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Remission

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					        Remission

& Other Short Stories




   AP Lit & Comp (Modern Lit)

First Period, Fall/Winter 2009-2010

          Mr. Zervanos




                1
                                         Remission

                                   by Colleen McGeehan



       Today is my dad‘s birthday.

                                              *

       He and my mom had known about the cancer for a while before he told us. He

was trying to save us from the pain or the fear or the reality of it; my parents are always

trying to protect us from something. He finally told us about the cancer six months ago. It

was a Saturday. We were just getting home from our annual family vacation at the Jersey

shore. My sister started crying right away—not a weeping kind of crying, or a silent kind

of crying, but a painful kind of crying, almost a scream at the beginning, like someone

had pinched her unexpectedly. Then she hugged my dad, and my brother tried not to tear

up under his dark sunglasses leftover from the drive home, bracing himself against the

countertop with his left hand. My dad told us something about promising and focusing on

ourselves and going to college and not worrying. My brother was mad about something --

mad they weren‘t treating us like adults, mad they didn‘t tell us right away. My sister was

lying to my dad telling him we won‘t worry. We won‘t worry. Then my dad said

something about me, I won‘t let them worry. ―Em‘ll do it.‖ I remember nodding. ―I know

Em won‘t let anyone worry.‖ I shouldn‘t have nodded. I wasn‘t even listening.

                                              *

       We called this morning to sing to him, my mom and I, each of us with a hand on

the telephone, laughing at our sad attempt to hold a note. Our song sounded empty. I

don‘t think we had ever sung ―Happy Birthday‖ before, just the two of us. I left for




                                              2
school like it was any other day.

                                              *

       I only told one person about my dad right after I found out that Saturday: my

boyfriend. I told him in a text message. My dad has cancer. I didn‘t want to have to say

the sentence out loud. He texted back that he was sorry and then asked if I wanted him to

come get me.

       Yes.

       By the time I sent that message, my sister was laughing. My dad was telling a

joke, and my mom was pouring a glass of water. Somehow things were back to normal. I

was mad they seemed to be over it so quickly.

       I climbed into my boyfriend‘s giant, black, messy pick-up truck. He stared at me

as I sat and buckled my seatbelt. I remember turning away from him; I felt

uncomfortable. He told me we didn‘t have to talk about it if I didn‘t want to. He told me

―Everything will be okay.‖ He told me people survive cancer everyday. He told me it

wasn‘t that big of a deal. He told me I‘m strong enough to deal with this. He told me

exactly what I didn‘t want to hear and exactly what I‘ve heard from everyone who has

found out since then.

       I want someone to tell me how big of a deal it is; I want someone to yell at me for

not being upset, to tell me how unbelievably callous I‘m being, to make me feel

something. It‘s your fucking father, Emily.

       Later that night I lied and told him I didn‘t want anyone to feel sorry for me. He

told me how well I was taking it. I suppressed my scream with a smile and kissed him.

                                              *




                                              3
       My dad has had three surgeries. He has been admitted to and subsequently

released from the same hospital on eighteen separate occasions since we first found out

about his cancer six months ago. The nurses on the fifth floor of Penn Presbyterian

Hospital know my name. On the fifth floor they let you keep the same room every time

you are readmitted. They know that these patients may not make it to tomorrow, next

week, next month, next year. The nurses don‘t make visitors sign in and they don‘t make

them leave when visiting hours are over. It‘s the kind of special treatment you never want

to receive.

                                              *

       Two weeks ago my dad had surgery to remove a lesion in his liver, yesterday he

was readmitted to the hospital with an infection in his leg, and today is his birthday: cake

and presents and birthday wishes in a hospital room. I told my mom that I wasn‘t going to

come with her to visit him tonight. She said it wasn‘t a big deal. Don‘t worry about it.

Don‘t change your plans for us. I‘m mad at her for letting this be okay.

                                              *

       My brother and sister took the news in different ways. Regardless, they both

moved on with their lives. They left for college and got jobs, continued to go out on

weekends, continued to live as they had before. My sister started calling all the time; she

wanted to know everything my parents knew. My brother started talking to my mom

more, calling and texting and sending emails, but he distanced himself from my sister and

me. We had always been distanced by age, his being six years my elder, but now I felt an

additional, foreign tension. I think he was jealous of me: jealous I was still in high school,

jealous I was still living at home, jealous I was still completely sheltered. He shouldn‘t




                                              4
have been jealous of any of that.

        It seems that now both of my brother and sister know more about my dad and

what he is going through than I do. I pretend I know enough; I pretend I don‘t want to

know the details.

        Maybe I don‘t.

        I see him everyday when he‘s not in the hospital. I see my mom give him an I.V.

on our couch. I see him lose his hair day by day. I see him struggle to take a walk around

town, to drive the car, to eat dinner, to walk upstairs, to get out of bed. But the only

things I really know about his medical condition come from my mom‘s monthly email

updates forwarded to a list of fifty close friends and family members. I should be closer

than that. I shouldn‘t be sitting at my counter reading the same email that everyone else is

reading, detailing my dad‘s updated treatment plan, while he sits fifteen feet away from

me folding laundry to keep busy or trying to watch a full college basketball game without

falling asleep.

        I should know more than I do, but for some reason I don‘t ever want to ask.

                                              *

        I went to school today like it was any other day. It‘s Friday. I don‘t really

remember what happened all day. Maybe nothing was different.

                                              *

        I met a girl named Sam three months ago; her mom was in the same chemo unit

as my dad; her fifth floor room was across the hall from ours. My family didn‘t really like

her mother; she was demanding and overbearing. But Sam is nice enough and she‘s only

eleven, but she is dealing with her situation a whole hell of a lot better than anyone in my




                                              5
family is. I never really felt seven years her elder.

        Sam‘s mom was diagnosed with cancer two weeks after my dad was. She had

breast cancer. They hadn‘t found it early. I don‘t remember exactly what her initial

prognosis was, something about lymph nodes and mestases; it didn‘t matter what the

doctor had said exactly, they could tell from the way he talked it wasn‘t good. He had

avoided eye contact and played with the blue pen attached to his clipboard; then he

apologized.

        So Sam started coming to the hospital almost as much as I did. She was tall and

looked mature for her age. Her face, starting to thin out as she lost her baby fat, was

framed by pin-straight, dark-brown hair; she had freckles and black-rimmed glasses. She

cried a lot when she first started coming, scared of everything.

        On the first day of many spent by both of us on the fifth floor of Penn

Presbyterian, we talked. My dad was being examined by a doctor in his room. I had come

to the hospital with my mom after school that day. She stayed by his side, but he never

liked me to be inside his room when the doctors where looking at him so I always

stepped outside the room. He thought he was helping me, protecting me. I never objected;

I didn‘t want it to be that real anyway.

        As I sat outside and read the list of RNs on call next week from the bulletin board,

I heard Sam walk up and then sit down beside me. ―Is your dad dying too?‖ she asked.

                                               *

        My mom had asked me to pick up some presents for my dad last night but I said I

didn‘t have enough time: too much homework. It wouldn‘t have taken very long. I don‘t




                                               6
know why I didn‘t do it; I hadn‘t actually had that much homework. She didn‘t care.

―Never mind then, that‘s fine, I can pick them up before school tomorrow,‖ she said.

       I wish she hadn‘t let me off that easily.

                                              *

       Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with Sam. Usually we would talk about her

life. She would tell me about her science fair project and her crush and her new outfit and

her favorite movies. That day was different, though; she was asking me the questions. It

was early on a Sunday morning and we were sitting in the hospital cafeteria. The orange

chairs were hard and uncomfortable. Talking in a way that made me feel self-conscious,

she asked me how I held everything together so well. She was surprised at my composure

because, after her mom told her about the cancer, she said, she fell apart and she didn‘t

think there was any way she would ever be able to put all her pieces back together again.

I didn‘t know an eleven-year-old could talk like that.

       I was offended. I felt like she was accusing me of not caring about my father. I

tried to make myself cry.

       ―Didn‘t you ever just break down?‖ she asked me. Fiddling with a straw wrapper

on the table and refusing to make eye contact, I lied and told her that I had. After a

minute I looked up again. I told her we shouldn‘t cry anymore. I said, ―Our crying isn‘t

going to make anything any better for anyone. Why can‘t you understand that?‖

Throwing out my Styrofoam cup of bitter hospital-cafeteria coffee, I left her sitting by

herself with her uneaten breakfast in a cafeteria full of doctors and nurses whose genuine

emotions had been drained out of them. I left without saying goodbye to her. Sam‘s mom

died the next day.




                                              7
                                                      *

       It‘s nine o‘clock at night and my mom‘s not home. She usually calls if she‘s going

to be later than seven. My mom came home from work around four that afternoon and

immediately left again for the hospital, telling me to have fun, telling me that Dad won‘t

mind I‘m not there. I told her to tell him ―Happy Birthday‖ for me.

       Now all I‘m getting is her voicemail, over and over again.

       I‘m worried; I grab my purse and go to my car. I forget my cell phone, so I don‘t

hear it ring when my mom calls me five times to tell me the news and to apologize for

not answering earlier. I drive to the hospital.

                                                  *

       Sam‘s mom‘s funeral was nice. It was in a big church, and every pew was filled.

Sam sobbed for most of the ceremony. I kept thinking that this funeral could just as easily

be for my dad. I wondered if I would cry like that if it was my dad‘s funeral. I tried to

think that I would.

                                                  *

       I hate driving. This is the first time I have ever driven into Philly; my parents

don‘t like for me to drive in the city because it‘s too dangerous; they want to protect me

from that too. I park and take the stairs to the fifth floor of Penn Presbyterian, going over

what I‘m going to say to him in my head. I‘m sorry I wasn‘t here for your birthday. I

couldn‘t deal with it. I wanted to pretend you weren‘t sick. I wanted to pretend things

were normal. I can‘t pretend anymore. I thought I was stronger than I am. At the top of

the staircase the same thought crosses my mind that did when I first picked up my keys




                                                  8
and made the decision to drive here: maybe he‘s not okay. I try to push the thought

quickly out of my head.

       It‘s muscle memory from here – I open the door at the top of the staircase and I

walk to my dad‘s room.

       I must have made a wrong turn. I must be on the wrong floor. But there is the y-

shaped crack in the linoleum, the chipped paint on his doorframe; I‘m in the right place.

His room is now empty. It‘s identical to Sam‘s mom‘s room a week ago when they had

finished removing all of her stuff. This can‘t be real. Why didn‘t she call? Why wasn‘t I

here? An announcement comes over the loudspeaker paging some doctor. I look for my

phone, but it‘s not in my pocket. There‘s music playing in the background. Someone calls

my name. I can‘t think. I‘m confused. I melt to the floor. My eyes are dry; they feel like

they‘re doing the opposite of crying. Suddenly I see my dad above me. The fluorescent

light encircles his head like a halo. He has more gray hair than I remember. His features

are more pronounced. This must be a dream. I think that this can‘t possibly be real. But

still I want to tell him I‘m sorry, tell him it‘s my fault, tell him I‘m sorry I never showed

how much I cared. I think it‘s too late.

       I cry for the first time since July.

                                              *




                                              9
                          Mama Jackson‘s Homemade Mac and Cheese

                                        by Mary Buchanan




       Pantry: beans, oyster crackers, plastic cups. Refrigerator: mayonnaise, mustard,

questionable lump wrapped in aluminum foil. Breadbox: crusty stale loaf. The girl made

her way around the kitchen, systematically checking the cabinets for something edible to

scrounge up for dinner. She didn‘t find anything, only the reject foods that hadn‘t been

touched since their respective purchases months ago and probably wouldn‘t ever be until

someone had mercy on them and threw them away.

       They hadn‘t been food shopping since before the cancer had advanced to the last

stage. After the funeral food baskets, homemade casseroles, and baked goods poured into

their home from those wishing their condolences. As if they wanted to eat – they didn‘t

even want to look at the food. Her mother hid it all away, sealing pasta salad into freezer

bags and placing jars of preservatives in the pantry. After the immediate shock of death

wore away and primal hunger returned, the gifted food sustained them for a time. Their

hunger came sporadically, in waves. Sometimes the girl would skip lunch and dinner then

wake up in the middle of the night ravenous. She would sneak downstairs to find her

mother awake too, wolfing down a plate of cookies. On those nights the girl would turn

around and go back to bed hungry, feeling guilty and ashamed, as though she had just

witnessed something she shouldn‘t have seen.


                                             10
       Dinner no longer carried the warm connotations from the girl‘s past. Before her

father got sick. Before the boys graduated on to college. Back then her mother would

carefully prepare a well-balanced, nutritious meal for her family. The kids would set the

table, arguing, ―Dummy, the forks go on the left!‖ ―No, this plate is dirty, see?‖ Then

they would all sit down together, cloudy vapors rising from the plates loaded with meat

and greens and grain. The scratching and cutting of the silverware would mingle with the

boisterous family discussions. Now the rubbing of forks and knives, heard only once in a

blue moon, mocked the memory of the once-jovial kitchen.

       After determining the kitchen was barren, the girl resigned herself to make a

shopping list. Today was her mother‘s birthday, and even though her mother may have

forgotten, she hadn‘t. She yearned to do something for her mother to take her mind off

the gaping emptiness of grief. She thought that somehow a warm, healthy meal could

reverse some of her mother‘s depression, feeding her nutrition rather than the pain of

loss. And so the girl scanned the recipe book, searching as meticulously for an

appropriate meal as she had scoured the kitchen for edible food. She grazed over the

pictures of stews, roasts, and pastas. Everything looked perfect, unnatural. Rather than

appeal to her, the food made her feel nauseas. She shut the recipe book despairingly.

       Then the girl remembered Mama Jackson‘s Homemade Mac and Cheese. The

brown box with the picture of a voluptuous black woman wearing a green apron and

holding a wooden spoon had been a familiar fixture in their pantry in previous years. Her


                                            11
father had loved the boxed macaroni. Her mother, laughing, would say to him, ―You want

homemade mac and cheese? Let me make you real homemade mac and cheese.‖ Pointing

to the lengthy list of ingredients she would say, ―Everything in here is processed. The

cheese isn‘t real, you know.‖

       She would prepare it at least twice a month. The girl liked to remember her

mother cooking Mama Jackson‘s for her father: singing along to the radio, brushing her

hair out of her sparkling eyes with her wrists. She would call to her children and have

them stir the pot and add the butter and cheese and milk. When they sat down to eat, her

father would say, ―Now, Hon, you made this all by yourself, right? You didn‘t let the kids

mess with my food, did you?‖ And the children would all shout at once, ―No, we made it

ourselves!‖ ―Mom didn‘t do a thing!‖ ―Watch, it‘ll be better than when Mom makes it.‖

―Yeah, Dad, I spit in it, you better watch out!‖ All eyes on him, her father would place

two or three noodles on his fork and carefully scoop them into his mouth. Suddenly he

would cough, gasping for air, pointing to his mouth. Then he would smile and say,

―Delicious, as usual,‖ as everyone cracked up.

       Yes, Mama Jackson‘s would be perfect for tonight, the girl thought. In fact, she

couldn‘t see how she hadn‘t thought of this solution earlier. The girl hoped vaguely that

whoever Mama Jackson was, her maternal charm would captivate her mother and her

once more.

                                             *


                                            12
        When the key turned in the lock and her mother walked tiredly through the

threshold, the girl already had her sneakers and jacket on. ―Hold it right there, Missy.

Don‘t put your keys down or take off your jacket. We‘re going to the grocery store.‖

        ―Honey, it‘s been a long day. I was just going to go take a nap… what‘s this now?

        ―Today‘s your birthday and you may have wanted to forget it but I‘m not going to

let you. Tonight, I‘m going to cook you the biggest, meanest, Mama Jackson‘s

Homemade Mac and Cheese that you‘ve ever tasted. And you are going to like it.‖

        ―Oh?‖ said the mother, weakly, a little surprised by this bright-eyed, determined

girl who looked like her daughter. They had both been emotionless zombies, silent as the

grave, since after the funeral - after the tears dried out.

        ―Yes, Ma‘am. And, interestingly enough, I happen to need food to make this

heavenly creation. You see, we‘re a little short on supplies.‖

        ―That‘s very sweet, honey, but you don‘t have to go through all that trouble for

me. I don‘t think I have any money either; we‘d have to stop at the ATM…

         ―I have fifty-five dollars. That‘ll be plenty. You‘re not getting out of this one

that easy.‖

        Her mother smiled tentatively. She put her hands up in the air, palms out in

surrender, and turned around dramatically to go out the door again.

        The girl smiled too. She marveled at how easy it was to speak lightly, jokingly

with her mother. It seemed Mama Jackson‘s charm was working already.


                                               13
                                              *

       Her mother drove carefully through the wet streets, eyes glued to the road. The

girl fiddled with the radio station, her legs propped on the dashboard. They didn‘t speak

to each other, but the girl noticed a different tambour to this silence than the long, cold

ones of the past. It was more comfortable, easy, relaxed. This was how the girl imagined

other mothers and daughters took car rides. Nobody searching for something, anything, to

say. No deafening silence. No uncomfortable leg-shuffling or eye-shifting to avoid

contact.

       As her mother pulled into the shopping center parking lot, the girl thought about

coming to the store with her brothers and her mother when she was little. Her mother

would push the cart, and someone would jump onto the cart‘s end, completely

disregarding the safety warnings on the cart‘s front. Back when the shopping list was as

long as Santa‘s nice list, her mother would instruct the kids to go find the milk or loaf

bread while she picked out the produce. ―Divide and Conquer!‖ they had called it. It was

a game, taken to save time.

       Today the list was short, and they weren‘t in a rush, but they split up anyway.

       ―OK, you go get the stuff for a salad, I‘ll pick up some cake mix and the mac and

cheese,‖ the daughter commanded to her mother, who nodded and headed left, basket

looped under her arm. ―We‘ll meet again in ten!‖ The girl called to her mother‘s

retreating back.


                                             14
        The girl passed the baking goods aisle first. She ambled down the shiny linoleum,

past shelves full of packs of pie tins, bags of sugar and flower, and tubes of icing till she

came to the boxes of cake mix - Just add water! Quick and easy! Delicious and moist!

Staring at the appealing, richly iced cakes depicted on the boxes, the girl realized how

hungry she was. She felt as though she hadn‘t eaten for days. She took one of each cake

mix - yellow, devil‘s food, angel food, double chocolate, vanilla marble.

       Out of the corner of her eye, the girl noticed a tall boy with wavy brown hair

picking up a 500-pack of napkins from the shelf. That boy had been her friend once, in

another lifetime. Before the girl had sunk into her deep depression, they had talked

through every class and flirted in the hallways. Now she found that she couldn‘t meet his

eyes. The girl bent down, rearranged the boxes in her hand, and scurried past him as the

boy coughed unnecessarily loudly.

       Now the girl walked down the next aisle, and the next. She paused every twenty

feet or so to add something - applesauce, chicken soup, dinner rolls - to the awkward

bundle of food in her arms. Her simple dinner was snowballing into a feast of sorts, and

the girl was excited at the prospect. She even worked up the courage to smile off-

handedly at a passing old lady in the pasta aisle, so the old lady gave a start when the girl

dropped her goods to the floor a few seconds later.

       Shards of glass and pickle juice sprayed onto the spotless shelves and floor, and a

jar of jam rolled south to a display of tomato sauce. The girl didn‘t notice. Her eyes slid


                                              15
helplessly between the trademark blue boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese and the

generic store-brand boxes, where Mama Jackson‘s Homemade Mac and Cheese should

have been. The girl understood. The store had discontinued the product. It wasn‘t here.

Some canned, jazzy arrangement of ―My Favorite Things‖ played over the loudspeaker,

drilling into her brain as she willed herself to think logically.

