FALL 2020-SPRING 2021
WELCOME TO VAULT
Vault is a student-run literary magazine featuring writing and artwork by the students of the Cambridge School of Weston. The 2021 edition of Vault has moved online in response to the COVID-19 crisis. We are a community that prizes art and creativity in all its forms, and it is our hope that our magazine can help us form connections with each other and celebrate our students even when we cannot be together.
Ordinarily, we charge $3 per one paper copy of our magazine. Since this edition is online, it is free to read! In place of paying for the magazine, we suggest donating to any of the fundraisers below:
The Boston chapter of the well-known racial justice organization, which "centers work against racist policing and police violence, abolishing mass incarceration, economic disparities and factors that allow the school to prison pipeline to exist."
"The Massachusetts Bail Fund pays up to $2000 bail so that low-income people can stay free while they work towards resolving their case, allowing individuals, families, and communities to stay productive, together, and stable." The work this fund does is always important, but it has been especially essential in the past weeks as peaceful protesters have been put behind bars.
"The mission of Violence in Boston is to improve the quality of life & life outcomes of individuals from disenfranchised communities by reducing the prevalence of violence and the impact of associated trauma."
All submissions are reviewed anonymously in our weekly online meetings. Many thanks to our wonderful faculty advisor Eli Keehn, everyone who participated in our meetings, and everyone who submitted their work! We hope you enjoy reading our publication as much as we enjoyed making it.
El Clavenna '21
Lily Thomson '22
Mia Vittimberga '22
No Time, No Sanity
He had never had a great sense of time, especially when it meant waking up for something important. He was quite literally addicted to sleeping, ever since a very young age. He struggled waking up, and never had an issue falling asleep. Even though he rented an apartment on 6th avenue in Manhattan and always kept the window wide open at night, he couldn't help but sleep. It was quite odd, but it was normal for him. Because of the way he lived his life, he lost all connection with family, and he didn’t have any friends.
On the first Friday of February, Jeremy Hessenburg woke up at one o’clock in the afternoon. He glanced at the walls of his room, completely covered with hundreds of clocks varying in size and color. The clocks were stacked up all around his apartment too; next to his bed, in the bathroom, and in the kitchen. He looked at the clocks and saw it was one o’clock. It felt early for him, but he knew he had plenty of time to accomplish what he needed to do that day. He lifted his chunky comforter that laid on half of his body and sat up in the king bed, taking up the entire one bedroom in his studio apartment. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he made sure he had a king size bed to sleep on since he valued sleep over everything else in his life. When Jeremy got out of bed, he stumbled into his bathroom, not wanting to start his day. He always took a cold shower to wake himself up, and that Friday was nothing short of normal. He grasped the silver handle connected to the tall glass door, and forced himself to step onto the glossy tiles. Once the icy water hit his warm skin, he felt immediately more awake. Jeremy used 3-in-1 soap in the shower because he didn’t like to waste his time on extra steps or unnecessary actions. His showers usually took less than three minutes, and he would always time them. He even had clocks hanging in his shower. They were on every wall of his apartment. The rest of Jeremy’s morning routine consisted of putting on a pair of Dickies cargo pants and a white tee, eating a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, and leaving his apartment. He had a routine for everything in his life. He left his house every day with one goal and returned home on Friday having acquired his necessary item, a clock. In his head, Jeremy felt that he needed to get this item every single day, although nothing would actually happen to him if he didn’t get it, but he did not know that.
Jeremy was not only a sleep addict, but he had another addiction as well. Every single day, he would go around New York City to all of the different boroughs to purchase a clock of some sort. He always took the Metro, and walked miles and miles looking for the item. Jeremy would not return home until he collected, bought, or stole one. His brain would not allow him to forget the item. He went into department stores, thrift stores, and attended flea markets on all days of the week. Once he found it, he returned home and decided where to hang it on his crowded wall. Jeremy repeated his day over and over for months which eventually turned into years. He was obsessed with collecting and his brain was obsessed with telling him he needed to get the clock.
On Saturday morning, Jeremy didn’t wake up. He slept for twenty-two hours, all through the day on Saturday until nine p.m. when he was awoken by a fly circling around his head creating a loud buzz in his ear. He didn’t realize what time it was, until he looked at his wall. He lifted his heavy comforter onto the other side of the bed and slid himself guiltily out of bed. Although half asleep still, Jeremy was worried about the amount of time he had left. Get the clock, his brain told him, get the clock. He didn’t even bother to get dressed, since he knew he had no time to collect his item for the day. Still wearing his musty clothes from the previous day, Jeremy left his apartment, locked the door, ran down the hallway to the elevator and waited for the downwards arrow to light up. He heard the ding echo in his head and stepped into the carpeted elevator. Surrounded by mirrors, he looked around at himself and closed his eyes. He had two and a half hours to acquire a clock. Time was ticking, literally. He thought about all of the stores he could go into, but since it was so late, his options were dwindling. He exited the elevator and ran through the lobby of his building onto the slush covered cement. Civilians walked past him as he stood still with slush soaking into his suede chelsea boots. There were too many store options to choose, and Jeremy was quickly slipping into an anxious, insane state. He ran down the sidewalk and stopped again. Everyone around him was acting normal, because in the city, seeing a mentally deranged person is normal, so they didn’t react. He didn’t realize that people around him were living their normal daily lives, since his brain was in an unstable place. He realized that none of the stores had their lights on, even though it wasn’t that late at night. He walked up to a deli that is usually open twenty four hours, but saw the thick, rusted metal chain pull-down cover that he never sees. Every single store he walks up to has the chains blocking the doors and windows. There are no stores open for anyone to enter, he thought, but normal civilians were walking in and out of the stores, just like any other Saturday night.
Jeremy cut one street over to 5th Avenue to scope out the situation with the stores. Exactly the same. Residents and tourists walk by him like any other day, as if nothing is out of the ordinary. By this time, it is already 10:30 pm, only an hour and a half left. He didn’t know what would happen if he didn’t bring home a clock by midnight. He just knew he couldn’t return home without one. His brain was telling him to get the clock. Get the clock. Get the clock. Get the clock. Get the clock.
Now frantically entering a hotel, he looks in the lobby for a clock and doesn’t see it anywhere on the wall. The hotel staff is confused by the distraught man in their lobby.
“Do you need help, Sir?”, the host says calmly.
“I need an item.”
“Okay, what is that item and do you need medical assistance?” the host asks, since Jeremy is breathing heavily and is physically and mentally distraught.
“I can’t tell you, and NO I do not need anything” Jeremy storms out as he is enraged with the hotel host. He did nothing wrong, but since Jeremy was in an unstable place, he thought that the host wanted to do something harmful to him. Jeremy felt as if he couldn’t tell the host what his item is. He tried to continue on with his hunt for a clock, but his mind was taking over. His brain was urging him to act and think in a way that is not sane.
Next hotel, no item. Jeremy frantically entered over ten hotels with no luck. He trudged down the sidewalk, now with his boots soggy with a mixture of salt, snow, and dirt. As an elderly man walks by, he notices something about him. His eyes immediately gravitate towards his wrist as he rushes by. Now as Jeremy is walking down to the corner of 5th and 25th, he stands there scanning everybody that walks by. Get the clock. Get the clock. Get the clock. His eyes attach to a woman's wrist.
Jeremy stops her, and asks “Ma’am, is there any way I could buy the item on your wrist?”, “I will pay any amount”.
“Sir, I do not know you, why do you want to buy my watch?”
“I- I- am a watch collector, and that two toned watch is beau- beautiful, I just need it my collection”, Jeremy stutters with anxiety and lies to the woman about why he wants her watch.
“Well, how much are you willing to pay?”, the woman questions hesitantly.
“How’s four hundred?”
“Deal!”, it was worth under one hundred dollars, but she sees how distraught he is and she agrees to end the interaction out of fear for her safety.
Jeremy opens his Dior monogram wallet, pulls out four crisp, blue hundreds, and hands them to her in exchange for the item. He runs back to his apartment. He looks at the watch and sees that it is 11:48. Twelve minutes. His boots slip on the covered sidewalk as he walks back to his apartment. He can feel his back and armpits starting to sweat, but the only thing he is really thinking about was making it home by midnight. The only thing that truly dictates him is his brain telling him what to do. Jeremy walks into the lobby of his building through the sliding door and re-enters the mirror filled elevator that brings him to the twelfth floor. Jeremy unlocks his heavy wooden front door and frantically tries to find a place to put his item on the wall. He maneuvers his way into his bedroom and scans the wall for an open spot. He quickly snatches a piece of tape from his bedside dresser and slaps the item onto the wall.
