earlier.



Being too late at night to call an older man a time zone away, I repressed my excitement and resigned myself to wait until the next day to telephone. When morning arrived and, without any idea of what the outcome of the call might be, I braced myself and dialed Carlis’s phone number. As soon as he realized the meaning of the call and that I was one of Ted’s sisters, he became excited and emotional. I heard tears in his voice.

It was a heartwarming experience, finding someone halfway across the country that, having known my brother five decades earlier, still remembered and loved him. Jerry, Jonann and I still talk with Carlis occasionally and exchange pictures and stories about our families.

In 1999, Linda Henry (the family’s contact person in the Pentagon) notified Jonann that she and one of Ted’s nieces needed to submit blood samples to be processed for DNA matching by a laboratory in Hawaii on remains being recovered from North Korea. Jonann and my daughter Lori had blood drawn, packed it on dry ice and mailed it next day delivery to the correct address. Four months later, in April 2000, Jonann received a call from Ms. Henry saying they had results associated with Ted. She couldn’t explain any further what that meant, and said we would have to wait for more conclusive testing.

That phone call happened almost fourteen years ago.

As of today, we are still waiting.

Room Five-O-Four

by Mason Powell

I had never seen pillars of marble so large and robust in my life. They traveled upwards into the night sky and stopped. There, the building grew taller, maybe to more than one hundred floors. I surely hadn’t ever stayed in a hotel this elegant. The doorman got the door then the bellboy got my bags and a man with a disingenuous smile greeted me. His eyes raked my figure. I found this funny considering he was the man behind the counter. The reservations were in order and I was handed my key.

“We wish you a marvelous stay, Mr. Regal!”

Green marble, black marble, and other minerals I was uneducated of painted the lobby’s floor and walls. Frescos embellished the ceiling. Persian rugs and ancient eastern sculptures surrounded a large fountain in the center. Inside the elevator was a highly polished chrome surface where no fingerprints could be found. Room five-o-four lay between five-o-two and five-o-six. I paused at my door and looked down at my key; “504” was engraved neatly in the brass with a red tassel flowing off the end of a skeleton key. I didn’t know hotels still used those. I turned the key and cracked my door when I heard a sound. It was the echoes of a party: people laughing, glasses clinking, and classical music blended together. In this moment, I wanted to turn and leave, but this was my room and it was my right to stay.

I opened the door the rest of the way and saw confetti falling on women and men dressed in ball gowns and tuxedos. They were moving with the music and the three-piece band in the corner looked pompous. My bags were already inside the doorway. The room itself, despite the unexpected party, was elegant, and even from the fifth floor the view was glowing. I wanted to make them all leave. They were accustomed to this lifestyle. I had made it this far by hard work alone. I began to walk towards them when a hand firmly grabbed my shoulder.

“Regal, my boy. I’m glad you made it alright. I was beginning to fret you had lost your way here. Did you bring a tuxedo, like I asked?”

The voice was familiar, and when I turned to look I recognized him as the man who had hired me. He had interviewed me and accepted my internship at his company. He had paid for this room, and these were probably his guests. He had told me after the interview that I reminded him of himself—that I had what it took to rise to the top. I was to start my internship next week and to take up residency in this very room tonight.

“Yes, sir. It’s in my bag.”

“Good,” he said. “Change into the tuxedo in your room, then come and find me.”

At this I was perplexed. I had no idea what was happening, but I did as he said. I went into my room (that was thankfully empty) and changed into my tuxedo. Upon reentry, I felt out of place; we were all dressed the same but I hadn’t been to a formal since prom, which was around two years ago. Everyone was drinking and I was three months away from legal age. I saw Mr. Henry through the cracks between dancers and weaved my way to him.

“I’ve been waiting for someone like you to come along for quite awhile now,” he said, shaking my hand firmly. “Someone who I know I can trust, deep down. Someone I can believe in and help, as I was helped.” He leaned in close to me. “We both know you aren’t like the people gathered here. They’re here because they knew that so-and-so was coming as well. They looked forward to making an appearance and show off their tailored clothes and gorgeous fiancées. Some are here because of who their parents are. But you’re here because I believe in you. You’re here with the knowledge that you can surpass all of them. In time, that is.”