        But she couldn‘t clear her mind; it was wrong, all wrong. It wasn‘t supposed to

happen like this. She had come to the store to buy Mama Jackson‘s Homemade Mac and

Cheese for her mother, and she was going to take it home and make it for her, and maybe

then, miraculously, some of the pain that consumed both of them would dissipate. But it

had to be Mama Jackson‘s. Not this imposter shit, she thought, swiping the store-brand

stuff to the floor. Not this commercialized, overproduced crap, she thought as she batted

the Kraft containers to the ground. Not any of this. She crushed the cardboard boxes

beneath her feet and watched the hard noodles spill out over the floor. The girl pounded

away as the orange cheese powder oozed into the white tile. She was about to start on the

display of tomato sauce when -

        ―Honey! Are you OK? What‘s going on? What‘s all this mess?‖ Her mother had

found her. The basket under her arm was loaded with salad fixings - lettuce, tomato, red

pepper, and broccoli - as well as French bread, sausage links, a dozen eggs, and a chunk

of cheese.

        The girl rubbed her wet eyes. ―They don‘t have Mama Jackson‘s. The stupid


                                              16
assholes stopped selling it. They only have this crap,‖ she gestured to the ruined remains

of the store‘s macaroni and cheese supply. ―And it had to be Mama Jackson‘s and they

don‘t have it and now your dinner is ruined and - ‖

        ―Oh, Hon, I don‘t care about that… I know the past couple of months I haven‘t

been much of a mother - I haven‘t been much of anything. So it meant so much to me that

wanted to do something nice to me, let alone remember it was my birthday. More than

you know, I think. You‘ve been so brave this whole time… come here.‖ The mother

opened her arms to her daughter, and the girl accepted the embrace. It was the first time

they had hugged for months.

       They might have stayed like that for much longer, but at that moment the store

manager happened to walk by. He saw his once-pristine pasta aisle now a disgraced

jumble. ―Hey! Hey there! What happened here? What is the meaning of this?‖ he

shouted, finger wagging and eyes bulging as he marched down the aisle.

       The mother and daughter broke apart. They looked at each other and seemed to

agree on something. The mother grabbed the food basket; the girl bent over and picked

out a couple of cake mixes, a jar of peanut butter, some bagels, and soup. She threw them

haphazardly into the basket, then pulled out her wallet and emptied it, change and all,

onto the floor.

        ―That should cover it!‖ She called to the manager. Then they scrammed, running




                                            17
past shelves of noodles, displays of cereal, and flower bouquets and out the automatic

swinging doors to the chilly air. They sprinted to the car, launched the basket of food into

the back seat, then pushed themselves into their seats. The mother floored the accelerator.

As the car screeched out of the parking lot and the mother and daughter felt like partners

in a bank robbery, the store manager came out of the store. All he could do was wave his

fist at them as they drove away, laughing as if for the first time.




                                              18
                He Sailed Down the River of Happiness into the Ocean of Bliss

                                          By Michael Fox

         The thumping in his skull was growing persistently worse, like tiny explosions in

his frontal lobe. It was never supposed to get this bad, but it was all that filled the open

void in his chest. The monster living in his head was hungry and can be unforgiving in its

impatience. He had no choice; he would fill its ravenous appetite and calm its sadistic

wrath.

         His spine shook and goose bumps riddled his arms, as a bead of sweat caressed

his cheek and dropped off of his chin. He opened the bottle with palpitated fingers and

stared down at his prize. The relief would be sweet as the deprivation of his favorite

alteration ended.

         There was a pounding at the door sending a shock of paranoia to his brain. He

merely groaned and yelled out that the stall was taken. The footsteps grew softer until

finally the door to the restroom closed. He was alone again; he could continue his ritual.

The small pill fell from the bottle to his open palm. He took it, bit it in half placing one

half back in the bottle and the other onto a dollar, which he then folded over and grinded

into the wall beside him. His stomach rolled like the ocean, preparing for the warm

embrace. He then emptied the chunky white powder onto the surface of his open cell

phone. There was no time to push it into a beautiful white line, instead, he rolled up the

bill and his nose devoured the pile. A soft ring filled his ears and a wave of ecstasy

washed over his entire body. It was silent. He wept.

         Once out of the bathroom he put his apron on and returned to work. He was

employed at a paltry bar but it managed to provide an ample salary for what he needed.




                                              19
What pleased him most about the job were the long hours. They kept him distracted and

out of his own head, which often led to damaging thoughts. Being alone only impelled

him to think of how much he abhorred his life and himself. Self-loathing had become a

cancer on his brain, growing and thriving with each passing day. Every indulgence got

him through a few more hours, but only fed the hate mounting inside him.

       He got home at two thirty, ripped his filthy clothes off, and put on some shorts

and a large tee. He wasn‘t tired so he stepped out to have a cigarette. It was raining. He

loved the rain. It made him feel less isolated from the world, almost as if the earth was

grieving with him. He bathed in its company. The skies tears soaked into his clothes and

covered his own.

       More than anything he yearned to call her to, to talk to her, to make this

nightmare, he called his life, end. These apprehensions made him feel weak. The palpable

knowledge that a girl had this much power over him, that a girl had turned him into

pathetic junkie just waiting for his next fix to get through the day, destroyed any notion in

his mind that he was a strong and independent individual. It had been six months since

she had left him. She asked him not to call her, text her, or come in contact with her in

anyway; it was too arduous, it was unbearable. Bringing the cigarette to his lips, his mind

flashed back to that Sunday.

       ―Are you at least going to sit down,‖ the girl on his couch had been his girlfriend

for almost three years. She had taught him what love was, the fleeting feeling of wanting

no one else, the knowledge that as long as she was with him everything would be okay.

He had never cared for anyone more than he cared for her and he didn‘t plan on

changing that. He walked over to the swivel chair that sat directly across from her. ―We




                                             20
have to talk…‖ she trailed off. His chest exploded. He knew things hadn‘t been all

sunshine and butterflies, but he hadn‘t expected this.

            ―Are you breaking up with me,‖ the words came out as a whisper.

            ―These last few months have been really hard. I... I… uh,‖ she was beginning to

stutter and tears were filling her eyes.

            ―You can‘t do this. You are everything to me. I need you,‖ he could feel himself

breaking down. He tried his best to stay calm and composed.

            ―I‘m sorry.‖

            ―Is it him?‖ The question wasn‘t specific but he knew she would understand. She

had just gotten back from the beach with her ex-boyfriend. Not an idea he supported.

            ―No.‖ She reached out and placed her hand on his leg.

            ―Don‘t touch me,‖ he snarled, ―Leave, just go.‖

            She said nothing, her face wet from crying. She walked out of the house and out of

his life.

            The monster was sedated but the hole in his chest was back. He felt barren and

abandoned. Why had he been so naïve? How could he have allowed himself to become so

vulnerable? He put out his cigarette and went back inside, fully aware of what he was

going to do; it had become a reflex now. Quietly, he entered his bathroom and numbed

the pain.

            He laid his head down on his pillow, so completely numb, comforted knowing he

couldn‘t experience pain, he was invincible. Tomorrow he would see her in school and

she would pass him by without a glance; continue her life as if they had never met. He

hated it, he hated everything. It was slowly manifesting in his head, the idea that he was




                                                21
fighting a losing battle. If he was capable of being honest with himself he would have

realized that he had already stopped trying to fight.

       The loud beeping of his alarm clock brought him to his feet. His room was small,

very small, only about seven by twelve feet. His bed alone took up more than half his

living quarters. He saw it as a perfect fit; a meager room for a meager man.

       Sliding his hands down his face he walked over to the toilet and began to relieve

himself. This was his least favorite time, the morning. Pulling himself out of bed to

continue a meaningless existence seemed almost cruel. He was conscious of the fact that

his self-pity was obnoxiously pathetic but he didn‘t care. By this point he was completely

apathetic towards anyone else‘s opinion. The only reason he continued getting up each

morning was to see her. The most agonizing occurrence in his everyday life was seeing

her; however, it was also the most satisfying. Not because she was beautiful or because

he was absolutely obsessed with her, not even because having her near gave him a sense

of security. No, it was because he enjoyed the pain. It was comforting. It was easier than

trying to be happy. People like being miserable, we are lethargic creatures. Being

depressed is much more comfortable than being happy because, when depression sets in

there is nothing to lose. It is comfortable and takes no effort to be unhappy as opposed to

being happy, which, brings only paranoia and a fear of losing that happiness.

       Once he was finished preparing for school, a task that took no longer than twenty

minutes, he went out and started his car. It was February. It was freezing. He chose to let

the car heat up before he started off to school. While he waited he would take his time

and quench the beast‘s hunger, might as well nourish it before it starts tearing at his

insides. He emptied what was left in the bottle onto the center console between the




                                             22
driver‘s seat and the passengers. Instead of crushing it up between the folds of a dollar

bill he chose to take his time and use his grater. The grater was a small metal piece that

worked just like a cheese grater. The results were remarkable, producing a very fine

powder with no large chunks at all. He got out his license and pushed it into to two lines

each about two inches long. To him they were stunningly gorgeous and would bring him

more joy than anything else in his life. Putting a rolled up bill to his nose he made both

lines disappear within seconds. It was silent for a moment and then the ringing started. It

was soft and soothing. His whole body felt warm and his eyes rolled in his head. He

licked the console and the bill, and put all of his supplies away.

         He parked outside his neighbor‘s house beeping the horn. Irritability caused by

impatience was often a side effect of his daily binges. Finally, after waiting almost three

minutes his best friend got in the car.

          ―Fuck man, what took you so long?‖

          ―What? You were only out here for a couple minutes. I‘m sorry. Wait. Are you

high?‖

          ―I may have spoiled myself a bit before I got here.‖

          ―What the fuck? What is wrong with you? Can you not go a fucking day without

getting loaded? I am worried about you. You couldn‘t stop if you wanted to.‖

         ―Good. I don‘t want to anyway,‖ It really pissed him off when his friend got all

high and mighty about his addiction to painkillers, ―and you know what? I am tired of

this shit. You are always lecturing me on my ‗addiction,‘ yet you smoke pot three or four

times a day.‖

         ―Just drive,‖ his best friend didn‘t want to talk about it anymore. So he put the car




                                              23
in drive and headed towards school. Melancholy

       About halfway to school he made a left turn without looking. He heard a scream

and looked to his right to see a car coming towards them at high speed. Suddenly

everything looked like a movie in slow motion. The other car smashed into the

passenger‘s side, breaking the window and disseminating glass over his friend. Then the

car started to roll over. His friend, seat beltless, rose from his seat and hit his head upon

the roof. There was a loud cracking noise. He closed eyes and secretly hoped that this

was going to be the easy way out.

       He awoke to discover that he was surrounded by one solid wall and three curtains.

Why was he here? Then he remembered there was an accident. It was his fault. He felt

numb and was unsure as to whether there was no pain because of his drugs or their drugs.

       ―Are you feeling okay?‖ He looked over to see his mom staring back at him. She

had been crying, she had always been terrible at hiding it.

       ―I‘m fine. What happened? It‘s all so fuzzy.‖

       ―Well you were turning left and got hit on your passenger side. The car flipped

and…,‖ she trailed off. For some reason he felt like she was hiding something from him.

       ―Wait. Is everyone okay? Was anyone hurt?‖

       ―You got a mild concussion. You should rest,‖ before he could get the truth out of

her she got up and exited the room. He felt so helpless and confused. Was his friend

okay? The last thing he could remember was watching his friend‘s head collide with the

roof of the car and then there was that terrible snapping noise. He didn‘t want to think

about it. He didn‘t want to think at all. He let himself drift off back into unconsciousness.

                                               *




                                              24
       It had been a week since the accident. He had murdered his best friend in the

whole world, the only person who understood him and stood by him as he slipped into a

life full of self-destruction. Most had decided he was a worthless addict not worth their

time. But not him, he was a true companion in this perilous journey we call life, he

believed in him, and now he was dead.

       Fuck. It was supposed to be him that died, not his best friend. It made so much

more sense. Why did someone so young, so full of life, so promising, have to now sleep

eternally? The image of his friend lying there in the casket was seared in his mind. He

looked so peaceful, as if he had decided to take a nap and never open his eyes again,

because it was easier than being awake. He was jealous.

       He sat on his bed feeling sorry for himself. Slowly a spider crawled up his neck,

entered his ear, and rested inside of his skull. It was perfect. There was nothing to stop

him. And he saw no reason not to. His parents would be devastated, but he knew if they

were aware of how he felt they wouldn‘t want him to experience that pain any longer. He

came up with every excuse he could, pretending he wasn‘t selfish. He went into the

bathroom with his last pill, a razor, and a bill. He crushed the whole pill up and sprinkled

the powder onto the bathroom counter. He then took the razor and began cutting the

powder. Once it appeared to be the proper consistency he pushed it into one line. It was

the largest line he had ever seen. He sneered at it and rolled the bill. His nose sucked it all

up in one sweeping motion. His knees buckled and he dropped the bill to the floor. He

was numb. The razor sat on the counter, teasing him. He picked it up and held in front of

him. He stared at it for a long time. He wasn‘t thinking. His head was clearer then it had

ever been. Not a thought floated in or out of his mind. The razor glided through his skin




                                              25
with such grace. The blood seeped out of the lines in his arm. It was beautiful. He was

smiling, ear to ear, the entire time. He felt nothing and soon he wouldn‘t even have the

capability of feeling at all. Finally he finished and stared down at his arms. The left arm

read addict and the right, murderer. The cuts were deep and the blood was everywhere.

His legs gave out and he fell to the floor. He could feel the life pouring out of him. There

was no pain. He closed eyes, knowing that this was the easy way out.




                                             26
Ben Freedman

                                The Dentist

       The sun had not yet risen. The child lay there in his bed. He had just woken up

from an unpleasant slumber. How could he fall back to sleep with what loomed over

him? His mother had told him the week before that his whole world was about to end.

The following morning, at half past ten, he would be going to the dentist. Ever since he

learned he was going, anything he had planned afterwards seemed like it would never

come, as if it were unreachable. After all, he had to go through such hardship before it

came. The dream he just snapped out of did not help.

                                              *

       George sat in the dentist‘s office and heard the dentist call out names. He heard

screams from the office.

       ―Ahhh!,‖ ―not that!,‖ ―stop it!‖ The screams almost drowned out the malicious

laughter of the dentist. George wanted to run, but his mother held a firm grip on his arm.

       ―It‘ll be fine,‖ she constantly assured him, ―as soon as you‘re done we can go out

to lunch and you‘ll be happy it‘s behind you.‖ This would have made him feel better,

except for the fact that at that moment a hunched man with his front teeth missing was

pushing a stretcher with a sheet on top of a body. The boy began to fear for his life.

       ―Did that boy before me ever come out?‖ he thought to himself…Before he could

answer his own question, the dentist came out to the waiting room. The boy hoped that

the name called would not be his own, but he knew very well that he was up.




                                             27
       ―You‘re up kid. Get in here,‖ yelled the dentist, an unusually large man with tufts

of hair all over his head. After one look at him, it dawned on George,



       ―Wait a second, that‘s not the dentist I usually have…‖ Before he could finish this

thought, the dentist grabbed him and strapped him into the chair. The straps were tight.

The boy wanted to scream but he was afraid to. He looked at all the tools on the dentist‘s

table and didn‘t like the looks of any of them. The dentist went over and began to choose

his torture device. George decided not to look. Any one of them was sure to inflict pain

upon him. He closed his eyes, but still sensed the horror he was about to endure. The

sound buzzed in his ear.

       ―Open wide,‖ the dentist said. The boy‘s heart was beating three times its normal

rate. He knew his fate was close, but he never felt pain. Before he knew it he was back in

his room, staring into the darkness, wondering what had just happened. The dream had

been so vivid it had to be real. There was no way he just imagined it.

                                               *

       George lay in bed, pondering the meaning of his dream. He thought back to his

last appointment at the dentist‘s office the year before. He didn‘t know what to expect

going in because this was the first time he went that he was old enough to know what was

going on. He went in and sat down with his mother. The office seemed big and new. The

people behind the desk were taking phone calls, and everyone in the waiting room was

reading a magazine. A smiling little girl came trotting out of the dentist‘s office holding a

new toothbrush. There was a Pac Man system in the corner of the room to play. George

went over to play it, but right before he got there, a boy twice his size beat him to it, not




                                              28
even noticing him as he pressed the button to start a new game. George went back to his

mother and sat on her lap. Five minutes later, the dentist‘s assistant came in and called his

name. His mother led him back to the dentist, who greeted him as he entered.

          ―Hello, young man, how are you today?‖

          ―Good,‖ he responded, ―is this going to hurt?‖ The dentist shook his head and

smiled.

          ―Absolutely not, I will be very careful not to hurt you.‖ He stood true to his word.

George lay down on an uncomfortable chair with padding that he sank into. He braced

himself for the pain he was about to endure. Fortunately, he braced himself for nothing.

About fifteen minutes later, he had a fresh, bubble gum taste inside his mouth, a new

toothbrush, and the knowledge that he was cavity-free. His mother led him out of the

office, thanking the dentist on the way. She turned to George.

          ―Now that wasn‘t that bad, was it?‖

          ―No, it really…‖ Before he could finish his response, his mother‘s phones rang.

This frustrated George that he wasn‘t able to finish his thought and had to wait until later.

By the time he would be able to finish his sentence, he would have forgotten what he had

to say or what they were talking about all together. Anyway, George was happy that his

trip to the dentist‘s office was over and that he would not have to go for another year. He

was happy that his mother did not believe it was necessary to go twice a year. Now he

could eat lunch and go out and play with his friends. It was the best feeling in the world.

They got to his mother‘s car and George got in as his mother stayed outside to talk.

George couldn‘t wait to get home. Finally, George‘s mother got off the phone and got




                                                29
into the car. Instead of just starting the car and pulling out, she just sat there. George

started back up.

        ―Oh, where were we…I was saying it really was not that…‖

        ―George,‖ his mother began sobbing, ―I have something to tell you.‖ Her face was

sullen as she appeared to be fighting off tears. George didn‘t know what she was going to

say. He truly wasn‘t prepared for what came out of her mouth.

        ―I don‘t know what happened yet but…you‘re father…your father is dead.‖

George just sat there. He didn‘t know what to make of this news. He did not know what

to say. He was in shock; he thought he should be crying but no tears came.

        At that point he zoned back into the present day. It was a wicked flashback. All

the events that happened a year ago still remained so vivid in his mind. His bed felt

uncomfortable now, but he didn‘t ever want to leave.

                                                *



        ―Why do I have to go to the dentist, my teeth are clean?‖ The thought crossed his

mind. He had been asking his mother the same question all week. Ever since the Tuesday

before when his mother told him he would be going to the dentist, he dreaded it. Now it

was the night before…well actually the morning of. The darkness beat through the

window, and George hoped it would never go away or give way to the light. If it stayed

dark, morning would never come and neither would his trip to the dentist. He just lay

there, trying to content himself in the fact that everything was fine at the moment. It was

still a while until the sun came up and even then, it would still be a few hours until he




                                              30
left. He let his mind drift. He tried to think happy thoughts. The more he kept it off his

mind the easier it would be. He still analyzed the dream he just had. It was so realistic yet

so ridiculous at the same time. His friends never talked about anything like that

happening at the dentist‘s. Everyone who left usually left relieved and happy they were

done. His fear was that this would be the time the dentist messed up, and inflicted great

pain upon him. Maybe all of the people who experienced what happened in his dream just

didn‘t live to tell their stories. As much as he feared this, it did not compare to the pain he

experienced in his last trip to the dentist. As much as he could, he tried not to think about

that day. It was almost a year since the fateful day. He tried to think happy thoughts, but

he just couldn‘t. After all, he wasn‘t happy.