As every item turns to midnight, Jeremy watches the clocks on his wall. As he lays on his memory foam mattress, he pulls the chunky comforter over his body and falls into a very deep sleep in a matter of minutes. The cycle repeats.
"Chess Box", Lu Beard
"Redacted," Emelia Brinkley
On the days when the sun shone in golden bars through the old house
the old man and the old woman walked slowly, lazily, across the lawn
unhurried, arms linked like two branches caught, heads bowing together
with the weight of the sunset years. When he cooks for her,
withered hands becoming young, quick for half of a moment or an hour,
she watches him sway to the crackly radio music and sizzling eggs
aged soft like two old leather boots that brushed each other with each step
they sit toes together, always facing, orbiting the other, crow’s feet
pressed into eye corners and hands touching arms
the way one might stroke a piece of soft velvet. He sucks in a breath-
clean, warm air, when she walks in the room, an unwitting smile like a candid painting.
Like a man who is carrying a too-old child,
he bends over like the cane he walks with, each step unsure and flimsy
when he sags with a croaking sigh into his brown leather recliner,
he presses himself into the chair as if he could sink into the brown earth and join her.
his cloudy eyes unfocused, see her in the bars of golden sun
and when he stands still, a pillar in front of the crackled and dirty stovetop.
He shakes more now, no velvet hands to hold the tremors, reaching
for two eggs, gently setting one back in the carton and touching it softly
the way one might stroke a piece of velvet. A small smile cracks on his stony, sun-worn face
closing folded eyelids and swaying like a wheat stalk in a phantom wind to the sound
of a crackling egg, tilting his head this way and that as if it is too heavy to hold upright.
"Big Night," Lu Beard
"Prey", Lu Beard
"Recipe for a Female", Lu Beard
First Day Out
I turn the corner of the mucky cobblestone streets. To my right stands a tall, iron-casted statue of some old famous military leader from the days of the Soviet Union. I feel as though he is staring at me, questioning every move I make. I try to flood my mind with other distractions to shake off the feeling of being watched. Looking to my left, I see the abandoned brick buildings that housed my family before the tragedy occurred. The buildings tower fifteen stories into the sky, their face now sadly displaying their age with faded brick and stained concrete. The wind bellows through the holes that were once windows. The eerie sounds the wind makes exacerbate the emptiness of the buildings, as if the windows are all howling in a melancholy harmony. After the 2008 economic crash, there were many empty buildings like this in Ukraine, once filled with loving families and the smells of delicious Ukrainian food floating into the streets.
Against my better judgment, I decide to enter the building. It has been twenty years since I last set foot in my old apartment. I’ve longed to know what my childhood home looks like now. My memories of it are like shadows lurking in my mind that aren't quite real or fully formed. Things often feel surreal to me. The ability to separate fantasy from reality evades me, so they said.
My long Prada trench coat -- maybe a size too big -- drags behind me as I walk, carving a path in the snow that is now mixed with dirt. I wonder if Dr. Hedeon ever noticed that I stole it from him. I slowly trudge up the never-ending staircase; with each step, the memories flood back. I remember darting up and down the staircase as a little boy, sent out to buy food from the local butcher for my mother to cook Borscht or chicken Kyiv. I would always come back missing an item or buying the wrong thing, which ended up with my mother smacking me with a wooden spoon. God, I remember the scoldings! I reach the landing on the thirteenth floor and look up at the stained glass mural that portrays an angel, still perfectly preserved apart from some missing pieces of glass. I remember on sunny days how the pattern of the angel would project onto the landing and steps. It would mesmerize me. This was all before the government evicted and banned us from our city, Chernivtsi, splitting up families like ours. The terror of armed police storming through the hallways and into rooms, brutally expelling people from their homes, still haunts me. I knew at that point, I would never see my family again. Maybe that's part of why I am who I am today, a thief with voices in my head that never rest, going in and out of foster homes my whole childhood. I continue.
The freezing cold hallway is dimly lit by a single flickering light bulb. I pause for a moment, questioning whether I should keep going. I pass debris and rubble piled up along each side of the hallway. I inch my way towards room thirteen, the plaque on the door barely still hanging. As I reach for the doorknob I'm suddenly filled with a sense of foreboding and begin to question why I even came here. Yes, I know how unlucky it seems to live on the 13th floor in Room 13. Maybe this is why my wife left me for another man, or why I shot myself in the foot, quite literally.
As I open the door, I’m met with two pairs of eyes staring right back at me in the darkness. They begin to retreat into the room whilst whispering in an old dialect of Ukrainian, one very similar to what my mother spoke. I reach for my Makarov pistol, thinking to myself, Don’t be unlucky with the gun this time.
One of the people looks to be standing, his messy unkempt beard reaching down to his stomach, his intense deeply sunken eyes expressing sheer shock. He appears to be wearing black, or maybe brown, corduroy pants tattered at the knees and distressed at the ankle. A sheer, white shirt drapes over the top of his pants. Both are covered in mud, as are his old, tattered military boots. His face appears cracked and leathery, just like a well-worn baseball mitt.
We stare into each other's souls, frozen in time for what feels like an eternity. I point my pistol at the man, steadying my aim and taking a deep breath. My intention is not to kill him, but the voices tell me I may have to. Who are these people? Why are they living on the thirteenth floor in my room? As these thoughts race through my mind, the man quickly and abruptly bolts into another room and slams the door behind him.
“Who the hell are you two?” I shout. The woman, who, up until now, has been in the shadows, presents herself.
“Please don’t shoot, I can explain.” she pleads.
I slowly lower my pistol, which I had stolen from a sleeping security guard outside Dr. Hedeon’s office. I still can't comprehend why the doctor tried to move me to a different place, with bars and locks on doors and sadistic-looking nurses, or why I was relocated out of there. It must have just been my bad luck once again...I guess not everything is bad luck, though. I did find my chance to escape and I took it. And now, I am here.
The room is lit by a large barrel with a smoky fire brewing inside of it, placed directly in the middle of the room. There are rags and musty clothes piled on the floor next to a stained and a torn spring mattress shoved in the corner. Suddenly, my eyes catch a vase sitting on a shelf to my left. The vase looks extraordinarily identical to the one my grandmother gave our family. It’s still polished and clean. Who is taking care of it? I ask myself. Could it really be the same vase my family once cherished? Only my family would know it's true sentimental value.
The door which the mysterious man had disappeared behind moments ago swings open abruptly. In his hand, he holds a picture frame. The picture within displays our family photo that was taken more than 20 years ago. Does this man know my family? Does he know who I am? “Put that picture down right now damnit!” I sputter with a sudden sense of hidden rage, as if I am somehow protecting the family I hadn't seen in years.
“Welcome home.” He stutters the words out of his frail mouth. These words pierce my heart. The last time I had heard that voice I was only seven years old and my father had just come home from a long day's work at the textile factory. I recognize the voice instantly. I drop the gun and run into his open arms. I can't tell if this is real or not. All I know is I feel at peace. At home.
"Looking Forward, Carrying the Past", Rayne Moss
Insomnia was a funny thing, and Cilla was discovering new funny things about it every night. She noticed things now that she hadn’t before, like how the stores on the street outside her house kept most of their lights on all night, even the dispensary, even the restaurants, even the ambiguous insurance company that had taken over the tiny storefront that never seemed to keep a business longer than a few months. A lot of businesses on this street were cursed in that way. Cilla knew, of course, that it was not a curse at all, but a brother and sister who lorded the land as far as you looked in either direction, like two evil twin oligarchs. She wondered where they were, now, and in all nights at two thirty-four a.m. She wondered if they lived together. Improbable, but not impossible. Cilla liked to think she didn’t know a thing about landlords, in any way at all, couldn’t even guess at their sleeping habits. Landlords were a different breed, a green, sniveling people. Cilla wasn’t sure if she had ever seen one up close. She imagined bloody talons, and fangs.
She shivered at the thought, or perhaps it was the cold-- her parents kept the house at sixty-two degrees at night, and she was wearing nothing but an enormous sweatshirt that hung just past her underwear and made her legs look like ghostly stalks. She liked when they looked like this. She twirled on her bare feet, admiring her legs’ reflection in the glass oven door, and her head’s reflection in the microwave. She thought she took up an unfathomable amount of space.