My hand was still tightly clasped in Mr. Henry’s. He spoke in a stately manner, as if he meditated on the words before he spoke. I could tell they came naturally to him and flowed off the tongue after years of practice. I was speechless. I felt honored and humbled, yet still angry that these people were here in my room.

“Thank you, sir,” I said. “I didn’t expect to attend a party tonight. What is the occasion?”

“You’re the occasion, Regal. Every time I welcome someone new to the company I enjoy celebrating their arrival.”

“It’s an honor, sir.”

“Please, call me Henry. We all go by our last names. It’s only a formality. Have some champagne, Regal. It’s all for you.”

This night was full of first-time experiences. Henry handed me a glass of champagne and I took a sip of that bitter stuff. Then a man I had never seen before approached me.

“Hello, Regal,” he said. “I’m Baxter. Are you enjoying your studies at Dartmouth?”

“The semester just came to a close when I got hired by Henry. Overall classes have been enjoyable but a little too easy.”

“Not all are as bright as you, Regal.”

“What is it, Baxter, that brings you here tonight?”

“I was invited here at the request of Henry.”

“And how, Baxter, did you know I was attending Dartmouth?”

“It’s in your file, Regal. This party is for you. Would it not be rude if I didn’t know you and attended your very party?”

“Well, there is some sense in that Baxter,” I said. “Please excuse me.”

I turned away and closed my eyes. It all felt so fake. It was fake. These people were here to see me and I knew no one but Henry. It felt like an experiment, like Henry was testing my wit and composure by exposing me to this dim lifestyle. I had to remain calm. Looking around me, I noticed that everyone held a glass of champagne. Maybe that would do the trick. A butler-esque looking man stood behind a bar pouring drinks. I approached him.

“What’ll it be, Regal?” he asked.

“I’ll take a glass of champagne.”

“The‘62 or the ‘65?”

“I’ll have the ’62,” I said.

He handed me the glass and gave me the same smile the man at the front desk had given me earlier. A woman approached me and asked to dance, which felt kind of backwards. I said yes, and she swooped me to the middle of the room where we began to waltz. We were unnaturally close and she was strikingly beautiful. She stared into my eyes and didn’t say a word. Her expression looked aroused and I felt awkward. She whispered into my ear that I looked handsome and she, too, knew my name. I whispered to her that she looked heavenly, trying to sound corny. She seemed to take it as the greatest compliment ever given and she pulled me tighter.

The song ended. I thanked her for the dance, then approached the bar for more ’62.

With champagne in hand, I turned and examined every face in the room. They took peeks at me and when we met eyes, they smiled. The only person seated in the room was a girl, probably nearing my own age. She was staring at the floor. I felt my heart sink when she looked up at me and gave no smile. She was more beautiful than the dancer—perhaps the prettiest girl there. After one more ’62 I made my way to her.

“What’s your name?” she said in a snappy tone. “Regal?”

“Yes, it is, and what might—”

“Are you enjoying your party? It’s been in the works for weeks. Now you’re here in the spotlight.”

“I didn’t expect it at all. What is your name—”

“You don’t seem to belong here,” she said, once again she cutting me short, “and I don’t wish to be here.”

“Well, this is my loft,” I said. “So I’d say I belong. If you’re not enjoying yourself, why not leave?”

“I’m not allowed to go. Not yet.”

Mr. Henry’s booming voice cut in. “Regal, is the ’62 to your liking? It’s from my personal collection.”

“It’s very good, Henry. I’ve never had champagne quite like it.”

“Is that so? I saw that you shared a dance with Miss Young; she’s taken quite a liking to you.  She also has recently modeled for Herman Boyeur’s new fashion line.”

“She is very gorgeous, sir. . . I mean, Henry.”

“There are plenty to choose from Regal. Remember, they’re all here for you.”

I smiled at this thought. For the first time that night I felt comfortable in my new home. I looked around and felt dignified. I remembered the sad girl and knew I had to cheer her up. It was my party and she was my guest. Behind me, her chair was empty. I searched the dancers and she was not there either. The discomfort came back to me and I got more ’62.