                                                 *

         In the months leading up to this night George had been getting better. His mother

did not remember him being happy since before his father‘s accident. In fact, right after

the death of his father, George hardly left his room. He would go downstairs for

breakfast, then go right back up. When his friends came to the door, his mother would go

up to get him and immediately be met with a resounding ―I‘m not going outside today.‖

This went on for a good while. Finally, George‘s mother decided she had to put an end to

it. She went up to his room, knocked on his door, and received no answer. She knocked

again,

                                                                                       6

         ―What do you want?‖

         ―I want to come in, can I come in?‖

         ―Fine, come in‖




                                                31
        George‘s mother opened the unlocked door and saw George sitting at his desk.

The back of his head faced her as she sat down on his bed and opened her mouth to talk.

As soon as the first syllable came out of her mouth, George turned his head to look. His

face was emotionless.

        ―Turn your chair around. I want to talk to you.‖ He did just this, and indeed they

began to talk. Something his mother said must have stuck with him, because forty five

minutes later, George walked downstairs, ran out the door, and joined in a wiffle ball

game with his friends.

        George had drifted back from another flashback. Again, the events that occurred

almost a year ago seemed so vivid. He remembered how he just wanted to get away from

his mother that day as she talked with him in his room.

                                       *

        George still lied there in his bed, trying not to fall asleep. The sooner he drifted

off the sooner the morning would come. The sooner morning came the sooner the

dentist‘s appointment came. His mind began to drift to his little league championship

game a year and two months before. His father was the coach. He was a tough coach, and

every little thing had to be right.

        ―Baseball is a game of inches,‖ he would always say. He hardly ever lost his cool

but nobody wanted to be the one to do something wrong on the team. In the

championship game it was the bottom of the sixth inning, and George‘s team was losing

by a run when he was at bat with the bases loaded. He strapped on his gloves, slid on his

helmet, and with his bat, walked out of the chain link fence to the batters box. On his

way, he was stopped.




                                              32
       ―Go out there and make me proud,‖ his father whispered. That‘s all he said. That

was all he needed to say. The first pitch was delivered and George sent it into right center

field for a base hit, scoring two without a play at the plate. The winning run scored, and

George ran in to join the crowd at home plate. He pretended not to notice, but all that

really mattered to him was the look on his dad‘s face. He was beaming with pride over

what had just happened.

                                              *

       The morning came. He had fallen asleep and dreamed the whole little league

moment. How could it have happened? He tried so hard to stay awake and all of a sudden

the sun was shining through his windows, beating down on his sheets. He moved the

covers off and took a glance over at his alarm clock,

       ―7:53,‖ it read. His appointment was at 10:30. He figured it was time to get out of

bed so he didn‘t slip into a deep slumber again. He must have been dreaming about lying

in bed, because until his eyes hit the bright green of sunlight on his walls, he thought he

was doing a great job of staying awake. Downstairs his mother was by the waffle iron

pouring in batter. There was bacon in the frying pan and English muffins in the toaster.

       ―Good morning sunshine, I hope you‘re hungry because I‘m making your favorite

breakfast.‖

       ―Thanks mom, I‘m starving.‖ George lied, knowing that he couldn‘t eat anything

in the state he was in. He took a seat at the table and said nothing. His cat, Whiskers,

came over and sat beside him, waiting for George to pet him. Instead, Whiskers was met

with nothing despite his efforts to impress George by standing on his hind legs. George‘s




                                             33
mother laid a plate full of his favorite breakfast foods and he sat there and treated it like it

was spinach. He took a few bites and gave up.

        ―Why don‘t you eat more?‖ his mother asked him as she sat down at the table to

enjoy her breakfast.

        ―I guess I‘m not as hungry as I thought.‖ He was often grateful of his mother‘s

attempts to cheer him up. She was always trying to lighten his mood, to try and fill the

void in his life with humor and good times. The George she knew before the incident

would be lost forever had she not tried so hard to keep it alive.

        Breakfast ended and George went into the living room to watch television. A little

while later, he walked back into the kitchen. His mother was sitting at the table doing the

crossword puzzle and he took the seat across from her.

        ―Mom, I don‘t want to go to the dentist. I‘m afraid.‖ He had been telling her this

the entire week but she had not given much thought into giving him an answer. She

looked up from her crossword and put her pencil down on the side of the table.

        ―George, I know it hurts, there‘s not much I can tell you right now, but you have

to go, you know we‘ll go to your favorite place for lunch.‖

        ―It doesn‘t matter, the dentist hurts me.‖

        ―You know our dentist is very good, the reason you fear him is because…well

you know.‖ The expression changed on George‘s face. He was outraged. He didn‘t want

to believe his mother, but it made so much sense. He did not fear the dentist; he feared

what happened after the dentist‘s. The real origin of his fears was not really his time

spent inside, but rather the news he received afterwards. He ran up to his room crying. He

hated his mother. He stayed in his room until it was time to go.




                                              34
       George‘s mother came up and practically dragged him down the stairs and out to

the car. They were on their way. She pulled into the same spot she parked the year before.

They both remembered the emotion they experienced in that spot a year earlier. They got

out of the car and went into the waiting room. George remembered how happy he was the

year before. He and his mother got along and his father was alive. On top of that, he had

just gotten done his trip to the dentist and did not have to go back for another year. He

wished he could go back in time. He didn‘t play Pac Man. He only waited for the terrible

moment to come. He knew it was inevitable. Everything around him intimidated him.

The people sat around him, and it seemed as if they were staring at him. They all were

against him. The dentist was in the back room, just like in his dream, preparing the

torture device. His time was coming. Finally, the assistant came out and called his name.

George just sat there for a moment.

       ―George, let‘s go, let‘s go back to the office,‖ his mother said. George just looked

at her, and walked away.

       ―I‘m going back by myself, you can stay here.‖

       ―Is that alright?‖ she asked the dentist‘s assistant. The assistant nodded her head.

       George walked back with her to the dentist‘s office. He sat back in the chair. It

felt all too familiar. However, something funny happened as he sat there. Unlike his last

trip, the chair seemed to alleviate all of his fears. Nothing could harm him now. For some

reason this chair gave him a sense of security. On top of this, he was happy his mother

was not there. He was amazed and pleased at this change in his feelings. Maybe this was

not going to be such a bad day after all.

       The dentist came out and greeted George.




                                             35
          ―You have gotten bigger since the last time I saw you,‖ the dentist told him. Little

did he know that this was only a small part in what had changed since their last meeting.

He got out his tools and went to work on George‘s teeth. George didn‘t know why he

feared the dentist so much. All he had to do was sit back and relax and let the dentist do

his work. Maybe there would be a little discomfort here and there but nothing too bad.

The dentist finished scraping George‘s teeth.

          ―Great, now let me go look over your X-Ray‘s and you‘ll be done.‖ George had

the same feeling he had the year before when he was done. He didn‘t think he could have

this feeling again but here it was.

          About ten minutes later the dentist came back. He had a concerned look on his

face.

          ―George, I‘m sorry to tell you this, but your teeth are growing in too close

together, and we need to pull one.‖ George said nothing. He just sat there and stared at

the wall.

          ―Don‘t worry, it won‘t hurt a bit after the little prick in your mouth,‖ the dentist

assured him. George didn‘t know whether to believe it. The dentist had never lied to him

before.

          Before George knew it, the dentist was putting the needle in his mouth. It didn‘t

hurt too badly. He expected a lot worse. The worst part seemed to be over. The Novocain

set in. George felt completely at ease. His trip was almost over. Maybe next year, he

would not fear the dentist as much, or maybe not at all. George‘s mother was in the room

now. George noticed her smiling at him. He became a little unhappy she was there, but

all he really cared about was that he was almost done.




                                                36
       The dentist began dislodging the tooth, and all of a sudden George felt a sharp

pain in his mouth. The nova cane did not fully numb the area. He shrieked as he felt the

tooth pulled from his mouth. He felt every little fiber of his gums being yanked and it felt

like someone lit a match on the inside of his mouth. The dentist, shocked, ran out to get

pain killers. George‘s mother, hearing the shriek, ran in to help him. George felt the area

pulsating as he drifted into unconsciousness. Blood filled his mouth and the pain knocked

him out.

       George woke up in the hospital about an hour or so later. He knew what happened

before he fell asleep, but he had no idea what happened after. He sat up and looked at his

mom. His mouth still ached. His father was gone, and his relationship with his mother

was not like it had been. He felt the worst physical pain he would ever experience earlier

that day. Nothing seemed to be going right for him. However, for some reason he felt

triumphant. He had survived, and he had won the battle. It would be a year until he had to

go to the dentist again, and he had taken the worst it had to offer and was still standing.




                                             37
Kayla Graves


                            Just Bend the Pieces Til‘ They Fit



       Jacob felt awkward in the lounge. Everyone there seemed to be at least ten years

younger than he was, including some of his co-workers. The lounge was too hip for him.

He was a boring person, and he admitted to it. He wanted to discreetly make his way

towards the door and leave, but he knew what he would have to go home to.

       ―Come on man loosen up!‖ Mark said as he shook Jacob‘s shoulders. ―You

looking like a stiff is gonna make the rest of us look bad.‖

       ―I have a wife, man,‖ Jacob said, guiltily.

       ―You mean you have a master.‖

       Jacob darted Mark a ―shut the hell up‖ look.

       ―Whatever, man,‖ Mark said as he walked away. He knew Jacob was sensitive

when it came to his marriage.

       Jacob watched as his friends dispersed and began to socialize. He watched

enviously as they laughed and joked with good-looking women. He longed for the

courage to approach a girl and buy her a shot; but he would never be that guy. He noticed

a beautiful brunette staring at him from across the room. He looked down to make sure he

didn‘t spill his rum and coke on his shirt. When he looked up again she was not only

staring, but smiling.

                                               *****

       They were never perfect by any means, he and his wife; but they were content.

They promised things would never end up this way, but they allowed it to happen



                                             38
anyway. They had a nice home. They had beautiful children. They owned foreign cars.

They were almost perfect, until he screwed everything up. There were many whispers in

their gated community. Jane had to hear ―Are you and Jacob losing the house?‖ and ―Did

you have to take the kids out of private school?‖ The gossip drove her crazy. He,

personally, did not give a damn. He was too busy thinking about the fact that he ruined

everything. Vice president of a huge investment firm, and he managed to let them screw

him over. He should‘ve seen it coming. Everyone knew but him. Looking back on a few

weeks before hand he should‘ve seen the signs. The guys didn‘t invite him out for drinks

after work as much. He was assigned less and less work to do, which he, the moron,

thought was a perk at the time. When he told his wife he lost his job, she cried. The first

words that came out of her mouth were, ―We won‗t be able to pay the cleaning service

for this month.‖ Not ―I‘m so sorry‖, or ―We‘ll get through this.‖ He had just lost his

career, which he worked hard on for eleven years, and she was worried about not being

able to pay other people to clean her home.

       Jane yelled at him multiple times a day. She told him he needed to go to the gym

because he was becoming lazy, which was causing him to gain weight. She said he

embarrassed the kids and they shouldn‘t have to see their father lying on the couch doing

nothing everyday. But he knew she was the one who was embarrassed. She was sick of

hearing people whisper his name; but she pretended her reason for yelling at him was

because she wanted better for the two of them. By the two of them she meant herself.

                                          *****

       He watched her smooth curves as she sauntered across the room.

       ―I‘m Kylie. What‘s your name?‖ she asked with a mysterious look in her eyes.




                                              39
        ―Jacob,‖ he stated.

        He thought about the night he and Jane first met. She looked exquisite. He

remembered how shy she was. She barely said a word when he tried to start a

conversation with her. She just stared at him coyly, trying to muster the confidence to

reply. Now her look was cold and heartless. She could barely stand to look at him; but he

remembered looking into her eyes that night, and falling for her.

        ―Jacob. Is this your first time here, Jacob?‖ The fact that this girl said his name as

if it were two separate words annoyed him; but he loved watching his name slide off of

her soft lips.

        ―Yup.‖ He didn‘t know what else to say. It had been a while since he did this. The

last time was freshman year of college, when he met Jane.

        ―You‘re good looking, especially for your age,‖ she said with a chuckle. ―Has

anyone told you that lately?‖

        Jacob shook his head vigorously.

        ―That‘s a shame,‖ she said as she moved in closer.

        ―See those girls over there?‖ she said as she gracefully pointed across the room.

        ―They said you wouldn‘t give me a second look, that you‘re too mature for me.

I‘m only twenty-four.‖ She was so close now their lips were almost touching.

        ―Can you do me a favor?‖ she asked as if she already knew the answer.

                                           *****

        Jacob knew he wasn‘t going to be able to enjoy Sunday football without it being

interrupted (he wasn‘t allowed to enjoy anything anymore); but he didn‘t expect it to be

ruined five minutes into the game.




                                             40
        ―Get your feet off of the couch!‖ his wife said sternly as soon as she entered the

room. ―Your closet is a mess, there are clothes everywhere!‖ Wasn‘t that the point of a

closet? Jacob thought. ―You should be cleaning it instead of watching TV. And I haven‘t

seen you look for a job all week. I can‘t take this anymore.‖

        Jacob looked at her and simply said, ―Okay.‖ He knew that drove her insane. She

huffed as she abruptly turned and walked away. He began to feel sick. His marriage was

falling apart and he was sitting on the couch, watching football. He quickly ran upstairs.

He felt strange being in the master suite with her. He had been sleeping in the guest room

all week. He approached Jane, her back turned to him, and put his hand on her shoulder.

She jumped and spun around.

        ―Don‘t do that you startled me!‖ she said coldly, with no trace of playfulness in

her voice.

        ―I‘m sorry,‖ Jacob said. He really was sorry, for everything. ―I‘ve felt like shit all

week; and I know I haven‘t been making an effort to make things better. I‘ve just been

depressed, you know? I want to make it up to you. Let‘s go out tonight. We can go to

dinner at any restaurant you want; and then we‘ll go to that new lounge that just opened

up.‖

        Jane looked at him as if she were actually considering his proposition; but the

concrete face she wore all week returned. ―I don‗t have time. I have things to do for my

job.‖

        Jacob felt the same sting he felt when she slapped him a few days ago for leaving

the toilet seat up, that was when he moved to the guest room.

        ―Okay,‖ he said, only this time when he said it, the word hurt him, not her.




                                             41
       Luckily, at that moment, Jacob‘s phone rang. She stared at him the whole time he

was on the phone. He could feel her cold eyes pierce through him. He turned away to

avoid them. When he hung up the phone he turned to find her with a disgusted look on

her face.

       ―Who was that?‖ she inquired. ―I hope someone calling about a job interview.‖

       ―It was Mark,‖ Jacob said reticently. ―He wants me to come check out that new

lounge with him the and guys tonight. I‘m going. I don‘t care what you have to say about

it.‖

       She gave him a look he feared would turn him to stone.

       ―I‘m going to the grocery store,‖ she said as she walked hurriedly out of the room.

Jacob thought he heard her voice trembling as she said it, but remembered she was too

much of a bitch to be upset.

                                         *****

       ―What?‖

       He waited for a reply, but instead felt Kylie‘s soft lips brush against his. The

tenderness was comforting. It was real. She felt something for him. Passion? Desire? He

forgot what they felt like. When she pulled away, her smooth lips curved into a smile.

The smile, that was what got him.

       They talked for an hour, maybe two. Occasionally throughout the conversation

she gently brushed her lips against his, and in turn he ran his fingers through her shiny,

dark hair, down her neck, then her shoulders. She truly was gorgeous. He didn‘t know

why she chose him, but he didn‘t care. He didn‘t care if he was a bet she had going with




                                           42
her friends. He didn‘t care if she asked for his number just for the hell of it. He was lost

in her eyes, even they smiled.

       She eventually invited him back to her place, permitting both his friends and hers

came along. She didn‘t trust him enough to be alone with him.



       After seeing her apartment, there was no doubt in his mind that she lived alone.

There was no trace of a man. They all sat in her den socializing and laughing. He was

having fun. He couldn‘t remember the last time he had fun. She ran her fingers up and

down his thigh. She occasionally locked eyes with him for a second or two. His wife

could barely look at him, for different reasons now than the day they first met. He didn‘t

care. Jane was graying and always looked tired. She was no longer full of life. Her laugh

no longer made him smile. When was the last time I heard her laugh? He couldn‘t

remember no matter how hard he tried.

       Kylie‘s laugh was so young. It was free, and he loved it. He occasionally saw her

eyes dancing as she looked down at his wedding ring. She leaned over to whisper into his

ear. It sent a shiver down his spine. He could barely hear what her soft voice said over the

chatter of their friends. But when he saw her stand up and seductively nod her head away

from the room, he immediately understood. He casually got up and followed her. He

could feel his buddies smiling and giving each other high-fives behind him. They knew

Jacob‘s master would be angry, and they loved every bit of it.

                                          *****

       Four days had passed since that Saturday night, and Kylie called him every one.

He anticipated her phone call everyday. He waited in his office for 4:30 to arrive. That




                                            43
was when she got off work. She called him to talk while waiting in rush hour traffic.

Talking to Kylie made him feel new. She told him worrying was a waste of time, and that

life was about fulfilling your dreams. She told him she did not care about trivial things,

and she was truly happy. She was saying something else to make Jacob smile, when his

wife walked in. He quickly snapped his cell phone shut and turned to face her.

       ―Who was that?‖ his wife probed.

       ―No one important. Someone returning my call about a job interview. They said

they were no longer hiring,‖ Jacob said, his palms sweaty.

       ―Then why do you have that stupid smile on your face if you didn‘t get the damn

interview. You are so stupid sometimes, you know that? What, do you not want a job?

Are you happy you‘re able to do nothing while I work my ass off?‖ She was fuming.

       ―Yup.‖ He knew saying this would piss his wife off more than anything he had

said or done in a while.

       She literally started shaking. Jacob looked down at her hands as the trembled with

fury. An earthquake rumbled through her body as she attempted to compose herself.

Surprisingly, she managed to turn around and stomp upstairs, rather than unleash her rage

on Jacob.

       He hurriedly shut the office door and called Kylie back. He apologized and said it

was Jane. Kyle knew he had a wife and didn‘t care. She was young and carefree. She

wasn‘t expecting their relationship to go anywhere.




                                           44
       After hanging up with Kylie, Jacob laid his phone down on his mahogany desk.

He went into the garage and got the lawn mower. They could no longer afford a lawn

service.

                                          *****

       Jane watched Jacob through the kitchen window as she prepared dinner. He was

smiling as he mowed the lawn. Why the hell is he so happy about mowing the lawn? Jane

contemplated. She went into his office and searched for clues as to why he had been

spending so much time in there lately. He was unusually happy and she was determined

to find out why. She looked down and saw his cell phone lying on the desk. Jane picked

up the phone and dialed the last number on his incoming calls.

       ―Hey. Miss me already?‖ a young woman‘s voice answered.

       Jane was stunned. She didn‘t know what to do with herself. She hung up the

phone and immediately ran to the front door and threw it open.

       ―Jacob!‖ she yelled. He couldn‘t hear her over the lawnmower; but when he saw

her standing in the doorway he turned it off.

       ―What‘d you say?‖ he asked as he wiped sweat from his brow.

       ―Get in here now,‖ she said loud enough for Jacob to hear, but quiet enough so the

neighbors wouldn‘t.

       He walked tiredly into the foyer and she slammed the front door behind the two of

them. He didn‘t ask questions as she walked hastily toward the office; he simply followed

closely behind her. She sat behind his desk and stared at him. He knew she meant

business. He closed the door behind him, waiting for her to say something. Finally he

gave in.