The kitchen was too dark, and too cold, the kind of cold that purpled her skin like a rash. Cilla felt her way to the living room couch and lay down, gingerly, although she knew it wouldn’t creak even if she didn’t take this extra care. And then she did something so cliche she could hardly stand it: she started a recording on her phone and began to whisper. Hey, Julia. She never knew what to say except “hey.” I can’t sleep again. You’re probably sick of hearing that. A freight truck rumbled by outside; she waited patiently for it to pass.
I miss you. Duh. Maybe I should stop saying that so it doesn’t lose its meaning. Same thing with “I’m sorry.” I can’t help myself, though.
How are things where you are? I guess I know the answer. I wish I was there with you-- and before you say “no you don’t,” I will tell you that I really do. Everything is different here, not even in the way you’d expect. My parents treat me like an adult now, which is strange. I would have thought it would be the opposite. I have this idea that they think once someone has gone through a “traumatic experience” they suddenly become mature. Like this was my blossoming. The truth is I’ve never felt smaller than I do now, not even when I was little. No one at school really knows what happened, but they treat me different too. They know the basics, unfortunately. I guess we didn’t try hard enough to hide it.
Sorry. I shouldn’t say that. Really, we tried as hard as we possibly could, but it’s never enough, is it? This is just how it’s written, at least for us. Tragedy. Sappho meets Shakespeare, or something. I’m sick of it. But I’m kind of over being angry.
Cilla was tired, now, for some reason. She didn’t feel like talking anymore anyway-- whispering for too long hurt her throat, and her voice was slurred with fatigue. She would spend another night sleeping on the couch and then tiptoe back to her room when the sun came up. The routine was getting old.
The next day, Cilla sobbed for the first time in weeks. She wasn’t sure where it had come from, but all throughout the day she felt like a swollen basin seconds from overflow. At home she cried in her cereal; at school she wept over the tampon can, leaning on her forehead against the cool blue divider in the bathroom stall and pressing her hands over her mouth. She felt fatally chilled, and became convinced she had a fever.
It wasn’t fair, none of it was, least of all the part where she got to stay here in stupid Trego County. Sitting on the toilet lid under the buzzing LEDs, Cilla thought she lived in the worst place in the world. Two stalls down she could hear a familiar banging then forceful sniffing; the sound was strangely comforting. Someone was doing lines of Adderall in the bathroom with her. She leaned against the wall closest to the source of the sound and touched it lightly, her fingertips resting on a scratched-in slur. It had been done with a thumb tack, or maybe a knife. She stared at it. JULIA IS A DYKE. Cilla wished she had laser eyes so she could burn through the plastic with her glare.
“Cilly, is that you?” a voice half-yelled from down the row of stalls. Cilla gritted her teeth at the nickname. “You want some of this?”
“All yours,” she called back. “I’m going home, anyway.”
Cilla didn’t go home. Instead, she got in her car and drove the nineteen miles down 283 to the lake.
It was a terrible drive. All you could see on either side of the byway were fields of nothing, just grass, no crops or livestock or even flowers. It turned from green to gray to a depressing red-brown that gave any unfortunate driver the impression they were on a blue-skied Mars. She slowed down when she got to the Lutheran church, which she thought might be the only building ever whose address included the words Smoky Valley Scenic Byway, and leaned across the passenger seat to try and see through the tiny white building’s windows. She couldn’t. This was a good thing, she thought, because if she had recognized anyone inside she might have killed them.
The lake wasn’t the best place for talking. There were too many birds, too much wind, too much opportunity for passers by to overhear, but Cilla had written things down for this one. This was because she intended for this recording to be the last.
She squinted across the water, blinding in the morning sun. A grove of pale white tree trunks swayed only a few feet above the surface, branchless and dead, skinny as thighs. With a distant longing, Cilla thought of the Acropolis.
Good morning, Julia. For a second I just wondered if it was morning where you are, isn’t that funny? We’re still in the same state. The same fucking stupid state. Sometimes I wonder if we breathe the same air in a day, but it’s probably all filtered and sterile there. At least that’s how I imagine it. A hawk swooped down to grab something from the water, then dropped it. The little fish fell with a splash that sounded fatal.
I’m at the lake right now-- Cedar Bluff, remember? Remember how it’s actually a reservoir? I’m on the bench that we used to smoke on sometimes, where you spit into the water so everyone in the county would have to drink your DNA. I think about that every time I drink from the tap. I know there’s no way your spit is still in the system.
You’ll be able to tell that I wrote this stuff down. I had to, you know? My brain is slower than my mouth a lot of the time, so I can’t say what I mean in the moment. You remember that.
Sometimes people asked her why. The question was burned into her brain like a cattle brand. Why? Every time she heard it she wanted to scream. Why does anyone like anyone? There’s just that thing.
The only way she knew to describe it was this: something gritty and feeling, that won’t give even if it’s stretched taut, even if you press your palm down until your fingers go numb. Something as real as the shocking crunch of sand between molars. Men are like ghosts, she thought, and she whispered this much into her phone, her lips brushing against the metal. She hoped Julia might understand; she thought she probably wouldn’t. Cilla had always been quite the poet.
Poetry came to her now, at the edge of the lake. It always did. She picked splinters off the rotting arm of the bench and flicked them towards the water, but the wind was blowing in the wrong direction so the flecks of wood flew back at her and caught in her hair. She wanted to tell Julia about the martian drive, the Acropolis, the hawk and the fish. Instead she told her that Michelle is still doing Adderall, but she’s doing it alone now.
Trucks hummed by on the lake bridge. Cilla leaned her head back all the way so it hurt her neck and stared at the sky.
I love you. Her voice began to strain painfully. I wish your parents hadn’t sent you away. I love you. I love you. I love you. Something swelled in her chest; a behemoth awareness that made her lungs freeze like stone. I love you. I love you. Wind whipped her hair into her mouth, but she didn’t brush it away. It stuck to her cheeks, and she realized she was crying. I love you. She wasn’t sure how long she repeated the phrase.
The sun had moved in the sky; Cilla could no longer see her own shadow. She took a shaky breath and pulled her knees to her chest.
Then she threw her phone into the reservoir. It wasn’t backed up. She would get a new one.
I remember your bedroom walls. Dripping
with illicit illusion. Shivering turquoise
latex waterfalls. Repelling everything
that was not cool and calm.
And god we were forbidden fire. Trying unstrike the match,
but there was no water. Steamy foreboding, trying to escape
to corners of virgin virtue. But ever enticing, air to flame
you grabbed my wrist. Or did I yours?
My memory clouds, in the heat of the kiss. But lighting
in a midnight ocean sound, the guilt shines
for she is yours and she is mine. And locked outside
our walls of crime. She is (hopefully) blissfully blind.
My mind is blurry but sparkles with shame. Confusion roars,
I cannot tame. For you continue to swallow her lips,
like you swallow our secrets. But then again, I cannot talk
for I was the one, to show her what a best friend is.
Anniversaries come and go. (The first, the last, my birthday -- no note.)
And I barely remember your scent (maple,
Old Spice, and cotton) or the taste of your breathe
sweet, my sweat. No. She sings now, much louder in my ears.
You are just a whisper, the last ember to appear. That I hear
only in my sunken times, when treason is stronger
than gravity. Stronger than lies.
When I shout into burning regrets. Will you be mine?
Just one more time?
"Facing Blackness", Orion Douglas
In a twice-burned church
beneath a lacquered pew,
a ten year-old crouches
beneath the seat. He hears
the footfalls of the most
frightening woman alive.
At least at the time.
Six foot tall in black robes,
Pat strolls like the grim reaper
through the aisled sanctuary.
The boy is not the only one
in this forbidden game of sardines.
He is not alone
in joyful desecration.
Bing! Bang! Bong!
The boy, overconfident in youth,
had snuck like a timid cat
up to the side of the pipe organ,
had gently lifted the sheet
over the board, and struck
all the lowest keys at once,
sending mice and children scattering.
The footsteps move closer.