More people approached me and they all knew my story. Everything in my interview and a little more was on the table. I learned of different countesses, actors, businessmen, and financers, some present, some not. The last names became a blur and the ’62 lightened my mood. More dances were shared, and the women’s faces looked better and better. In the back of my mind the sad girl and her lonely expression was all I could think of. What did she mean in saying couldn’t leave? I went to my lavatory for the first time and it was as big as my old apartment was. Then back into my bedroom and there I found her.

She was lying on my bed, naked and asleep. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was as if an angel, at God’s own request, was lying there on my bed. I shut the door behind me and the echo of the party stopped. This woke her from her sleep and she looked up at me calmly. I knew that my guests would miss me if I was gone too long, but this room was mine. I remembered what Henry had said in a fatherly manner: They’re all here for you.

She was different from the rest and that’s what drew me to her. I wanted to make her happy. She smiled at me. I blushed. Like a pillar of red granite I stood there. She was too heavenly to defile and it seemed too good to be true but her veracity was present in that room. She laughed, probably at my expression and gestured me forward. I sat on the edge of the bed and she wrapped her arms around me. Chills were sent through my blood and every hair stood on its roots. Then a knock at my door came and my stomach lunged. I leapt from her grasp.

“One minute, sir. . . madam. . .whoever!” I choked on my words. “I’ll be out in a moment’s notice!” She laughed even harder at this event, and I shushed her.

“Why are you in here?” I whispered.

“You’re the famous Regal. I want to get to know you better.”

“Like this? This is not appropriate!”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” she said sadly, pulling the covers over her head.

“No. No. I want to get to know you too, just not like this. Not now, at my own party.”

No reply came from beneath the sheets so I pulled them off of her.

“What’s your name, girl?”

She looked up at me. “I’m known by several different names,” she said. “But my father calls me Miss Henry.”


by Brianna Sanow

Rain is sliding down the window pane in a thick layer, as though someone is aiming a garden hose directly at it. I’m sitting at the kitchen table slowly and carefully enjoying the bowl of cereal set before me. Wilson sits across from me, staring at a newspaper dated two days ago. He’s not so much staring at it as he is looking straight through it, into something inside his own mind.

I enjoy myself more every day living in this house. Nothing ever happens, which is precisely why I like it. Usually things turn from dismal to worse until I’m moved somewhere else. And the cycle keeps repeating itself. I hold on to the thought that maybe this time it’s different, that maybe I found where I belong, at least as much as a person like me can belong somewhere. At this point I’ve learned not to think too optimistically so as to save myself from inevitable disappointment, but for now I can’t stop myself from hoping.

Wilson is probably in his early thirties, although he carries himself as someone much older. He has a plain yet handsome face, noticeably strong hands, and the posture of a man who has given up. Although I’m not positive yet what he’s given up on, it seems it may be the pursuit of having a happy life.

“I’m sorry to bring you into this,” Wilson says. “I’m a mess.”

I put the spoon I’m holding down into my bowl, slightly surprised by the unusual discharge of words. I’ve been here for four weeks and have had close to no conversation with the man who has taken me in.

“This is the happiest home I’ve ever lived in,” I tell him. For reasons I can’t grasp, an expression forms on his face as though what I have said makes him very sad, but he gives me a lingering look, as though he thinks he might understand.

Wilson sighs, grabbing his face with his veiny hands. “My wife died six months ago,” he says, struggling to get the words out, as though maybe he’d never spoken them before. “She was never able to have her own children. We’d made plans long ago to be foster parents, to adopt eventually, but then…she wasn’t able to.”

“I’m very sorry,” I tell him, and I mean it. I hate the word “sorry,” really. How is it that the same word that is an appropriate response for accidentally bumping into someone or interrupting them mid-sentence is also a valid reply to a disclosure of deep grief? I hope the sincerity shows through in my voice. I’m unsure of what else I can say.