                                            45
       ―What do you want?‖

       ―I want you to explain to me why when I called the number you claimed was

someone about a job interview a young woman answered asking if you missed her.‖

       Jacob stood there staggered. He didn‘t even think of his relationship with Kylie as

a secret. He thought of it as more of a side project, something to fulfill the emotional

needs his wife no longer came close to fulfilling. He looked at her wide-eyed and

speechless. She didn‘t even look angry, really. She looked as if she genuinely wanted to

know what was going on.

       ―I met her the other night when I went out.‖

       ―And?‖

       ―And we went back to her apartment after the lounge,‖ he said looking down.

―And we…‖ He couldn‘t finish the last part. He looked up to see her staring at him with

her jaw dropped.

       ―You had sex.‖ She was bewildered. She had always thought Jacob was too much

of a coward to cheat.

       Jacob wondered if she was mad at him for having sex with someone else, or if she

was mad because the two of them hadn‘t in months.

       ―I think I‘m sorry,‖ he said sheepishly.

       ―You think you‘re sorry? Why the hell would you even bother saying sorry if

you‘re going to say you think you‘re sorry?‖

       ―I mean, I feel sorry; but then I remember I can‘t stand you anymore. I‘m never

happy when I‘m around you, you‘re never happy when you‘re around me. I need more




                                            46
from us, from you, and you‘re not even close to giving me what I need. I know you love

me; but you‘re not in love with me, and I‘m not in love with you.‖

       She looked at him with pain in her eyes. He could see the fire burning inside of

her; but he ignored it. She opened her mouth to say something, anything, but she could

not think of anything to say to hurt him as much as he had just hurt her. She wanted to

say she didn‘t love him. She wanted the words burn through his heart as well; but she

couldn‘t bring herself to do it, because it wasn‘t true.

       ―Just make sure the kids don‘t find out,‖ she said in a solemn, monotone voice.

       Finally Jacob had shut her up; but it didn‘t feel as good as he thought it would.

That‘s it? he thought. She‘s not even going to try and prove she loves me? Prove she

wants what we once had?

       What‘s the point, you don‘t love me. You never will again. Jane thought, as if their

minds were in synch. I can‘t change who I‘ve become. I‘m in too deep.

       Her lack of response made Jacob realized that he really had meant what he said.

He did not love her. He tried to come up with something to break the silence; but there

was nothing left to be said.

       ―Can you please take out the trash,‖ she said to break the silence.

       Jacob searched her eyes for something, anything. He swore he saw tears

beginning to glisten in her eyes, but quickly convinced himself it was impossible.

                                            *****

       Jacob and Jane did not talk for weeks. They exchanged a few words here and

there for the kids‘ sake; but they never actually talked. Finally Jacob broke the silence to

share some good news with Jane. He got a new job, with an advertising company. He did




                                              47
not share with her, however, that his new boss was a gorgeous, twenty-four-year-old girl,

with the smile of a goddess.      Jane knew, he thought she didn‘t, but she did. She

sometimes stood outside of his office door, listening to the intimate conversations he held

with her. The conversations she and her husband would never have again.




                                            48
Kara Kenney


Gone For Now Feels a Lot Like Gone For Good

       Anna‘s shoulders shook feebly as she sat on her bed, silently weeping. Even after

the tears had stopped, she was unable to move from the fetal position in which she was

lying. She felt immobilized by the heavy blanket of sadness that covered her, and she

worried that if she moved or even opened her eyes, she would be reminded of him.

                                           ***

       Earlier that day, Anna had said goodbye to her best friend in the entire world. His

family wasn‘t moving or going on a vacation. He wasn‘t starting a new school year at a

far away college. He was going to Mozambique. Actually, that wasn‘t entirely true.

When Anna saw Noah for the last time that morning, he was flying not to Mozambique

but to Utah to be trained as a missionary and to learn a completely foreign language:

Swahili. This language, which bears no resemblance to any language Noah had ever seen

or heard, was to be learned in the next nine weeks. That‘s all. Nine weeks to learn a

totally different language, and then he‘d be sent to Mozambique with other nineteen-

year-old boys, and they would be expected to teach others about their religion in this new

language. Anna wasn‘t worried about whether or not Noah could handle it; he was a very

brave, kind, and intelligent young man who was entirely capable of the task. No, Anna

was worried about whether or not she would be able to handle being separated from Noah

for the next two years.

                                           ***




                                            49
        Anna and Noah had been acquaintances for years. They had waved politely to

each other at neighborhood gatherings and in the hallways at school, but not until Anna

joined the Mathletes in her sophomore year of high school did the two really get to know

each other. They only shared one event in the competition, but with all the time spent

after school preparing for competitions, it was natural that they would grow close.

                                             ***

        As she lay curled up in a little ball, she closed her eyes and took a few deep

breaths.

        Two years, she thought. Two years.

        In two years she‘d be home from her first year of college. In two years she‘d be a

legal adult. In two years she‘d see Noah again. Noah had told her that the time would fly

by—that she‘d be so caught up in the changes in her life that she‘d barely even have time

to miss him. That was a lie, she knew. She‘d think about Noah every day. But what if she

didn‘t? What if she forgot about him? What if college changed her? What if his mission

changed him? She quickly pushed the thought from her mind.

        What‘s meant to be is meant to be, Anna thought. And Noah and I are meant to

be. Two years won‘t change anything. But what if it does?

        She shook her head and tried to focus on something, anything, else.

        Noah‘s parents survived two years apart, Anna remembered, hopeful.

        Noah had told her the story once when they were driving home from school

together.

        ―My dad fell head over heels for my mom… literally!‖ Noah had joked when he

told her the story.




                                             50
        His parents had met during a college softball game—his mom was playing first

base and his dad was batting. When his dad charged the base he stumbled and

accidentally knocked over Noah‘s mother. It was love at first sight. Unfortunately,

Noah‘s mother had to leave for her mission trip a few months later. But the two stayed

together, writing letters back and forth for the entire two years. They married soon after

she returned home.

        That‘s how it‘ll happen with us, Anna thought, daydreaming.

        She could picture the scenario perfectly—she would be waiting for him at the

airport when he returned home, holding a bundle of ―Welcome Home!‖ balloons. He‘d

walk through the gate and they‘d lock eyes. He‘d smile the lopsided grin that always

melted her heart. In what would seem like slow motion, he‘d run to her. He‘d drop

whatever luggage he was holding and they‘d embrace and share a passionate kiss. There

was only one flaw in her plan—as far as Anna could tell, Noah was only interested in

friendship.

                                            ***

        Anna was startled when she heard a knock on her bedroom door; she had thought

she was home alone. Her mother opened the door without waiting for a response from

Anna.

        ―Anna? Sweetie?‖ Her mother‘s gentle voice was comforting, but Anna just

wanted to be left alone.

        Anna stretched and yawned, feigning having just woken up from a nap.

        ―Hey, mom. What‘s up?‖




                                            51
       ―Oh, nothing. I just wanted you to know that I‘m home now. How‘d everything

go with Noah?‖ Anna‘s mother asked cautiously. She knew that her daughter had been

dreading this day for the last few months.

       ―It went fine, really. I mean, it‘s not like we‘re totally cut off from each other. We

can write letters.‖ Anna could hear that her voice was calm and even—the exact opposite

of how she was feeling inside.

       ―Good, good.‖ Anna‘s mother breathed a sigh of relief. ―I‘ll be downstairs if you

need anything.‖

       Anna gave a convincing smile as her mother shut the door, and then she returned

to her moping frown. She glanced around her room. Everything reminded her of Noah.

From the pictures on the wall to the books and CDs on her shelves, she could find a way

to relate every single possession to Noah. As she turned her gaze towards her bedside

clock she caught sight of her favorite picture of herself and Noah.

                                             ***

       It was the night after the national Mathlete competition. The Louisiana nighttime

air was warmer than they were used to in New York, and the whole team was outside

playing volleyball—even the coaches were getting really into it. Anna and Noah were on

opposite teams, but it made no difference because Anna stood in the back corner of the

court cheering for her team and hoping no one would hit it at her. Noah, on the other

hand, was a volleyball pro—front and center on his side of the court—bumping, setting,

or spiking every ball that came his way. A little after midnight, the game grew smaller as

the freshmen went off to bed. Anna, growing tired, went with them back to their hotel

rooms. She put on her pajamas, brushed her teeth, took off her makeup, and was just




                                             52
about to get into bed when someone knocked on her door. Assuming it was one of her

roommates who had forgotten a key, she opened it without first checking who was on the

other side. But standing in the hallway was not one of the girls she had expected, but

Noah, also in his pajamas.

        Anna, unsure of what to say, stated the obvious. ―You‘re not playing volleyball.‖

        ―Yeah, I‘m not really that good at volleyball anyway,‖ Noah lied. ―Want to go for

a walk?‖

        ―Sure.‖ Anna, despite being incredibly tired, could never turn down an

opportunity to spend time with Noah.

        They walked mostly in silence, in awe of how the stars and the moon were bright

enough to illuminate the gardens they walked through. Unlike most silences, it wasn‘t an

awkward silence, but a comfortable one—a silence shared between two people not who

had run out of things to say, but between two people who were close enough to

communicate without saying a thing.

        They came upon an outdoor pool, but since neither was dressed for swimming,

they simply sat next to it and observed how the moon reflected in the water. Soon, their

gaze shifted from the reflected moon to the actual moon. Noah, an astronomy buff, began

pointing out constellations to Anna. She was amazed that he could remember all the

strange names of the constellations and their locations, but she wasn‘t surprised. Noah

was one of the most intelligent people she had ever met. When he was finished pointing

at stars, the conversation shifted to more personal things, and they continued to talk for

the rest of the night.




                                             53
        Anna drifted off right before daybreak. The last thing she remembered was Noah

commenting on the pale red sky, restating an old adage she had heard many times before:

―Red sky at night, sailor‘s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.‖

        When she awoke, it was due to a bright flash of light. She opened her eyes and

saw the source of the light—her friend Christy was holding a camera and giggling.

        ―We‘re leaving in an hour!‖ Christy called over her shoulder as she darted back to

the hotel building, the camera dangling around her wrist.

        Anna surveyed her surroundings. Noah was just waking up, probably because she

had bumped him when she was startled awake. His arm was around her, and they were

sitting together on a pool deck chair, though she didn‘t remember moving from the edge

of the pool to the chair.

                                            ***

        Anna looked closer at the picture on her bedside table. Both Anna and Noah

looked so peaceful. She was asleep with her head on his shoulder and his arm around her.

Anna reached out and touched the picture to assure herself that it was real.

        The picture next to it on her dresser was taken earlier the same night, right before

they left for the awards ceremony. Noah was looking very handsome in his suit, and

Anna was looking quite pretty in her dress. They both wore huge grins that stemmed not

only from a confident feeling in how they had competed, but also from simply the fact

that they were together. She had thought that seeing his smile now would hurt and make

her miss him more, but instead the effect was the opposite. She was comforted knowing

that he would return one day, and she would see his goofy grin again. A feeling of peace




                                             54
washed over her. She turned her focus now to the clock, the original target, and saw that

it was almost 4:30. Four hours ago she had been with Noah.

                                             ***

       The sky had been a gorgeous red-orange color when he had picked her up at 8:30

that morning, just like he did every Sunday. They joked around on the car ride, and even

a little bit in hushed tones during the main service, just like every Sunday. After the main

service and the high school service, they split up while he went to the young men‘s

service and she went to the young women‘s service, just like every Sunday. After their

respective services, they met in the hallway that joined their classrooms and walked out

to his car together, just like every Sunday. And just like every Sunday, they drove home

together. But this drive was different than the other Sundays, because underneath their

playful chit-chat, they both knew it was the last time they would see each other for two

years. There was a lull in the conversation, and Noah fiddled with the dial on his car‘s

stereo. Despite being an older car, it ran perfectly with the exception of the sound system.

Some days it would work, some days it wouldn‘t. It appeared to be not working that day,

but after Noah‘s fiddling, sound filled the old Jeep. Anna closed her eyes and listened to

the song, trying to soak in every last moment spent with Noah. The song had a familiar

tune; she‘d heard it before on their drives together.

       But you are gone, not for good but for now.

       And gone for now feels a lot like gone for good.

       ―It really is just gone for now, you know. Gone for two years, is all,‖ Noah said.

       Anna only nodded in response; she suddenly felt that if she spoke she would cry.




                                             55
       ―We can write,‖ Noah continued. ―It won‘t be as immediate as a phone call, but

we‘ll keep in touch.‖

       ―I‘ll write you every day.‖ A lone teardrop slid down Anna‘s cheek.

       They turned onto their street, drove past Noah‘s house and into Anna‘s driveway.

Noah turned off the car, and they both got out.

       ―I don‘t have long… I have to be at the airport in an hour,‖ Noah sadly explained.

       Anna nodded again. She didn‘t want his final memory of her to be one of tears.

       ―I love you,‖ he said. ―You already knew that, but, just…‖

       ―I love you, too.‖ She felt the tears overflowing, and pulled Noah into a hug

before he could see. She wanted to say more, to say that she loved him more than he

could possibly know, as more than a friend. But she didn‘t, not wanting to spoil their last

minutes together if he didn‘t feel the same way.

       They stayed like that for a few minutes, fully absorbing the fact that they

wouldn‘t hug for another two years. Finally, they let go.

       ―Two years? Promise?‖ Anna asked.

       ―Promise,‖ Noah replied with his lopsided grin. ―Just you wait and see—it‘ll fly

by. You‘ll have your senior year and you‘ll have college! There won‘t even be time to

miss me.‖

       Anna nodded, biting her tongue.

       ―You should probably be going… you don‘t want to miss your flight,‖ Anna said,

trying to seem calm.

       ―Yep… Flight 211… Don‘t want to miss it…‖ Noah said, dragging out the

goodbye.




                                            56
       ―I‘ll see you in two years,‖ Anna said with a smile. She had to hold it together

until he was gone.

       Noah smiled, and they embraced again. But this time as they pulled apart from

their final hug, they paused for a moment, gazing at each other.

       ―I… I…‖ Anna stammered.

       He grinned, and then he kissed her quickly on the lips. It only lasted a split

second—it was more of a goodbye kiss than a romantic kiss—but it left her head

spinning; it gave her hope that there might be a future for them together . He squeezed

her hand, and climbed back into his car. With a wave and a smile, he was gone.

       Anna walked into her house, and then the weight of the situation crashed down on

her.

       Noah is gone, Noah is gone, she kept repeating in her head. She couldn‘t think

about anything else. The thought occupied the full space of her mind. She rushed to her

room, slammed her door, and began to sob on her bed.

                                            ***

       Anna turned on her computer to find the song that had been playing in Noah‘s car

earlier that morning. When she opened Internet Explorer, the two tabs of her homepages,

MSN and Google, popped up. She Google searched the lyrics that she remembered from

the song. While the search results were loading, she clicked back to her MSN homepage.

The headline of the main story was ―97 dead, 2 missing but presumed dead in…‖ Anna

clicked on the link to the story. When the full story opened, the full title was also shown.

―97 dead, 2 missing but presumed dead in flight 211 crash‖.

       It‘s not his flight. It‘s NOT. It CAN‘T be, Anna thought in a panic.




                                             57
       She frantically skimmed the rest of the article.

       Engine failure shortly after takeoff… Flight 211… travelling from JFK to Salt

Lake City International Airport…

       ―Salt Lake City! Yes!‖ Anna exclaimed aloud, feeling slightly guilty that she was

happy a plane had crashed because it wasn‘t Noah‘s.

       It wasn‘t his flight! He was going to Mozambique! Anna was overjoyed.

       Then she remembered that before going to Mozambique, he was travelling to Salt

Lake City, Utah for training. The air around her grew denser; she couldn‘t breathe. She

closed the tab numbly. Her search results stared back at her from the computer screen.

The title of the song was ―Happiness‖. It began to play automatically.

       Happiness feels a lot like sorrow…




                                            58
Short Story

by James Lee



       There was a twenty-four year old Korean guy named Danny who was born in

Cherry Hill, New Jersey. His parents loved him very much. They were a big happy

family until problems started. He started to smoke cigarettes at age eight. He stole it from

his father‘s drawer. From that point on, his life started to go downward. At school, he

would make friends with all the troublemakers. All of his friends were Vietnamese,

Cambodian, and African. They all had something in common which was the love of

smoking. Other interests they liked besides smoking was basketball. During the

elementary school years, all of his friends were smoking behind school looking at the sky

thinking what it would be like if they were adults. On most nights, whenever there was a

Chicago Bull‘s game, they would go to Danny‘s house to watch the game. All of them

were amazed in Michael Jordan‘s flashy moves and dunks. They were all thinking of one

day playing in the NBA. They were so hyped up, that they would try to reanimate his

moves besides the dunking. All of them practiced everyday trying to be the best Michael

Jordan that there ever was.

                                              *

       By the time Danny got into middle school, he started to drink. All of his friends

would go to a shed or some abandoned place around town to start drinking. They would

smoke and drink every day behind their parent‘s back. Danny wouldn‘t come back home

till 3 or 4 in the morning. From this point on, his grades began to drop. By the time report

cards came in, Danny was failing in every class besides social studies. He didn‘t care




                                            59
about school but only his life. He hated the stuff that had control over him. He hated his

parents and school. His mom saw the report cards and got furious at him. She yelled at

Danny screaming, ―Why are you failing? This isn‘t like you. You used to be a straight A

student. What‘s happening to you?‖

Danny responded, ―I don‘t know.‖

Mom said, ―You don‘t know? You don‘t know! Then how the hell should I know about

you? I never see you home. You‘re always out with your friends and come back home

late in the morning. What‘s wrong with you?‖

Danny said, ―I don‘t care about school.‖

Mom said, ―You don‘t care? You seriously don‘t care! Fine. Do whatever you want but

don‘t ask me for help when you get into jail or something stupid.‖

Danny said, ―Ok. I won‘t‖

They both started to part ways.

                                       *

       Danny started middle school. He came into school with a Michael Jordan jersey

on with his Air Jordan 1‘s. He would come into school in the morning and then leave as

fast as possible when the bell rang at the end of the day. Every day in class, he would

start sleeping or play game boy. He didn‘t give a shit what the teacher said. He wanted to

do what he felt like. On test days, he would put random answers on test and get 30 or

40% on tests. That‘s what he did for his whole middle school year. In the next couple of

weeks, during the fall when all the leaves were on the ground, Danny and his friends

would pile up all the laves at a park and then leave a a trail of leaves from the end of one

of the benches to the piles of leaves ad light it on fire. Once they lighted the leaves, they




                                              60
would run away. All of them felt a rush that they had to do this again. They would light

anything at the park every week. Sooner or later, more park rangers were driving around

the park due to frequent fires so they all stopped.

                                              *

       After Danny finished middle school, he then went onto high school. He had more

cravings for drugs. He also needed the money too. During gym class, he wouldn‘t even

go to class but stay inside the locker room. Danny would look through everyone‘s bags to

check what valuable stuff they had. He stole money, C.D. players, tape players, and

coupons that could get free food. On the weekends, his friend David would come over.

Danny and David would always go out to get pizza for lunch and play ―Street Fighter II‖

at the pizza place. Danny didn‘t have a license but he still drove. Danny took his

brother‘s car and drove it to the pizza store. Phil never noticed since he was always

sleeping until 3 p.m during the weekends. Danny and David had 10 dollars worth of

quarters with them and played ―Street Fighter II.‖ After they finished eating and playing

games, David and Danny then went to his friend‘s house to smoke and drink. At his

friend‘s house, they would talk about a memorable basketball player. They would talk

about Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Kareem Abdul Jabber, Wilt

Chamberlain, and Michael Jordan. They would ramble for hours of how great these

players were. Danny then started to fall asleep. Danny woke up the next day around 1

p.m. He told David, ―Let‘s go home.‖ They got home and went to bed since they were

hung up yesterday. Danny and David did this every week.