While the boy cannot see Pat
as it is midnight,
the caretaker’s eyes are worse
than his are, and all seven children
hidden under a series of pews
like easter eggs
"This is Home", Lu Beard
"End of Year Reflections", L Brock
Field of My Father
Blonde blankets his back, his face, shimmers like stalks of young wheat
in soft light. I find him, guitar embraced, a catcher, he tells me songs fall
from the sky. He picks chords plucked from clouds. His voice crackles against
this new melody, a line, words, notes freshly caught in his palms. I lie in the field
of my father, never culled by the wild forest; I find him, a bear, bounding through
the trees and messy shrub. He is the mountain, the treacherous limestone slick
and sharp, the enveloping vista. I am embedded, my skin a tree’s bark, his back
pressed against my corrugated shell, searching for the perfect scratch. His energy
a discordant ensemble: He lifts his snout to the song’s sky, gentle winds finger,
tracing each nostril, a singing bowl, collecting the surrounding’s cacophony.
He swarms a thousand cicadas, their paper bones flexed with fight, each insect body
a collage of another. They buzz against his turfed fur, each wing a bow, stringed tight
and snapped, a special twine made of grief’s thick silk. He hums heavy, a vibration
dancing in his reedy pelt. They eat away at him, each nibble a bloody note. Their buzz
climbing to a crescendo, a hot storm howl building behind his bear lips. A roar shakes
his dark earth and I find my body a valley, each slope vined and mossy, his clumsy paws
pressed on my throat. My flesh crowded, my voice cracked and coiled, “Let me go!”
I scramble out of his figure’s tangle. I take refuge in tall grasses. He sees me then,
his eyes a cloudless blue now, pouring, spilling over. He soaks dirt until its mud. His hands
return to their calloused peach, a fresh wind whistles a new song and new life grows
from our feet. Each mud hand made, aloe-d and shea buttered, our wounds patched
and kissed with deep water lips and mineral fingertips. I am, again, swaddled in his scent,
his grassy arms a woven basket, his voice like honey and tobacco. Smoked and spit, I lie
in the field of my father. Such sweetness when the early morning’s rays rust our skin autumn.
Our hello-agains like whispers in the purling of cardinal chirps and chickadee greetings.
"Infernal Look", Emelia Brinkley
I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.
On Encountering a Public Bike
Was this the first time we met? Or had destiny
Entwined us in so inexplicable a way that
You were the one who strolled through the calming zephyr
with me last night? Your texture, the slightly dulled leather,
hinted me you’d been somewhat familiar with the city, yet
still waiting for a companion to espy more;
Your chains just smooth enough to capture me,
Echoing your heartbeat along my feet.
When shall we meet again, I asked you
as if I made a promise,
Traffic signals were our witnesses.
The next gentle night, or never?
Now, briefly we met in the clamor of cities,
You took me away from that sidewalk, under that Magnolia tree.
As we streamed through the cramped lanes
past the raucous tail lights and wing mirrors,
Your equilibrium always calmed me, set me free.
In cycles we beat, learning that even the motionless
City, through its bumpy slopes, ragged asphalt, also pumped
Heartbeats. While cars fulfilled their dull task, contributing
To the bleak, clogging order of the Grand scheme,
those unwieldy carriers could not even peek into
lives in the dim alleys—the real present—
so much as we did.
So I started to think that we were the same, both adrift
Somehow in a world geared towards destinations, to somewhere
we hadn’t yet known, only letting the visceral motion,
the tranquil breeze decide our directions.
After the darkness finally crept in, I halted on a sidewalk, said farewell,
not knowing your future. Would you be displaced in another city?
Perhaps—no, most definitely, you would end up in the abyss
of steels, so I would envision that, in future, whenever
I pass a dumped pile with metallic glitter, I would always stop, stare
at it to recognize any traces of vigor
that evokes memories about you. Or maybe by then
Only my scent could waft, mingled with aroma of the Magnolia
to greet you, as my last traces in the city.
What would be the next time for us to meet—
Us lonesome voyagers; nowhere do our minds need to perch,
except in times when you were stranded in tedious commutes,
Me by arduous, petty corporate duty.
I say cheers to us, at least for now
Sharing the ephemeral moments of being
shoved forward, freely.
I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your
Slipped—you hand onto the dinner table.
A look, out of the corner of your eye, so vigilant
like that of a nimble fox, to the man
Sitting on the other side
You poked and picked up, with chopsticks,
The pork belly that exudes juicy sweetness and warmth,
Still steaming, from the plate
And placed it in my bowl.
Your hands quietly, hesitantly retracted,
As if having just passed on a file, a top secret.
I would pretend that nothing happened,
Nothing was passed.
You, too, glanced aside.
But I knew I quivered, as if being suddenly
jabbed at the back, and so did you,
though with more subtle discretion. I wouldn’t even
say no, like my peers, as if declaring
That we’d grown up.
I knew if it was seen, the man would
Explode and the accusation
of spoiling a child would begin.
The clamor and clang would rend asunder
the air, the bang on the table deafening us.
Thankfully, that pair of eyes stayed locked on the TV.
But Mom, did you know,
Your quivering, hesitant hand, almost like
A bird fluttering with broken wings.
The way, almost an habitual one,
That you offered care,
It was petty yet so burdensome.
Maer stood at the sink by the window, watching the two little boys stomp in the puddles out in the yard. The breeze gently blew warm air through the window and onto her face, brushing a few strands of her hair into her eyes. She placed the last clean dish delicately on the dish rack to her right, then laid out the dish towel on the window sill to dry. The boys in the yard squealed as the mud from the puddles splashed up onto their bare legs. Maer swept the hair out of her face and crossed her arms, smiling to herself as the boys became muddier and muddier with the progression of their jumps. The dish rag on the window sill began to flutter a bit in the wind, and Maer stilled it by placing an empty vase on top. The previous night was their first summer storm, and while it made life on the farm more difficult, it was helpful at the same time. It helped the garden grow, kept the grass lush and green, and created the nicest puddles which turned their little dirt paths into mud that was perfect for stomping. Unfortunately, such play did require a long bath that Maer would have to give the little boys afterwards.
The two boys continued jumping until one of them slipped in the mud, falling backward onto his bum. Maer giggled and the two boys looked up at her, smiling from ear to ear, their pearly white baby teeth standing in contrast to the mud that now coated their bodies. The boy that hadn’t fallen over tilted his head, eyeing the delicate little vase with yellow and pink designs which Maer had just put on the window sill. His face scrunched up in confusion as he asked “Mama, where are the flowers? Isn’t the vase lonely?” Maer chuckled and shook her head in amusement.
“I’m sure if you went to find some flower friends for the vase, it would be very happy.” The boy grinned and took off through the yard toward the garden, as the other scrambled up from the puddle, “wait! Wait for me!” He called, tearing through the pasture after him, his bare feet slipping through the wet grass and losing all trace of their previous muddy play.
The door to the kitchen opened abruptly and Carter trudged in, carrying two large buckets of vegetables, each of them weighing down one arm and making those painful red creases that take a few minutes to disappear. She stomped over to the large wooden table, her boots tracking in the same packed mud that the boys had been playing in just moments before.
“Carter watch the floor! I just swept less than an hour ago!” Maer exclaimed urgently, her brows furrowed. Carter rolled her eyes as she took a seat at the table, using her bare hands to yank off her muddy Hunters while Maer grabbed a cloth and a soap bucket from beneath the sink and began scrubbing at the floors.
“Relax, Maer, a little dirt isn’t going to kill you.” Maer ignored her and continued to wipe the dark hardwood flooring. Carter stood silently, picking up her boots and tip toeing in her socks across Maer’s soapy floor and back through the door, dropping the shoes on the back porch. Maer looked up with the thud of the rubber slamming into the wood. “Are you satisfied now?” Carter asked, hands on hips. Maer tossed the dirty rag back into the bucket and stood, walking over to the sink to dump out the bucket.
“You were supposed to be back with those vegetables hours ago so I could make us all lunch at a reasonable hour.” Maer muttered as she brushed past Carter through the back door and into the yard without a word. Carter stood there for a second, watching her older sister stomp through the dewy grass as she made her way over to the clothing lines in a huff. Carter leaned against the door and rubbed her temples, she knew what Maer was upset about - she was upset about it too. She just didn’t know why Maer was taking it out on her.
Carter sighed and trudged across the yard after her sister, the leftover rain water seeping into her socks with each step. She took a sheet from the clothing line, dropping it into the basket set between her and Maer before grabbing another one. The two worked on the lines in silence, with Carter’s every attempt to make eye contact with her sister avoided as Maer kept her focus on the task at hand. The silence was suffocating, and Carter couldn’t take it anymore.
