The Toaster

Fiction / Stephen Short


:: The Toaster ::

            Pegatha Bur­roughs didn’t trust her toast­er any­more. She only had it for three days and it dis­played only dubi­ous intent. She brought it home from the South­way Sec­ond­hand Store for four dol­lars. Her pre­vi­ous Toast­mas­ter had final­ly bit the bul­let after twelve years of devot­ed ser­vice. Every morn­ing, two slices of plain white bread dropped to the glow­ing grills, and every morn­ing, two slices of crisp toast jumped over the thresh­old and wait­ed for her but­ter knife. But ear­li­er in the week the Toast­mas­ter made a bark­ing sound and nev­er baked the bread.

            Peg hung her head low through the entrance to the Sec­ond­hand Store. She was ashamed that she had to come here. She tried not to look any­one in the eye, lest they rec­og­nize her from out in the world. It smelled like old paint and plas­tic. Peg tried not to touch any­thing if she could help it and hoped to bee­line direct­ly to the kitchen appli­ances. After a brief dal­liance around the tele­vi­sions she found them; waf­fle irons, cracked blenders, and the only toast­er on the shelf; A tiny black num­ber, two slots on top, and the depres­sor cocked at a slight angle. Four dol­lars showed the hand­writ­ten tag draped off the but­ton. She slid it off the shelf and clutched it under her arm like a foot­ball. She pulled her hood low­er. As she shuf­fled to the front counter, she heard crumbs spilling from the bot­tom of the toast­er and they bounced off her coat. She set the toast­er down to the scratched counter and saw a bot­tle of hand san­i­tiz­er near the reg­is­ter. She pumped a glob into her palm and slathered it over her ringed fin­gers, spat­ter­ing. The cashier told her an amount that was slight­ly more than four dol­lars and Peg gave her a five to break, then pock­et­ed the change and dashed out the glass doors.

            On her counter she exam­ined it ful­ly. A black plas­tic cov­er­ing with buff marks all over. Well used. It didn’t have a name. The depres­sor rest­ed at its angle but would wob­ble to the exact oppo­site angle if tweaked. It made a scrap­ing sound when pressed down. There was a spin­ning dial that was num­bered from one to five, most like­ly indi­cat­ing desired dark­ness of prod­uct, and cur­rent­ly set to four. Peg took a risk and set the dial to three. The crumb tray would not open. She flipped the toast­er upside down over her trash can and jos­tled it the way unpaid musi­cians rat­tle mara­cas. Crumbs spilled every­where but her trash can. She set it down on the counter where the old Toast­mas­ter had gone and plugged the crin­kled black cord into the wall. It sat there, unsus­pect­ing, the rest of the evening.

            In the morn­ing Peg stum­bled from her bed in her flow­ing night­shirt and wob­bled out to the kitchen. She was a gar­bled mess of nerves. She smushed her glass­es up her nose, unspun the loaf of plain white bread, and dropped them into the lit­tle black toast­er. She pushed down on the depres­sor and the bread slipped inside with a screech. A slow orange glow sung out from the slits and Peg wrung her dry hands. The toast­er gave a sub­tle buzz, let­ting her know it would be okay. “Yes,” she said only to her­self. “I think so.” With con­fi­dence, she cracked the lid on her cof­fee pot and poured grounds into a fil­ter, added water, and flipped the switch. She pulled a sil­ver mug from the cup­board. She opened her sug­ar jar and uncapped a half gal­lon of milk. She clanked down a small orange ceram­ic plate and laid it next to the new toast­er. It was emp­ty. Com­plete­ly breadless.

            Peg stared down at the toast­er. The depres­sor was up. There was no glow. There was no heat. She poked it. It shuf­fled a cen­time­ter on her rough counter. The cof­fee pot was bur­bling and hot. Peg licked her chapped lips and picked at her knuck­les. She unspun the loaf of plain white bread and dropped two slices into the new toast­er. She turned the dial down to two. She plunged the depres­sor down with a squeal. The slow orange glow lit up her white bread and the mel­low buzzing calmed her just so. She stood her ground and crossed her arms, her night­shirt crum­pling wild and her shoul­ders tick­ling her ears. Peg locked her eyes on her bread and watched every pore brown over until it popped out of the toast­er, a lit­tle less done than she’d pre­fer. She turned the knob back to three. She pulled the warm toast from the slots and but­tered them near her cof­fee sta­tion. Sug­ar and milk in the cof­fee, toast in the mouth, Peg was happy.

            She got a mes­sage from her daugh­ter, Sheila. She need­ed more mon­ey trans­ferred over. Sheila was a sopho­more at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alaba­ma. She was study­ing Latin. She scraped Peg for every dol­lar she could spare and hur­ried off the phone before Peg could ini­ti­ate any real con­ver­sa­tion. But chil­dren need­ed to be cared for. Peg opened her phone to her bank­ing app and trans­ferred one hun­dred dol­lars to Sheila. Peg had twen­ty sev­en dol­lars left for the next week and a half.

            Peg got to work exact­ly at 8am and left just after 5pm, mak­ing sure the day’s tasks were all com­plet­ed. Her cowork­ers had left prompt­ly at 5pm, if not ear­li­er. She sched­uled her doctor’s appoint­ment at 5:45pm, know­ing she would leave late. She had hip and back pain for sev­er­al weeks now, and it took sev­er­al weeks to get in with Dr. Kramer. She uri­nat­ed far too much in her cup (“Just to the line,” the nurse had said) but she want­ed to be sure. Giv­en her age, Dr. Kramer sug­gest­ed it was like­ly pain from sit­ting at skewed angles or strain from stress, and rec­om­mend­ed a series of exer­cis­es and stretch­es for Peg to do at home. She sug­gest­ed a yoga class or that she could do them at home with online instruc­tion tar­get­ing her hips and low back, and to move to full body indef­i­nite­ly. Alter­na­tive­ly, a chi­ro­prac­tor may prove effec­tive but may not be cov­ered by insur­ance. Peg had a din­ner of peanut but­ter and grape jel­ly on white bread and a glass of milk and sat in front of the tele­vi­sion to watch game shows. She thought about call­ing Sheila but talked her­self out of it. Dur­ing the next com­mer­cial break she talked her­self back into it and poked her name on the phone screen. It rang once and went to voice­mail. Peg turned the vol­ume up on the tele­vi­sion and fin­ished her milk.

            The next morn­ing Peg crawled out of bed and slipped on her skin­ny robe and hob­bled to the kitchen. She unspun the loaf of white bread and placed two slices in the slots of the new black toast­er. She pushed the depres­sor down and it screamed in met­al. A slow orange glow hugged her bread and the buzzing noise bounced off the kitchen walls and made Peg grin. She dumped yesterday’s cof­fee fil­ter in the trash and added a new one, with cof­fee grounds and dumped water in the tank. She pulled a white mug from the cup­board, uncapped the sug­ar jar, and pre­pared the milk. She clanked a ceram­ic plate down to set near the new toast­er and she gasped see­ing that it was emp­ty once more. Depres­sor up. No heat. Absolute­ly bread­less. She lift­ed the new toast­er and scrunched her face to peer inside the slits, shift­ing it so the kitchen light bled in. Peg jos­tled it about and crumbs sift­ed through the cracks but the draw­er would still not open. She set it down and turned the dark­ness dial to four, then slipped in two pieces of bread to the slots and plunged the depres­sor down as it scraped. A slow orange glow rose about and a pleas­ant heat crept over her arms. Peg stared, unblink­ing, at the toast­er, crisp­ing her bread dark­er and dark­er. The cof­fee pot seared. The toast burst out of the slits and Peg shuf­fled a step for­ward and plucked her black­ened slices to the plate. She turned the dial back to three. She but­tered them and let it melt as she pulled her phone out. Sheila post­ed on social media that she was bored in her dorm. Peg dialed her num­ber and it rang once before going to voicemail.

            Peg got to work at exact­ly 8am and stayed just past 5pm once again, just like she always did. She made sure all the tasks were done despite her cowork­ers’ time­ly exits. On her way out of the glass doors her phone buzzed. Peg jug­gled it out of her coat pock­et hop­ing to hear from Sheila, but it was just a text mes­sage from her bank inform­ing her of her sad balance.

            Peg drove straight home and set her bag and keys over the back of her chair at the kitchen table. She unspun the bread bag and slathered peanut but­ter on one slice and grape jel­ly on anoth­er. She filled a cof­fee mug halfway with milk and dropped into her old chair in the liv­ing room and put on game shows. Her phone buzzed and she snatched it from her thigh. It was a text from the phone com­pa­ny remind­ing her of her pend­ing with­draw­al for more than she had in her account.

            Her hip stung and boiled pain to her leg and spine. Reluc­tant­ly, she turned off the game shows and dialed up begin­ner yoga videos just like Dr. Kramer had rec­om­mend­ed. Peg fol­lowed the direc­tions and heaved into posi­tions she had nev­er vol­un­tar­i­ly entered. Arms splayed, legs askew. Her wrin­kled face was con­tort­ed and strained. The voice on the tele­vi­sion told her to breathe. She gasped and winced.

            Peg woke the next morn­ing and shuf­fled to the kitchen in her night­shirt. She unspun the bread bag and dropped two slices into the slits of the new toast­er and pressed the plunger with a screech. She stared at the toast­er while its care­ful buzz echoed. A slow orange glow calmed her and she adjust­ed her hip, remem­ber­ing to breathe. Peg stepped back from the toast­er towards the cof­fee pot on the oppo­site counter but didn’t look away. The dial was on three. The glow was still orange. Sat­is­fied, she dumped yesterday’s grounds to the trash, filled a new fil­ter with dry, and added water to the bin. Peg flipped the switch and it slurped to life. She pulled a white mug from the cab­i­net, unlid­ded the sug­ar jar, and placed the half-gal­lon of milk on the counter. She slipped a ceram­ic plate from the cup­board and walked to the new toast­er to find it ful­ly emp­ty. Absolute­ly bread­less. Peg felt a burn­ing fury spilling from her fore­head and she smacked the new toast­er. It slid a few cen­time­ters and some crumbs drib­bled to the coun­ter­top. She hat­ed to admit it but her hand was sting­ing from the hit. The cof­fee pot bur­bled. Peg unspun the bread loaf, which was dis­ap­pear­ing faster than usu­al, and dropped one slice into a slot. She did not change the dial. She round­ed her shoul­ders and clenched her teeth and stabbed the plunger down to a wail. A slow orange glow breathed from the wiring and Peg melt­ed. She snapped back, remem­ber­ing to be angry at the toast­er, and stood clenched and hud­dled over the top of it, lis­ten­ing to the buzz. Her hip ached and she decid­ed that part could unclench, but the shoul­ders, no way. Peg remem­bered the voice on the tele­vi­sion telling her to relax and to breathe. She shut her eyes and heaved a strained breath past her lips. She noticed the heat left and the buzzing stopped. Peg burst her eye­lids open to see the bread­less toast­er in front of her. She unplugged it. She plugged it back in, and dropped half a piece of bread into the oth­er slot and dropped the plunger to a wiry wail. The glow didn’t calm her. She saw the bread crisp­ing up then took a step back­wards and stepped in a cir­cle, turn­ing away. The new toast­er was emp­ty when she spun back around. The oth­er half of the bread went in a slot and the plunger went down to a screech. She closed her eyes before the slow glow could win and when she opened them back up the bread was gone.

            Peg hob­bled over to the kitchen table, spilling over with torn envelopes and receipts. She grabbed a bill and fold­ed it down and stuffed it in a toast­er slot. She pressed it down screech­ing. The slow orange glow pleased her as she saw smoke ris­ing from the grills. She closed her eyes. The new toast­er was emp­ty. Absolute­ly bil­less. Peg poured out her cof­fee and added extra sug­ar and slurped it, star­ing at the toaster.

            Pegatha Bur­roughs didn’t trust her toast­er any­more. She unplugged it and scooped it in both hands and moved it to the oth­er counter. She picked it back up and set it on the kitchen table. She stepped back.

            She did not arrive at work at 8am. She drove to the South­way Sec­ond­hand Store with the black toast­er buck­led into the pas­sen­ger seat. Peg held it out like a bomb and wad­dled to the front glass doors and rat­tled them; closed until 11.

            Peg re-buck­led the toast­er and wait­ed on the side of the street. Her phone buzzed and she fum­bled the screen on. Sheila texted ask­ing for more mon­ey. Peg called her. The phone rang once and went to voice­mail. Peg opened her bank­ing app and trans­ferred fif­teen dol­lars to Sheila. She got a noti­fi­ca­tion from the bank about the sad bal­ance she had remain­ing. Sheila mes­saged again com­plain­ing about the mea­ger trans­fer. Peg called her. The phone rang once and went to voice­mail. She set her phone down next to the toast­er. It buzzed. The pow­er com­pa­ny was inform­ing her of the pend­ing with­draw­al which was much more than she had in her account.

            South­way Sec­ond­hand Store would not open for sev­er­al hours. She drove to work and clocked in late. On her lunch break she went back to the store and hauled the toast­er in under­neath one arm, slid­ing her hood for­ward over her hair.

            “I need to return this.” She set the toast­er down. Crumbs fell to the blue plas­tic counter.

            “We don’t take returns.” Peg didn’t look her in the eye.

            “It was four dollars.”

            “We don’t take returns,” the teen repeated.

            Peg couldn’t look her in the eyes but lift­ed her head and focused on the ceil­ing fan. “Please,” she said.

            “I can’t give you your mon­ey back, ma’am. I’m sorry.”

            Peg dropped her head back down and crossed her arms. She tried not to lean on her hip. “Just take it back then. I’ll donate it.” She spun around and burst out the door.

            Peg stayed lat­er at work to make up for the time missed in the morn­ing. At home she made her­self a din­ner of a peanut but­ter and grape jel­ly sand­wich, fold­ed over on one piece of bread. She called Sheila. The phone rang once and went to voice­mail. A mes­sage from the water com­pa­ny noti­fied her of a pend­ing with­draw­al which was much more than she had in her account. She threw her phone across the room to the couch and it bounced off to the floor. Her jaw clenched, her hip burned, her back stilted.

            Peg crawled to her flat­tened car­pet and pulled up the next yoga video in line. She tugged off her socks and spread her bent toes at hip dis­tance. The voice on the tele­vi­sion told her to breathe. She heaved. The voice told her to breathe in light and breathe out dark­ness, weight, unneed­ed things. A rat­tle of air wheezed out of her throat while she fold­ed her body upside over. Close your eyes, the voice said. Breathe.