                                       *

       A year has passed and Danny is a sophomore. He slept and came late to class.




                                             61
Danny hated all of his subjects. He thought that none them were interesting except for

Mr. Randall‘s class. He loved Mr. Randall since Danny could speak out his mind. He

would always participate in the class saying how a person should act. Danny was very

happy in that class and had a great interest in philosophy. He then had a goal in life,

which was to be a psychologist. Danny then went to his next period class that was gym

class.

                                       *

         Gym class started and Danny started to steal stuff from people‘s book bags cause

he needed the money to buy drugs. He noticed that there was a kid still in the locker.

Danny thought it was funny to push him into a locker. Danny ran straight at the kid

bashing the kid‘s head to the locker. Blood started to come down from the kid‘s head.

The kid turns around and gets mad. The kid swing a right hook but he dodges it. Danny

then started to get into his fighting stance too. Danny threw a straight and hits him right

in the month. The kid‘s mouth was bleeding and his lips got puffed up. The kid then

punches back in the stomach, which then turned out to an ugly brawl. Danny then does a

flip kick on the kids chin and knocks him down. Danny kicked him until the bell rang. He

said, ―Take that sucker.‖ Danny bruises on his body, which wasn‘t serious. A teacher

came up to him saying, ―What happened to you?‖

Danny responded, ―Nothing. I just got into a bicycle accident.‖

Teacher said, ―It must have been one serious bike accident.‖

Danny said, ―Yeah…‖

The teacher then walked by. All the teachers in his class asked the same question but

Danny just said the same thing. He didn‘t want any suspicion about the fight.




                                             62
                                             *

       When school ended, Danny walked out of school and saw the kid who got

wrecked. The kid who got wrecked had 4 big guys behind him. The kid points at Danny.

Danny starts to run away. Sooner or later, the college graduate students catch up to him

and clobber him in the middle of the streets. Danny was found knocked out in the street

with 2 black eyes, 4 broken ribs, bruises, and cuts. Danny wakes up and starts walking

home. At home, his mom sees him all deformed. Danny passes out right in front of his

mom. His mom takes him to the hospital to get him treated. Danny was in the emergency

room. He had to stay in bed for about 6 weeks until he could stay home. Him mom starts

crying. Danny wakes up and sees her crying. He couldn‘t stop but to cry too. He felt so

bad to what he did to his mom. Ever since he was a child, he never listened to his mom.

They were both crying together at the hospital.

Danny said, ―Hey, mom. Miss me?

Mom sobs, ―Of course,‖

Danny said, ―I‘m sorry mom. I‘m sorry for leaving you all the time.‖

Phil comes in the room. He‘s shaken by the way Danny looked like. He had a cast around

his whole body.

Phil said, ―What‘s up bro?‖

Danny said, ―Nothing good. How about you?‖

Phil said, ―I‘ve fine. You better watch out man.‖

Danny said, ―Yeah. I won‘t do that‖

Mom said, ―I‘ll leave you two together. I need some air.‖

       Phil then starts to become more serious. Phil looks into Danny‘s face.




                                            63
Phil said, ―Yo dude. You gotta stop doing this shit. This is wrecking our family apart.

You got to make this stop.‖

Danny said, ―Fine….I will. I just realized how painful this was. Mentally and physically.

I never want to be in this situation ever again. I hate hurting other people. I thought

hurting people was fun but in the end, it came back to me.‖

Phil said, ―You better or mom won‘t be that happy. She‘s been crying every day since

you left her. You know that?

Danny said, ―You serious? Damn. I got to make up this shit.‖

Phil said, ― Yeah man you should. Be good alright.‖

Danny said, ―Alright man.‖

       Phil leaves the room and Danny starts to ponder. He‘s pondering what to do now.

In his mind, he has given up his shit life style. He has given up the drugs, alcohol, and the

stealing. In his mind, this is a new start. His mind is now aiming at the future. Danny

started to go to drug therapy. He threw out all of his drugs and alcohol in the trashcan.

Also became nicer to everyone around him. When he started to go to therapy, he was

pissed off. In his mind, it was telling him that he didn‘t have a problem but his heart was

telling him that you got to do this. This is for your soul not only in this world. Every time

he went to therapy, Danny would only say his name. As the weeks went by, he didn‘t say

a word, only his name. Then one week, when Danny said, ―pass,‖ a guy said, ―Dude. You

haven‘t talked one bit. You got to talk. Talk about anything. It doesn‘t have to be drugs.‖

       Danny looked up and sighed. He said, ―Alright. I like basketball.‖

       Everyone started to clap for him. Danny smiled. Inside of him, he felt happy. He

felt the warmth of people who loved him. He was satisfied. As the weeks rolled by,




                                             64
Danny started to talk more and more about his life. He started to talk about all of his

favorite basketball players, what he did as a kid, and the last thing he talked about was

the misdeeds he has done. Everybody there was happy to share his or her secrets. All of

them forgot about the drugs and started to talk about the meaning of life. They were

asking each other what their purpose in life? What is life? Why do we live? Everyone

was pondering about the question.

        Danny said, ―Live the life you want. It doesn‘t have to be what or why. Just lives

your life.‖

        All of them agreed. They were cheering on for Danny since he was a big

influence. His philosophy on life was so strong that they believed him. He had to

ideology of what life was. Sooner or later, the people at drug therapy were real close

friends. They were all happy. Ever since Danny was in drug therapy, he never once drank

or smoked. The thing that kept him going was his will. His will to resist against the

temptations of drugs and alcohol. He never once thought of doing drugs and alcohol. The

only thing he wanted to see was his mom‘s smile. That very smile would make him

happy. He only wanted to the family to be proud of him for what‘s he has done.

                                      *

        After a year has passed, Danny became a new man. He was going to school

regularly like any other ordinary person. He hung out with the same friends but never

gave into drugs. He got out of drug therapy. Danny looked up at the sky and was content

with his life. He remembered the incident that changed his life. He knew that what he‘s

done in the past was wrong and now is trying to atone it. He‘s trying to atone it by

praying to god. In his heart, he feels god‘s present and that he will always be with him no




                                             65
matter how hard it is. God will never give an obstacle that you can‘t overcome. Danny

feels like that he overcame the obstacle.




                                            66
Paul McAndrew

                                    The Viridian Stone

       The nasally electric tone from the alarm clock awoke him from his deep state of

unconsciousness on the hardwood. The penthouse apartment sat barren. Dust

surrounded the positions where furniture once occupied the space on the cold floor. He

slept in the spot as if there still was indeed the couch that he grew so accustomed to after

the argument. Half awake in his groggy state of mind, he moped over to the kitchen,

knocking over several of the hundred glass brown bottles that were now his only friends.

The floor was cold but his newly calloused feet were blind to the feeling now as he gazed

into the freezer to pick which of the two boxes of TV dinners he would eat. The low hum

of the microwave echoed, bouncing off the numerous walls. Oh how he loved the sound

of the terminal beep, almost like a voice confirmation saying, ―Here you go Rico!‖ Rico

and the newly acquired gift from his soul kitchen appliance made its way to the piano, the

only thing that could serve as a table that the bank hadn‘t yet taken. He furiously stabbed

at macaroni and took self forced bites, rarely ever making the transfer complete. Scraps

of food covered the pianos glossy finish, but he did nothing. ―Why didn‘t they take this

depressing monstrosity first‖ he muttered. He had no appetite and stormed over to the

shelf that held the green picture frame. The protective glass was shattered. The

individuals in the picture were all smiling simultaneously, including a younger version of

himself garbed in a nice suit. Rico broke into tears holding the picture as he reached for a

new trusty bottle.

                                              *




                                             67
       Six years prior Rico was sipping champagne among his happy business

colleagues at corporate parties and would return home to his wife who was teaching their

son Martin musical pitch over next to the piano. At the sight of this his happy grin

transformed into a disapproving stare upon the two steps onto the lavish green threshold

rug. Martin nervously ticked his head over as he heard the dead bolt engage. Rico

proceeded to the forest colored leather and opened up the newspaper to the stock section

where he could bask in the glory of the sight of the green colored value his company

reeled in. Martin pecked at the keys with his skinny fingers. Each note was like a nail to

Rico‘s mind. She left the room for a brief break. Rico thought to himself that it was time

for him to finally tell Martin what he really thought. Rico folded the newspaper and

walked over to the bulky instrument. ―You‘ll never be anyone!‖ he said. The fourteen

year old boy planted his face into the ivory colored keys. He wept in his folded frail arms

as his father‘s rampage was kept in rhythm by the swinging of his dangling tie. ―How

can you be successful doing this? Stop wasting your time on this useless talent. This

isn‘t how I got to the point I‘m at today.‖ Martin faced the giant emerald lady across the

harbor. This was the only person he ever met eye to eye.

       ―Don‘t you think this is quite unnecessary,‖ her slowly fading angelic voice

interrupted. ―This is what he loves to do.‖

       ―This is your fault! You taught him! I don‘t want to be a part of this!‖ The next

day she and Martin had left.




                                              *




                                              68
       Rico left his building for his usual walk. The doorman dressed in gold and

emerald colored uniform didn‘t even acknowledge him upon more recent exits. Maybe

he knew. The poor little boy trying to make a meager tip holding the door to the bank at

least said hello to him, but Rico never appreciated this. He walked the sidewalks in

wrinkled and frilled clothes from yesterday. Fur coats and designer bags and watches

didn‘t go by without getting a quick peep from him. He stopped by the usual coffee joint

for a fix and a newspaper. The usual pretty blond from Greenville, South Carolina was

behind the counter.

       ―You haven‘t been over in a while,‖ she said in her charming voice

       ―I know, I‘ve been trying to find some work,‖ Rico responded.

       ―Ok dear, well what will it be today?‖

       ―A small French vanilla and the paper,‖ he unenthusiastically ordered trying not

to sound too stingy.

       ―Should I hold onto the financial section as usual?‖

       ―…Yes,‖ he said as if he had to cough. He trudged over to the small table in the

corner to the left of the small stage that the restaurant had for small performers and other

entertainment. Outside he watched kids having football catches in the park across the

street with their dads. He and Martin could never do this. Even if Martin could decipher

the football going through the air he wouldn‘t have caught it any way. Rico enjoyed

football and other sports, but Martin would never be able to even witness what Rico

wanted so much. This was too much. He took one sip and decided he needed to go

somewhere else. He squeezed the warm Styrofoam cup to a point that it almost broke

losing all its content. The door opened violently almost rattling the bell to a forte upon




                                             69
his exit. He needed somewhere more tranquil. His bus pass only had a few more credits,

but he needed to find where else to think about the job that he needed to accomplish. The

white and green decaled public bus hacked up a large bucket of smoke as it stopped

adjacent to his untied sole ridden dress shoes. He stepped up and swiped the card and

looked for a seat. The bus was full except for one seat, but when Rico made an advance

towards the seat, the occupant placed their bag in it. ―You can stand up here,‖ the bus

driver said full of energy. Rico acknowledged this offer; it wasn‘t the fact that the plastic

bus seat was more comfortable just that he wanted the seat anyway. The eyes in the

drivers mirror reminded him of one from a familiar cubicle. ―Barry is that you?‖ Rico

asked unsure.

         ―Good Ol‘ Rico. How has it been? I haven‘t seen you since … you know‖ said

Barry with his baritone voice making sure to keep his eyes on the traffic. ―What have

you been up to lately?‖

         ―Not much. I‘m looking for … a job,‖ Rico says attentively watching the boy

play with his matchbox car in the seat in the front of the bus. ―How is Joseph doing these

days?‖

         ―Oh he‘s doing extraordinary! He‘s a manager for some break out artist from

Jersey. Yeah, he‘s well off. Your sons a pretty good singer too. I saw him down at the

bar the other night. It‘s just amazing that your boy could accomplish something like

that.‖

         ―Really, well thank you?‖ Rico asked pretending he knew this but didn‘t

elaborate. He couldn‘t give himself away now.




                                             70
       ―I‘d go to the next show, but the wife and I are going to see our son. I have to go

pick up flowers after work for him. Then we‘ll have to get rid of the ones from last

month that probably wilted by now. We are coming up to your stop in a block.‖

       ―Do you like being a bus driver?‖

       ―Oh yes, the pays not good, but the people you meet are something. I wouldn‘t

change it for the world. No amount of money could do what this heaping pile of steel

can.‖ He chuckled.

                                             *

       Five years ago Rico sat in his boss‘s office. What could he possibly be rewarded

with now? He got raise after raise and promotion after promotion. He hadn‘t said

anything as he faced the other way in his giant green leather office throne. He didn‘t

know how to break the news to him and everyone else. He turned around and loosened

his tie. The company was sold to some foreign country and its workers had to be laid off.

Rico walked into the office a tall man, but left shorter. He packed up the knick knacks in

his office and cried at the sight of Martins picture, which he had to place face side down

so the eyes wouldn‘t mock him. As he walked home, the ordinary people passed by and

smiled, but inside Rico knew what they really thought.

                                             *

       The bus doors mechanically squeaked shut. He watched the green Car insurance

advertisement on the back as it kept down 26th until it was no longer obtainable to his

eye. The park fountain ring served as the throne a man of his status could afford. Barry

was right about Martin. There in bold on page three read, ―Local Musician Opening Eyes

of the Music World.‖ According to the articles he was going to be playing at the Viridian




                                            71
Stone Bar on 38th. There was a couple on the park bench in the shade under the only tree

that still bared its lively leaves. A photograph image in his minds scrap book came to

him. He could not hide from what he used to have. The man in the vibrant red jacket

leaned over and pecked the gorgeous girl on the cheek and her blushing resembled a hue

the color of his jacket. Rico once sat on that same bench with his wife before Martin was

born. The mist from the fountain cooled his face as the sun shifted and the shadow over

the bench was no more. The couple got up and left. Dusk took its seat and Rico raised

his arm.

        The vacant yellow taxi pulled up with an eerie screech from a lack of brake

maintenance. The rough looking man donned a tattered beanie hat and had a shadow of

facial hair to reflect the current time. He sat on the stereotypical taxi cab bead seat cover

which one would never think was comfortable. Rico reached for the buckle but found

nothing. The seats also were tattered as he folded his faded coat tails, careful to not ruin

this of his as well.

        ―Where to, buddy?‖ shouted the driver as if Rico was deaf.

        ―Just 38th please?‖

        ―Ugh, that‘s only 12 blocks‖ he muttered to himself, not wanting Rico to hear.

Rico could not blame him. The cabby probably had wished he picked someone up who

had somewhere to actually go. Rico saw the cans and a homely pile of worn clothes in

the back. The meter stopped running. He wasn‘t pleased by the red number produced by

the 12 block drive.

                                              *




                                             72
       The Viridian Stone stood motionless in appearance with its neon signs stagnantly

advertising the concoctions Rico was all too well acquainted with. Rico pulled the cold

brass handle to open yet another door he shouldn‘t have had to open. Very few people

sat at the bar and were occupying seats around the small raised performing platform. On

it stood what Rico used as a coffee table for the past three years and his son. Martin

stood a tall, frail, narrow-chested young man now with curly brown hair next to the

instrument that once towered over him as young boy. He bellowed out long lyrical lines

that accompanied the meticulously accurate notes produced from the instrument. This

didn‘t add up. The barkeep broke him from the trance.

       ―Hey buddy, what will it be?‖

       ―Oh…um… I will just take anything on draft.‖

       ―He‘s pretty good ain‘t he? I don‘t even know where to put my hand on the damn

keys, but by god how can he do it?‖ asked the barkeep sliding Rico the foamy glass.

Rico didn‘t answer and just handed him the money. He took his drink to a table that was

far away from the stage and just sat and listened. Martin serenaded the audience to the

point where Rico began to see what the newspaper was talking about. Martin rotated his

head aimlessly around the bar. The spectators watched, thinking that he saw them, but

this acquaintance was only one-sided. No one would wrap their head around the fact that

such a weak looking man could produce such a deep rich sound. His tip jar was

overflowing with bills and whatever money these drunk hooligans had left. Martin never

acknowledged any of the gratuities. Rico only kept sipping at his drink, but never came

close to finishing during the performance. After about an hour of playing at the piano,

Martin was done performing for the night. People started applauding him as he thanked




                                            73
the people for coming out to listen. Rico got up from his chair. Now was the only time

he could tell Martin what he thought. He proceeded to the platform from his lower floor

seat.

         ―Not bad Martin,‖ said Rico in a voice he hoped sounded familiar to his son.

         ―Dad, is that you?‖ asked Martin now facing his father.

         ―Yes, Martin, it is me. You sounded great out there boy.‖ Rico said as he helped

Martin find his hand to shake. ―I hear you are getting pretty popular around here.‖

         ―Yeah, I guess I have been getting a couple fans here and there, but I just enjoy

making the music for myself. I never saw the people, just the music. How have you

been lately?‖

         ―Oh life has been fine Martin,‖ answered Rico quickly. ―I think your good

enough to make it big Martin. Think about it. Limos, Grammies, parties, and the fame.

You could be huge.‖ Excitedly rambled Rico as he shook at Martins weak shoulders.

         ―Well thanks but…‖

         ―No I‘m serious boy, you were gre…‖

         Dad can I talk to you in a minute someones calling me and I can‘t hear anything

in h…‖

         ―I could help you. Ya‘ know, like be your manager and help you make it to the

top. We could also spend some more time toget…‖ interrupted Rico. He came back to

his senses after he heard what his son said before getting too excited and acknowledged

his request. Martin poked his way outside and Rico took a seat at his table. Rico waited

for his son. People started to come and go into the bar, but none were his son. The

bartender filled up mugs and washed them out as he gazed at Rico trying to comprehend




                                              74
why he was still sitting across from an empty chair. Several hours passed, but his son

never returned for him or even the overflowing sinister tip jar that still remained on the

piano. The bar was barren. Rico finally walked up to the counter.

       ―Barkeep, I‘ll take a rum and coke.‖ He trudged back to his seat and stirred his

drink hoping his son would return. His son was the answer to the problem in his life.




                                             75
                                      Bridget‘s Wings

                                   By Megan McKernan

        Oftentimes it is difficult to pinpoint an exact moment in time when a certain shift

in the universe occurs. But, for Bridget, she remembered the precise moment when her

life changed. It seemed like any regular middle school day, so regular, in fact, that the

events are blurry, except for a five minute period in time in her mother‘s bedroom.

Bridget had been watching the Disney Channel when her mother came into the living

room.

        ―Hi, mom, how are you?‖ Bridget had asked.

        And, with that simple question, Bridget‘s mother burst into tears. Bridget, a good

couple of inches taller than her mother, took her mother into her arms and patted her on

the back, assuring her mother that everything would be okay. When Bridget and her

mother broke the embrace, both of their lives were drastically changed. The roles had

switched—parent now became child and child now became parent, a role reversal that

was not fair to either person.

        ―I love you, Bridget,‖ her mother had said.

        It would be the last time Bridget would hear those words.

                                              *

        A rectangle has its base on the x-axis and its two upper corners on the parabola

y=12-x^2. What is the largest possible area of the rectangle?

        Bridget liked math. Math made sense. There were steps to follow, and a right or

wrong answer. Bridget usually got the right answer. But this year was different. After

spending thirteen years of sleeping through math class and still being better at it than




                                             76
anybody else, Bridget had now met her match—calculus. She had no idea where to begin

with the godforsaken problem. Worse, her classmates were all scribbling away, showing

that they knew exactly how to find the answer to this problem. Bridget just sat there,

noting that she had only twenty minutes left to complete five problems. Good thing I

spent three hours studying for this last night, thought Bridget. Looks like that did a lot of

good.