“Maer, what’s the matter?” She asked, continuing her work on the lines.
“I think you know what’s wrong.” Maer finally answered.
“Is this about the dirt I accidentally tracked into the house? It’s dirt Maer! Or is it about the vegetables? I slept through my alarm and was late getting out to the garden. I’m sorry it caused you such inconvenience-”
“-Carter this isn’t just about the dirt or the vegetables, it’s about how you just don’t seem to care about any of the problems you cause for everyone else around you.” Maer snapped, her tone harsh as the storm from the previous night.
“I don’t care? Well I think you care a little too much. Why don’t you enlighten me on why you feel the need to obsessively control every aspect of our lives!” Carter shouted, crumpling up the sheet she was holding into a ball and slamming it into the basket.
“Carter I- I’m doing the best I can. Someone has to look after everything now that Grace is gone-” She looked up from the lines, her eyes watering with a single tear sliding down her cheek and plopping onto the nice dry linens.
Carter knew it was about Grace. It was all they’d been thinking about for the past two months, but neither of them had talked much about it. Grace was the glue that kept the three sisters together. She was the middle of the trio, the balance between Maer’s responsible, put together older sister lifestyle and Carter’s wild, childish, and rule bending antics as the youngest. Carter and Maer both struggled having her gone, especially when Grace left her son under her both her sisters’ custody. Now that Carter thought more about it, she realized that glue that helped balance her and Maer out had died with Grace two months ago - and that since then Maer had been dealing with the responsibilities that Grace had left behind pretty much by herself.
“Maer I didn’t mean to-”
“It’s alright, Carter. I wouldn’t expect you to understand. You’re twenty you barely know how to take care of yourself or even raise the chickens much less raise a child!” Maer laughed to herself in disbelief, shaking her head.
Carter wasn’t sure what to say. Her sister was right. Carter herself struggled to contribute to the family with her basic farm chores and definitely wasn’t mature enough to raise another person. Maer had a kid of her own and knew how to raise him, but two young boys and a difficult younger sister were too much to handle on her own. She needed Carter just like Grace had needed them. In whatever way Carter could contribute.
“You’re right, Maer. I don’t know how to raise children, I’m not a mother so I don’t understand what it’s like to be one but I am your sister, and I do know that I need to be there for you. Whatever you need me to do to help you, I’ll do.” Carter said as she finished taking the sheets down from the lines.
Maer's brow furrowed in confusion. “You can’t be serious.” Carter grabbed the basket from in between them and carried it over to their back porch, Maer following behind her.
“I am serious. Grace is gone, Maer. We both needed her to hold us - and everything together. You can’t do it by yourself just like she couldn’t, she needed us. I can’t do what you two do as mothers but I can start to be a better sister. I need you, and you need me, Maer. We’re sisters.”
Maer smiled just as the two little boys came running over from the garden. They ran with their little fists clenched above their heads, outstretched with flowers clasped between their fingers. An array of bright yellows, blush pinks, soft purples and clean whites blew in the wind, their colors striking the clear blue sky. They reached the sisters giggling, still covered in mud, fists outstretched as they handed over the flowers. “These are gorgeous, boys. Thank you.” Carter said smelling the assortment they had handed her.
“They’re mama’s favourites!” Carter’s nephew beamed. Maer glanced at her sister, a sad smile on her face.
“I’m sure she would have loved them.” She said, bringing the muddy little boy in for a hug.
“The boys need a bath. Maer why don’t you go and put the flowers in a vase and I’ll help them wash up?” Carter suggested, handing her sister the flowers and taking her nephews’ little hands.
“Are you sure you can handle them?” Maer questioned, still skeptical of her sister’s abilities.
“I’m sure.” Carter called over her shoulder as she headed for the hose by the back door. Maer shook her head as she walked back into the house and to the vase by the window. She placed the flowers in the vase and looked out the window at her sister, who was desperately trying to hose the mud off her little nephews as they squealed and jumped around in the water. Maer smiled to herself, and while she knew that their family would never be the same without Grace, she finally knew that together they would be okay.
"Sky Diving," Emelia Brinkley
Breath in. Holding the cigarette,
His right hand, like the last autumn leaf waiting to be carried away,
Uncontrollably quivers in the
Steps through the spinning gate
Striding, he paces through the ocean of bawls:
“Fish! Flatfish! Swamp eel! Come and take a look! 30 Yuan per Jin! Fresh and huge!”
Stumbling, he follows through the sea of random noises:
Fish flatfish swamp eel come take look thirty yuan jin fresh huge
He has to hold the small hand tight
because the little one can run off to explore flies and germs on his own, anytime.
He grips, only to find that the small hand
is not in his giant palm of calluses.
He turns back --
You came alone, remember?
He draws a cigarette from his pocket
and shakingly lights it up.
The wooden door cracks open.
The growl of the fan bounces off of the grey ceramic walls
In the six square meter kitchen.
Intruding the nostril
Is the mix of raw japanese sea bass cut open,
Freshly chopped scallions from the balcony,
And the suffocating fragrance of tobacco.
He turns to the sound of the broken
Door opening, and quickly put his cigarette away.
Just the evening breeze that blows
through the cracked open window,
Like a school of salmon
swimming in the ocean of memories.
he would say.
Slams the door shut
and walks away.
What is he having for breakfast?
He pulls out another cigarette.
Dragging his back
that bends like an over-cooked shrimp,
He paces towards the balcony,
where a while back, an infant fell asleep.
In the arms of a dream.
Smoke blocking off the high-rises that are already
blurry, sight carried a year and two months, eleven thousand seven hundred twenty kilometers
Mornings of Online School
I rushed down the winding staircase
My dogs leaped at my feet.
We all tumbled into the kitchen.
There, my Mum stood in a flour-dusted apron,
Hummed Alle Meine Entchen, A German children’s song.
A bakers knife in hand.
She carefully cut leaves into bread.
The dough seemed to sigh with each strike of the blade.
She existed in perfect stillness.
Surrounded by a whirling storm of breakfast.
Three dogs and two children ran
Around the dining table.
Sticky syrup dripped off of plates
From half-eaten pancakes.
Onto the worn wooden table,
Creating a tacky sheen.
The air smelled of sugar and warmth
In the cupboard, my favorite mug
Was missing from its place;
It’s usual shining black, speckled with white dots.
Each raised to form small bumps
Akin to brushing your hand against uneven skin.
‘Star Wars’ emblazoned across the front.
Now sat a little void where the cup should be.
Hesitantly, I picked the first one I put my hands on.
And poured coffee and milk into the unwanted mug,
Who’s steam smelled like dirt and caffeine.
Blue and green, handmade and painted,
Beautiful, but still not mine.
The time showed 8:29
Class started in a minute.
I rushed up the winding staircase,
Onto my computer,
And My dogs leaped at my feet.
In a car ride, a lifetime long. I find
seat belts of heart monitors and chains,
contracting around each blood vessel,
grinding like rusty gears, about to break.
The metal mobile of looming death
speeds me away, and in the dust, my strength stays
With each curve that cranes my neck,
angry butterflies in my stomach torment.
My head out the window reaches for peace
just to find jagged air, cold and mean,
it strikes my head and bites my cheek.
I wish I could cry, but I feel too weak
Choruses of worried mother screams
that evil echo revs in my dreams.
Just like the medicine of immunity,
the incessant wonder of what could be
floods my mind, my heart, my veins:
What if I never drove the engine of pain?
My foot still hasn’t found the brake
but I’ve reached a freeway for now.
Gliding through forgotten fields once safe,
the chains have turned to scars that fade;
But in this journey of needles and nightmares,
I am still contained.
The wheels will never stop
winding, my body will not forget. So I pray
for a pit stop, at least a false peak. A view
where I can remember, where I can see.
Just roll down the window, let the dust seethe
In this car ride a lifetime long, just let me breathe.
Sweat, sweltering surface, stoked, salty saline beads provoked, churned
by my inner heat, my figure, a towel soaked. Sweat, hard work’s reward, skin
covered, a thin film of wet making me a dolphin’s arc, flubber slick
and sliding, skirting the water’s edge. Torched, the sun’s orange hand strikes
this fin, trailing it’s reflection in my wake. I sweat more now that I am nearly grown …
The muscles push against my skin, fill with blood, veins pulse, awake
with adrenaline’s sweep. Each gland, a tiny hand pressing its pads on neurons that lift my bones,
throw my arms, catch my body, untethers my mind. No, I will not bind myself to some idea
of a body I do not have. Funhouse mirrors placed in front of me taunt with infinite false forms
multiplied behind my back. I sweat to melt those mirrors down, condense tiny cubes that rubix
themselves, unhoused from memory’s back room, they scatter, colors worn and flaking.