            Peg bum­bled out of bed in her skin­ny robe and stalked to the counter that didn’t have a toast­er on it. She closed her eyes and breathed. She heeled to the cof­fee pot and dumped yesterday’s grounds, then filled a new fil­ter and the tank at the back. It growled water up. She pulled a black mug from the cup­board, uncapped her sug­ar jar, and prepped the half-gal­lon of milk. She dug a small ceram­ic plate out. Peg unspun the loaf of plain white bread and stared at the crum­by sec­tion where no toast­er wait­ed. She but­tered a limp piece while her cof­fee pot hissed. Peg didn’t know how to eat plain­ly but­tered bread. She resort­ed to tear­ing hunks off and pop­ping them in her mouth. She even dunked some into her cof­fee, just to try it.

            She limped into work five min­utes ear­ly, as usu­al, and cleaned up what the oth­ers left behind to leave at 5:15pm. Her keys and bag slung over the kitchen chair, she unspun the emp­ty­ing bag of bread and made a fold­ed peanut but­ter and grape jel­ly sand­wich with a cold glass of milk. Her phone buzzed and she scram­bled across the counter to her bag. It was Sheila, send­ing a text in all caps. Peg dialed her num­ber and the phone rang once and went to voice­mail. She asked her phone to remind her to respond in an hour. Her phone buzzed again with a noti­fi­ca­tion from the phone com­pa­ny that her pay­ment was unsuc­cess­ful. To her sur­prise, anoth­er noti­fi­ca­tion came from the pow­er com­pa­ny that her pay­ment was, too, unsuc­cess­ful. Peg cool­ly observed her phone receiv­ing the mes­sages and her lights still on. She stretched to the left and to the right, with each oppo­site hip jut­ting out, burn­ing a strip down her leg.

            The voice on the tele­vi­sion told her to breathe. Inhale light. Exhale dark­ness, weight, unneed­ed things. The voice told her to thank her­self for com­mit­ting to her prac­tice. Peg was press­ing her pelvis into the car­pet and her shoul­ders and back screamed. She unpret­zeled and flipped over to game shows. The reminder on her phone told her to respond to Sheila. Her bank­ing app issued her a warn­ing when she logged in. She trans­ferred five dol­lars to Sheila and gri­maced at her sin­gle-dig­it bal­ance. Peg shut off the tele­vi­sion and went to bed ear­li­er than usual.

            Peg slipped out of bed in her gray night­shirt and sneered at the toast­er­less coun­ter­top. She dumped grounds, added more in a fil­ter, filled the back with water, and flipped the pot on. She unspun the plain loaf of white bread and dug two pieces out and slathered togeth­er a peanut but­ter and grape jel­ly sand­wich for break­fast. It didn’t pair well with her cof­fee. Her hip and back burned.

            She made it to work five min­utes ear­ly and left alone late. She drove to the oppo­site end of town to the depart­ment store and shuf­fled through throngs of tired shop­pers to house­wares. Peg eyed a new Toast­mas­ter but not­ed its price. She checked for any oth­er toast­er but none were in the sin­gle-dig­it range. There in the aisle, she bent at the waist and her back creaked as she dragged her fin­ger­tips on the tongues of her shoes. Breathe, she heard the voice on the tele­vi­sion say.

            Peg arrived at the South­way Sec­ond­hand Store before they closed and didn’t both­er putting her hood up. She found the toast­er. It was the only one on the shelves. Black plas­tic with two slits on top and a radi­al dial that went from one to five. It was point­ed to three. The plunger was tilt­ed at a slight angle. The price tag dan­gling from the plunger read three dol­lars. She heard the voice on the tele­vi­sion telling her to exhale unneed­ed things. She closed her eyes and exhaled.

            She paid three dol­lars and tax at the counter, buck­led the toast­er into her pas­sen­ger seat, and plunked it down on the crum­by coun­ter­top at home. She plugged it into the wall. Peg walked to the liv­ing room and put on the next video in the yoga series. Her bony ankles kissed and the voice on the tele­vi­sion told her to inhale light, more than she would nor­mal­ly breathe com­fort­ably. Exhale dark­ness, the voice told her, and all unneed­ed things. Her phone rang and buzzed around the table. Peg saw it was Sheila call­ing. She closed her eyes. Inhale, the voice said, exhale deeply, the voice said. Peg creaked her body over itself, exhal­ing, inhal­ing. The phone buzzed again and Peg blew air through round­ed lips. She felt light and faint as smoke. The voice on the tele­vi­sion told her to thank her­self for her com­mit­ment today. With­out any air of pre­tense, Peg thanked her­self fully.

            Peg rolled to her feet. She felt a long twang down her hip, dif­fer­ent than before, as if blood found new cor­ners to paint in her ves­sels. She toed to the kitchen and stared at the new toast­er. Plas­tic black, scuffed, tilt­ed plunger, dial point­ed to three.

            She unspun the loaf of plain white bread and dunked things into the slits.

            She pressed the plunger and met­al screeched. A slow orange glow lit up the grills and crisped the bread and warmed her fin­ger­tips. Inhale light, she heard the voice on the tele­vi­sion say. Exhale dark­ness, and all unneed­ed things. Peg’s atten­tion turned to her pock­et which was miss­ing her phone. She stared at the toast­er with rabid intent. Inhale, the voice said, exhale. Peg opened her lungs to fill her chest, and dragged in deep­er when she thought it was at max­i­mum. She saw the bread becom­ing toast sur­round­ed by the glow. Peg antic­i­pat­ed the voice ring­ing in her brain, to exhale, and she closed her eyes and felt the glow on her face and let the air drift out of her lungs. Her body was warm, her face was warm. She couldn’t hear her phone buzz, and she didn’t care it wasn’t in her pock­et. When she was out of air, she clenched and heaved just a lit­tle bit more out, still warm. Peg opened her eyes and the plunger of the toast­er screamed back up. Her toast came out to a small ceram­ic plate and she but­tered it with the room tem­per­a­ture stick on the counter. It didn’t pair well with her milk, but bet­ter than her peanut but­ter and grape jel­ly sand­wich did with her coffee.

            Peg woke the next morn­ing and had cof­fee and toast, like she always did. She arrived at work a few min­utes after 8am to lit­tle fan­fare and left pre­cise­ly on time.

From the writer


:: Account ::

The Toast­er is a short fic­tion piece that puts a spin on the “try/fail” cycle. Ini­tial­ly con­ceived to be a pseu­do-hor­ror piece, it end­ed up pulling me in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion to address ideas of anx­i­ety, self-worth, and the L‑word. I often write of char­ac­ters strug­gling to go about their day-to-day or at least get back to it despite out­side influ­ences. While writ­ing this piece I was think­ing of Jeff Van­der­Meer, who is loose and eccen­tric with his descrip­tions and word choice. A remark­able oppo­site to that is my always-influ­ence, Ray­mond Carv­er, who com­mu­ni­cates so much with so lit­tle. I don’t think I’ll ever for­get, “I did the drinks,” in Cathe­dral. This piece isn’t quite so min­i­mal but doesn’t strive to be over­ly com­plex or include unnec­es­sary infor­ma­tion. I trust the read­er to form the image I’m try­ing to con­vey as my ideas are less about the read­er see­ing a clear pic­ture and more about the read­er feel­ing a neb­u­lous weight. I think say­ing too much more may spoil the expe­ri­ence of the sto­ry, so I thank you for your time and I hope you enjoy it.


Stephen Short is a native of the win­try Pacif­ic North­west and a non-tra­di­tion­al stu­dent at Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty. He writes fic­tion, cre­ative non­fic­tion, and poet­ry. His work is influ­enced by the pared down selec­tions of Ray­mond Carv­er and the ver­bose eccen­tric­i­ty of Jeff Van­der­Meer. Stephen sin­cere­ly wish­es you a fan­tas­tic day and life.


There’s Nothing Left For You Here

Fiction / Allegra Solomon


:: There’s Nothing Left For You Here ::

            I real­ized my neigh­bor was see­ing the guy across the hall around the time things were get­ting rocky for them. Some­one more astute may have put the puz­zle togeth­er soon­er; may have cor­re­lat­ed the unvar­ied echo of the two doors clos­ing. His, hav­ing fresh­ly left her. Hers, after hav­ing watched him go. How one day their ani­mal­is­tic, gut­tur­al moans came croon­ing from my left, then direct­ly across from me. It was elec­tric the way their con­nec­tion pre­sent­ed itself to me. The pre­sen­ta­tion itself was a slow crawl, but when it came, it was gleaming.

            Ear­li­er that year, I heard them argu­ing through the thin wall that sep­a­rat­ed my neighbor’s unit from mine. My ear was cold against the plas­ter. I was addict­ed to this cold­ness; it was sooth­ing, med­i­c­i­nal even. The argu­ment wasn’t a shout­ing match. It was coat­ed in subtext—it was some­thing qui­et and brew­ing. Glim­mers of the spat echoed to me—my neighbor’s pup­py­ish prod­ding, her boyfriend’s sto­ic, male indif­fer­ence— and then I heard the sound of her front door closing.

            We’re okay right? He said.

           She said, Of course.

            The inter­ac­tion was almost lost to the white noise of my heater. It was in that moment I decid­ed to take out my trash.

            In the hall­way, I saw him push­ing her against her door with his hands in her hair as they fever­ish­ly kissed. A pink mess of lips and skin, miss­ing the mouth more than mak­ing it. I made a note not to look at any­one too directly—to bee­line for the trash room—but I have nev­er been good at resist­ing temptation.

            There it was: His black nails. Her shut eyes. I drank it up quick­ly, in one pas­sive blink and the after­im­age of them burned behind my eye­lids in a crisp orange out­line. When the girl saw me com­ing, she squeaked a non­com­mit­tal plea of resis­tance that dis­si­pat­ed as soon as it appeared I didn’t care.

           It was quite the oppo­site; the two of them com­pelled me beyond belief. There isn’t much else to it than this: I was awful­ly bored back then.


            All of my clos­est friends had moved out of state the year before and none of us were good at main­tain­ing emo­tion­al close­ness over that much of a dis­tance. My child­hood best friend and simul­ta­ne­ous ex-boyfriend of five years decid­ed that what we had was not a roman­tic love and nev­er was. There were no good shows on TV and the mid­west­ern win­ter was a force. What else was there to do? I let my home swal­low me whole.

            In my bore­dom, I’d start­ed to toy with the con­cept of rein­vent­ing myself. This was orig­i­nal­ly out of enter­tain­ment. Not appear­ance-wise. I more­so won­dered what would hap­pen if I went against all my nat­ur­al instincts and did what was thrilling rather than what I usu­al­ly did, which was what was right. Act on impulse for any lev­el of grat­i­fi­ca­tion with­out think­ing of the effects, just to move my blood around. It wasn’t always any­thing big. Some­times I would steal can­dy from Wal­greens and then throw it away because I could. Eaves­drop on my neigh­bors. Stare at peo­ple real long in pub­lic and watch them unrav­el before me. When I got deliv­ery food I would either tip entire­ly too well or not at all, depend­ing on the day and my mer­cu­r­ial tem­pera­ment. It felt like I was grab­bing my life by the neck and chok­ing it out, deadpan.

           Work had become the only social aspect of my life. I worked at Best Buy, rec­om­mend­ing print­ers and tele­vi­sions to fill the dead air. There was a guy I worked with named Josi­ah who would flirt with me in the breakroom—call me cute, short ver­sions of my name while every­one else addressed me by every let­ter. Run his fin­gers up and down my fore­arms while we sat in the Nin­ten­do aisle and argued about the most effec­tive char­ac­ter to use in what game. His girl­friend was a near­ly six-foot brunette. She lift­ed reg­u­lar­ly at the gym and could kill me if she want­ed, but—to her dis­ad­van­tage— had the sweet, sopra­no voice of a Sesame Street char­ac­ter. She always picked him up at the end of the day or brought him lunch when her law school sched­ule allowed. I went out of my way to strike up a cor­dial friend­ship with her; ask her how the first year was going, make sub­tle jabs at Josi­ah to seem like a non-enti­ty. Some days we would sit and talk for half an hour alone before she went over to him. On my birth­day in Jan­u­ary, she brought me a cook­ie with my first ini­tial on it in icing. My com­plex rela­tion­ship with her was one of my main sources of enter­tain­ment. The rush it gave me was too addict­ing to stop.

            At home I would usu­al­ly watch old episodes of New Girl or Every­body Hates Chris until my neigh­bors start­ed up again. Some days my ex-boyfriend would stop by to col­lect some of his old things, but he always left quick­ly, with­out much word or touch.


           Things with my neigh­bors became most entic­ing in Feb­ru­ary. There was a night where I heard the front door slam hard as they walked in the house; com­ing from—what I’d decid­ed was—a din­ner. I heard the bass in his voice, fol­lowed by the hard, undu­lat­ing tre­ble of hers.

            I turned down New Girl and returned my ear to it’s home on that cold wall.

            What about Christ­mas? She said. You wouldn’t want to spend it with my family?

            That’s ten months from now, the guy said.


            And so, we don’t have to wor­ry about that right now.

            You don’t think we’ll be togeth­er in ten months?

            I didn’t say that.

            There was a soft, bare­ly dis­cern­able whim­per and then things were qui­et again. I went back to my show and turned the sound all the way up.


            I nev­er heard the guy leave her house that night, or if he had, I missed it because my ex-boyfriend had called and asked if I still had his Cavs jersey.

            Yes, I said, because you gave it to me.

            He asked for it back calm­ly, and when I didn’t say any­thing, he said, I’m kind of wor­ried about you, by the way.

           I laughed. Why?

           Because you seem very lone­ly. Who do you talk to all day?

            My neighbor.

            Any­one else? he asked. You’re not being self-destruc­tive, are you?

           Not yet, I said. Maybe it would be good for me.

            I don’t think that’s true. You’re a very log­i­cal and empa­thet­ic girl.

            You wor­ry about me a lot for some­one who end­ed things.

           He sighed.

             Love is not exclu­sive­ly roman­tic. I can still care about you. Quit iso­lat­ing yourself—the pity par­ty is get­ting bor­ing. Then, he hung up.