        While looking around the room, Bridget caught her best friend, Maddie‘s, eye.

Maddie smiled, mouthed, ―Whatever,‖ and dismissed the test with a flippant wave of her

hand. It was that carefree lifestyle that Bridget envied most about Maddie. Although,

Bridget thought, if I had her life I‘d be pretty damn happy-go-lucky too. Maddie‘s life

was made—she had a dad who was grossly rich and a mom whose smile was as warm as

her chocolate chip cookies. Even though Maddie was Bridget‘s best friend, deep down,

in a very dark spot where the worst of everybody lurks, Bridget was insanely jealous of

Maddie.

        Eventually the calculus test was over, and Bridget rushed out the door, eager to

see Brian, her boyfriend of more than a year. Brian was her rock, her everything—at

least for the first nine months. But for the past three months, their relationship had been

coming apart. The conversation did not flow as it once had, the embraces were not as

passionate as they once were. Deep down, Bridget knew why. Brian was not in love

with her—she could tell. Bridget remembered the moment in time when she fell in love

with Brian. The realization that she was finally in love with Brian brought her

indescribable joy. Bridget doubted Brian had ever felt this way.

        Bridget walked up to Brian‘s locker, excited to see him after a hard day.




                                             77
       ―Hey, Brian, we‘re still on for tonight, right?‖

       ―Yeah, yeah, sure thing,‖ Brian said, not actually cognizant of what he was

agreeing to.

       ―So, I was thinking a movie at my house. My mom won‘t be home so that could

be pretty nice,‖ Bridget said, her words failing to excite Brian as she hoped they would.

       ―Yep, cool,‖ said Brian, who had been texting as Bridget was talking.

       ―Okay then. So I‘ll see you at seven?‖

       ―Wait, why will you see me at seven,‖ Brian asked, sliding his phone shut, ―are

we doing something tonight? I kind of just made plans with the boys.‖

       Typical, Bridget thought.

       Brian took Bridget‘s lack of response as permission to abandon her for the

evening. ―Sweet, babe. I‘ll see you on Monday then?‖

       Bridget took a deep breath to start an argument with Brian—what about Saturday

night?—but she swallowed her words instead and watched Brian walk away.

       After collecting her books, Bridget stepped out into the merciless January air,

forced to face the world alone for yet another day.

       Her only solace during the lonely Friday night was that her mother was out

drinking so Bridget would not have to deal with her for the rest of the weekend—that is,

unless Bridget was caught in the midst of one of her mother‘s drunken fits of rage.

Frustrated with her own life, Bridget‘s mother took out her angst on anything, or

anybody, around her, especially when intoxicated. If she could not be happy, then why

should anybody else be?




                                            78
         Weary from the stresses of the day, Bridget went to bed early. Sleep was the only

comfort to Bridget anymore. When she was asleep, it was like she could turn the world

off. Bridget liked the world better that way.

         At about two in the morning, Bridget‘s world was abruptly turned on again.

Bridget‘s mother, drunk, was blasting music in the living room. Thinking of her

neighbors, Bridget jumped out of bed and ran downstairs to tell her mother to turn off the

music.

         ―Mom! Mom!‖ Bridget screamed, struggling to be heard over the thumping bass

of the hottest new rap song blaring from the speakers. ―Mom! You have to turn that off;

it‘s two in the morning!‖ Bridget searched around the room for her mother, but could not

find her, so Bridget turned off the radio herself.

         ―Hey,‖ her mother drunkenly screeched from her bed room. ―The party was just

starting.‖

         ―Well, now it‘s over,‖ Bridget responded in a motherly tone.

         ―You stupid bitch!‖ Bridget‘s mother screamed. ―You have to ruin all my fun.

You ruin everything! Why do you even exist?‖

         Bridget was not sure of the answer.

                                                *

         Sleep would not come for Bridget. Instead, she lay in her bed, wondering what

she had done wrong, why her mother said such things to her. Having hit a sensitive spot,

the words burned Bridget, even though deep down she knew it was simply the alcohol

speaking. Unable to sleep, Bridget went to the bathroom to go take some medicine for a

pounding headache that was developing. She picked up the bottle of pills from the




                                               79
medicine cabinet and opened it. She had never realized before how much the pills looked

like candy. The best kind of candy, Bridget thought, because after you eat too many

pieces you don‘t have to worry about anything ever again. But Bridget took just enough

pills to get rid of her headache and went to bed.

       That night Bridget had the best dream she had ever had. She was flying. Her

wings were beautiful, like an angel‘s. After flying for a long time, Bridget got tired.

Then the best part of the dream happened—when Bridget was too tired, her wings

disappeared and she fell. As she was falling, she left all of her troubles behind.

                                             *

       Bridget‘s eyes fluttered open and she was already sick of the day. She knew that

something bad had happened the night before, but her morning grogginess prevented her

from remembering right away. However, in a few short seconds she remembered what

happened. Her mother‘s words haunted her. Why do you even exist? The unanswered

question clanged in her mind with the force of cymbals that had been crashed too close to

her ears. Bridget grudgingly got out of bed to exist for another day.

       Sitting on the kitchen table was a note filled with the messy scrawl of Bridget‘s

mother.

       Bridget—I‘m sorry about what I said last night. Honestly, I don‘t remember

exactly what it was but I feel like it was bad. Probably just the alcohol speaking, you

know how I get after too much to drink. I‘ll be back sometime later, not sure when.

Maddie called. Ask her for some extra money, her father practically owns this town. The

tips at work haven‘t been great lately so some serious cash would be appreciated. I

really want a new iPod.




                                             80
        Many things annoyed Bridget about this note. But the worst was the fact that the

note showed that Bridget‘s mother was not enough of an adult to apologize to Bridget in

person. Bridget threw out the note.

        Picking up the telephone to call Maddie, Bridget felt a little better. Maddie‘s

chipper voice was enough to make Bridget smile on even the worst days.

        Always glued to her cell phone, Maddie picked up on the first ring.

        ―Hey there Bridget,‖ Maddie chirped. ―What‘s up?‖

        ―Umm… my mom said you called… did you not call?‖

        ―Uh, no. I didn‘t actually.‖

        ―Oh,‖ said Bridget dejectedly. She had been looking forward to having a

conversation with Maddie. ―Okay then. She was pretty gone last night, she probably

imagined it.‖

        ―Your mom worries me, Bridget. I feel like she just gets worse and worse.‖

        ―Yeah, she… she‘s not the easiest person to live with, to say the least. Like, I

don‘t know, she just expects everything to fall into place with her. She doesn‘t think she

has to work for anything, even her life. She expects one day all the pieces will just fall

together and things will be like the way they used to be…but, I mean, it‘s not going to

happen.‖

        ―God that must suck. Bridget, you‘re my best friend. Whatever is wrong just

know I‘m here, okay?‖

        ―Thanks Maddie—I‘ll keep that in mind. I actually need to go now though,‖

Bridget was getting choked up from Maddie‘s words and she did not want Maddie to hear

her cry, ―so I‘ll talk to you later.‖




                                             81
           Bridget worked for the majority of her Saturday on cleaning up the mess her

mother had left the night before. Her mother‘s room was the worst. Clothes were strewn

everywhere, bed sheets were tangled up in other bed sheets, glass from a beer bottle was

dangerously sprinkled across the floor. Dutifully as ever, Bridget cleaned up the mess,

leaving her mother‘s room in pristine condition after she was done. Although Bridget

was tired from the work, Maddie‘s words comforted her. At least there was somebody

who cared about her.

           The car zoomed up the driveway, music blaring from the speakers, and her

mother was home.

           ―So how much am I getting from that friend of yours? Enough to get me one of

those iPod shuffles or an iPhone?‖ inquired Bridget‘s mother, in all seriousness. ―You

see, all my friends at work have an iPhone and I‘ve been really jealous of them—they‘re

so cool.‖

           Bridget was flabbergasted. ―I will not ask Maddie for money so that you can get

an iPod, mom,‖ she responded sternly.

           ―So you didn‘t even ask?‖

           ―No, mother, I did not.‖

           ―Well, way to go! I ask you to do one thing all day and you don‘t even do it.

What did you do all day, mope around about how that boy of yours doesn‘t call you

anymore? Or how your best friend has a much better life than yours? Jesus, I don‘t even

know why she‘s friends with you. You‘re pathetic.‖

           Bridget looked down at her fingernails, dirty from cleaning up her mother‘s mess

all day.




                                               82
       ―Mom, I…‖

       ―No, don‘t even try to get yourself out of this one Bridget. Go away. I hate you.‖

                                             *

       If your own mother does not love you, who does?

       Bridget knew the answer—nobody loved her. Her mother‘s harsh words were

enough to erase Maddie‘s kind ones from her memory.

       Bridget was alone.

       Standing, shoulders slumped, in her room, Bridget looked at her bed. Bridget

always wanted to wait until she was married to have sex—she thought such an act of

intimacy should only ever be between a husband and a wife. This had been one of her

guiding morals. But, two months previously, Bridget had thrown away this moral. Not

to make Brian happy. Not to make her happy. But to finally get Brian to say those words

she wanted so desperately to hear. She imagined him caressing her face when it was all

over, kissing her lightly, then proclaiming, ―Bridget, I am in love with you.‖ But all

Brian said after Bridget gave herself to him was, ―Thanks babe. You‘re the best.‖ He

had then hopped off Bridget‘s bed and scurried away to brag to his friends about how he

had finally gotten some. Bridget was just a body to Brian, nothing more.

       Since then, Bridget‘s heart had been frozen. Her mother‘s declaration of hatred

for Bridget had served as the instrument that broke her frozen heart. The pieces were left

shattered inside Bridget, jagged edges cutting her insides whenever she had to force

herself to take another breath.

                                             *




                                            83
        Bridget sat perched on her window. The January air bit against her skin. Dust

swirled around her. The way the light was hitting the dust made it appear as if she had

wings, like an angel‘s. Eventually the sun set and her wings disappeared. Without her

wings, Bridget was finally given permission to fall.

        But she could not. As much as she wanted to, Bridget was not strong enough to

fall.

        Her cell phone rang a few minutes later.

        ―Hey, babe. So, I‘m kind of feeling like seeing you about now. Just, like, can

you wear something a little more sexy this time? It‘d make it so much better,‖ Brian‘s

deep voice spoke.

        Bridget closed her eyes.

        ―Yes. I‘ll see you soon.‖

        ―Awesome.‖

        Bridget‘s wings were to forever keep her from falling.




                                            84
                                   Endless Possibilities

                                     by Kyle O‘Brien


        Bill and Wes had been planning something like this for at least a year but with the

addition of Mike, Krista, and Tracy the trip across the country actually happened. After

packing and saying good-bye to their supporting, if not worried, parents the trip had gone

amazingly well. Starting in Philadelphia the group had ventured north to New England

and worked their way back south until they hit Florida then turned west. Things had

gotten a little tight when Bill and Wes had decided to get a closer look at Area 51, which

ended with Wes and Bill getting too close for comfort with the armed guards and the

invention of a new dance involving being tazered. But Vegas went by without incident

and now they were finally in the state they had wanted to visit ever since they started the

trip, California.

        Wes was a lanky kid who was taller then most but not extremely tall, and despite

his skinniness he also was a guy who could eat as much as someone twice his weight. His

face was shaded by his long wavy hair and a ―shaggy‖ goatee (as he referred to it) and his

body was covered by a tie-dye t-shirt and faded, torn jeans. He had wanted to come to

California ever since he got to high school and discovered that the easy breezy life on the

west coast was just how he wanted to live. When he had first brought up the idea of the

trip to his parents they were less then enthusiastic about their oldest child wandering

through the country for a year; but telling them that was better than saying, ―Hey Mom

and Dad, I want to move to Los Angeles.‖ But now that didn‘t really matter at all.

                                   ************




                                             85
        The van sputtered to a halt along the highway right along side the ocean; windows

down with Bob Marley‘s ―Stir it up‖ blaring. The engine shut off causing the music to

abruptly cut out as Wes stepped out of the passenger side door, sauntered over, and stared

out across the water, soon followed by a husky teen that walked up and stood beside him

his brother from another mother. ―Yo man, look at that!‖ Bill exclaimed as he swept his

arm out over the water and the city farther off on the horizon, ―This is where we belong.‖

With this proclamation the sides of the car pulled aside and Mike, Krista and Tracy

stumble out onto the soft sand. ―Hey you guys come check this out.‖ As soon as the

words left Bills mouth the three snapped their gazes on him and Wes, but almost as fast

they burst into hysterical laughter. After a short spell of crippling laughter Mike finally

pulled himself together enough to stand up and with a smooth voice so intelligently

states, ―Dude, I‘m feeling pretty good.‖ This statement was followed by another short

burst of giggling. ―I think you need to see this, man.‖ Mike cautiously walked over to

where Bill and Wes stand peering out over the water and with wild eyes he caught his

first look of the west coast.

                                   ************

        After a short drive down the valley the gang reached their actual destination.

―This is incredible. Not only is this city amazing but we get here on the same day as a

free outdoor Pearl Jam concert!‖ Wes shouted as he leaned on a fence where a

psychedelic poster had been posted. ―Oh man, I can not wait for that sh—and just

imagine the tailgate we can have in San Diego‖ Bill says, as he walked closer to the fence

and snatched the flyer. ―Hmm says that it‘s being held in the fields outside La Presa,




                                             86
wonder where that is?‖ Just then Mike rounded the corner with a large greasy burger in

his hands. When he joined Bill and Wes he tells them the bad news.

       ―I can‘t believe they did that, that was ours man!‖ Bill angrily yelled as he and

Wes walked down a small street near the harbor. ―I mean they didn‘t even share and I‘m

starving man.‖ They all had agreed to split up and meet up at the fence later that night

since they could cover more ground that way and find out where to go. It also gave Mike,

Krista, and Tracy, less of a chance to be killed by Bill and Wes. ―Well at least they

decided to check out the inner city while we get to check out the harbor.‖ Wes bluntly

stated. That didn‘t make the fact that Mike had just spent most of their remaining money

on fast food better but it helped. The strip of harbor was occupied by a small dock with a

couple old and tarnished looking boats. Although this part of the strip was normally not

crowded there was a bazaar and outdoor market. Wes and Bill almost simultaneously

turned and stopped to face a small stand with a stout old man blowing glass.

                                       **********

       Mike and the girls stood looking around the city trying to figure out how they

were going to either make it up to Bill and Wes or get back the money they had spent on

food. As people pass them by, paying them no mind, the three stood gazing out over the

expanse of the city, following the streets and buildings till they end at the waters of the

harbor where Buffalo Springfield‘s ―For what its Worth‖ could be heard drifting on the

wind. Tracy broke their silence with a small sigh, ―We might have better luck trying to

find out where this concert is down by the beach.‖ As the other two nod their heads Tracy

headed of down the sloping streets towards the water and the rolling waves where

surfer‘s would be seen on the water and sand. ―And who knows,‖ Mike said falling in a




                                             87
few steps behind Tracy, ―We might even find something to pay back Wes and Bill with

there, man.‖

          ―Or a very cute guy to see the concert with.‖ Krista adds as she too starts to walk

down hill.

          ―You know you‘re worse then Wes sometimes, Krista.‖ Mike chuckles

Tracy, not wanting to be left out on the joke added, ―at least he remembers their names.‖

And with that both Mike and Tracy could not hold their laughter any longer. And Krista

took the lead fuming down the sidewalk.

                                     ************

          While Mike, Krista, and Tracy headed towards the beaches Wes and Bill had

already thought to head to the waterfront. After checking out the glassblower‘s stand and

asking him to layaway some items the two decided to check out the strip of land further

out on the bay. After hopping on a commuter ferry they found themselves on Coronado.

Stepping onto the pale sand Wes looked around and absorbed the smells and sites of a

pure tourist trap, ―Hmmm, this doesn‘t look like what I thought it would look like.‖

          ―Nah, we‘ll never find someone who knows about the concert here.‖ Bill readily

agreed.

          ―Well, we might as well check out the beach and see if there is a nice view around

here if you know what I mean man.‖

          ―I know exactly what you mean bro, but uh, I don‘t have sandals like some hippy

standing next to me.‖ Bill says as he gestures to his clean, suede sneakers as he let out a

short, almost cough like, laugh.




                                               88
       ―Hey you know just because I am what you want to be doesn‘t mean you got‘ a

rip on me man.‖ Wes chided as he stepped out onto the beach and surveyed the scene.

Bill leaned over, slipped off his shoes followed by his socks, and walked out to catch up

to Wes. As he approached Wes, Bill could see Wes looking out at all the bikini clad

sunbathers that California is famous for. As he reached his friend‘s side he notices that he

is focusing on one in particular. ―Man, you don‘t waste any time do ya?‖ Bill said with a

grin as he looked out at the girl his brother was staring at. Riding a wave the girl was

short maybe 5‘6‖ with dark tanned skin, petite build, and long brown hair. ―Wow, well

the song says California love so why not try your luck.‖ Wes broke off his gaze, sighed,

and headed down, shuffling his feet. ―I don‘t think I can this time man.‖ This caught Bill

by surprise and his lower jaw hung open a moment, as his brain comprehended what was

said to him. ―Are you saying that you don‘t think you can win this girl over?‖

       ―No I just…I don‘t know man.‖

       ―Either you go talk to her right now or I loss all respect for you man and I thought

this was the reason why you came out here in the first place?‖ With a heavy sigh and a

shrug of his shoulders Wes picked up his head and reluctantly walked towards the girl.

                               ****************

       Bill had hit a nerve in Wes because he knew that what Bill said was true He had

come to the West Coast to enjoy the laid back lifestyle but there was another reason as

well. When Wes was on the East Coast he always enjoyed the company of the girls but

they never really understood his views on life. In fact, they seemed to always want to

change it. Most of them would be so up tight as to try to control who he chilled with and

what he did. One time an ex-girlfriend even went so far as to steal all of Wes‘s tie-dye




                                             89
shirts and switched them with collared polo shirts. So the relationship always ended with

Wes frustrated and the girl kicked to the curb.

                              *****************

        ―Hey don‘t forget you have your wingman.‖ Bill quickly stated falling in beside

Wes. As they reached the spot on the beach where the girl stood, board in the sand,

drying off Wes slowly regained composure and chill demeanor. When they finally were

beside her he was back to his old self and as she looked up to meet them he greeted her,

―hey, me and my friend were wondering if you knew where La Presa is?‖

―Uh why yeah that‘s like all the way across they city, why do you guys want to go

there?‖ she said as she went back to toweling off. ―Well, we saw a poster for an open air

Pearl Jam concert tonight at La Presa.‖ Wes said as he admired Emily‘s equipment.

―No way I love Pearl Jam, man!‖ she said with a smile, ―By the way my names‘ Emily.‖

        ―My name is Wes and this is Bill and if you wouldn‘t mind showing us to La

Presa tonight we can all enjoy the concert together.‖ A sly grin streaked across Wes‘s

face.

        ―Sure I‘d love to check it out let me just grab my stuff and we can head out.‖

        At that moment Mike, Tracy and Krista after taking a long walk through the city

finally reached the beautiful beaches of Coronado. ―Hey Bill, Wes what‘s up?‖ Krista

asked as Mike and Tracy, with knowing looks, stood beside her. ―Oh nothing, I was just

talking to Emily here and she knows the way to La Presa and is going to show us to the

concert tonight.‖ Wes casually said as he positioned himself to face the three then, as if

he just remembered something turned to face Emily, ―Emily this is Mike, Krista and

Tracy. Ihey came with me on this road trip I‘m on.‖ After all were introduced, Mike




                                             90
explained how he was going to pay back Wes and Bill, which apparently Mike had

picked up from a man down along the beach who had promised that they would be

enjoying it for at least six or seven hours. The group headed out on the long walk uphill

to the open hills of La Presa and the concert that promised to be killer. But as they

walked through San Diego towards the concert they all realized they had several hours to

kill and being the native to this city Emily decided to show her new friends her favorite

thing about the city.