If the me I was in my 13th year (filled with a desperate need for softer words and bolder
strides), stood next to the man I am today, he’d cry. His sweaty palms cupped
to hold his body’s hope fulfilled and filled out. His 13 year old eyes make us a stallion’s gallop, all
muscle and wind that whips and wets his body’s childhood handwritten ledger, blurring the words
too soft written on his jaw, too wide between his hips, not man enough scrawled across his chest.
I make him a jockey, feel him riding on my muscled back, his arms around my neck, cheek pressed
into my damp mane, his fingers tracing my adam’s apple like a prayer bead. He is safe now, as if
nothing can hurt him, as if he is made of our sweat, condensed wet thrown from our backs, now air.
My daughter Carol May packed up her suitcase and stormed out the door about three months ago, wailing about how she was going to break the cycle and have a real family. I watched her go, calling after her to shut the door on her way out, and turned back to my coffee. Of course, she left the door open. The walk down the hallway of nails patiently awaiting photos to shut it myself was an unpleasant reminder that I had no images to hang there. I was never one to capture life on film. It was far too complicated to get out the camera, force a pose, and get the pictures developed when you’re already there watching it unfold in real time (not to mention the absurd cost).
I remember standing at the door, watching her sneakers hit the pavement, her run uncharacteristic for a young woman. Carol May had always been what they called a TomBoy growing up, though I never called it that. When she was a child, probably nearing the third grade, she would be dragged home from the neighbors houses by unforgiving mothers, their faces boiling over with disdain for how I was raising my daughter.
“Betsy,” they always started, the same stick-up-the-ass tenseness in their voice. “Carol May took off her blouse again,” accentuating that word the same way. They didn’t want to question my parenting skills, but requested Carol May maintain lady-like behavior around their children.
“Sure thing,” I always replied, flashing a smile equally unamused as apologetic. Carol May would pull herself away from their tight grip on her shoulder and march into the house. I would watch the mother walk away, confident she had proven her motherly capabilities far exceeded mine. Last time this happened, Carol May came to me, arms crossed, and said matter-of-factly,
“If the boys get to, then I should too. We’ve got the same nipples, don't we?”
I chuckled. “It’s not the nipples Carol May.”
“So what! If they were gonna get breasts too, I wouldn’t care.”
“I know, baby.” I joined her at the kitchen table, where she took a cookie from the jar and broke it up piece by piece until a pile of her angry thoughts sat in a heap, awaiting its descent into the trash can. We sat there, space empty of words, until Carol May looked up at me beside her mountain of crumbs.
“Mom?” She asked, brushing off her hands against the plastic tablecloth.
“What’s a Bastard Baby?”
Mirroring her serious tone, I replied, “A baby born to an unmarried lady.”
I made it a goal in my relationship with my daughter not to treat her as though she was too young to understand. As a child, I asked the same questions Carol May did, always curious about the harsh realities of life. My mother, Lucinda Joanne Linett, never met me with the answers I longed for. Instead, she would push past the conversation, talking to me as though I was far too innocent and ignorant to understand the goings on of adult life. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been able to fully grasp the truth behind the ponderings of my childhood mind, but being treated as though I was blatantly unaware of how the world worked infuriated me. I was not about to talk to Carol May the same way. She would be my equal in all ways but height.
“Oh,” she had replied after taking a minute to grapple with this idea. “So it’s just like calling me Carol May. I may not like that I was born into the name, but it’s just what I am.”
“You’re more than your name, Carol May.”
She hugged me, grabbing onto the fabric of my sleeves as I ran my hands through her ginger curls. Pulling away, she reached forward to grab another cookie and bolted upstairs before I could tell her to clean up the decimated cookie now scattered across the table.
I saw a lot of myself in my little girl. I hadn’t liked my name either when I was her age. To prove my unique personality and independent nature, I had my friends call me Lulu, derived from my middle name Lucinda after my mother. I much preferred it to Betsy, which I had always thought to be a fat, wrinkly name with harsh cheekbones and arthritis, the kind that shows in the fingers and makes them look like misshapen carrots. Carol May proclaimed a new name at dinner about once a month, trying on new names like dresses until she found one that fit, though they never did. When she first entered grade school, she decided that she must be called CM.
“It’s cool,” she had said, a spoonful of chicken soup dripping down her face. “Something Judd and RJ would use.”
Judd Kippler and RJ Mason (formerly referred to as Richard Joseph until he disposed of this name along with his lettermans and good manners) were the two boys who Carol May had decided were her soulmates. Every weekday afternoon at 2:30 when the boys biked home, Carol May perched herself on the window seat in the living room to watch them pass. She would whisper dreams of her future, allowing herself to slip away into a fantasy world of happy families and yellow suburban homes in wealthy neighborhoods. The second she noticed I was listening, she snapped back to reality as though nothing had ever happened. For ten years, Carol May had entertained this daydream of being with RJ Mason. She moved from the window seat, to the chairs on the porch, to bikes alongside the boys until she drove past the house in the passenger seat of RJ Mason’s Ford Thunderbird, his arm slung over her shoulders. Eventually, she started requesting I allow her to invite RJ over to the house.
When he came over for dinner, he was suited in a leather jacket, white T, and straight cut jeans held up by a black belt. He clearly made an effort not to leave anyone questioning that was a Greaser, stopping short of scrawling it across his face in permanent marker. He sat himself down at the table without introduction, asked my daughter to bring him a Coke from the refrigerator, and swung his feet up on the chair beside him. Carol May did so, giving me an apologetic glance that, with time, morphed into a taunt, asking me “what are you gonna do about it?”
At first, I was not going to do anything. I would spend sleepless nights, my bed pressed up against the wall adjacent to her room, desperately trying to drown out the cacophony of creaking wood and moans. At her age, I wanted sex like every other girl. Maybe I was a little more flirtatious as I perceived any boy that crossed my path was a new and improved target, but nonetheless I understood the desire.
At one point, I pulled her aside and demanded she and RJ take their adolescent explorations elsewhere. She only continued louder. I loved my daughter, she was my whole world, but she was also a reminder that some things were out of my control. I thought I was a responsible girl when I was a teenager, but little did I know the boy having sex with me behind the drive-in movie when I was just 17 would quickly prove me wrong. On the day I found out I was pregnant, I walked 14 miles across town to go tell him. Coated in a thin layer of sweat that had soaked through my dress the most unflattering places, I knocked on the door shamefully. His mother answered, a tall redhead with perfectly set curls and flawless skin. I stared up at her in awe, mesmerized by her ethereal glow. I see her face in Carol May’s sometimes. When I asked if I could talk to her son, she eagerly let me in, excited her son had met a pretty little blonde girl like me. Still not 18, I had already matured into a young woman, with a trim waist, thin legs, and breasts that my girlfriends called “just perfectly sized”. As shocking as it was, that was not reason enough for him to stay after he heard the news. He sat there, perfectly still, head in hands, and said nothing for what felt like forever. When he finally spoke, his words here were direct and forceful.
“Get out,” he said through gritted teeth, not looking at me once.
I left without saying a thing. A week later, I watched his family’s car pass my house, overflowing with suitcases, cardboard boxes and three monsters who didn’t have the decency to say goodbye. I was left with a mother who scowled at my waist growing larger by the day and a baby I was nowhere near ready for. Those nine months tested me, left an empty cocoon for the baby inside me. But on June 17th, 1951, after 36 painful hours of labor, she was born. I had sat in that hospital accompanied only by nurses and doctors, poked and prodded and bossed around until I finally pushed her right out of me, unable to suffer another minute of nonsense. She was beautiful, but not in the way that beauty is usually seen. Newborn babies are wrinkled little sacks of skin and some viscous liquid covering their screaming bodies. My baby was beautiful because she was mine. After they cleaned her off, the nurse lay her on my heaving chest and she stopped crying instantly, a sign to me that it had all been worth it. I had decided to name her Carol May after a pretty pin-up girl I had seen in a magazine. It had no real meaning, but a nice ring to it.