            The next day at work I real­ized I didn’t real­ly know what my neigh­bors’ faces looked like, and I didn’t know their names. This was exciting—it still is, remem­ber­ing that mys­tery and what was pos­si­ble inside of it. How my impo­si­tions still held water. I had just learned the girl had orange hair—I caught a glimpse in the hall­way the night before. I knew the guy had jet black hair and pale skin, but that was all. Before I’d seen them, I had imag­ined them to both be blondes—that maybe they’d look eeri­ly sim­i­lar. They seemed like the type of white peo­ple to be attract­ed to a ver­sion of them­selves. I imag­ined her apart­ment had pas­tel mono­grams of her ini­tials on any bare wall space and a tank for ill cared for gold­fish. Through the wall my neigh­bor had the muf­fled voice of a petite, five foot, stick thin soror­i­ty girl. In real­i­ty she was this tall, round, red­head with freck­les. In terms of stature, the two of them looked each oth­er square in the eyes.

            Where’s your mind at, Josi­ah asked. He was lean­ing back against a row of Mario games that avalanched onto the floor while he played with the hem of my polo. I was stand­ing in front of him, spac­ing out into the open air over his shoulder.

            I’m just think­ing about my neigh­bor, I said, as though I was far away. She’s dat­ing the guy across the hall. I think they’re fighting.

            She your friend?

           I nodded.

            Rela­tion­ships are com­pli­cat­ed, he said. My girl and I fight all the time.

            Because you’re a cheater?

            I’m not a cheater, he laughed. If I was a cheater, we wouldn’t be stand­ing out on this floor right now.

            Josi­ah held my eyes for a long time before I broke the gaze and poked his chest.

            I like your girl­friend, anyways.

            Right. You two are all bud­dy bud­dy now. What’s that about?

            I don’t know, I said. I could feel him affec­tion­ate­ly tug­ging on my shirt as I began to dis­ap­pear into my mind. I think it makes me feel powerful.

            He flashed his teeth, laughed, then said with a mix of edge and intrigue, Most peo­ple wouldn’t admit that.


            I came home lat­er than usu­al that night, hav­ing been stuck in traf­fic. The guy across the hall usu­al­ly went to my neighbor’s place around eight, and I was afraid if I was late I would miss an essen­tial sto­ry­line. There had been many. I’d count­ed about three. A preg­nan­cy scare, a for­got­ten birth­day, unmatched love lan­guages. (I wish you would com­pli­ment me more, she’d said once. I just told you that your ear­rings look cool, he said.) The preg­nan­cy scare made me celi­bate for weeks, though, I sup­pose that had less to do with agency and more to do with the way things just were. When she for­got his birth­day it wasn’t a big deal, but it was obvi­ous to me, a room away, that he was down­play­ing it. One time he wait­ed in her house while she was gone to the store and he talked on the phone to one of his friends about it. (Yeah, we didn’t do any­thing, he said. No, no, it’s not a big deal. You know I’m not big on birth­days any­ways. Yeah, it would have been nice but, you know.)

            It was cer­tain­ly a rela­tion­ship forged by attrac­tion alone, and the mess of this real­i­ty began to creep up behind them. Though, none of this was impor­tant. This was a mat­ter of self; I did not want them to break up.

             When I got to my floor, I could already hear them as I passed by her door to get to mine. Des­per­ate sobs. Akin to the preg­nan­cy scare sobs, but less existential—more heart­bro­ken. Long, deep, drawn out—like being pushed out of a brass instru­ment. Under­neath those sobs was the guy say­ing, Come on. Are you seri­ous? You knew this!

           I stopped in front of her door and pressed my ear to it—a high-risk urge much eas­i­er to suc­cumb to than you might expect. I could hear much bet­ter out there; the sounds were crisp and alive, like I was stand­ing in the liv­ing room with them.

            You knew this. Like—I told you that at the start, the guy said.

            I didn’t know you were still see­ing oth­er peo­ple, though. I thought we were past that.

           Her sobs got caught in her throat.

            I am. I am, but I like you both. That doesn’t take any­thing away from you.

            I can’t believe this.

            Come on.

            I can’t believe this.

            To be fair, I had assumed she knew. Occa­sion­al­ly when she wasn’t home, I would hear him walk into his place, laugh­ing along with a voice that wasn’t hers. It was always so con­ve­nient­ly timed that I assumed it was an arrange­ment. Her heav­ing proved oth­er­wise, but it was enter­tain­ing, nonetheless.

            There was an abrupt sound of heavy foot­steps and the tell­tale sign of a lock being undone. I slow­ly and as unpan­icked as pos­si­ble, walked to my door and began to put the key in.

            The two of them were sud­den­ly out­side with me. It felt famil­ial, though nei­ther of them noticed my presence.

            Go. She point­ed to his door.

            Oh my God.

            I’m seri­ous. Go play with your oth­er toy.

            At this, I went into my apart­ment, only to get a bet­ter visu­al through my peep­hole. That was the mon­ey shot. At first, I could only see him—his back pressed against his front door, and his arms spread eagle, grasp­ing for a way out.

            We talked about this. You know monogamy isn’t for me.

            Then go—be free.

            She walked so she was stand­ing in his face, fore­head to fore­head with him. They yelled at each oth­er for anoth­er five min­utes before she said, I’m done, and walked back into her apart­ment. There were her foot­steps; the click of the door open­ing; the slam; and then nothing.


            The silence that fol­lowed was the qui­etest it had been in a month or two. I laid in bed and watched the ceil­ing fan turn until the arms of it liqui­fied into one sol­id cir­cle around the lights. I stared at the lights until it hurt my eyes; the bright cir­cles, blink­ing resid­u­al­ly in my view as I assessed my room. I had already been through both New Girl and Every­body Hates Chris’ entire series respec­tive­ly five and four times; there were no sur­pris­es left. There was noth­ing. Not even a drone of white noise or leak­ing faucet water. I checked my phone and I had no texts. Insta­gram was most­ly peo­ple I didn’t talk to any­more. One of my friends that moved away slid up on a sto­ry I post­ed about Inse­cure end­ing and said: I guess Lawrence can stay. I liked it and said: Girl, I guess. I scrolled through the rest of our mes­sages since she moved away. They were all about as incon­se­quen­tial as that. YouTube proved to be tem­porar­i­ly mind numb­ing and I watched a video essay about Mark Rothko. When that video end­ed, I stared at my reflec­tion in the black screen and traced the out­line of myself in the col­lect­ed dust.


            I found myself knock­ing on my neighbor’s door before I could think bet­ter of it. Like a quick flash—my knuck­les were against the hard­wood, and then she was twist­ing the knob.

            Her face was all red—freckles dis­ap­peared in the tear stained, inflamed skin. A mane of curls cas­cad­ing down to her shoulders.

            Yeah?  She looked me up and down.

            Hey. I live over there.

            She just nod­ded, prod­ding me for the point.

            I’m sor­ry, I began again. I just want­ed to know if I could bor­row a tampon.

            She broke an apolo­getic smile that was crooked on its left side. Her face fell in a way that seemed she was embar­rassed of her brashness.

            God. Yeah, sor­ry. Here, just, um— She opened her door and motioned for me to come in. What do you want—light? Super?

            She lived in a one bed­room that mir­rored mine. The bath­room was in that first hall­way, and I scanned her place as she dis­ap­peared into it. There was none of the per­son­al­ized mono­grammed art I’d expect­ed. No gold­fish. In fact, the walls were most­ly emp­ty aside from a few stock Ikea paint­ings and one lone, prac­ti­cal­ly vin­tage One Direc­tion poster right above her bed. The apart­ment smelled of nothing—no can­dles, no sprays, no oil dif­fusers, which was so un-twen­ty-some­thing-year-old-girl like of her I won­dered if there was some­thing wrong with her. There was one with­er­ing set of flow­ers on the kitchen island, but that was all. I decid­ed I liked my ver­sion of her place more—it felt truer.

            I’ll take what I can get, I said.

            What’s your name?

            She was rum­mag­ing through the cab­i­net under the sink, pulling out hair straight­en­ers and hair ties alike. I told her what it was.

            That’s fun­ny, she said. You look like one.

            Then she told me her name was Dar­leen, and I told her she looked like one too.

            It’s sup­posed to mean Darling—loved one, she said.  Which, I don’t feel much like right now.

            Mine means “Filled heart,” I said with air quotes.


            I shook my head. No. Not right now.

            She walked out of the bath­room with three tampons—two light, one super. Her body was swim­ming in an over­sized Mets t‑shirt, as if it was night­gown. As she placed them in my hand, she said, I know you can prob­a­bly hear us. Sor­ry about that.

            Don’t wor­ry about it. Seri­ous­ly. I put the tam­pons in my pocket.

            I used to hear you, too, actu­al­ly. That guy.

            Ah. I nod­ded my head. Sorry.

            No, it’s okay. I thought about you, actu­al­ly. I hoped you were alright when I noticed he stopped com­ing around.

            There was a moment of silence that sat a bit too long, but it main­tained a soft­ness I felt could be use­ful to me.

            It’s that guy right? The one that lives across from me?

            She smiled and nod­ded her head—still fond at the thought of him, despite every­thing that had just happened.

            Yeah. It’s a fun­ny sto­ry, actu­al­ly. Maybe I’ll tell you sometime.

            Sure. Thanks for these.

            I walked back into my apart­ment and put the tam­pons in the box with the oth­ers I had.


            For a while, it did not seem like they were going to get back togeth­er. Because of this, it was silent in my apart­ment for three weeks. This was bad for me—I need­ed them to occu­py my mind while home. I start­ed tak­ing extra shifts at work just to stay out the house. I would hope to come home and hear anything—them laugh­ing, talk­ing, fight­ing, fuck­ing. But there was noth­ing. My ex-boyfriend had stopped com­ing by because he’d effec­tive­ly got­ten back every­thing that he wanted—excluding the Cavs jersey—but would call occa­sion­al­ly. It was always out of con­cern; out of the pla­ton­ic love we’d built since we were chil­dren. At some point I stopped answer­ing him. It felt like the wrong deci­sion to make, so I made it. The resid­ual high sati­at­ed me for a while. I called some of my old friends a time or two, but it was always brief and most­ly unex­cit­ing in the way things nev­er were when they still lived in town. Pod­casts became impor­tant to me quick­ly. After work, I would sit out­side the store and watch the cars go by.

            Dur­ing the third week of silence, I burned my hand bad­ly at work. I was heat­ing up water in a mug to make tea, and while tak­ing it out of the microwave, I spilled it all over me. The skin tem­porar­i­ly became flim­sy and loose, and the pain reduced me to a child. Whim­per­ing and jump­ing as I shook my hand, like I’d fall­en off my bike and need­ed a kiss. A few of my co-work­ers helped me get ice until Josi­ah came in and said, You’re not sup­posed to ice it. Here, run it under room tem­per­a­ture water. He took my hand in his and ran the water over both of ours like it was his pain too. We stood there like that—his thumb glid­ing over the inside of my hand, sooth­ing it— until I told him I felt okay. He then sat me down and rubbed Neosporin on my palm. Nice and slow, to savor the moment. We didn’t talk much. I sat still and let him take care of me. It was then that I real­ized I had not touched any­one in a long time. I had not kissed any­one, hugged any­one, had my hand del­i­cate­ly loved on. It was a sud­den but alarm­ing rev­e­la­tion— dis­cov­er­ing I was will­ing to do any­thing for it. 


            There was not much else. I attempt­ed to build a book­shelf. Picked up a poet­ry book an old friend post­ed on her Insta­gram sto­ry. I start­ed going for walks. Any con­trol I felt I had dwin­dled into a thin string I could hard­ly tie. I had a close call steal­ing a can­dle from Bath & Body Works. I wasn’t able to sleep all the way through the night, even with mela­tonin. I laid in bed most nights and filled the absence with my mind. I imag­ined they were talk­ing on the oth­er side of that wall, or per­haps, they were talk­ing to me. Those moments felt awful­ly normal.

            In that forth week, Dar­leen knocked on my door. Her face was hard­ly vis­i­ble in the over­growth of her hair. When I opened the door she had a bot­tle of Caber­net in her hand, dan­gling like a weight. Before I could speak, she just said:

            I’m kin­da drunk, so kick me out if you want— but I need to talk to some­one and no one is answer­ing my calls.

            I would have been more offend­ed under dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, but my need for com­pa­ny was stronger than my pride.


            The girl scanned my walls inquis­i­tive­ly, walked right up to a can­dle I had burn­ing and took a strong whiff—told me the can­dle smelled like “man.”

            It’s fen­nel and pine, I said.

            Fen­nel and pine, she repeat­ed absent­ly. Her voice was soft­er, and raspi­er than I remem­bered. She took her free hand to scratch her fore­head and began to lazi­ly walk through the room, pick­ing up note­books before putting them down—opening and clos­ing the blinds like they were some kind of puz­zle. She thumbed at the tape hold­ing up a Sade poster over the couch and I fought the urge to tell her to stop.

            You’re not busy? she asked, rolling one of my pens around the inside of her wine-stained fin­gers. I shook my head. Can I just vent to you? She asked.

            Of course. I repressed my excitement.

            Lit­er­al­ly stop me any­time. She then sat down at the kitchen table and began tear­ing up.


            She and the guy start­ed see­ing each oth­er in Novem­ber. He had knocked on her door to see if she had a bot­tle open­er. He nev­er gave it back to her, so a week lat­er she went over to get it—I had bot­tles to open too, you know—and he was like, I can’t find it. Here, come in. She sat at his counter, and they talked for two hours. I remem­ber think­ing he smelled like a for­est, she said. Right after rain.

            The open­er was in the kitchen draw­er the entire time. And then they fell into a rou­tine. She said at the begin­ning he did men­tion he was see­ing oth­er peo­ple, though, of course, she assumed it was for the time being. When they start­ed see­ing each oth­er every day she assumed she was the only one, and all those nights he didn’t come home she thought he was out being a drunk­en man with his friends at bars.

            He’s been tex­ting me, but I haven’t texted him back, yet.

            Yet? I sat up.

            I know it’s bad. I like him, but I don’t love him. We aren’t entire­ly good for each oth­er but, some­times you just take what you can get. You know?

            I do, I said.  I looked at her; body perched in one of my kitchen chairs, sip­ping direct­ly from the bottle.

            You seem to be cop­ing with your breakup well, though.

            I shrugged.  I won­dered how she would feel know­ing how much I knew about their rela­tion­ship, or the role she played in the coping.