Sometimes when terrible things happen to people it makes them calloused and they don’t care when they see other people in pain anymore. My biggest fear is that I might one day become one of those people, so when someone tells me something really sad or fucked up that’s happened to them, I try to focus on it for as long as possible and imagine what they might be feeling. My psychologist tells me I shouldn’t do this. She says it’s not healthy to assume other people’s problems as my own, and that instead I should strive to cheer someone up if they’re feeling sad. Even though she endured years of college to earn the entitlement of being a professional giver of life advice, I’m not convinced Dr. Alma always knows what she’s talking about. After all, ministers don’t tell jokes during funeral services; they deliver eulogies and say a lot of sad shit that makes everyone listening cry even harder.

My cereal is getting soggy so I start spooning it into my mouth again, all the while trying to guess what it might feel like to have the person you love the most die. I’ve never known anyone who died. Not really. My dad died when I was an infant, but mostly that just makes it seem like I never had a dad at all. He shot himself in the head while sitting on a couch in the living room of the house where I spent the first thirteen years of my life. The only reason I know how he died is because once I read my file when Dr. Alma had to step out of her office during one of our sessions to calm down a patient who’d shown up in hysterics. I guess I was in a crib just a few feet away from the couch when it happened. Sometimes I like to imagine that right before he did it, he picked me up in his arms and held me for a final goodbye.

Wilson has gone back to staring through Tuesday’s paper and my cereal is gone now. I’m still hungry and I’d like another bowl, but one thing I’ve learned is to never ask for more than I need to. I don’t think Wilson is in this for the money; it’s a meager compensation, anyway. It’s really just enough to cover the added expense of having someone living in your house, but some people will give you almost nothing so they can make a little profit from the system. I guess Wilson sees me staring at my bowl because he asks me if I’m still hungry. In the back of my mind I wonder if this is some sort of test, to see if I’m going to be greedy or not, but I decide to be honest and tell him yes. Wilson takes my bowl and fills it to the brim with cereal and milk.         “You should always eat as much as you like,” he tells me. Then he dismisses himself to his bedroom.

It’s summertime, so I don’t have to go to school. Wilson has a very irregular work schedule; there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it, but he always lets me know when he’s going out or leaves me a note if I’m asleep. There really isn’t much to do to entertain myself. He doesn’t have many books and the TV only gets five channels, but he does have a lot of pictures. Normally I would feel bad going through someone’s life like that, but he has them inside albums that are placed on top of the coffee table for anyone to browse through. Mostly they are filled with photos of him and his wife. She was very beautiful with espresso brown hair and light blue eyes trimmed in green. I can’t help but notice that in all of the pictures they look so absolutely in love and yet so miserable at the same time. I wonder how that feels, to be in love but not be happy.

Tonight Wilson is sprawled out on the couch, a half-empty bottle of whisky on the coffee table in front of him. He is talking to the TV while an overly made-up woman with piss-blonde-colored hair encourages the viewers to order some revolutionary set of Tupperware. I feel uncomfortable for the first time since moving in. Of course he has every right to drink in his house if he wants to, it’s just that for me no good has ever come from being around inebriated men. When I was twelve, my mother started renting me out for the night to her male “friends.” She would invite guys over who would be anticipating a drug-infused fuck from her, but instead she’d get them loaded and offer them her daughter for a price. So as to hold onto some shred of faith in humanity, I would try to convince myself that they wouldn’t be doing it if they weren’t completely out of their minds on heroin and booze, and that if they remembered it, they regretted it the day after.

I retreat to my bedroom for an hour and then decide I’ll go check on him. Wilson is passed out now with the TV still going. I turn it off and grab a blanket from a nearby chair to cover him up with. He latches onto it in his sleep and mutters, “I love you, Lara,” under his breath while he slumbers. Even in a drunken sleep his dead wife is all that’s on his mind. I’ve decided now that Wilson is harmless.

Last week he came home one night with his arms full of bulging paper grocery bags. He asked me if I enjoy cooking and I told him it’s something I’ve always wanted to learn. Tonight is the sixth night in a row we’re attempting to learn together.

“I think you can flip the bacon now,” he tells me. I do and find that I’ve cooked the underside to a black crisp.

“Just the way I like it,” he tells me with not a hint of sarcasm in his voice. The crunching sound of our teeth biting into the sandwiches fills the otherwise quiet kitchen.

“How did your wife die?” I ask him without thinking at all.