                                     **********

       ―Uh Emily, is that what I think it its? Wes asked as the colorful group stopped out

front of a small pharmacy looking building.

       ―Why, yes it is babe. It‘s exactly what you think it is.‖ Emily answered as she

stepped towards the painted building with a five-leaf plant plastered on the windows and

a sign with the words ‗hemp, hemp, hurray‘ painted in yellow, green, and red. She was

quickly followed by Wes then Bill, who nearly destroyed Wes as he launched himself

towards the door. Inside Bill stood in awe of what he saw. From wall to wall and behind

glass counters there sat green with signs listing names and prices. As Wes and the rest

came in each followed suit with Bill by stopping and staring except for Emily. She

walked up to the counter and rang the small bell used to call for service. ―Hello anyone

here?‖ she asked. A man who looked like an older copy of Wes appeared out of the

blanket-covered doorway with a cloud of smoke trailing behind him and stood behind the

counter. ―‘ey what ya‘ need today, girl?‖ he asked as he coughed a little.

       ―A white Jamaican O.K. now I‘ve seen everything.‖ Mike said as he turned to Bill

and Wes who were coming out of their state of shock. As Emily talked quietly with the




                                              91
white Rasta, Bill, Wes, and Mike examined the wares while a radio from the backroom

blasted a song from the Kottonmouth Kings. ―Yo man, look they have Maui-wowi, and

AK-47, and…and look beautiful Sour Diesel.‖ Mike said almost crying with joy.

        ―I love this city; beautiful girls, beautiful music, and beautiful ladies of green,

man.‖ Wes said with a contented sigh his face pressed against the glass trying to push

through it. ―Ahhh…I want that, man!‖ he excitedly yelled as he pointed to a specific

bowl.

        Bill walked over to read the sigh, ―Super Skunk Diesel, Da-- that sounds crunchy

man.‖

        Up until this point Krista and Tracy stood dumbfounded just inside the dispensary

now they jolted to life almost jogging around the glass trying to learn as many names as

possible. As the East Coast crew ran around like kids in a candy store the West Coast girl

came back from her conversation with the cashier and gathered the rest around. As Emily

held up a bulging brown bag she informed the group as to what she had in store. ―So

guys, I‘ve gathered a little variety pack to say welcome to the West Coast and also to

ensure our time at the concert is at the peak of enjoyment.‖

        ―Well, why don‘t we try some out now?‖ Mike said with a hopeful grin on his

face.

        ―Yeah that sounds good to me to man,‖ Wes agrees, ―what ya‘ say Emily?‖

        ―I say hell yes man lets go!‖ Emily said as she started to walk out the door and

towards the beach again. ―We can chill at my place it‘s not far.‖

                                      ***********




                                              92
       They had reached Emily‘s house on the beach, after a brief stop at the

glassblower‘s stand, and almost crapped their collective pants because of the size and

beauty. They sat around in the gazebo, as smoke trailed and flowed out on the wind, with

Wes‘s head perched on Emily‘s lap and Mike, Tracy, and Krista in a heap on the floor

only Bill sat with their two most recent purchases, and Pink Floyd‘s ―Dark Side of the

Moon‖ album on vinyl spun touched on the record table. When a bubbling noise came

from Bill‘s side of the gazebo Mike lifted his head up and with squinted eyes tried to

locate the source when he could not he merely let his head collapse back to rest on

Tracy‘s Stomach. ―That‘s some good ganja, man,‖ Mike said in a relaxed hushed voice.

―I mean like really good….‖ Letting out a small giggle and a very large smile Emily

shook her head up and down. The giggle stirred Wes from his meditative state and he

lifted his head to look about. As he looked over at Bill the bubbling stopped and Bill

made a very guilty face. ―Wasn‘t it my turn, man?‖ Wes asked.

       ―Um…Yeah I think it was.‖ Bill said and as he talked white smoke escaped from

his mouth making tendrils in the air.

       ―Well…you gonna pass it?‖

       ―I would but ya‘ see it‘s beat, man.‖ Bill said as he blew out the ash.

       ―Dude, it‘s not like I don‘t know how to load, pass that sh--.‖ Wes said as he

leaned over to acquire the piece. Bill handed the multicolored turtle over and slinked

back to listen to ―Money‖ which had just come on. ―So we should head out soon if we

want to get to this concert tonight.‖ Wes said as he messed with the turtle and the

bubbling noise once again started. Once again Mike looked up to find the sound but this

time he looked at Wes and perked up to scratch his head. And in his typical way a spurt




                                            93
of giggling escaped his lips. This caused the girls Mike was using as pillows to stir and

look around.

        The sun was setting and the concert hour was approaching. So after another

round with the turtle, Mike passed out his little entertainment package. ―Dude, these are

sweet they‘re freaking tie-die with the grateful dead head on them.‖ Wes said when he

received his two little strips. ―I can‘t wait for this to kick in…‖

                                      ************

       Later that night at the concert they all sat on the lawn watching the lights and

hearing the music drift from the stage. Not only did they hear the music by they also saw

it flowing towards them from the guitars and drums of the band miniature notes and lines

streaming through the air. What Mike had decided was a good repayment was kicking in

and as the sky turned colors above them they danced and enjoyed life. While everyone

was distracted by the psychedelic euphoria Wes moved closer to Emily. ―Man this is

something else huh?‖ he said as he waved his arms up and out.

―I know im so glad I met you on the beach this morning or my day wouldn‘t have been

nearly this great.‖ Emily said with a smile looking up at Wes with brown doe eyes.

―I feel like I‘ve know you for so long you seem like what I‘ve always wanted.‖ With this

confession Emily jumps into the arms of Wes ―We‘ll be together soon I just have to

dump my boyfriend.‖ Emily states matter-of-factly.

       ―Wait…what?‖

       ―Yeah I have to get rid of my boyfriend Chris, he‘s such a jerk.‖

       ―Um…why didn‘t you mention him before?‖ Wes said with a little anger creeping

into his voice.




                                              94
       ―I didn‘t think it was that important I was having fun.‖ Emily, obviously a little

taken back, ―Don‘t worry he won‘t be a problem at all.‖ After this last statement Wes was

calmed and was lead by Emily further away from the gang who were still staring in all

directions but not really seeing much.

                                   ************

       ―Hey, where are Wes and Emily, Man they‘re missing out.‖ Mike said as he

walked up to Bill and Tracy. ―As a matter of fact where is Krista?‖

       ―I have a feeling she found a guy, man.‖ Bill said as he swayed to the rhythm.

Pearl Jam had taken a break and Bruddah Walter had taken the stage performing his

cover of the Beatles ―Don‘t let me down‖. As if on queue Wes and Emily appeared out of

the crowd and walked toward their friends when. They reach them Bill and Mike

instantly knew where the two were by the ear to ear grin on Wes‘s face and the flush in

Emily‘s cheeks. ―Hey what‘s up guys?‖ Wes asked, ―Isn‘t this concert just crazy?‖

standing beside Emily with his arm around her. A giggle followed and Wes pulled

something out of his back pocket and put it in his mouth, lit it and took a deep drag. After

Wes let out a sigh and the smoke he spoke, ―Life‘s good, man.‖ Then someone cleared

his or her throat behind him and he felt a tap on his shoulder. ―What‘s good brot—,‖ was

all he managed to say as he turned to face whoever was behind him because as he turned

his face made contact with a very large and hard fist. As he fell he heard a man‘s voice

say, ―damn it babe, I told you, you couldn‘t hide from me forever.‖ And Wes felt Emily

being pulled away from him and lead into the throng.

                              ************




                                            95
        Wes awoke several moments later in a daze with a pounding headache and a very

bruised spirit. ―Ow‘…dude your face looks like you go hit with a baseball bat, your nose

is bleeding.‖ Bill said not quite holding back laughter as he hovered over Wes.

        ―Thanks, I really needed to hear that, man‖ Wes grumbled as he sat up and looked

around. ―Did she leave?‖

        ―Yeah she left with that guy.‖ Bill sat down next to his brother and lit a cigarette.

―If I may ask who was that?‖

        ―If I had to guess…I would say her boyfriend she said I wouldn‘t have to worry

about.‖ Wes said grabbing the unfinished joint that he had unintentionally dropped earlier

and relit it.

        ―Damn man, that‘s harsh.‖

        ―Yeah, I know, where are Mike and the girls?‖ Wes asked blowing out smoke and

watching it float up.

        ―Well Mike and Tracy seemed to have found their own private spot and Krista‘s

been gone since before you got trucked.‖ Bill said as he stood up and offered his hand to

help Wes up.

        ―Well thank god they weren‘t around to see me awake I would get ripped a new

one for that.‖ Wes said grabbing Bills hand and pulling himself up. ―Let‘s go find

somewhere to get this blood of my face.‖

        ―Yeah I think I saw a water fountain back where we came in.‖

                                 ***********

        The first light of the morning was just visible when the group rejoined and headed

to the beach after the concert where they lit a fire and watched the sun start to slowly rise.




                                             96
Wes‘s face had swelled a little but the blood was gone and the gang had run out of taunts

and jokes to throw his way. ―Man, I never learn, girls are girls anywhere, and whether

they try to change you or just play ya‘ they‘re all the same.‖ Wes contemplated as he

passed a dutchie to the left-hand side.

        ―At least we got to keep the stuff huh?‖ Mike added to try and cheer up his friend.

―I mean good thing he didn‘t come before you chilled.‖

        ―I have to agree with Mike on this one man, you at least had some fun before you

got your ass kicked.‖ Bill offered as he dragged and coughed.

        ―Yeah I mean hell you can‘t throw all girls into the category of evil and teasing,‖

Krista piped in, ―Only a lot of us are.‖ This brought a smile and a laugh to the gang

releasing the subdued attitude that had hung heavy over top of them.

        ―And as they say the ones that aren‘t like that, or in this case the ones that are, are

already taken.‖ Tracy added taking what was offered to her, ―I mean maybe she‘ll come

back yah know?‖

        ―Yeah wouldn‘t that be nice but that‘s farcical and if my face is any evidence

she‘s not coming back.‖ Wes concluded with a sigh and another inhalation. ―At least

everything else here is amazing and what we expected, where else could we sit on a

beach and smoke without getting bothered by the pigs.‖

        ―Nowhere, not even here I‘m afraid.‖ A voice said out of the darkness shinning a

flashlight and as he stepped into the light of the fire a glint of metal could be seen in his

hand.

        ―F---, well I guess I should have seen that coming…‖ Wes said with a sigh as

everyone else sat frozen with horror.




                                              97
       ―Yes you should have, now I‘m going to have to ask you to leave the beach and

go home.‖ The Officer said as he holstered his weapon.

       ―Wait, you‘re not going to take us in?‖ Mike asked dumbfounded.

       ―No why would I? You all have prescriptions for that right?‖ the officer said with

a wink and a grin.

       ―Oh, yes sir, we definitely do.‖ Wes said as he quickly stood up and started to put

out the fire with sand.

       ―Now I don‘t want to have to see you again so please go home.‖

       ―Guys I think we do need to go home. Let‘s get the heck out of here; I am really

hungry for a real philly cheesesteak aren‘t you?‖ Wes questioned his friends as they

walked towards the van and their clothes.

       ―You know, home doesn‘t sound too bad, I mean, we had fun but we‘re broke and

tired and we don‘t have a place to even sleep here.‖ Bill agreed and unlocked the van

getting into the driver‘s seat. Mike and Tracy nodded their heads, climbed into the back,

and passed out among the bags. Only Krista stood outside the car with Wes. ―I think I‘m

going to stay here I‘m not ready to go home yet.‖ Krista said with a sigh, ―I met someone

last night and I think I can make it work, I…I just have to stay.‖ With a sigh Wes nodded

and hugged Krista. Without saying another word, he helped her with her bags and seated

himself in the passenger seat. As they drove away he saw a limousine pull up to where

Krista was standing and the back door open. Just as they turned the corner Wes saw

Krista get in and close the door.




                                            98
                               Measuring an Infinite Entity
                                   By Ian O’Malley

        Time. Beautiful in its infinity, infinite in its beauty. Frightening in its ignorance,
comforting in its divinity. Powerful. Patient. Unforgiving. Ultimately driving. The
universal healer. The ever renewable resource. Fragile yet enduring. Forever waiting and
ever expectant. Endlessly indefinite. Increasingly important, decreasingly subjective.
Incorruptible in its greatness yet corrupting in its magnitude.
        When I was young, I couldn‘t help but wish for all the time in the world. All the
time in the world. A beautiful ring accompanies that phrase, ―all the time in the world‖. I
remember fantasies I dreamed of. To have the ability to control and manipulate the
essence time. To pause, and have all of existence stop before me. To go back and undo
the mistakes I had made. To quite simply have all the time in the world. All the time in
the world to do whatever I wished. All the time in the world to see all there is to be seen.
All the time in the world to become whatever I needed to become. Eventually, I grew up
and grew out of dreaming of impossibilities. My innocence lost, I moved into the reality
of this world. The truth. I became a different entity. My once desired power eventually
found itself in the back of my mind, its value long been depleted. Nevertheless, it was
only until I found myself here, at this grey old age, that my wish had finally been granted.
        I often rushed into decisions when I was young. Maybe being a bit too hasty at
times. I know I have made mistakes. I know. I flew when I should have fought and fought
when I should have flown. The latter haunts me to this day. I was taught that mistakes
hold the lessons of life. You make them and you learn from them. Most importantly
though, you move on, you progress. Taking the lesson with you. Never remaining too
long in the wake of your own poor choices, but still staying long enough to understand all
aspects that come with every mistake that‘s made. Now I learn lessons no more and I can
never move on from my mistakes.
        Fear is the ultimate corruption. Merciless corruption. Fear is capable of changing,
manipulating, reshaping. Fear destroys sanity and renews primal instincts. Fear creates
what you never thought possible. Behaving like a parasite, it latches on and consumes its
host slowly and painfully until there is nothing left to call human. Behaving like a plant,
the seed of doubt slips in unnoticed. Buries its roots deep in the subconscious and wraps
its stem tightly around the mind. It grows, becoming more powerful and cunning with
age. Undetectable until it flowers. Too late to nip it in the bud. I was afraid, that I can
admit to. Afraid of what I could not control. Afraid of what I thought I was becoming.
But mostly, afraid that my time was not a renewable resource, but something more akin
to limited funds in a bank account. I worried. I panicked. I manipulated. Now I have no
fear.
        In my old line of work, balance was key. Balance kept the fear at bay. Never
vanquishing it completely, but deterring it until another time. I lived in the grey. Thriving
by slipping in and out of the shadows, moving through walls, mastering the art of sleight
of hand. Staying out of the light but more importantly, keeping away from the dark. It
was all second nature. I had become what couldn‘t be seen. What couldn‘t be chased.
What didn‘t exist. For a while it was easy. Keep your head down, your nose clean, take
only what you need, choose your battles, and most importantly, if need be, turn rail and
run to fight another day. However, there comes a time when it all catches up. The past is



                                             99
not something you can run from. Your life catches up with you like an unstoppable train
along a track you just can‘t get off of. The past and present collide in a magnificent wreck
and you are the one standing there, holding the hand break. Now, I no longer take solace
in the grey. I no longer find balance.
         A grey haze blankets the skyline of the early morning metropolitan area. The sun
slowly creeps over the mountains to the east and a beautiful series of red and gold
ribbons emerge like tropical birds in flight. The ribbons bounce and reflect off of the
thousands upon thousands of glass squares and rectangles that make up the behemoth
manmade structures that are the city. The hustle and bustle of commuting workmen and
women fill the atmosphere with the screams and cries of speeding automobiles. Bicyclists
throw caution out the window trying to keep up with the combustible engine on wheels.
         An inundating roar from the sky passes over my one bedroom apartment and
wakes me from my own subconscious movie theater. My unconscious has casted her as
the lead role. As usual. The brunette I remember from school when I was younger. I rack
my brain, trying to recall the dream. But to no avail. I roll over. Shake it off and shake it
out. The time is 7:13 in the A.M. and my alarm has yet to sound. I rise to fulfill my most
basic human needs: relief, food, caffeine; in that order. I shuffle sleepily over to the cold
tiled floor of the adjacent half bathroom. My hand moves over the peeling wallpaper. I
find the switch. Flick. The light only slightly flickers, giving enough to make use of but
leaving more to be desired. My reflection flashes on and off the chipped glass. Dark eyes
I do not know return my stare from another realm. They look curiously. Judging. Grey
circles surround them like curtains hanging on the windows to my soul. Tired from more
than lack of sleep. Only 25 years old and already grey streaks hide under my dark hair in
random fashion.
         I walk down the hall to the other side of the apartment. My eyes take a minute to
adjust to the complete darkness of the living room/kitchen. The curtains do an excellent
job. I fumble around the walls for a switch. Flick. On goes a dimmed light in the far
corner. The room is not clean or organized but something positive can be said about its
coziness. At least, that‘s how I see it. Nothing on the walls but windows and chipped
plaster. I step carefully over to the one thing I can say I‘ve earned. Over the damp
newspapers and plastic cups. I search again. Flick. The music ignites the room like a
gasoline-saturated dishrag and pierces right through me. Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stone
Flower. I get lost for a moment. The music takes me to a different time. A different life.
Perhaps I should revise my list of basic needs.
         I pull the two day old filter out of the percolator. Replace. Two scoops. Add
water. Flick. Wait. Now the last of the three. I open the door to my food box. The light
casts a tall shadow behind me. My refrigerator reflects my stomach. Empty. ―Two out of
three ain‘t bad.‖ I pour a cup of liquefied life and return to my den. Jeans. Sweater.
Shoes. Ready. I top off my mug once more and walk out of the number 17 apartment with
Antonio still hammering out notes on his ivory. Down the steps, make a left, another
flight, out the door. The air is stiff. Cold. Painful yet refreshing. The sun hides behind
mountains of clouds so much so that I need to check my watch again to know what time it
really is. 8:29 on the dot.
         The side walk is spotted with rotting chewing gum that I take care not to tread in.
Motorists crawl slugishly behind me while I move at a consistent pace. A left hear. Right
there. Cross the street. Wait for green. I spy the corner market at the end of the block. But



                                            100
it‘s not food that I come here for. I walk past the automatic doors and into the small
parking lot behind the store. The pickens are slim but beggars can‘t be choosers, right? I
spot my first pick and stroll up casually. A lime green sedan. Custom paint job. I give a
tug on the door handle. No dice. Try, try again. Grey Oldsmobile. Black Volkswagen.
Beige work van. No. No. And no. I shuffle over to one of the last left. A red Dodge pickup
truck. Eye-catching. Monstrous. Loud. An invitation. I reluctantly pull on the handle
and…Yahtzee. Climbing up, I gently close the door. For a while I sit and stare out the
windshield. Half expecting the owner to come back, half expecting myself to try a
different location instead of taking my chances with this ostentatious heap. A bucket filled
with tools sits in the back seat. Bad idea. Wedging open the center console with a slotted
screwdriver, I find what I need. Snip here. Snip there. Black to red, yellow to white, and
I‘m off. The gauge tells me I have more than half a tank left. I pull out of the lot and wait
my turn at the light. The doors of the convenience store remain closed. An old woman
juggling five brown bags shuffles out and turns her cart behind the store disappearing
into the lot. A sharp pain of guilt sticks into my chest. Honking from behind the bed of the
truck snaps me out of my own mind and I pull through the intersection. ―Yeah, an old
broad like that driving a pickup like this.‖ I share a private joke with myself and shake
my head. Shake off the guilt.
         I constantly change direction. Trying to put as many buildings and streetlights in
between me and that lot as possible. Just in case. Making ninety degree turns wherever I
can while still staying on my designated course. Eventually, I feel safe. I turn onto 57th
street and take it downtown just as the crow flies; or at least how a crow would fly in a
city. I drive for an hour or more. The sun is now high in the sky but the clouds remain
relentless. I take a less populated street to find what I‘m looking for. The neighborhood
here is much different than where I live. The streets dirtier. The houses more run down.
You can only guess at this time of day but the area is notorious for drug trafficking and
gang violence.
         I begin to think I‘m lost when I spot my destination. A sign hangs high on a
square, white building: ―Hugo‘s Auto.‖ I pull up and through one of the garage
openings. I honk twice and hop out of the truck. A man I don‘t recognize walks out from
behind a red spotted curtain and stands at the counter, ready to receive me. I read his
name tag. ―Antone‖.
         ―Can I help you sir?‖ Clearly, he‘s new.
         ―Yes, you certainly can, Antone. I‘d like to talk to Hugo.‖ Antone seems puzzled
but before he can express his confusion, a heavy set, scruffy man walks out from behind
the same curtain. Hugo wears a button down Hawaiian shirt. Blue with white flowers. He
pushes his long curly hair out of his face and walks near me to firmly shake my hand with
both of his.
         ―Ah, Red. So nice to see you again! What have you got for me this time?‖ he says
with a sincere smile.
         I smile back but rock back and forth on the balls of my feet. Looking from Hugo to
his new employee and back again. Hugo seems to get my message.
         ―Ah, yes, of course! Antone, will you do me a favor and rotate the tires on that
Toyota that just came in today?‖ It was not a question. Antone nods politely and walks
back through the red spotted curtain. ―We‘ll be in my office,‖ he shouts through the
curtain. ―Shall we?‖ This time it was a question.