            He was the last per­son close to me that still lived in town, I added, rock­ing back on the hind legs of my chair. All our oth­er friends slow­ly got city jobs and moved away one by one.

            So, what do you get up to now?

           Noth­ing. I’m very bored these days. I try to find ways to enter­tain myself.

            What’s that thing? She said, in a bub­bly, bur­py gig­gle. The idle mind being the devil’s playground?

            She drank more of her wine, and I watched it fall down her throat in car­toon-like gulps. It occurred to me that this inter­ac­tion might not be sig­nif­i­cant to her. Just a drunk­en ther­a­py to exor­cise her thoughts on her boyfriend—I, the only per­son present enough to help her do so—and in the morn­ing, this would all be a hazy half mem­o­ry, which could be qual­i­fied as a dream.

           I was a place hold­er. She was white noise. I sup­pose we all do what we must to get by.

           I have this idea of hit­ting rock bot­tom and becom­ing a worse ver­sion of myself, to then come back refined, I said.

            She stared at me blankly. Why would you do that?

            It might be fun. Keep me busy. It’s like play­ing a video game. Mak­ing all these bad deci­sions, but they’re mine to make.


            It was said as a half thought—her mind was else­where. She set the wine bot­tle down on the kitchen table. It was most­ly emp­ty and left a nice red ring on my white table­cloth. Then she said, I think I’m going to take him back soon.

            Even if he’s still see­ing that oth­er girl.

            She nodded.

            I’ll just deal with it. I’m not good at being alone. Does that make me a bad person?

            I’m not the best per­son right now, so you’re ask­ing the wrong one.

            You keep say­ing that. She drunk­en­ly tilt­ed her head to the right, and it made her whole body sag a lit­tle. What do you mean? She asked smal­ly. Like, what are you doing?

            I mean, I sighed. I might fuck my co-worker.

            That’s not bad.

            He has a girl­friend, though. And she’s real­ly nice. I like her.


            She squirmed a bit in her chair and avert­ed eye con­tact. I real­ized that maybe her ver­sion of a bad per­son and mine weren’t exact­ly mir­rored def­i­n­i­tions, but we were oper­at­ing from the same core.

            After a moment of silence, I saw her face tight­en. She said, Please don’t remind me of any of this in the morn­ing, okay? Then stood up to throw up in the bath­room toi­let. I could hear it echo­ing and splat­ter­ing against the porce­lain sides all the way from the liv­ing room. The retch­ing was vio­lent. I knew she would remem­ber none of this the next morning.

            I joined her on my knees, gath­er­ing her hair in my once burned hand like rope, and held her as her body lurched for­ward. After, I wiped her face soft­ly with a tow­el, gave her water, and walked her back to her apart­ment. Inside, she climbed into a big sweatshirt—It doesn’t even smell like him any­more, she said— and I laid her down in bed, push­ing a trash­can to her bedside.

            Lock the door, I called back. She said nothing.

            Once back in my apart­ment, I wrote on a piece of paper: BUY HER FLOWERS. SHE WILL TAKE YOU BACK and slid it under the guy’s door.


            Work was slow the next day because there had been an ice storm. The roads were slick and emp­ty, which gave us all free reign to be on our phones or take turns play­ing dif­fer­ent con­soles when our man­agers weren’t look­ing. Josi­ah and I hung at the back of the store, stand­ing as close as pos­si­ble to the HD screens to see what it did to our eyes.

            The thing is, I gen­uine­ly liked him as a per­son. He was dark skinned, had a head full of hair, and was twice my size—which was just my type. Our humors aligned in a way he often told me him and his girlfriend’s did not. I’m sure it was an inten­tion­al manip­u­la­tion, but I didn’t mind—it felt warm.

            There was an HQ replay of a Steel­ers game unfold­ing before us. I was mak­ing a com­ment about how it felt like 4‑D Smell-o-vision when he took my hand and used it to touch my hair.

            You do it your­self? He asked, eyes not leav­ing mine once.

            I smacked my teeth. Come on now.

            He smiled. You know how do to cornrows?


            He then took the hand and touched it to his head. I could feel the minute coils on my fin­ger­tips, already work­ing them­selves to bur­row under my hangnails.

            You think you can do mine? My girl’s out of town.

            I paused.

            When? I asked.


            Around that time, I often felt like I was sus­pend­ed some­where in the air, watch­ing myself live and act and breathe. Observ­ing my body move around pow­er­ful­ly from out­side my body, like a video game—removed from my actions, my con­se­quences. In that moment, I returned to my bones.


            Except for Dar­leen, no one new had been to my apart­ment in a long time. When we walked in, I become hyper aware of the rolled up, dirty white moun­tain of socks in the cor­ner by my vinyl—the way the couch frayed white where leather should have been. Where it once was.

            Josi­ah walked to the front of the room and thumbed through a poet­ry book that was sit­ting on the TV stand, skim­ming page seventy.

           Are you gonna show me around? He asked.

            There’s only two rooms, I said, more soft and less assured than any­thing else I’d ever said to him. 

            So, show me them.

            He motioned me towards him. When I was stand­ing in front of him he play­ful­ly turned me around by my shoul­ders and point­ed to the paint­ing above the couch. What’s this?

            I showed him the black and white Pol­lock imitation—left out that it was some­thing my ex-boyfriend and I had worked on togeth­er, long before we’d even dat­ed. I showed him the can­dles I hoard­ed and how they lived in the box under the TV stand, because I don’t burn them faster than I buy them.

            And this? he asked, pick­ing up a golf ball sit­ting on my desk.

            An old friend and I found it on a walk a long time ago.

            You seem like a sen­ti­men­tal per­son, he said, earnest­ly in a breath. I shrugged and became very hot suddenly.

            I have been one at times.


            We walked onto my bal­cony and spit off of it onto the cement—it was his idea. He said he used to do that a lot in the place he grew up. A small apart­ment not too dif­fer­ent from mine.

            I felt it again then— a pinch of con­trol while up there wield­ing our agency like gods. The pinch felt too much a moment lat­er when his hand touched my back and asked if we should wash his hair.

            Yes, I heard myself say. There was an elec­tric­i­ty in the air. A shift had occurred. I didn’t have time to dwell on it. I was still try­ing to decide what kind of per­son I was.


            We stood in the kitchen—he in front of me, back bent, head under the sink faucet. The room smelled like argon oil and mint—strongly grip­ping at the nose.

            I used to love when my mom washed my hair like this, he said. And then, in the most airy, sin­cere voice I’d ever heard from him, I think this just brought back a for­ma­tive memory.

            I’ve nev­er done this to some­one before, actually.

            I feel lucky, he laughed. To be your first.

            My fin­gers were tan­gled in sham­poo, wash­ing and lath­er­ing his hair from the back, hard­ly able to reach over his tall frame. He laughed when I used my nails to real­ly get in there. We were so close. I could see the open brown skin of his scalp and the way his hair sponged and soaked up the prod­uct. Some­thing about see­ing the top of his head, vul­ner­a­bly car­ing for him in this way, human­ized him to me. Proved he was breath­ing, warm to the touch, with blood inside. A per­son, with aches, hungers, mem­o­ries. When he was a kid his moth­er washed his hair over the sink, and he used to spit off bal­conies— the facts of a real per­son with a real life. He was him­self, and a son, and boyfriend. He was a boyfriend, and I was cradling his head soft­ly in my hands.

           When I asked if he okay he said, Yes—please, keep going. This feels good.

            It had been more inti­mate that I had expect­ed; the act of wash­ing his hair and feel­ing the heat of his body alone in my home as opposed to the open exhi­bi­tion of our job. It felt con­crete, not just a play­ful, casu­al tee­ter­ing on an awful edge for our own plea­sure. It was clear that this could be the begin­ning of a con­sis­tent complication.

            When we fin­ished, I sat in a chair—he sat on the floor at my feet, fac­ing the tele­vi­sion. As time went on, I became qui­eter. Tread­ing cau­tious­ly. I blow dried his hair as slow­ly as pos­si­ble, attempt­ing to find out if I was more moral than des­per­ate, more self­ish than kind, all while watch­ing his hair go smooth in my hands.

           When I clicked the blow dry­er off, behind the sound of the tele­vi­sion was my neigh­bor talk­ing. There were two voic­es, drip­ping with the spe­cif­ic affec­tion that comes post-rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. She cooed and the guy laughed. I love them, I love them, she said loud­ly, and I won­dered if she want­ed me to hear. Yeah? He replied.

            They don’t sound like they’re fight­ing any­more, Josi­ah said.

            Yeah, I guess they’re not. She’s weak for him. I ran the end of a rat­tail comb down the mid­dle of his head to form a part. They prob­a­bly shouldn’t be togeth­er if I’m being honest.

            Who cares? Everyone’s just doing what feels best to them, he said stand­ing up.

            He turned towards me and asked if the part looked straight, extend­ing a hand so I would stand up too. His eyes scanned me as I stood in front of him re-draw­ing the part, push­ing some hairs to the side, avoid­ing the warmth on my face and what I’d like to do about it if I was, in fact, more des­per­ate than moral. His shoul­ders and my fore­head were lev­el with each oth­er. Sud­den­ly, my face was being held in his rough hands, pulling my gaze up so we were look­ing at each oth­er. I took the comb and adjust­ed all the zig-zag­ging parts, mak­ing it as straight as pos­si­ble. He licked his lips.

            Remem­ber what you told me you weren’t, I said, qui­et­ly. At work that day.

            I do.

            What are you now?

            In this moment? He laughed. I’m still not.

            It just seemed like in that moment, us being out on the floor was the decid­ing variable.

            I sup­pose you’re right.

            Josi­ah and I stood in a charged silence, and then he added, You don’t have any room­mates that are gonna come knock­ing, right? I shook my head. Any friends that just show up?

            No, I said. No friends that show up.


            No, I said. No boyfriend.

            He nod­ded as his hands trav­elled cau­tious­ly to my low­er back. Josiah’s lips brushed against my neck as he leaned down to my ear.

            That pow­er you felt, he whis­pered. Do you still feel it?

            His fin­gers pressed into my back slow and soft, as if play­ing a chord. My body knew that move­ment. It hummed. I exhaled as he inhaled, and I felt it as one.

            To be hon­est, it all hap­pened very quick­ly. I couldn’t bring myself to speak—I just leaned into the touch.

From the writer


:: Account ::

This sto­ry came to me in 2021 as the pan­dem­ic was still present, but the cul­ture and pre­cau­tions were not the same as they’d been the year before. I’d become hyper aware of my iso­la­tion and all the futile ways I’d attempt to feel con­nect­ed to oth­ers. Escapism at the time seemed to be the only bit of refuge—whether that be escap­ing online, in media, books, or my own imag­i­na­tion. I could often hear my neigh­bors through our adjoined wall, and I would won­der about them. 

I’d spo­ken to many peo­ple about how they’d dealt with their lone­li­ness at that time, and it became clear to me that des­per­a­tion lived with many peo­ple. I am always inter­est­ed in what des­per­a­tion leads a per­son to, and after the lone­ly peri­od that fol­lowed 2020, this felt like a sto­ry I need­ed to write. 


Alle­gra Solomon is a Black fic­tion writer from Colum­bus, Ohio. She received her MFA from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ken­tucky and her B.A. in Cre­ative Writ­ing from Ohio Uni­ver­si­ty. Her work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Tri­Quar­ter­ly, New Ohio Review, Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Review, Lol­we and more. She was the Uni­ver­si­ty of Kentucky’s 2022 recip­i­ent of the Fic­tion MFA award. She lives in Lex­ing­ton, Kentucky

Animal or Winter Solstice

Nonfiction / Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach


:: Animal or Winter Solstice  ::

There is something moving inside our walls. Something trying to get out or work its way in deeper.  
Something animal. Alive. I heard it first as scratching in the middle of the night, a sound soft
enough, it could have been my husband, moving his calloused big toe against the sheets or the dog,
twitching in her sleep, her long nails grazing the hardwood, or my son, clawing at the shelf beside his
bed with nails chewed down to skin. The next night, again peeing in the dark after again being
woken by my child screaming out for me, I thought it could have been the toilet tank, something
loose, unhinged perhaps, the way parts of me are slowly coming undone with each sleepless night.
My child’s screams lodged between the cartridges of my neck and ear so every turn of the head
creeks or pops, quiet, but noticeable if you are close. But the night before longest night of the year,
I swear I heard teeth. And an unsteady rhythm, like a woodpecker unable to keep time against the
bark. But this is no bird. This, inside our walls, is wingless and angry. The sound got closer and
louder, chewing, grating, incessant. I pressed my palm to the wall and nearly thought I felt it. Its
longing to be anywhere else. I banged with the heal of my hand, so loud and hard the shampoo fell
down to the shower tile. For a moment, it silenced. I kept my palm on the wall, willing it to stay that
way. Quiet. My child was still asleep. I knew I didn’t have long before he’d be awake again. The
gnawing and scraping returned. Parenthood, a repetition to a point beyond singularity. We tuck
and kiss and hug and calm and hold until everything feels like one long night, indiscernible from another.
Even touch, so repeated it becomes almost unfelt. Almost. I thought I saw a crack begin to form in
the drywall, but I have terrible eyesight. I trust my hands more, and the wall felt cold, smooth,
unruptured. Today, the sun will appear to stand still at its lowest point. I will listen for the moment
it sinks below the horizon. It will be like a slow, steady drip from the faucet. So soft and consistent,
we don’t hear it after a while. I’m sure we will get used to the animal too. It will find a way out or
burrow so deep we forget it was ever there. But I know its body’s longing. The teeth and nails will
persist, eating, moving, devouring the house while we sleep. I know it’s not its fault. Impulse.
Repetition. Animal. How can I blame it for its nature of need unbound by want. Tomorrow,
the night will be a glimmer shorter. We won’t feel this difference. My son will still wake screaming.
Mama! a sound more animal than love. Mama! a hunger. He will refuse anyone else’s hands or words.
He will demand more light and touch, no matter how bright or long each last. He will demand
proximity. The earth closer to the sun. His body close to mine. My palm on the wall close to the
trace of an animal. He will lose his breath and hide under the blankets on the floor at the foot of our
bed. Close your eyes, my love, find your way towards sleep and you won’t hear terror tearing up the

From the writer


:: Account ::

While I had writ­ten most­ly poet­ry, when I had to teach a cre­ative non­fic­tion course, I began to write along­side my stu­dents, read­ing vora­cious­ly and try­ing to learn the form of the lyric essay as I was teach­ing it. So, for the last few years, I have been work­ing on what I now real­ize are linked lyric essays that deal with par­ent­ing a neu­ro­di­verse child with ADHD and autism spec­trum dis­or­der. I often found myself writ­ing the same moment, event, or sto­ry, in both poet­ry and prose, try­ing to fig­ure out which genre and form was the bet­ter fit. With “Ani­mal or Win­ter Sol­stice,” I felt myself enter a hybrid space that found a union between poem and essay. The prose blocks allow me to linger and med­i­tate on some­thing longer, and with a more nar­ra­tive pro­gres­sion, than I might in a lin­eat­ed lyric, but the inden­ta­tions, poet­ry-like, felt nec­es­sary for the move­ment of the piece, the sta­t­ic pro­gres­sion of time.  This was the first lyric essay I wrote where with­in me, and on the page, the gen­res weren’t fight­ing against each oth­er, but rather com­ing togeth­er to cre­ate some­thing new. This was the first piece I did not feel the need to write as both prose and poet­ry, because it had found a way of being both. Tell Me it Gets Eas­i­er, the larg­er book project this piece comes from, is an unfil­tered account of tak­ing care of the many bod­ies depend­ing on mine, while con­tin­u­ing to take care of my own through the act of writ­ing. In oth­er essays from this project, the strug­gles with par­ent­ing over­lap with pro­cess­ing the war in my birth­place, Ukraine, as my now sev­en-year-old express­es his own fas­ci­na­tion with death, vio­lence, and the grotesque. In the essays, I am reach­ing towards under­stand­ing him as much as I am try­ing to under­stand myself, and what it means to be his mother.