Wilson stops mid-bite, a dot of mayo on the side of his upper lip. He is looking at me as though I might be the first person who ever asked him this.

“A drug overdose,” he tells me. “Lara was an addict.” He wipes his mouth with a napkin. “Sometimes I think I may be the only person in the world who’s never done a drug in their life and yet married an addict.”

Wilson has opened up to me. Admittedly, I’ve somewhat forced him to. But he could have lied instead. I’ve never really opened myself up to anyone. Lord knows Dr. Alma has tried a thousand times to get me to share about my “abuse,” as she refers to the events of my life, but I guess I never had any interest divulging my thoughts to a woman the state has appointed to give a damn about me.

“Do you think a person dying is about the same as being abandoned?” I ask him.

He chooses his words carefully. “I think maybe with death there can be more closure,” he tells me. “And possibly less anger.”

“But Lara didn’t have to die. She could have stopped abusing drugs.”

“Well, yes,” he says. He’s silent for a moment. “And I’m constantly angry with her for that. But it’s easier to be upset with myself, because I could have stopped her. And I should have. I didn’t, though, and now she’s gone. Sometimes I can’t wrap my head around the fact that she’ll never walk through the front door again, and that it’s partially because of me.”

I digest what he’s said along with the blackened bacon in my stomach. In some ways, Wilson is the most confusing person I have ever known. Maybe it’s that he’s the first true man I’ve come across in the sense that he so readily accepts the blame for his choices, or maybe there is a feeling of obligation that comes with sharing pain. Whatever it is, I want him to know about the things I’ve kept from Dr. Alma, the things that I’ve buried so deeply within myself that they are hidden away in the marrow of my bones, invisible from the outside but always present in my blood.

“I know more about you than you know about me,” I tell him. “That doesn’t seem right, to have a stranger living in your home.”

Wilson smiles a contemplative sort of smile. “I don’t think we’re strangers. And anyways you have the right to your privacy. For me, it helps to have someone who listens.”

That is enough for him to gain my trust entirely. I begin speaking and continue until there is nothing left undisclosed. He is the priest and the kitchen my confessional, a thick curtain of hurt enclosed around us. I admit not my own transgressions but rather the errors of those who have wronged me. The chipped linoleum tile floor becomes holy ground and I can feel myself ascending, rising out of the valleys of my past. Wilson takes my hand and squeezes.

As I drift into sleep that night I can still feel the warmth of his strong hand on mine.

The edges of summer are furling now, rolling in to their end. I sit on the couch reading an informational packet from the new school I’ll be attending in a couple weeks. I hear Wilson at the door now, fumbling to find the right key.

“Goddamn frosting,” I hear him mumble under his breath. Quickly I open the door, revealing a flustered Wilson balancing in his hand a richly frosted cake, glowing with the light of seventeen dripping candles. “Maybe I should have waited to light them,” he says.

“Oh, wow,” I say in a hushed voice. The last birthday cake I’ve been given had only five candles on it. He begins to sing to me in a showtuney voice and I laugh until I cry. “You’d better make a wish,” he tells me, and I think to myself that I wish I could have those years back, those missing candles. Instead I plead to the birthday gods that Wilson will give me a cake glowing with eighteen flames.

It’s three in the morning and I am awakened by voices wafting from the living room, Wilson’s and a woman’s. I roll over in bed to face the other direction, figuring it’s none of my business. I try to think of anything besides the low hum of conversation creeping in from under my door as I count the seconds like sheep in my head. 1,387, 1,388, 1,389… Curiosity has gotten the better of me and I silently make my way out of my room and down the hall.

“I wish I could make more sense right now,” the woman says. “It’s like I’m on fire, like my whole body is…Oh god I’m sorry, I think I’m gonna throw up again.”

As I make my way into the living room, I watch as a woman with her back to me vomits into a bucket she grabs off of the coffee table, next to several open photo albums strewn across it. Wilson pulls back her chocolaty brown hair with one hand, stroking her blanketed back with his other.

“I think we have some nausea medicine in the cabinet,” I announce as the woman heaves another round of puke into the pail.

Wilson looks up at me with a shameful expression of guilt worn on his face.