Our bond unnaturally was strong. Being a mother was hard, especially with my own mother unwilling to assist. She would tell me it was “my own fault for not waiting until marriage,” which I laughed off, knowing she had not waited either. When Carol May was only six months old, my mother got really sick with polio. She moved away from me and Carol May to go live with her cousin, Lorraine, across the country. Although I did not miss the constant disappointment and ridicule, not having a mother at home left me to figure out how to take care of Carol May and I alone. On my 19th birthday, I discovered that would become a familiar way of life.
I got a call that day around 2 o’clock. I picked up the phone, unsure who would be calling me. I glanced at Carol May in her playpen, hoping the ringing did not startle her.
“Hello, this is Lulu Linett.”
“Betsy,” only my family called me Betsy, no matter how I told them I despised it. “Your mother has passed.” It was Aunt Lorraine. I could tell by the cigarettes and vodka lingering in her voice.
“Oh,” I replied, unsure of what to say. “Will there be a funeral?”
“Yes, on April 30th.”
“In your town?”
“Should I fly over?”
“Too far, dear. There is no need for you to come hundreds of miles for a couple of melancholy hours.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, Betsy. Your mother loved you very much.”
They were meaningless words, spoken out of obligation to comfort me.
“Thanks Aunt Lorraine.”
“I hope you and Carol May are doing alright?” I was well aware she had no interest in the goings on in our life, it was just a sign of good manners to ask.
“We are.” I started anyway, taking the rare opportunity to talk about my baby. “She started laughing a couple months ago. I think she has a fondness for funny faces. Her birthday is coming up, so I’m hoping to invite a couple friends over. You remember my girlfriend Jane Pickering? Well she and her husband are pregnant now and-”
“Yes yes, dear,” Aunt Lorraine interjected, clearly unamused by my pleasant talk. I was instantly embarrassed at my ignorance in talking about such menial things.
“Well I better go,” I said. “Carol May should be put down for a nap about this time.”
“Probably a good idea. Goodbye, dear,” she replied and hung up.
I put the phone back on the receiver, and turned to the playpen, Carol May looking up at me wide eyed. I picked her up, cradling her in my arms. Looking lovingly at her face, I began to hum the tune of Moon River, a song my mother had sung to me. I could barely carry a tune, but Carol May shut her eyes and fell into a peaceful slumber. It was only her sweet face that kept me from letting the tears slip out.
Now at 34, I still haven't cried about my mother's passing. It saddens me to think about, as I am not heartless, but I never felt like I had lost a part of my life. Of course, you can't lose something you never had to begin with. However, that feeling resonated with me today.
Sitting at the right corner chair at the kitchen table, there’s a clear view down the hall to the front door. When the door opened to reveal Carol May, a suitcase, and a heartbroken smile, I was looking directly at her.
“Hey Mom,” she said, forced joy behind the greeting.
Her beige capris and sneakers had been replaced with a jewel toned dress and shiny black flats. She looked older, but I was unsure if it was from time passed or the shadowy eyes and pale skin that revealed days of lost sleep. Her face was bare of makeup. She hadn't fully given up, as a light coating of mascara had been brushed on her lashes. Clearly not herself, she picked up her suitcase and took a step into the house, shutting the door behind her.
“Hey Mom,” she repeated, making her way towards the kitchen.
“Hello,” I replied casually, as though she had returned home from work.
Sitting herself down, and readjusted her top.
“Hungry?” I asked, standing to make my way to the fridge.
“No. Maybe a cup of coffee?”
“Do you have maple syrup? I’ve come to like it in my coffee.”
She said it matter-of-factly, as though there was nothing strange about it. Her words held the confidence I expected from my daughter.
“When I was pregnant with you I loved weird food combinations all the time. Believe it or not, your godmother Jane and I would go out at midnight sometimes to get chocolate cake and chili flakes, and I would stuff it in my face without even stopping for air.” I smiled at the memory of my youth. “Honestly, some of those cravings still linger. Every so often I-”
“I think I’m going to go take a bath,” Carol May interrupted, pushing back from the table forcefully.
“Go right ahead,” I said, startled by her rude interjection.
She turned to leave the kitchen, but stopped in the doorway, holding to the trim with a right grip.
“Mom?” she said, her voice wavering.
“Yes?” I answered, continuing to pour my cup of coffee.
A silence filled the room, one anticipating the arrival of something else. I looked at Carol May, waiting, and after a moment, she looked at me, a commercial-like smile spread across her face.
“I love you,” she said, then continued to the stairs.
I smiled, adding a splash of milk to offset the bitter dirt taste of it. Going to sit, I heard the bath water start to flood into the tub above me. I let out a relieved breath, settling into the comforting sound of her noise making. Carol May was the reason I got through each day. I had turned down bad relationships, been there for every game where she cheered, every school performance -- made sure she always had her Mama. Through all the love, she always fought back, and somehow I loved her more for it. I was beyond grateful she had come home.
After a few sips of coffee, I noticed a silence echoing through the house, the only interruption a distant drip of water. I no longer heard Carol Mays footsteps. After a moment, splashes hit the floor above me. The sound began to grow, splashes quickly becoming waterfalls sloshing onto the ground.
Standing up from the table, I began walking towards the stairs, quickening my steps with the growing sound of flooding water. I picked up my pace, skipping two steps at a time. My heart began to race, fear shooting through my body. I stumbled to my room, uncomfortable pristine, no signs of movement. As I looked to the bathroom door, my gaze was pulled down the wood floor, now shiny under a thin coat of water. I rushed towards it, my breath shaky and rushed. When I pushed the door open, my feet were met with a soapy ocean filling the room from wall to wall. I followed the flow of water upstream to the faucet, where a stream of water gushed out, hitting the water in the tub with shocking force. Then I realized I hadn’t yet noticed Carol May. Without thinking, I ran towards the tub, plunged my hands into the water, and pulled her out of the boiling water.
I leaned her against the back of the tub, her arms reaching out to grab the sopping sleeves of my dress. It took a couple tries before she was able to grab a hold, her body weak and trembling. I could feel goosebumps forming where her hot skin met the cold air. She coughed aggressively, water spurting out with each forceful breath. Her chest was heaving, ribs near tearing through her skinny body.
“Mama,” her voice was shockingly weak, nearing the brink of nothing. I looked down at her face, meeting her wide eyes. They were scared, startled with what had just happened. The confusion on her face scared me, as though she wasn’t aware of what she had just done.
“What happened,” I asked, my voice a mix of fear and anger as I turned the faucet off.
“I-I don't know.” Carol May answered, looking around anxiously. She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, desperately trying to warm her shaking body. “It felt so warm and safe I guess I just lost track of where I was. I didn’t want to pull myself back up and then it all started to fade away.” Startled at her own words, she looked at me for an answer.
I smiled, sorrowful though unapologetic.
“I understand,” I said, reaching out to comb my hands through her ginger curls, now dripping with soapy water.
She cocked her head, words she didn’t yet have beginning to form on her lips.
“I can’t have a baby mama. RJ and I tried but… I can’t do it. I begged him to stay, but he just left after one too many fights. He said he didn’t want a pretend future. He didn’t want me.” She paused, watching water drip off her hair into the bath. That's when I noticed her body was decorated in green and blue and purple a Jackson Pollock of bruises and cuts. I ran my hand down her arms, passing lightly over the marks.
She didn’t bother flinching, but instead began to speak. “I wanted to stay there. I don't know why,” She looked back up at me, “But it was the first time I felt like I could be alone with myself without feeling like a-” She looked back down a muttered, “a failure.”
I pulled her close to me, leaning her head against my chest. She relaxed into my body, her hair dripping onto my skirt. We stayed like that for a moment, sitting in a familiar closeness that hadn’t been felt in years. Then Carol May began to cry. They were silent tears, but I could see them rippling as they hit the layer of water on the floor. I didn’t say anything, but just let her cry. She could fill up the whole bathroom with tears if she needed.
“How am I supposed to know what to do next?” She said once her body had ceased shaking.
I smiled, hearing a curious little girl I knew again.
“You know,” I brushed her hair against her head gently, “I don’t know.”
She let out a heavy breath, it’s heat blowing past my arms. Bringing her arm across her body, she grabbed a hold of my sleeve once more and leaned into me, the water sloshing with the movement of her body. Closing her eyes, her heartbeat slowed, moving from her skin back into her chest. I began to hum to her Moon River, the rhythm mimicking the pace of her breathing and the drips of soapy water still escaping the bathtub on their way down the ocean of tears and bubbles beneath me.