Julia Kolchin­sky Das­bach ( emi­grat­ed from Dnipro, Ukraine as a Jew­ish refugee in 1993, when she was six years old. She is the author of three poet­ry col­lec­tions: 40 Weeks (YesYes Books, 2023), Don’t Touch the Bones, and The Many Names for Moth­er, win­ner of the Wick Poet­ry Prize (Kent State Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2019) and final­ist for the Jew­ish Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Poet­ry, Ploughshares, and Amer­i­can Poet­ry Review, among oth­ers. Her recent awards include the Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Review Poet­ry Prize and a Sus­tain­able Arts Foun­da­tion Grant. She is the author of the mod­el poem for “Dear Ukraine”: A Glob­al Com­mu­ni­ty Poem She is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a new poet­ry col­lec­tion as well as a book of linked lyric essays which grap­ples with rais­ing a neu­ro­di­verse child with a dis­abled part­ner under the shad­ow of the war against Ukraine, Juli­a’s birth­place. She is Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Deni­son Uni­ver­si­ty and lives with her fam­i­ly in Colum­bus, Ohio

All That I Can Say Now

Nonfiction / Jasmina Kuenzli


:: All That I Can Say Now ::

            It was beautiful.

            That’s what I hold onto. Even after every­thing that hap­pened, the flash­es of glow­ing joy and sud­den, rag­ing warmth, the blasts of cold that shiv­ered me apart and turned my breath to frost, the way he built my Earth only to break open the ground beneath me …

            It was beautiful. 


            When was the first time your heart was real­ly bro­ken? What did it feel like?

            It was like this—

            Koi no yokan—a Japan­ese con­cept known as ‘love at sec­ond sight.’ Not love at first sight—you know bet­ter than that. But he is a match, and you are a pyro­ma­ni­ac. And you know it’s only a mat­ter of time.

            Koi no yokan—that boy over there—with the back­wards hat and the Har­ry Pot­ter tat­too, that one who has the best jokes, who always seems like the cen­ter of atten­tion, who feels the strongest out of everyone—you’re going to fall in love with him. And it’s going to break you in half. 

            What do you call koi no yokan if you see the crash, and you don’t do any­thing to stop the train bar­rel­ing down upon you? Even after all the oppor­tu­ni­ties to throw your­self out of the way, you remain there, not even both­er­ing to brace for impact…

            What do you call it, then?




            On the first day, he stopped and start­ed three sen­tences before he just smiled, show­ing that gap between his two front teeth, “Words.” He shrugged.  Caught me.  

            And I thought, Don’t.

            It was that gap between his teeth. Keep­ing him from being too attrac­tive, too unat­tain­able. It made him look like some­one you could trust.


            I don’t want to lie to you, let you oper­ate under any assump­tions. I wasn’t the damsel, inno­cent­ly lured in by some­one old­er and dark­er and dangerous.

He was 18 when we met, and I was 21.

            I was the one who knew better.

I was the one who should have walked away.



            Spoil­er alert: this is not a love story.

            Spoil­er alert: I’m an unre­li­able narrator.

Spoil­er alert: we nev­er even kissed.


            If we didn’t feel like talk­ing, we would sit next to each oth­er and read or write while we drank cof­fee. Lean, ever so slight­ly, against each oth­er. Easy. 

            I nev­er felt ner­vous, nev­er count­ed the spaces between his leg and mine, nev­er mea­sured out the dis­tance between us. I nev­er cal­cu­lat­ed when to break and run.

            With all the oth­er guys, I was crawl­ing out of my skin, inti­mate­ly aware of every hand brush, every acci­den­tal moment of eye contact.

            But I nev­er cared about any of that when I was with him.

            He was safe.


            What else?

            We tried to make up secret hand­shakes, but we nev­er could, because for all of my con­sid­er­able men­tal capac­i­ty, I couldn’t get over the way my hand would slide through his.

            He liked to tug on my hair ties, brush­ing his fin­gers against my wrist, when­ev­er he was try­ing to tell me some­thing important.

            We stayed behind dur­ing a thun­der­storm to watch The Princess Bride togeth­er.


            We nev­er said it out loud, because say­ing it was a curse. Like the name of a demon or a bogey­man, say­ing the words would spring some­thing enor­mous and ter­ri­fy­ing into being, and it would destroy us.

            What we were build­ing was too insub­stan­tial, too frag­ile to with­stand the weight of language.

            We pre­tend­ed not to hear the whispers.

            And I thought, Please.


            But then there was this.

A leaf blew into the pool deck from out­side, and it was shaped like a heart. I picked it up and hand­ed it to him.

For you.”

            He rolled his eyes, but he was blush­ing when he took it.

            When I came back, the leaf was on the ground, shredded.

            “This is what you did to my heart!” I ges­tured to the wreckage.

            “No,” he cor­rect­ed. “This is what you did to my heart.”


            And all I’ve got is spec­u­la­tion, and my own insignif­i­cant feel­ings. Try­ing to con­vince a biased jury with cir­cum­stan­tial evidence.

            Con­struct­ing cir­cles of log­ic that nev­er lead to any­thing but more circles.

            I think I wasn’t the only one…

            Koi no yokan echo­ing in my ears, keep­ing me awake at night.

            We could look into each other’s eyes and know what the oth­er was thinking.

            I think


             But this is what happened:

            I asked him.

            We drove around for two hours, try­ing to get past the wall that had fall­en between us. A big plas­tic some­thing, turn­ing the car’s space from com­fort to suf­fo­ca­tion. Awk­ward yawned between us, unfath­omable and claus­tro­pho­bic all at once. 

            So that’s it, I thought.

            And then I thought the word that’s still chas­ing me.



             Because then there was this.

            He told me he loved me. And then imme­di­ate­ly qual­i­fied it, but not in a weird way. He bab­bled and mum­bled and stut­tered, until I slammed the door in his face.

            We didn’t talk about it. 

            The words unsaid piled up just like the words we said used to, hard­er and hard­er to break through. Our silences were stilt­ed, and I couldn’t sit still if we were even in the same room.


            These were the last times that I nev­er knew were the last times. You don’t know the end until it’s over.

            No, that’s not right.

            What I mean is: I thought we were endgame.

            Koi no yokan. Inevitable.

            And we did talk again. We talked about our fam­i­lies, about the par­al­lel lines our lives had run. How we’d been in sync before we met.

            And I could see us in the future, sit­ting just like this. My head on his shoulder.

            I told you I was crazy.


            Because it was like this:

            He didn’t care about me if there was some­one else around to see it.

            Like this:

            His eyes fol­lowed her no mat­ter where she was. The way they would fol­low me when she wasn’t around.

            And this:

            “He’s fucked over every oth­er girl. You’re not the only one.”


            He lost weight and gained mus­cle. Start­ed to look more like a mod­el and less like an awk­ward for­mer band kid who was suf­fer­ing beneath the weight of his inse­cu­ri­ties. Start­ed to look less like you can trust me and more like you don’t have a shot in Hell. 

            It was like this.

            We were still friends, but he only want­ed to talk to her, and he only want­ed to talk about her, and it was rip­ping me open, and even though he could have seen it, he always looked away.


            What do I tell you?

            He was my best friend, but only when no one was watch­ing. And he saved my life, but he was hurt­ing me, and he was kiss­ing her, kiss­ing her, and I was cry­ing alone in a bath­room stall, because no one knew or would under­stand, because no one could see me break down, it’s been a year and you’re not even friends any­more, it’s nev­er been you, it was always her, and they’re kiss­ing, and I’m bit­ing my knuck­les to stop from scream­ing, and they’re kiss­ing, and I’m…crazy. 



            I wrote a poem about him, and when it was pub­lished, he and his friends who used to be mine took it and mocked it, read­ing it aloud and call­ing me all the things I’d thought about myself. Imma­ture. Pathet­ic. Crazy.



            He walked out with­out say­ing good­bye, two years, all those long con­ver­sa­tions and the con­nec­tions and the hands against my skin, the way his eyes would fol­low me across a room, gone. Like noth­ing ever happened.

            Koi no yokan. Bullshit. 



            The first time I saw him again, I had a pan­ic attack.



            But it’s been a long time.

            And all I can say now is:

            It was beautiful.


            And this:

            My best poems are about him.



            I will nev­er again won­der if I am capa­ble of lov­ing some­one that much.


           And I don’t think you ever real­ly fall out of love with some­one you’ve loved like this.


            I don’t think you ever love the same way twice.

From the writer


:: Account ::

            When I was 22, I learned an impor­tant les­son: You can be wrong about your soulmate. 

            When I met the sub­ject of this piece, I felt some­thing I nev­er felt before. A sense of know­ing, of under­stand­ing that couldn’t be shak­en, no mat­ter how hard I tried to ignore it, or talk myself out of it. A few weeks lat­er,   I came across the term koi no yokan while read­ing, and I knew exact­ly what it was:  a Japan­ese con­cept mean­ing love at sec­ond sight. I was sure: it was only a mat­ter of time.

            Unre­quit­ed love is an embar­rass­ing emo­tion to have when you’re 22. All of your friends are going off on adven­tures in love, rid­ing the roller­coast­ers of first rela­tion­ships, the post-apoc­a­lyp­tic breakup may­hem, of ‘real’ love.  But you are stuck at the sta­tion, wait­ing for a train that’s nev­er com­ing. Unre­quit­ed love means mem­o­riz­ing tiny lit­tle things about the oth­er per­son every day, and tal­ly­ing them up like a score­board of spec­u­la­tion, all for that most stub­born and dan­ger­ous of emo­tions: hope.

            He was one of my clos­est friends. There were times when I would get that feel­ing again, and my vision would zoom into the future, and I would see our slow talks, run­ning laps around each other’s brains, tak­ing note of all the knick­knacks and hang ups, the sud­den pit­falls and the places hid­den by cur­tains, where we nev­er let any­one else go. There were times that I felt under­stood in a way I can’t explain, a way that went beyond words. I thought that was cer­tain­ty, the call of two souls across space and time to one anoth­er. Koi no yokan. Inevitable. 

            But just because you believe some­thing, doesn’t make it true.

           Still,  I lit a can­dle and held it in the fog of his grow­ing dis­tance, of the girls he did want that he always took home, the way he always ignored me when­ev­er they were around. I wait­ed, and I was calm and petu­lant and fear­less and ter­ri­fied and awed at the strength of my devo­tion. It took a year to accept what was, instead of what I wanted.

            When I final­ly real­ized it was over, I wrote it all down. “All That I Can Say Now,” is that piece, where I lay out all the evi­dence, from the first day to the last. Where I try to con­vince myself that unre­quit­ed love wasn’t crazy; or even if it was, it was beau­ti­ful. When I first wrote it, I called it my “All Too Well.”

            “All That I Can Say Now,” says, in the same wild, heart-stop­ping defi­ance that can have you writ­ing hand­writ­ten notes in your favorite book, dri­ving through the lights of Austin, scream­ing your heart into the steer­ing wheel, sink­ing to the floor in a bath­room stall, and pick­ing up a shred­ded leaf from the dis­gust­ing pool deck: “I was there. I remember.”


Jas­mi­na Kuen­zli is an author of poet­ry, cre­ative non­fic­tion, and fic­tion and has been pub­lished with Crow & Cross Keys, The Blue Riv­er Review, The Elpis Pages and many oth­ers. When she isn’t writ­ing, Jas­mi­na can be found weightlift­ing, run­ning, and hold­ing impromp­tu dance par­ties in her car.  Her life goals include land­ing a back flip, get­ting legal­ly adopt­ed by Dwayne “The Rock” John­son, and being a con­trib­u­tor on Drunk His­to­ry. She would like to thank Bren­na and Sarah, who hear all these sto­ries first, and Har­ry Styles, who is sun­shine dis­tilled in a human being. Find her on Twit­ter @jasmina62442.

Like a Polaroid Transfer 

Nonfiction / R G Pagano 


:: Like a Polaroid Transfer  ::

I Along the Way.


The point of liv­ing in Italy the first time was to write a nov­el, some­thing that had escaped me. So I had this idea that I would try again, not know­ing what would emerge while fol­low­ing Nan­cy wher­ev­er she might wan­der and learn­ing more Ital­ian along the way.

            “Only a kitchen is miss­ing,” Gio­van­ni emailed, “which could be installed in the entrance. I could close the entrance with a glass wall and sep­a­rate it from the stair­way. To get to the flat you would go through the gar­den, our liv­ing room, and up the stair­way to the sec­ond floor.”

            “Gra­zie,” I replied.