“Ezra, I didn’t realize you were awake,” he says. He looks down with nothing else to say. I grab some paper towels from the kitchen and walk back to the couch, handing them to the woman who sets the bucket back on the table. As she turns to look at me am I am met with the face of a ghost, a phantasm.

“Thank you,” the gaunt woman tells me weakly, wiping the edges of her mouth.

“It’s Lara,” I say to myself.

I look again to Wilson, his head still bowed. He says nothing.

“I wish you didn’t have to meet me like this,” Lara says.

I take this as my cue to leave. I walk out the front door, barefoot and still wearing pajamas. The air outside is thick and muggy and clouds my already confused thoughts. My pace quickens from a brisk walk to an outright sprint. I can’t remember the last time I’ve moved so fast. Have I ever really run from anything at all? My whole life I’ve been a human ball, bounced from place to place, hurtled through situations by the force of other people. I run faster. Sharp chunks of gravel and broken fragments of glass cut into my feet as they pound onto the pavement with the full force of my weight, and I think to myself that it is glorious. It is fucking glorious just to feel and to know for maybe the first time in my life fully what it is that I am feeling: hurt. It rips through me like a dull knife jaggedly slicing through a hunk of meat. It is real because I allow it to be.

I find myself in a park a few blocks away from the house. Breathlessly I collapse onto a bench. Flying bugs swarm around the loudly buzzing streetlight across from me, the only sound that I can hear. I think to myself that maybe I’ll just keep running. Run until I turn eighteen years old and I’m free to bounce where I please, off the court and into my own game.

Soon I hear footsteps approaching. I don’t even have to look to know that it is Wilson. He sits down beside me without a word.

“You’re an illusionist,” I tell him. “You made me believe in a false reality.”

“I was only ever trying to fool myself. It was easier to believe my wife was dead than that she chose a damned drug over me.” Wilson shifts his weight and stares down the path.

“If anything, I can relate to you more now. I know what it’s like to be second place, or no place at all. Only thing is, no one’s ever coming back for me.”

“I understand you might never have shared the things that you did with me if you had known the truth.” Wilson pinches the spot between his eyes with his fingers. “I don’t know what kind of person does that, lies about someone they love dying. I felt ashamed that she left me. Unlovable. Like I must really have some serious character flaws for my wife to enjoy getting high more than she enjoyed my company.”

“I’m not one to hold grudges, Wilson. If I did, by now they’d outweigh my own strength by far.”

“And that’s good, Ezra. Really, that’s the way to be a lot of the time. But I want you to be upset with me. I want proof that you still feel something when someone does you wrong. Because if you’ve lost that reaction entirely, you’ll spend the rest of your life letting people walk all over you.”

I try to summon a feeling, an indication that I can acknowledge the good from the bad. People are just so gray. The black, the white. Trying to separate the positive from the negative.

“I was feeling,” I tell him. “When I ran out of the house. I felt betrayed and hurt. And you did that to me.”

“I’m very, very sorry Ezra.”

“No, I mean, you made me feel something,” I say slowly, reaching out for truth in my words as I speak them. “Maybe it was fabricated but we shared things with one another. You are maybe the first person to treat me with respect without making me a charity case and that has opened me up. Being exposed to pain is going to be a part of that.”

Wilson and I sit side by side on the bench lost in our own thoughts for a while. I don’t know how much time has passed but it’s still completely black outside. I focus on the ground, staring at a small flower struggling to grow through a crack in the pavement.

“Is she staying?” I finally ask him.

He nods his head, the shadow of it cast from the streetlight ebbing and rising on the pavement. “She says she is.”

“Does that mean I’ll have to go?”

Wilson turns his face from me toward the path down the park. I already know the answer to my question. I look into the direction he is gazing. Past the light from the lamp there is only complete nothingness. A questionable sea of darkness I cannot perceive.

I don’t know what lies beyond, but there must be something.


by John Gabriel

The needle traced the grooves and rode up and down with the slight warp of the vinyl. First, the motion produced no sound, then the hissing and popping began. He had hoped the flaws wouldn’t be so conspicuous. For him, the imperfections were comforting, often more so than the music itself. Suddenly he felt exposed. But being embarrassed of something that gave him such pleasure made him feel younger. At least there was that.