Everyone has their own way of grieving.
Some people just let it all out at once, collapsing onto the ground, their body unable to carry itself anymore, shedding tears that quickly stream down their face and splash on the ground below them.
Others would just go completely silent. Numb. Hiding from the reality of the situation, blankly staring at the wall, waiting as if it was going to turn into the answers that they so desperately need.
I’ve even seen some that completely explode, shouting at the air, their faces red with fury, veins poking out on their neck and creating a web that appears over their flesh.
I witness these expressions on hundreds of people’s faces every day, on young children who barely understand why their loved one won’t open their eyes, in elders who have spent decades with someone, talking with them, laughing with them, and now not one sound will escape the corpse’s cold and stiff lips.
After a while, I developed detachment from people’s responses. I don’t know them, and I’ve never seen them before that day. Most of the time, I haven’t even bothered to stay around, finding the emotion of guilt and sorrow so thick in the air that I couldn’t breathe.
However, no one seems to notice my own response to these funerals; after all, I am simply a person in the background.
I am a mortician.
A grave digger.
Over the years, you meet all kinds of people in the business, from wealthy CEOs to homeless people brought in from the street. I’ve seen people who were murdered, their body buried with multiple stab wounds, and some people untouched, passed due to their old age and their body simply failing.
I have only buried one person that I was able to recognize myself; someone I knew personally from my childhood. Most of the memories are blurry for me, just a fog of young, smiling faces and distant laughter turning up randomly in my mind throughout the day.
My best memory is a song, a sweet tune about walking by the seaside. During slow days, I usually find myself humming this song absentmindedly while I work.
And it was while I was humming this little tune one morning when I was reintroduced to one of them.
“Jack!” A voice called from the front door, which I recognized as Tom’s voice, the rough grunts of his voice were unique to the ear, effected by years of smoking. “I hope you’re not too busy today, I have another one.”
The tune of my childhood died in my throat, and I slowly made my way over to the large, dark oak door that welcomed my clients. When Tom refers to ‘other ones’ it usually means people who need to be buried without the usual services. People who died alone, with no friends or family to look over them. I usually just wait until the end of the day to provide them their service, I feel like the darkness gives them the privacy they deserve as I bring them down under.
“Alright, bring them in.” I told him, “any story behind this one?”
Sometimes, Tom will know enough or see enough to piece together a rough idea of what they were like before their demise.
“Just another druggie.” He said with a shrug.
“Bring him around back,” I replied, “I don’t want this to be visible in the entrance, you know.” To which Tom replied with a solemn nod. When most clients are planning a burial, they don’t want any visuals or reminders of what they’re going through.
No one was showing up that day, so I made my way to the back of the building. It almost looks like a house, various pictures frame the walls, with thick rugs that line the cold hard wood floors below. I even put effort to putting flowers here and there, though I mostly do it to change the stale smell of the place.
I turned on the light before heading downstairs, and the familiar chill made the hairs on my arm stand up. The cool air preserved the bodies that were kept down there, which were lined up in stainless steel drawers, stacked on top and next together in a ten by twenty rectangle, with their name usually set out on the front.
My eyes recognized the new one right away, Tom decided to put them on the bottom right, so I had to bend down to read the name.
“Ezra Benfield.” I said aloud, it echoed in the small chamber of the basement. The name seemed to set off a small spark of remembrance in my brain. Where had I heard if it before? Was it the name of one of the sons of a past client? No, their family would most likely be here to plan for the ceremony.
I unhooked the latch and I pulled the bag that was holding the body out, I should have time to bury them tonight. Earlier that day, I had left the majority of my tools out by the back door, right by the basement, and Tom sent in a gravestone a few hours after he visited.
The body is kept in a grey, plastic bag, and I unzipped it. Usually, I would keep it in and move it to the casket, but there was no one alive to provide for it, so it would just have as is. As I looked at the person’s face- a man’s- I let out a small gasp.
“Ez.” I said slowly, the old name feeling strange on my tongue.
Ezra was his full name, but when I was younger, we used to call him Ez for short. The young boy that was preserved in my mind made the man before me seem warped, he was almost unrecognizable. his face and body were swollen, hives showed on his flesh. Wrinkles bent and stretched every feature. Time had not been kind to him.
“And now you’re going to be buried alone.” I said, moving him outside. Thoughts clouded my mind, bringing back the bittersweet feeling of my youth as I walked.
The chilly air outside reminded me of my duty, and I headed over to a spot that I had considered earlier. It was in the corner of the graveyard, by a huge oak tree that had twisted itself over the fence gate, as if watching over the graves below.
I quickly went to work, taking out my old shovel and buried it deep in the cold earth below, slightly hard from the chill.
As I dug deeper into the soil, my mind began to wander.
Ez and I had such a similar childhood when we were younger, and now, we’re in completely different places.
“How could we have ended up like this?” I asked myself aloud. Ez’s death made me realize how old I am, and how long it was since I last reached out to a friend. So much time had passed, and we had chosen our own ways, for better or for worse. Although I am a lone grave digger, At least I wasn’t like-
“Don’t be thinkin’ rude of the dead,” I mumbled to myself, leaning back for a moment to wipe the sweat off of my forehead. Questions burned in my mind. How did we even lose contact? Did he move away? “how could I have shut myself out like this.” I realized, going back to work. I had completely cut ties with all of my old friends, and I barely have any that I knew at that moment. What would have happened if Ezra and I did meet? What if I was there for him? Would he have been in a different place? Would I have been in a different place? What lead him down that path?
If we were friends… could I have prevented this? I should have been there for him.
He would be alive.
I pushed the shovel down harder into the dirt, squeezing the handle to the point where my knuckles were white.
Looking down, I realized that my tears had begun to mix with the ground below me.
I stopped, realizing I had finished. I took a few moments to calm myself, it had been a while since I had felt sorrow while burying someone. I looked reluctantly back at the body, feeling slightly ashamed. I took Ez and brought him down into his final resting place.
I got out of the hole and I looked back for a moment. Every time I bury a body, I wonder what it’s like when I’ll be down there. Ezra’s time came, who knows when mine will be?
As I started to walk away, I, for the first time, purposely hummed the tune that I had known from my childhood, giving one last performance for my friend before I left.
Everyone has their own way of grieving.
And I have my own.
He Broke The Moment (From What the Body Tells)
The lake is still, as we stand on its frost
dry bank, like concrete
and everything is cold and hard:
Impermeable, as though panes of glass had been pressed against the water and around our bodies
to separate everything
and sort everyone into display cases. You offer me one of your gloves, so each of us is only
half-warmed by the canvas, and we stand as
close together as the
glass will allow, because when I take your bare
hand and lean into you, it isn’t
hot and soft as red and yellow, but
cold and dense as white and gray. The
glass is still between us and I cannot
relax, because I see your back is still
straight and your eyes are looking sharply
around as if the trees on the bank were
glaring at us with their branches,
silently judging two boys who dare to
share heat and skin;
who are closely pressed
together, but not like
lovers, no, like statues cast
in some museum and tenuously balanced in the open until a careless visitor lays his eyes on us.
And we break apart, shamed and nonchalant,
the moment broken
by his tactless gaze, and
scattered around his ankles.
A Cezanne Scene
Mon ami gazes past his nose
And still must look beyond his pipe,
He blows some smoke onto a King
No sign of winning in his sight.
Sharply regarding though he his,
As a farmer would watch the sky,
No sign of storm nor sign of drought,
L'étranger’s face is set and dry.
A flicker passes, light as breeze
–He must be hiding some deceit–
Mon ami plays a card and groans,
And gazes down at his defeat.
He peers, disgusted at his hand
And looks as though he’s swallowed sand.
His face is red from ear to ear
The game had not gone as he’d planned.
Harsh failure is a blazing sun
That highlights him for everyone;
His confidence evaporates,
His sense of pride is trampled on.
And in the shady cafe booth
He stands and makes a silent oath:
in plain sight of his friends,
He’ll never play this game
Thank you for reading!
Our Editorial Board
Editor-in-Chief: El Clavenna '21
Assistant Editors: Mia Vittimberga '21,
Lily Thomson '21
Faculty Advisor: Eli Keehn