            Around Inde­pen­dence Day, sev­er­al weeks before our depar­ture, Nan­cy received her sab­bat­i­cal, along with a let­ter from the super­in­ten­dent of schools, who out­lined all terms includ­ing what Nan­cy want­ed to do most — paint and live in Italy.



I met Nan­cy in Boston on my way to the Muse­um of Fine Arts. On that snowy day, we talked about our lives — look­ing sky­ward, catch­ing snowflakes, float­ing with the wind.

            Nan­cy told me about All Soul’s Day in Venice, and the Lido where she found a green-tiled Hun­gar­i­an hotel among palm trees and over­grown vines. Her descrip­tion of its emp­ty patio and three-door entrance at the top of cres­cent stairs made of cement engaged me.

            Ten months lat­er, we were married.



At the edge of Bas­sano del Grap­pa, near the baby Dolomites, we live on the top floor of a large home with a gar­den. Exot­ic plants and old pine trees com­mune with a Bel­gian Sheep­dog named Gedi, sev­er­al cats and ducks, and five duck­lings promised to a friend after the summer.

            Chic­ca, the moth­er duck, likes to go inside the house, most­ly for Gedi’s water but also to be in a cool place away from the August heat, not a bad instinct except she’s not trained.

            I’m not sure you can train a duck.

            She doesn’t know, so I car­ry her out­side to the pond where she pre­tends to walk on water.

            Once dur­ing din­ner in the gar­den, Chic­ca tossed my nap­kin on the ground, more than once. I car­ried her to the pond, but she returned after I car­ried her back again until I locked her in the laun­dry room by the garage, which worked except she’s not trained.



We’d bicy­cle with traf­fic, sig­nal­ing with our hands or using the side­walk to the old hos­pi­tal, then enter­ing the old part of Bas­sano past medieval walls and our favorite pizze­ria, against more cars and around peo­ple, by a stat­ue of Gia­co­mo da Ponte in a pri­vate square. Coast­ing down­ward took us by Palaz­zo Rober­ti, where Napoleon Bona­parte stayed twice before the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry, and into Piaz­za Garibaldi.

            Bicy­cle racks wait­ed along­side a 13th-cen­tu­ry church across from our usu­al stop for espres­so before con­tin­u­ing through Piaz­za Lib­ertà toward a stat­ue of San Bassiano, our way through the cen­ter past build­ings with colon­nades and a Zodi­ac clock across the top of the town hall. For­mer flour, oil, and salt ware­hous­es sped by, and ceram­ic and antique stores and places to buy grappa.

            Ponte Vec­chio, a wood-cov­ered bridge designed by Andrea Pal­la­dio in the mid­dle 1500s, nev­er dis­ap­point­ed. Dur­ing sum­mer, we saw men in the Brenta Riv­er swing­ing fish­ing rods, caus­ing their lines to arch in the wind. Swans glid­ed upstream. Behind us stood the back of a yel­low build­ing scarred with bul­let marks left from the Great War.

            Late in the after­noon, over­look­ing the Brenta Val­ley and its hills, we’d some­times pause under the umbrel­la trees with black cross­es and the names of men or the unknown who were hung on Sep­tem­ber 26, 1944 for resist­ing the occupation.



On an Inter­ci­ty train, we left the rain storms after weeks of intense heat.

            Gray clouds hung close to the hills.

            Nan­cy opened a small box of 12 water­col­or cubes, and with six brush­es, a white palette, and water in a yogurt cup, pro­ceed­ed to paint. Her ini­tial work formed a tow­er with high volt­age wires and pur­ple moun­tains along the top, and brown fields and trees along the edge. The wires appeared to fall off the paper.

            The train climbed hills before going into a tun­nel; then came out as high as the clouds in the dis­tance float­ing through val­leys and above fields of sunflowers.

            The ini­tial wash of anoth­er water­col­or showed a woman titling in front of two large win­dows. Nan­cy added col­or — red to her dress, pink to her face, brown to the tile floor, and blue around the windows.

            “This is a woman wait­ing at a train sta­tion,” Nan­cy said.



Atri­pal­da is nes­tled in a green province, with vine­yards over hills along­side tree-lined roads over more hills, and vil­lages wind­ing around the tops of oth­er hills, and in the dis­tance, pine-cov­ered mountains.

            Atri­pal­da had been my first home in Italy. It was where I learned Ital­ian — where I wrote Ital­ian words I had heard in con­ver­sa­tion or over­heard or read in the papers, and their Eng­lish mean­ings lat­er. Read­ing was eas­i­er. The words did not move into each oth­er the way they did in con­ver­sa­tion to pro­duce a rhythm that did not dis­crim­i­nate between begin­nings or endings.

            I was there for six months sev­er­al years after the 1980 earth­quake, and six months two years lat­er, not far from the birth­place of my grand­fa­ther near the church of Sant’Ippolisto.



Before the wed­ding, Nan­cy and I stepped inside Sant’Ippolisto.

            We inspect­ed the restora­tion, look­ing up at what was saved after the earth­quake and what was not, and how the two were joined with post-mod­ern lines and shapes to bal­ance what had sev­ered the sym­me­try. Below, we saw crypts with bones of ear­ly Chris­tians in cas­es of glass and bronze in a chapel with fres­coes on its ceil­ings and walls, and beyond the chapel, oth­er fres­coes of baby angels hold­ing flags, staffs, and flowers.

            The baby angels were above us, above the bride and groom too, inject­ing joy into the cel­e­bra­tion out of the choir and through­out the church, with Sant’Ippolisto and San Sabi­no, the patron saint and pro­tec­tor of Atri­pal­da, giv­ing their blessings.



They were most­ly but­ter­flies whose broad wings were still yel­low and orange and pur­ple on slen­der frames, next to wasps and oth­er winged insects, black with anten­nas longer than their bod­ies, and metal­lic beetles.

            Gio­van­ni start­ed the col­lec­tion in his teen years.



We were in the gar­den that after­noon. It was after­noon for us in Bassano.

            On can­vas, Nan­cy was paint­ing red flow­ers inside scrub veg­e­ta­tion with white palms on long stems under pine tree branch­es, and in the back, a fence with vines.

            I was writing.

            Chic­ca, Drake, and Duck, and the five duck­lings, almost ful­ly grown now, were bathing in a pond behind us and Gedi, asleep in the sun and dream­ing I suppose.

            “That’s the cell­phone,” Nan­cy said.

            I looked down and reached for the phone from under the news­pa­pers. It rang again, and inside its win­dow, ANSWER? appeared.

            “Pron­to,” I said. “Ciao Carmelina.”

            “Hai sen­ti­to Riccardo?”


            “… into the Twin Towers.”

            “You’re break­ing up.”


II Seek­ing Cover.


The sky was almost white. The morn­ing mist obscured the hori­zon and con­cealed the moun­tains, but in the gar­den enriched the greens and yel­lows to cre­ate an illu­sion that noth­ing else existed.

            Birds awoke on pines taller than the house.

            Rain start­ed to fall.

            After flap­ping his wings, Duck set­tled down and fell into a kind of med­i­ta­tion. He was still except for his breath­ing. By the end of the morn­ing, Duck was stand­ing on one leg, lean­ing and stretch­ing it in some yoga way. Then on the oth­er leg, he extend­ed a wing, point­ing and hold­ing the position.



A small stat­ue of Saint Antho­ny of Pad­ua saw us off. From his niche on a stone col­umn, which along with its twin marked the way to our neighbor’s corn­field, he looked as we walked past him and baby Jesus that he held next to dried ros­es in a worn vase behind a wire screen.

            I car­ried a French easel, oil paints inside of it, a Plex­i­glas square and can­vas, some­times two, along with my writ­ing note­books. Nan­cy had the rest — brush­es in a jar and tur­pen­tine in anoth­er, both inside a Grand Marnier tin, and rags.

            Nan­cy paint­ed out­doors at Ca’ Cornaro, before the cold when the day began to draw back.

            On one can­vas, she inter­pret­ed a stone path­way cov­ered with vines. Autumn vines, cast­ing their shad­ows, lined across the stones mov­ing over the edge of the path and turn­ing up and slant­i­ng on the grass towards a gray wall and the ever­greens behind it. Beyond the vine cov­ered walk­way, a stat­ue enters the painting.

            The stat­ues watched over us — Apol­lo and Artemide among the ferns and cac­ti on our way up the stair­way, Pomona in the court­yard, and three chil­dren of Fati­ma, but most of all Vir­gin Mary, who accom­pa­nied us out of this Renais­sance vil­la designed as a coun­try res­i­dence for rest and agri­cul­tur­al works among a for­est of cedars and pines.



I won­der if most artists have a sense of what they want to express, or if their instincts guide them to cre­ate and recre­ate before fin­ish­ing, then see­ing how far their work has moved away from the begin­ning and what has hap­pened along the way. The process, alive and dis­cov­ery-filled, might be more impor­tant than the result.

            Like an instant out of a Polaroid. Like a Polaroid transfer.

           The emul­sion, lift­ed from the instant and trans­ferred to water­col­or paper, con­veys an emo­tion­al con­tent cre­at­ing art that reveals who we are. Some­times the images are bare­ly rec­og­niz­able and some­times they are too familiar.

            If art reflects human­i­ty, what does it show? What did it show before Sep­tem­ber 11th? Did it warn us, cry out for help? Or is it impos­si­ble to say know­ing what hap­pened will bend the expla­na­tions mak­ing them seem some­thing else — mak­ing the symp­toms obvi­ous and eas­i­ly fore­see­able, caus­ing us to feel guilty as if we could have changed some­thing, done some­thing to pre­vent it, spec­u­lat­ing in “what ifs” to bring back our fel­low Amer­i­cans, then feel­ing angry and afraid and sad and want­i­ng to under­stand the holes in the fam­i­ly of man.



At the 49th Venice Bien­ni­al, South Kore­an artist Do-Ho Suh installed a room filled with minia­ture carv­ings of peo­ple under­neath a glass floor. These fig­ures look up with out­stretched arms and hands push­ing against the bot­tom side of the floor, want­i­ng to get out but con­fined to sup­port the floor on which we walked.



It was Dante look­ing for farm mice who chased the ducks out from under the bush­es and their home, except for Chic­ca know­ing that cat too well to be bullied.

            Drake regained his balance.

            White Col­lar, one of the five orig­i­nal duck­lings, used his beak to throw water on the oth­er duck­lings, except for Grey. I wasn’t at all sure if Grey was part of the five or adopt­ed, but I couldn’t see Chic­ca adopt­ing any duck.

            I saw light in the stu­dio at the top of the house.

            I could see Nan­cy painting.



The col­ors are work­ing,” Nan­cy told me.

            She filled the paper with water­col­or — a bright strip around the edge to frame the soft­er tones against nine trees bend­ing with the wind she could not paint the way she could paint the sky. The leaves inter­twined to cast a place in the shade.

From the writer


:: Account ::

Dur­ing the 2001/02 school year, I accom­pa­nied my wife on her art sab­bat­i­cal in Italy. While Nan­cy paint­ed in her stu­dio, I hand wrote impres­sions about our experiences.

The unpub­lished col­lec­tion includes past vis­its to Italy, pri­mar­i­ly about my Ital­ian her­itage. The impres­sions acknowl­edge the ani­mals, even a baby mouse or topoli­no. They ref­er­ence heav­en and hell, Dan­te’s tow­er in the Valle di San­ta Felic­ità. They are sto­ries about the Great War on Monte Grap­pa, the 49th Venice Bien­nale on human­i­ty, Padre Pio and his stig­ma­ta, Sep­tem­ber 11th and under­stand­ing why while recov­er­ing from bronchial pneumonia.

Like a Polaroid Trans­fer” is a small slice of that col­lec­tion. The slice is more sub­tle, more flash in its struc­ture; yet still con­veys the inflec­tion point after the events of 9/11, which moves the work from obser­va­tions to seek­ing out sim­ple places of peace.

This work, like the unpub­lished col­lec­tion, com­bines aspects of a jour­nal, mem­oir, and reminiscence.


Rich Pagano lives in New­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts. His writ­ing is some­times lyri­cal and often visu­al but always in the direc­tion of mean­ing-mak­ing. He resided in Italy for a peri­od of time and fre­quent­ly trav­els there with his wife, draw­ing on those expe­ri­ences for his cre­ative work.


Versions of Truth

Nonfiction / H. P. 


:: Versions of Truth ::


In this ver­sion, you are talk­ing to me and her at the same time. I am not the only one you’re send­ing dai­ly emails to. I am not the only one who com­mis­er­ates with you about the per­plex­i­ties of being human and a writer at the same time. But I mis­took your Face­book posts and Spo­ti­fy playlists as signs for me when they were for her. It’s hilar­i­ous. Every­one but me is crouch­ing in laugh­ter. I’m crouch­ing, too. In agony. Worst hang­over ever.


She’s hit­ting your arm now. She’s say­ing, between chuck­les, “That poor girl!” She’s look­ing in your eyes now. You’re look­ing in her eyes now. You’re say­ing, between chuck­les, “That poor girl!” You are tak­ing her arm now. You are mak­ing it soft. You are mak­ing it yours.



In this ver­sion, you are talk­ing to me and try­ing, ever so slow­ly, to be my lover. In a few years. In a decade. In what­ev­er time our lives need to align like stars and plan­ets in an eclipse. You are try­ing to be my friend first, some­one I trust. You are try­ing to let me know that it’s okay to lean on you.


I am so close to rest­ing my head on your shoul­der. I am so close to hang­ing onto your arm for bal­ance. I am so close to inhal­ing the air you expel from your lungs. You are so close to inhal­ing the air I expel from my lungs. You are so close to leav­ing your arms open. You are so close to tip­ping your body side­ways so I can reach your shoulders.



In this ver­sion, you are talk­ing to me like one of the orphans you vis­it on week­ends. You see me but you don’t real­ly know who I am beyond my weak­ness and my need. You only see me because of my tears. Because of the scars I thought I already cov­ered up with my tattoos.


My orphan­hood is not the only thing you should know about me. I am telling you I am also a capa­ble KTV singer. I am also a mod­est­ly suc­cess­ful jester. I am also a self-taught make­up artist. Tell me more about you. Tell me about your four sib­lings. Tell me how you learned to play the gui­tar. Tell me your bad jokes. Tell me your go-to karaoke song. Tell me why you love orphans.



In this ver­sion, you are talk­ing to me about Sartre and Beau­voir and that’s when I real­ize you’re the one I’ve been wait­ing for. You are the one I want to be my lover. You can be the sub­ject of my end­less long­ing, my best love poems, and my sap­pi­est KTV songs.