He looked over at his guest, who was fiddling with some knickknack on the shelf, maybe not even aware of the sounds. They’d agreed to play each other one song, so technically her part of the bargain started when the actual music did. And he was afraid now. He had debated playing something she might know: Johnny Cash, or maybe the Ramones. He reasoned that she would just have more excuses to find flaws in the medium if it was something she had heard before. So why not choose his favorite, something he chanced that she didn’t know.

The vocals were muffled below the static, but they were still audible. I could say it’s over now / That I was glad to see you go. She smiled and he could breathe again; not that he hung so much on her appreciation of the song, but he didn’t look forward to having his justification fall on deaf ears. He didn’t even know how he was going to handle this contest if there was no clear winner.  He had learned. It had taken a very long time, but he knew that being right wasn’t always what it was cracked up to be, especially about something as trivial as music, something that ultimately came down to taste.

For another moment, he enjoyed watching as she continued to smile. I could hate you for the way I’m feeling / My lips could tell a lie, but my heart would know. Beyond the archaic medium and the lack of quality, he had second-guessed this song because of the lyrics, though he was sure they hadn’t reached the “encoded messages in songs” part of their relationship yet. They had only been talking a few weeks; in fact, this was her first time over to his apartment. Still, he knew he would read far too much into whatever she chose, when it was her turn. For the moment, however, he was delighted at her apparent enjoyment.

She spoke, but quietly enough that it was evident she was trying to be respectful.

“I know this song, you know?”

“Oh yeah?” he said. “Dad or ex-boyfriend?”

“You’re funny. . . which would make you more uncomfortable?” She laughed. He honestly didn’t know which would. “Actually, neither,” she said. “It’s in Cars.”

“The…cartoon?” The urge to fly into an overly dramatic rant about the sacredness of music and the vapidity of children’s movies began to boil in him. He had never seen the movie, but he was sure it was terrible and he would have likely walked out in protest at the inclusion of this song. But he had to ignore that for right now. He didn’t want to scare her off. This might still be salvageable.

“Hmm, never seen it,” he said.

“It’s all right. This part is pretty sad. But now I have an idea of what to play for you.” She smiled coyly, as though she had thought of the perfect song, a song that fifty years from now would be “their song,” or would at least fix this fiasco despite her obliviousness to it. For the moment though, she sat and listened to his song to be polite.

He honestly didn’t care about the song she had chosen. He began to realize this had been a mistake. He could win any contest about whose song was better, and it wouldn’t even be a challenge; he had on his side truth, history, and people smarter than both of them. But at what cost? Was she worth it? He still barely knew her. He was no longer enjoying this experiment, and he considered turning off the music, but that would show his hand. She would surely realize he was pouting, then.

It’s a sin to make me cry...make me cry…make me cry…make me cry. Now he had an excuse to turn it off. His prayer had been answered, but it the form of another nail in the coffin of his argument for vinyl. She shrugged her shoulders, not quite sure if she should state the obvious, so she didn’t. The words repeated over and over as he moved toward the turntable.

“I’ll take this off,” he said. “You can put yours on.”

She was already at the computer. The glow from the screen lit up the small, dark room. Her fingers typed, then typed some more.

“I can’t ever remember how to spell it,” she said.

That was a dead giveaway. He knew what she had chosen. He hoped he was wrong, but the signs were all there.

“Oh man, so many versions. I think this is the one.”

He didn’t even need to hear the music. The only question he had was whether she would click on the one he wanted. He doubted it. She clicked the mouse, then came over and sat next to him as the unmistakable piano chords began.

This is from Shrek,” she whispered. “It’s my—”

This is not the version from Shrek.”

He stood up, crossed the room and opened the door. “I’m sorry,” he said. “This is just. . . Just please go.”

“What?” she said. “I’m sorry. Do you know this song? Is it sentimental somehow? I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “You’re great. Go be great.”

He shut the door behind her. Then he walked back across the room and dropped onto the couch, face in his hands. Realizing the music was still playing, he smiled as he listened.

            All I ever learned from love / Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew ya.