I have no boyfriend in this ver­sion. I have no one at home wait­ing for me. I have all the time in the world to fall in love with you. I have all the heart in the world for you to break open. I am hand­ing you a knife. I am hand­ing you a gun. I am hand­ing you a bomb. Destroy me. Please.



In this ver­sion, you are talk­ing to me about tak­ing up Phi­los­o­phy in col­lege and there’s noth­ing more to it. You aren’t hid­ing the fact that you are a priest. You did not get ordained in 2018. You did not become the youngest priest in your province. You did not ful­fill your mother’s dreams for you.


You can get mar­ried in this ver­sion. You have no church wait­ing for you. You have all the time in the world to fall in love with me. You have all the heart in the world for me to break open. You are hand­ing me a knife. You are hand­ing me a gun. You are hand­ing me a bomb. I will destroy you. As gen­tly as quick­ly as hun­gri­ly as possible.

From the writer


:: Account ::

This essay is my attempt at pin­ning down a flur­ry of emo­tions from a recent heart­break I had. It is an uncon­ven­tion­al love sto­ry, to say the least. There are lay­ers upon lay­ers of hurt and betray­al. Essen­tial­ly, this is me telling myself mul­ti­ple ver­sions of the same sto­ry. For bet­ter or worse, I have decid­ed to share it with the rest of the world. I am not expect­ing sal­va­tion or clar­i­ty. My love has been doomed from the start. There were more ques­tions than answers from the start. But writ­ing about my grief is my way of reach­ing out to myself and say­ing, “You don’t need to drown.”


There is a lot of rep­e­ti­tion in this piece. I also used stream of con­scious­ness writ­ing. The goal was to be as raw and vul­ner­a­ble as pos­si­ble. This is prob­a­bly the only space in the world where these feel­ings will see the light of day. I am con­tent with that.


H.P. is a heart­bro­ken poet from the high­lands of the Philippines.

Ne me quitte pas

Nonfiction / Karis Ryu


:: Ne me quitte pas ::


**CW: men­tions of death.

Did you know?

            In ele­men­tary school, I was assigned to the same table as a boy I had a crush on and start­ed scor­ing low­er in class behav­ior because of it. When I got my report card back and saw the unfa­mil­iar let­ters star­ing back at me, the wave of shame that hit was sud­den and colos­sal. Before the age of ten, I learned that lik­ing boys came at the expense of being myself. So I cut him out of my head as quick­ly and as sharply as he had popped into it, and through sheer force of will I drilled back into myself the words MY FUTURE IS MY OWN MY FUTURE IS MY OWN.

            In mid­dle school, the clos­est I came to telling a boy I had a crush on him was by proxy. He was old­er, and a line of girls had already liked him. I scoffed ini­tial­ly, so sure I would nev­er join that line, and then a few months lat­er I was run­ning out of rooms the moment he entered them. On my last day, two younger girls approached me with mis­chie­vous eyes and asked if they could tell him.

            “Why not?” I shrugged, feign­ing non­cha­lance. The truth was I was relieved, because I actu­al­ly want­ed them to tell him. I want­ed him to know with­out hav­ing to tell him myself. I think I was afraid that if I told him myself, I would trem­ble and my spir­it would crack into pieces and he would end up tak­ing some of me with him, parts of me I would nev­er get back.

            I was twelve: old enough to under­stand that girls who felt things and said so lost their faces and nev­er got them back.


Did you know?

            I am twen­ty one and I am so young. Peo­ple are so quick to press their hands to their fore­heads and per­form dra­mat­ic faux strokes when they hear how young I am. We are in the same place, yet I am three, four, five, six, ten years younger. I have worked so hard to get here. All I have done is work. After all, MY FUTURE IS MY OWN MY FUTURE IS MY OWN.

            At first I thought he was impressed. Then he kept pok­ing at it, pok­ing at me, in nudges of embar­rassed laugh­ter and patron­iz­ing nods that bol­stered his pride by push­ing me down. Now I can­not help but won­der whether my pres­ence emas­cu­lates those who have to breathe the same air as me. So I wor­ried, when I real­ized how well we got along, that you would poke like he had. I wor­ried our silences sig­naled your dis­com­fort. I wor­ried our silences sig­naled your bore­dom. That my pres­ence damp­ened the room with how heavy it was. That my pres­ence bur­dened you with how too-much it was. My worst fear con­firmed, set in stone, the cold hard truth: I am a strange and over­whelm­ing con­coc­tion of fren­zy and fear and too many ideas, and you say I am bril­liant, but that is only as long as I am at arm’s reach because if you look any clos­er, you will real­ize what I already know: I am unpalatable.

            A boy I liked said this about me once, that I was too good for the guys at school. That’s all well and good, but where does that leave me? Some­times com­pli­ments don’t mean shit if you’re lonely.

            I am twen­ty one. I am sit­ting out­side of a cof­fee shop and cry­ing because I am so young, yes, but being so young at this stage in this place means that I am alone. I am alone, and it is heart­break­ing. I have a bright future ahead of me, so they say, but I can­not do any­thing about it right now because I am so young. I might have grown up quick­ly and I might know how to do lots of grown-up things, but ban­dag­ing my own bro­ken heart is not one of them. So I sit on this bench and cry because that’s what girls in love and pain do.


Did you know?

            When I was thir­teen I walked cir­cles and cir­cles around a lake in my neigh­bor­hood. When we lived in a city a one-hour train ride from my mother’s birth­place and a thir­teen-hour flight across an ocean away from mine. Cou­ples dou­ble-ped­aled duck boats across the water. At night some­one would busk on the plat­form, their voice echo­ing through the mic and through my head.

            When I was thir­teen I thought a lot about death. I thought a lot about whether or not I want­ed to die, and how I had no answer. I thought about how my lack of an answer at the very least sig­naled how I felt about life: that is, my utter lack of a desire for it. Yet I could not bring myself to die.

            I looked at every­one around me and remem­bered I was sur­round­ed by a dialect adja­cent to my mother’s, a lan­guage I kind-of-under­stood and just as much kind-of-didn’t, a lan­guage I was so glad not to speak and just as much longed to.

            Yet I could not bring myself to die.

            I thought about death so much I believed I no longer thought about boys. That wasn’t true, because there was a boy that year, there was always a boy, wasn’t there, for each new wound that the world ripped into me that I then fum­bled to balm with what­ev­er sub­stance was closest—whatever would do for a fan­ta­sy. I thought more and more about death in the hopes that it would make me think less of the boy, of what I want­ed him to be and what I knew he was not. Dying was eas­i­er. Dying felt more mean­ing­ful. It is more poet­ic to die than to like a boy. It kind-of-worked.

            I walked the lake in a bizarre jaunt that the bright­ness of the sun made even more macabre. I walked the lake while think­ing about dying while lis­ten­ing to a marim­ba play while Regi­na Spek­tor asked peo­ple not to leave her, feel­ing some­what more livened up by it but then because of that, feel­ing sad­der than before. Yet I could not bring myself to die.


Did you know?

            I am praised a lot for my hon­esty nowa­days, which is inter­est­ing because it’s when I’m being hon­est that I’m most wor­ried about being dis­hon­est. Like I’m deploy­ing my hon­esty because I know that’s what works, that’s what endears me to peo­ple. At the same time, I can­not help the things that come out of my mouth and I am very much at the mer­cy of the per­son sit­ting across from me as I help­less­ly watch, eyes crossed, my guts push out from between my teeth and spill onto the table. I am ter­ri­fied of being per­ceived as a too-earnest child and noth­ing more, but this is the only way I know how to be that feels the clos­est I can ever get to “true.”

            I’m sure you would rather be with some­body else right now, some­one nicer, some­one more pleas­ant, not some­one who was born with a tri­an­gu­lar mouth and had to train her­self out of a rest­ing bitch face by star­ing into a mir­ror and push­ing the cor­ners of her lips up for years. Here are some things I have learned over those years:

            I am admired; I am not approached. I am a stat­ue; I am not a girl. I believed that too for a while, but I am tired now. I am a girl. I was a girl all along. I will always be a girl. A girl who gig­gles and feels and cries and loves and flut­ters and laughs like every­one else.

            When I was nine­teen, I walked all the way down a hill in the dead of the night. It was a dead night. My legs were dead and my eyes were dead but my soul refused to die. It just refused to fuck­ing die. I could have walked for­ev­er. I could have walked until I died.

            Please, I cried. Let me die.

            Please, it begged. Don’t leave me, too.

            I am just a girl who does not want to be alone.


Did you know?

            I think I am thank­ful I did not take my life that night, or that oth­er night, or that oth­er oth­er oth­er night when I thought about doing it. It has tak­en me years to get to this thought. Late­ly I’ve been think­ing it more and more. Here are just a few:

            I think it when it is our sec­ond week of col­lege and we sit next to each oth­er in a small group where we both feel out of place. You, too? we gasp, look­ing at each oth­er. We walk in the same direc­tion after it’s over and after a while of talk­ing out­side your dorm build­ing, you say to me: Hey, do you want to just come inside? So we talk inside your dorm for two more hours, and that night our friend­ship is born.

            I think it when I turn sev­en­teen and my plan was to sit in my dorm and eat a dou­ble-choco­late Insom­nia cook­ie alone. That is when you call me, a girl you bare­ly know, because Face­book said it is my birth­day and am I doing any­thing to cel­e­brate? Let’s get froyo. No, don’t bring mon­ey, you are treat­ing me to froyo because it’s my birthday!

            I think it when years pass and it is my birth­day again, and anoth­er you waves a card into my hands, say­ing HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOU ABSOLUTE ANIMAL, which I know is a com­pli­ment because I know you. The card is almost illeg­i­ble because of your noto­ri­ous­ly loopy pen­man­ship but I can read it. It is detailed, love­ly, and tru­ly some­thing only you could write to me.

            I think it when it is the mid­dle of what was look­ing like the best semes­ter of col­lege yet, but a virus hits our lit­tle life of laugh­ter and sud­den­ly we are three friends sit­ting in Meet­ing Street Cafe, angry and in shock but most of all scared that our first time togeth­er in this booth might be our last one too. Yet all we can do is smile for one anoth­er, trem­bling mouths hold­ing up taut frames. Lat­er we sit by the water and we can­not help it, the words that flow out of us. When peace like a riv­er atten­deth my way. When sor­rows like sea bil­lows roll. What­ev­er my lot, Thou hast taught me to say. It is well, it is well with my soul. We cry and I won­der if I will ever know ten­der­ness like this again.

            I think it after I move to a new city and we have known each oth­er for maybe a month at most when you invite me over for bagel brunch, and I assume that this is for some par­ty or gath­er­ing because the only way I would be includ­ed in an invi­ta­tion is if it was a mass one. But I show up at your house and it is just me, and I ask you if any­one else is com­ing and you smile and shake your head and say no, today it’s just me.

            I think it when you remem­ber me on New Year’s and send me a text because I am who you’re thank­ful for.

            I think it when you invite me at ten o’clock at night on an impromp­tu excur­sion to the beach because you missed me, you say, and there is anoth­er one of us, anoth­er friend, look, you again, you’re there!—to love is to be one and isn’t that won­der­ful—in the pas­sen­ger seat of the car you are dri­ving, and there is a pack of lychee beers in the back, and any­way you’ll be in front of my apart­ment in three min­utes so get dressed and don’t go to sleep!

            I think it when two years after we cried by the water, you are grad­u­at­ing and at your depart­men­tal cer­e­mo­ny we stand there beam­ing at you. We hand you a bag, and inside that bag is our gift: a cook­ie from Meet­ing Street Cafe. I almost cried while I stood in line for it, did you know? So cir­cles do end some­where after all.

            I think it dur­ing the silences between our con­ver­sa­tions every time you walk me home. I won­der if this is spe­cial for you, too. I think about how wor­ried I was and at times still am that no one would ever want to exist with me like this. I think about how there is no one else I would rather exist with right now than you. I hope I mean some­thing sim­i­lar to you, and while that hope is tinged with fear that I am wrong, it is beau­ti­ful pre­cise­ly because it is frag­ile, and I would much rather cling to it than have noth­ing to cling to at all. Any­way, we keep going, held by the same deep indi­go sky each time, in mur­mur and laugh­ter and silence, cush­ioned in all that I do not yet know how to say but want to let you know some­how. I am scared of what will hap­pen when I do find the words. I am scared I already have them. I am scared of what they mean. Of los­ing my face. My room­mate told me once that to ask for a place in someone’s heart is to ask for per­mis­sion to break it one day. God for­bid, but it could hap­pen. I don’t want to hurt you. Even in my own fear of my own heart­break, my first thought is of you. That scares me most of all. But some­times I dare to believe that your word­less thoughts might be search­ing for me too. I dare to trust that what­ev­er we are fig­ur­ing out togeth­er is good, very good.

            (To make a dec­la­ra­tion is to, in the back of your mind, always won­der just a lit­tle bit if you even believe what you are declar­ing. But to feel any­thing at all is to risk being wrong, and that ten­sion is what makes life real. So lean into it. Embrace it.)

            I think God is telling me there is a way. A way to con­fess with­out los­ing my face. A way to love that keeps the heart intact.

            (Or: Love is an exer­cise in trust.)

            I used to think that love was about what is said. What is spo­ken aloud. What is com­mu­ni­cat­ed through touch, through stare, what is pro­ject­ed onto a wall in blaz­ing let­ters and yelled from across a long, long room. That love is some­thing you can­not miss.

            But love is trust, and silence is sound. Love is hav­ing faith in what has not been said. Believ­ing in a glance and per­haps in the absence of a touch entire­ly. Maybe you are care­ful with how you touch me because I am some­one to treat with care. Maybe we sit side by side because we hope the time we give each oth­er says what we do not speak aloud, because the dam hold­ing back every­thing we could say or do is so thin and oh, how excit­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing it is, how dear­ly I would hold you to me if you would let me. But first I have to let you know.

            Love is as shy as it is bold. It is shy because it is bold. It takes the breath out of you to expose the heart for one sec­ond. Blink and you might miss it. But if you do, that’s okay. Trust that it is there, because you are loved. You are loved and so you love, because I trust you, I trust you.

            You are my friend. You say my name. “Have you ever judged some­one for being hon­est about their feelings?”

            No, I respond. I always thought they were brave.

            “Exact­ly.” You nod your head. You say my name again. “So why are you scared?”

            In May, you tell me how strange it is to think we have only known each oth­er for less than a year, because you feel like, in the best way, a life­time has passed between us. And I say, I can’t com­pre­hend some­times how I love you as fierce­ly as I do. And you say, you know where it says that eter­ni­ty is writ­ten on our hearts or some­thing like that, and I think, yes, and you say, in feel­ing like I’ve known you for a long time, eter­ni­ty is the free­dom to love you as if I have.

From the writer


:: Account ::

As the read­er can tell, I was twen­ty one years old when I wrote this piece. It has been revis­it­ed and revised peri­od­i­cal­ly since then, but at the beat­ing heart of this con­fes­sion of an essay was and is the earnest­ness of a per­son craft­ing a bur­geon­ing def­i­n­i­tion of love as she learns to love oth­ers and to love herself.

The inspi­ra­tion to write this piece first struck me one spring after­noon, while I cried on a bench out­side of a cof­fee shop near my apart­ment. (This scene made it into the essay. In a way, per­haps I start­ed there.) I was, in short, pro­cess­ing many firsts: my first year out of col­lege, my first year in a new city, and the chances I had tak­en on expe­ri­ences and peo­ple dur­ing that time. The love those risks had brought me, but also the hurts and the losses—and the heart­break of real­iz­ing that the time had come to say good­bye again. Grow­ing up as a mil­i­tary child, I had built up anti­so­cial detach­ment mech­a­nisms in order to mit­i­gate the hurt of get­ting attached. Twen­ty one was the year I tru­ly began to shed those walls—and had to face the beau­ti­ful consequences.

These ongo­ing tumults wouldn’t quite resolve for some months’ time. But writ­ing this piece over those dif­fi­cult sum­mer months kept me com­pa­ny dur­ing peri­ods of lone­li­ness, con­fu­sion, and grow­ing pains. I have, of course, grown since I first wrote this, and am shar­ing the expe­ri­ences and feel­ings of a past me, but I con­tin­ue to hold this piece dear­ly for its vul­ner­a­ble hon­esty. That’s the per­son I want to stay true to in all that I write and do.


Karis Ryu is a writer, artist, and grad­u­ate stu­dent cur­rent­ly based in New Haven, Con­necti­cut. She grew up mov­ing fre­quent­ly across North Amer­i­ca and the Pacif­ic as a U.S. mil­i­tary child of Kore­an descent. Her work has pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in Chaot­ic Merge Mag­a­zine, HerStry, The B’K, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Find her in a cof­fee shop, a library, or at


Nonfiction / Faye Srala


:: Unspoken ::

            Sis­ter, can I come in? The door opens slight­ly, par­tial­ly obstruct­ed by fur­ni­ture behind it. Yap­ping dogs come run­ning. Down, DOWN! STOP IT, you yell. Some­where inside a TV blares a com­mer­cial and the par­rot who learned how to bark long ago adds to the cacoph­o­ny. The cats arrive, their lethar­gy hav­ing been defeat­ed by their curios­i­ty. I take small steps into your house, care­ful not to step on lit­tle paws; they are not so care­ful with me. I try to get clos­er to you for a hug but give up in the brown and black eddy swirling below my knees.

            Can we talk? My mind is mud­dled. Wispy images flick­er, like a pho­to aban­doned in a damp base­ment. Water spots obscure por­tions, and the edges blur. Shards of bro­ken glass pulse frac­tured images; a man, legs plant­ed wide, his fists clenched, leans into a woman scream­ing. Nei­ther are whole, they are dis­tort­ed by fuzzy edges of the same torn pic­ture, pieces are miss­ing. Can you remem­ber? I ask, was it real? Stop it, you yell – the dogs are chas­ing the cats. Stop it, stop it,the par­rot chimes in from her perch in the cor­ner. Frag­ments of improb­a­ble scenes flick­er in my mind. They seethe and froth, just out of the cor­ner of my eye, slink­ing, sneak­ing, and sulk­ing. They want out – you open the door and four­teen ani­mals sprint for the back­yard. You fix your­self a drink and ask if I want one too.

            I sit at the din­ing table and fid­get while I wait, care­ful­ly craft­ing my open­ing words. I part the drapes beside me a lit­tle. A wel­come blade of sun­light cuts a yel­low swath through the dim­ness illu­mi­nat­ing float­ing par­ti­cles of dirt and fur rear­rang­ing them­selves. Unopened UPS deliv­er­ies lin­ing the walls come into focus; throw rugs and pre­car­i­ous­ly stacked junk mail com­plete the tow­ers, and I won­der in what way the for­got­ten specters of our past man­i­fest them­selves in my life. Nei­ther of us sleep. I was well into my twen­ties when I real­ized the gaunt dark and hol­low eyes of insom­nia wasn’t just a genet­ic attribute. I take a sip of the drink you hand me and wince at the glass of iced vod­ka with a splash of orange juice.

            I need to know. We can speak about it now, can’t we? Sure­ly you can explain why my child­hood is veiled behind a shroud, like a body unfit for view­ing. Do you know how hun­gry I was, or that I was four going on five when our father asked me to kiss his…, That’s enough, STOP IT, you rise to break up a cat fight. The par­rot starts to sing her ABCs in a crack­ling falsetto. 

            Your pets, they found sanc­tu­ary with you after mis­treat­ment and neglect. My splin­tered mem­o­ries, like these ani­mals, need res­cu­ing. They need to find a home too, some­where they can be safe from harm and learn to be them­selves. Some­where they can run, with­out judge­ment. Just one place of com­fort. Can they have a home with you too? You’re the only oth­er one that knows them.

            Let’s rem­i­nis­cence, sis­ter, pre­tend we’re just like every­one else. Let’s talk about our fam­i­ly tra­di­tions; except when we get to the part about what dad did, instead of in stitch­es at his antics, like nor­mal peo­ple, we’ll talk about the time mom need­ed stitch­es. Instead of crack­ing up at his pranks, we’ll talk about mom’s cracked ribs. WILL YOU STOPYou scold Pro­fes­sor Jame­son for gnaw­ing on Cook­ie. STOP IT STOP IT, the par­rot can’t help herself.

            Was mom very bold or just naïve when she gave our father his walk­ing papers? Did she know what await­ed her? Was it nor­mal to watch our mom raise her fists in the air and scream at an impo­tent sky, then drop to her knees and pound the floor in fury hop­ing the phys­i­cal pain replaced the emo­tion­al. God and the dev­il were house guests that nev­er left; we fed them, but not our­selves. As the hands of jus­tice hov­ered above us unde­cid­ed whether or not to snatch us up in the rap­ture, depraved pul­sat­ing pais­leys of flame nipped at our heels. Pros­per­i­ty preach­ers con­vinced her their offer­ing plates on our table was all that was need­ed to tip the scale. “Sow what you have in order to reap what you need. God will pro­vide,” the TV preach­er would bel­low. “Plant the seed and it will grow. The Lord mul­ti­plies the reward for a faith­ful fol­low­er.” Delight­ed to be the con­duit, his voice would cul­mi­nate in a crescen­do to encour­age the hes­i­tant. Mom gave. She gave until the cock­roach­es fled in search of spoils else­where. She blamed her­self for our dif­fi­cul­ties. Her faith was not strong enough. Maybe it was nor­mal to pre­pare din­ner from a few crack­ers and moldy cheese. Maybe that’s why mom liked wine so much, it kills the taste of cheese mold. It does.

            Years have van­ished between this per­vert­ed parade of night­mares that flair in bits of strobe light and dis­si­pate upon wak­ing. This miss­ing time, is this the rea­son nei­ther of us had chil­dren, or why you live block­ad­ed in per­pet­u­al twi­light, or for my for­mer youth­ful pow­er­less­ness to thwart unwant­ed male atten­tion? I tried once, remem­ber? I asked if you were hun­gry, too. The next day you gift­ed me two cats, res­cued from abuse. Like I need­ed a dis­trac­tion. I was think­ing too much. Please, talk to me. Hmmm? You say, as your eyes swing back from the menagerie of fos­ter fails.

            They tum­ble, swirl and curl. They need to be let out, they ask you to go out, they can’t escape on their own, they need your help, your con­sent. You open the door and a rotat­ing vor­tex of mad­ness races away.  But you’re hap­pi­er when they’re in, bet­ter than when they’re out. It’s safe to keep them in, so no one can see how many there are, or how unac­cept­able they are, even though they need to get out occa­sion­al­ly, but once they do, peo­ple will see, they’re too exposed, you’re too exposed. Bet­ter to bring them back in, where it’s more com­fort­able. You close the slight part in the cur­tains, end­ing the dance of the dust.

            The par­rot bab­bles her full reper­toire in her pierc­ing scratch; hel­lo, good­bye, A B C D E F G, peanut mm mm, bad bird bad bird whatcha gonna do (to the tune of the TV show “Cops” theme song), hel­lo, good­bye, A B C… All this inter­spers­es with bark­ing and hissing.

            My drink is fin­ished. The ani­mals come run­ning when I stand up. Wag­ging tails fol­low swarm­ing teeth and claws. I pick my way care­ful­ly through them and the cats mount­ed on box­es like sen­tries man­ning a tur­ret over­look­ing a fortress. You move the small table behind the door so I can leave eas­i­er. The parrot’s acrid voice ris­es above the rest, good­bye.

            Unspo­ken doesn’t mean nev­er hap­pened, dear Sis.

From the writer


:: Account ::

Unspo­ken” is true in its entire­ty, except for the part about the cock­roach­es, they actu­al­ly stayed. I’ve writ­ten a series of poems and prose pieces in an attempt to under­stand, and heal, a painful child­hood. In all of my work, my intent is to place the raw ache, humil­i­a­tion, and rage on the paper while still hon­or­ing my moth­er for her brav­ery and unwa­ver­ing mater­nal instincts, who nev­er expect­ed to be a sin­gle moth­er in the 1970s. It’s not easy to be hon­est after a life­time of try­ing to sup­press mem­o­ries, and some­times cre­ative choic­es can help explain the inex­plic­a­ble. This is why I chose a metaphor – the dis­trac­tion of a house full of ani­mals is used to avoid con­fronting the past. It is an apt choice to describe the rela­tion­ship between my sis­ter and I, who is old­er and suf­fered through those extra years with our abu­sive father. My cre­ative lib­er­ties are inspired by Bren­da Miller’s “A Case Against Courage in Cre­ative Non­fic­tion,” which appeared in AWP Writer’s Chron­i­cle, Oct/Nov 2011. In her essay, Miller makes the argu­ment that some­times courage doesn’t always pay off in CNF, some­times cow­ardice in the form of metaphor, syn­tax, imagery, or using a con­tain­er, much like a her­mit crab uses a shell for pro­tec­tion, pro­duces bet­ter literature.


Faye Srala is a retired chemist liv­ing in Ida­ho pur­su­ing a cre­ative out­let with writ­ing. She earned a BS in Chem­istry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Col­orado at Col­orado Springs, an MBA from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Utah, and is a cur­rent Eng­lish major with the cre­ative writ­ing empha­sis at Ida­ho State Uni­ver­si­ty. She wait­ed until retire­ment to pur­sue an artis­tic out­let because her career was both reward­ing and demand­ing, and because she didn’t trust her cre­ativ­i­ty enough make a switch. When not busy with class­es, she bakes deca­dent desserts, drinks wine, and hikes off those calo­ries in the exten­sive Ida­ho wilderness.

From the Editor’s Laptop

As has become cus­tom­ary I would like to use this space to note my grat­i­tude and praise for The Account staff who all work on a vol­un­teer basis.



A thank you to our edi­tors Lau­ren Brazeal Garza, Lyn­d­sey Ellis, Rachele Salvi­ni, and Christi­na Stod­dard. Their lead­er­ship, and thought­ful atten­tion to each and every sub­mis­sion, and mind­ful eye in craft­ing our genre sec­tions is the foun­da­tion­al core that dri­ves our mis­sion at The Account.

A spe­cial thank you to Lau­ren for cham­pi­oning our new inter­views sec­tion: such a won­der­ful addi­tion to The Account — look­ing for­ward to future editions. 

Addi­tion­al grat­i­tude to Christi­na who han­dled much of the logis­tics for this issue, and once again offered invalu­able guid­ance to myself and the pub­li­ca­tion at large. Thank you Christi­na, The Account sim­ply could not exist with­out you. 

For more infor­ma­tion on our edi­tors see below


Lau­ren Brazeal Garza, Inter­views and Reviews Editor 

Lyn­d­sey Ellis, Fic­tion Editor

Rachele Salvi­ni, Non­fic­tion Editor 

Christi­na Stod­dard, Poet­ry Edi­tor, Man­ag­ing Editor 



Praise, Grat­i­tude, and, Joy to our new assis­tant edi­tors Camille U. Adams, L. A. John­son, and Megha Nayar. Their impor­tant and mind­ful con­tri­bu­tions helped shape their respec­tive sec­tions.

Thank you for your time. It’s been won­der­ful hav­ing you as part of our com­mu­ni­ty.

For more infor­ma­tion on our assis­tant edi­tors see below


Camille U. Adams, Assis­tant CNF Editor 

A. John­son, Assis­tant Poet­ry Editor 

Megha Nayar, Assis­tant Fic­tion Edi­tor 




As always thank you to our Found­ing / Con­sult­ing Edi­tor Tyler Mills. Her sup­port allows The Account to stay acces­si­ble to our read­ers, sub­mit­ters, and the lit­er­ary world at large. I will for­ev­er be grate­ful to Tyler for trust­ing me with this space. 


For more on Tyler Mills, Found­ing / Con­sult­ing Editor



And once again, thank You Read­er.

I think the act of read­ing and writ­ing is innate­ly pri­vate, and immense­ly personal. 

I think at its best lit­er­a­ture can lan­guage the un-lan­guagable. I think lit­er­a­ture at its core has the abil­i­ty to change the read­er and writer alike. 

I know at its core The Account offers a space for the read­er and writer to sit down togeth­er in silent con­ver­sa­tion as they scroll through the pages.

That’s what excites me most about The Account: each con­tri­bu­tion offers the read­er a chance to step into the writer’s mind-space while they say Hi. Hel­lo. Wel­come. This is what’s been on my mind. 




With Joy, Till Next Year,

Sean Cho A. 


The Account