                                            101
        I nod once and follow him silently through a separate door, away from the red
curtain. He sidesteps behind his desk and plops down in a large leather chair. I shut the
door and do as he does.
        ―So, you‘ve brought me another, have you? You know I haven‘t heard from you in
a while? I was starting to think you had forgotten about me!‖ He chuckles loudly. ―Have
your usual sources been tapped or are you just getting tired of this profession?‖ He
chuckles again and looks into my eyes.
        I meet his gaze and sit silently for a few seconds until saying, ―I told you before,
Hugo, this is not a profession of mine... It‘s just how I make ends meet. It‘s not my day
job.‖ My rebuttal feels week but I remain calm. Hugo just likes to joke around. He must
have understood he had stepped on a sore spot because he quickly changes the subject.
        ―So what do you have this time?‖
        ―Dodge Ram pickup truck.‖ He looked at me blankly, expecting more. ―Four
wheels…Red…You know I know nothing about cars.‖
        He chuckles heartily. ―Yes, yes Red, I understand. You‘re lucky that I don‘t rip
you more than I already do!‖ Chuckle.
        I smile. ―There are some tools in the back. Take what you need but I‘m keeping
the screwdriver.‖
        Hugo nods silently while writing my check. ―Four thousand ok with you?
Business has been slow lately. Thank God I have you Red. My angel.‖ He winks at me
and laughs harder still.
        I smile. ―Four is fine Hugo.‖ He hands me the check and I pocket it without
giving it a look. He smiles back at me and I again stare into his beetle-black eyes. We sit
like that for a minute without any feeling of awkwardness. I abruptly stand up. ―I suppose
I should be heading home. I‘ll be taking the bus back.‖
        ―So you‘re just going to do business and run?‖ he laughs. ―Nonsense my friend.‖
He reaches from behind his desk and pulls out a bottle of liquor I do not recognize.
        ―No, Hugo. Thank you but I really need to be heading back.‖ Hugo is already
pouring the alcohol into glasses and looks disappointed when he hears my answer. He
makes a face at me. A sad face that I think only a child could make. Relentless. ―Fine. I‘ll
stay for an hour,‖ I compromise. Hugo releases a big smile and continues pouring. ―So
how‘s the family?‖ I inquire.
        Three drinks, a two hour bus ride and four thousand dollars later, I am again
walking on the gum spotted sidewalk I had been that same morning. The time is 7:13 in
the P.M. and I still have about three blocks to go before I am home. The sun had already
fallen behind the buildings and the sky managed to remain cloudy into the evening. I walk
on from the bus stop. A right here. Left there. Cross the street. I pass the convenience
store I had visited earlier that day. I stop and stare. Nothing gives the impression that
grand theft auto had occurred at all. I move on. Cross the street again. Open the
apartment building door. Up a flight, right, up one more. Number 17. Home sweet home.
I unlock the door to step inside. Antonio is just finishing up. I replay the album and sit
deep in my sofa, close my eyes and let the music surround me. ―Another day.‖
        Back then, I never allowed my emotions to control my actions. Unless, of course,
I was with Hugo; he always brought out the worst in me. Emotions make you sloppy.
Derail your reason. Corrupt your logic. If you‘re not careful, emotions can be the most
dangerous of things. Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way. There was one time that I



                                            102
let my emotions get the better of me. I fought when I should have flown. I thought I knew
when to fly and when to fight but…As I said, fear is capable of impossible things. Bravo
knew when to fly. For that, I can give him credit. But all it took was one slip. One slip.
One fight and I end up paying the ultimate price.
         I look at the clock on the wall. 12:30 in the P.M. on a sunny Saturday in
December and I stare at the snow drifting through the wind outside. Though outside, it is
freezing, I am the human furnace as I sit on a wooden chair, behind a wooden desk. I
look down at what I‘m wearing. A suit and tie. I can‘t remember the last time I was
dressed this well. I can‘t remember the last time I have heard Hugo‘s laugh. The room
I‘m in is filled. Spectators. Media. Law enforcement. Law interpreters. Family. Friends.
All equally different. All united by the desire. All against me. The only one remotely on
my side is being paid. He sits To my right. Shuffling papers. Trying to look important.
Trying to look together. In denial. I already know what‘s coming.
         A loud bang pulls me from the inner workings of my mind. The courtroom
becomes even more silent, if at all possible. I recognize my name.
         ―Noah Redding, by the power vested in me by the state of California, I hereby
order you to serve two life sentences back to back in state federal prison for the murders
of Bill and Deandra Pullman. One for each of your victims. Court adjourned!‖ Another
loud bang wakes me even more from my haze. I am numb. I am tired.
         I am asked to rise by the bailiff. A large dark skinned man who could probably eat
me in one bite if he was hungry enough. I stand. Hands behind my back. Cuffed. I know
the drill. At least he is gentle. The bailiff nudges me foreward and I start walking. My
legs are lead weights but still I move them. Eyes and cameras stare me down as I enjoy
my last few moments of freedom. Constant flashes of light. Jeers from the mob outside. A
police vehicle waiting for me. I duck down and get as comfortable as a human being can
in the backseat of car with a steel grid. I close my eyes and put my head back. The sound
of a slammed door. The car pulls away.
         They say that your motives are always more pure the younger you are. The older
you get, the more corrupted by time you become. Mistakes. Fear. Balance. Emotion. All
factor into how you allow your life to play out. This I know is true. Yes, children can be
the most pure at times. That being said, they also say that good intentions pave the path to
hell. What does that make children? Go figure. I suppose you reap what you sew.
         It‘s been a month since my pickup truck escapade with Hugo. I haven‘t seen
him since. The time is 1:35 in the A.M. and I am standing on the dark corner of Glen
Riddle and Martins. The sky is clear but the air is brisk. The four grand went far, but
not far enough. I got my rent for paid for the last two months and some collectors off
my back but my food box remains to be filled. I have eaten. It‘s just that there never
seems to be abundance. However, my library continues to grow. Between food and
music, I pick music. My vice. My addiction.
         I wait silently, rocking to and fro on the balls of my feet. I stare at the stars.
It‘s quite a treat to view the stars in the city. I seize the chance while it‘s available.
The air pierces through me. I bundle up and look around. Still nothing. Only me,
myself and a grey spotted cat crossing the street down the block. I jump at every little
sound. I spin on my axis. Still nothing. I slowly turn back around and nearly have a
stroke. A tall figure in a trench coat is slowly strolling up to me. He stops about two
feet away. He inches closer and closer until we are standing shoulder to shoulder. I



                                            103
learn that he is not just tall but buff. Probably twice as heavy as me too. He spoke
slowly.
         ―Mr. Red?‖ Barely audible. Barely a whisper.
         ―Mr. Bravo?‖ I reply.
         ―Aye, aye! Let‘s walk.‖ I follow hid lead across the street and down the
sidewalk. ―So you remember the plan I hope?‖ He speaks with a heavy Irish brogue.
         ―Yes, but it wouldn‘t hurt to go over it once more would it?‖
         ―Not at all, not at all.‖ I notice that he turns to face me every time he begins
speaking. He wears a black ski mask. Something he must have forgotten to mention to
me over the phone two weeks ago. I decide to keep quiet. ―The house in question is
having its kitchen remodeled at the moment so residents are a non-issue.‖ I nod
silently but quickly made my understanding audible when I see that he is too busy
keeping watch to notice my subtle movements. ―After quickly performing the breaking
and entering, we gather what needs gathering and get the hell out of there. Shouldn‘t
take more than ten minutes.‖
         ―Split everything 50/50?‖ I try to sound collected. I had done something
similar to this only once before. An old barn that was on private property. This was
different though. A residential area. A place where people lived. Trying not to think of
it, I continue my stargazing while keeping up with Bravo.
         He sounds genuinely surprised, ―Yes, of course! You think I could do this
alone?‖
          I shrug but it goes unnoticed.
         We arrive at our destination: a large two story townhouse with a large porch.
Shrubs on either side of the steps leading up to the front door. All and all, a nice
house. Not too big or too small. Bravo seems hesitant. He stares up at the windows.
Right when I open my mouth to question, he jumps from his gaze and orders for me to
follow him around back. I do as I‘m told. I get a strange feeling about Bravo.
Something that can‘t be explained. Only observed.
         The back door is locked up tight and we begin to do our jobs. ―Check every
window,‖ he tells me. ―You wouldn‘t believe how easy it can be if there is just one
window left unlocked.‖ Clearly Bravo‘s done this before. Minutes tick by. ―Aha!‖ he
shouts a little too loudly. ―Got one! Come on, come on.‖ Excitement and fear fill me
up as I climb in the window after the expert. He is certainly correct about the
construction. Just about the entire first floor is demolished or in the middle of
construction in some way. Nothing valuable insight yet. We walk silently around a
corner. Jackpot. Everything that is supposed to be displaced about the first floor is
crammed in one convenient area. Bravo hands me a large duffel bag.
         ―Start loading this up, I have to take a piss.‖ I do what I‘m told without
question. I pick up drawers of vintage silverware and dump it in the duffel bag as
quietly as possible. Lamps, DvDs, a cell phone or two, even a laptop. Nothing is safe.
Even tools left over night by the construction crew. The bag is beginning to fill when I
find them. What I have been secretly looking for the whole time. Music. At least fifty
albums strong or more. I look behind my shoulder. Bravo still gone, I pull out my own
bag and start taking whatever suits me. The Seatbelts, Feist, Dave Brubeck, Zero 7,
Philip Glass, Tuatara. I even throw in a Kill Bill vol. 2 soundtrack for the hell of it. I
slow down, pacing myself.



                                             104
        I stand up and look at my watch. The time is 2:12 in the A.M. and I begin to
wonder where Bravo is. I hear a loud click. I spin on my axis once more to discover
the source of the noise. A tall man is holding me at gunpoint. His hand shaking
violently. I drop the bags raise my hands in the air. He is not Bravo.
        ―Who the hell are you and what the fuck are you doing in my house?!‖ he
demands.
        ―Please don‘t shoot,‖ is all I can manage to spit out. Barely audible. Barely a
whisper.
        ―Give me some answers punk, before-‗‘ But what he was planning on doing is
lost to me. A loud bang. I crouch down and hold my knees. Ringing in my ears. A soft
thud. I knew what had happened but I didn‘t understand how. I keep my eyes shut
tight.
        ―You ok there, Red?‖
        I open my eyes and glance from Bravo to the unconscious body and back
again. My mouth drops but no words come out. Only a soft mumble.
        ―What‘s that, Red?‖
        ―What the hell did you just do?‖ I whisper hysterically.
        ―Pardon me, Red, but I believe I just had a hand in saving your life.‖ A tinge
of annoyance seeps from his words.
        ―You killed him. Just like that? You killed him!‖
        ―Yes, did what I had to.‖ He remains calm. ― Had I not, it would be you and
me laying there and not him.
        ―You don‘t know that,‖ I snap at him.
        ―He had a gun, Red. The man had a gun!‖
        I kneel down and crawl over to the man‘s body. Taking care not to touch him
or his growing pool of blood. Looking. Looking. There is no coming back. Then I see
light‘s reflection. I pick up the gun in question and quickly realize that it‘s nothing
but the shell of a gun that once was. I throw it to him and sit down on the ground. My
head in my hands.
        ―How was I to know what it was? I see a man pointing anything remotely
resembling a gun at my partner and I shoot first, ask questions later.‖
        ―Ok then ‗partner‘, who said a damn thing about bringing fire anyway? I
don‘t remember packing heat being in the plan ‗partner‘!‖
        ―Always be prepared, Red. You weren‘t a boy scout?‖
        I stare at the man‘s body again. The pool of blood is still growing. Bravo is an
anchor. I am a mess.
        ―Did you fill the bags?‖ he questions.
        This pushes me over the edge. Outraged at his coldness, I turn abruptly to
really give him a piece of my mind. I scream and curse at him. Fearless of his size or
his pistol. He seems more than annoyed now. He removes his gloves getting ready to
throw down but still I scream. He pulls off his ski mask and I see the face of a
criminal. Of a killer. Eyes that make mine go wide. Scars thrown haphazardly across
his smooth face. He puts up his mitts and I, mine. He is fast. I take a blow to my cheek
bone. I drop. I feel tired, like I could sleep for days. Bravo bends over and grabs me
by the collar of my shirt. I open my eyes only to see my own reflection hidden in his.
He winds up another punch. The eye this time. My head turns on its axis and another



                                            105
figure is revealed to me. Behind Bravo. My eyes flash away from his and Bravo
knows that something is off kilter. Bravo drops me and quickly turns to see what I see.
The figure of a woman in a nightgown. Standing, mouth agape. Hands at her sides.
Eyes wide. Unblinking. Long brown hair blows in the cold wind of the night through
the door left ajar. She is beautiful and I have condemned her to death. Bravo raises
his cannon. I shout an inaudible syllable over the sound of the blast. The bullet grazes
the woman‘s neck. Blood sprays all over the newly laid wood floor of the kitchen. She
lay there. Writhing. A horrible gurgling sound comes from her convulsing body. I
can‘t bear to look but I cannot pry my eyes away. Bravo runs for the backdoor. I do
the same. I walk past the woman who is still alive. Still writhing. I take one last look
and her cold eyes drill into mine, slicing apart what‘s left of my humanity. I run.
Outside, Bravo is nowhere to be found and I have no interest in looking. I run around
the house and back the way I came an hour earlier. I run. Just like Bravo, I run and
don‘t look back.
         The image of the beautiful woman writhing on the floor burns an image so
vivid and clear that I doubt I will ever be able to erase it from my mind. Her smooth
hair turned red in the puddle of her own blood. I wonder if she is alive. If she can be
saved. The time is 3:46 in the A.M. when I decide to turn back. I tell myself I will get
there, call 911, whatever her state. I need to do this. I need her to be alive.
         I walk around back and reluctantly pull on the door handle. The woman is not
making a sound. Not moving at all. I tell myself that she‘s just passed out, though
even I know it‘s a complete lie. I pick up the phone and dial the number. I tell the
operator the address and situation. When I hang up, my ears pick up a familiar
sound. A sound you hear everyday living in the city like this but never give it a second
though. Sirens. Too soon to be the ambulance I just called for. Again I book through
the back yard and down the street. I run. Adrenaline like a rocket strapped to my
back. The sirens begin to sound closer. ―Why did I go back?‖ I whisper to myself. I
cannot outrun the combustible engine on wheels. I‘m surrounded. The time is 4:57 in
the A.M. and I am in custody.
         Life is summed by the choices you make. Everyone knows that. But choices
are more complicated. No, they are formed by many things. The Magnitude of your
courage. The strength of your heart. The will of your mind. How well you can
balance between two extremes. These factors are what brought me here. I do not use
them as excuses. I do not use them for rationality. Only as guides. For I have nothing
to be ashamed of. My life simply caught up and I was too slow to outrun it. I
understand now that I would always end up in here. Though my crime was rather
petty, it was only a matter of time until I became like Bravo. I take solace in knowing
that coming here has prevented me from becoming something like that.
         Some can say my life has been wasted. I cannot disagree. My one chance
swept under the rug. Nothing left to do but die. Nothing left to do. I once wished for
all the time in the world. Now I have it. All the time in the world to learn all to be
learned. All the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. All the time in the world
to listen to my music. At 76 years of age, two out of three ain‘t bad.
         I put on my headphones. A quick search for the switch. Flick.
         The time is 1:14 in the P.M. and Antonio Carlos Jobim has only just begun.




                                            106
                                          Front Porches

                                        by Wade Phillips



       The familiar musty stench greeted Mark as he opened the door with his shoulder.

It would open only enough for him to squeeze through as the mound of clutter had grown

up and over the back of the door to the ceiling. Mark breathed in the dust that escaped

through the crack and coughed harshly. Taking one last fresh breath, he shoved himself

through the door and into the darkness. The lighting of the room was as discouraging as

the mounds and mounds of garbage and clutter that inhabited it. Dark autumn sunlight

shown through the curtains and gave the shapes and piles in the room a depressed orange

glow. The dumpster loomed outside the window blocking out any additional light that

could have penetrated the gloom.

          Mark‘s mother claimed that during the last few months of his father‘s life, the

house had reached its worst stage. She claimed that with going to the hospital so many

times a week for radiation they couldn‘t have kept the house clean. Mark knew better. He

knew that they didn‘t want to clean it. He knew they never had any intention of cleaning

it. They were lazy and ignored the mess. He would guess that the house had been that bad

for maybe twenty or thirty years. It sure couldn‘t have happened overnight. He even

remembered, that as a kid, he could never have anybody come over without cleaning and

straightening-up for hours. And so, naturally, nobody ever came over. Everyone

pretended it was ok to ignore the issue at hand and a trend of denial started to form,

especially with Mark‘s father. When he was home, he was always finding a reason to be

going someplace else—anywhere but there.



                                            107
       Now, Mark found himself standing at the bottom of a valley of dusty items—a

valley that reached the meeting points of the ceiling and walls on either side of him. The

valley‘s bottom was a walkway of scattered papers that made its way from the kitchen

sink to the stairs and from there up to one of the three bedrooms where there was just

enough room for one person to sleep on a portion of the half covered bed. The family

room was sealed behind a wall of boxes, and the basement door behind that was surely

covered beyond visibility. The condition of this place that Mark had once called home

was the result of decades of hoarding. Around him he could make out that the piles were

mostly made of papers and clothes on the surface. This was what his parents had left him.

They hadn‘t even bothered to keep track of their will before the old man died; it was lost

somewhere in the clutter. All that Mark felt he had been left was an extremely dependent

mother to take care of and a dilapidated and crammed house to clean out, two burdens

that were not just pulling him down but which were pulling his life apart at the seams. He

turned and punched a hole in the rotting wall.

          ―Goddamn it Mom! How could you ever let a house get this bad?‖ Mark yelled

back through the door as the old lady slowly waddled up the front steps and into the

house. ―There is no way that this mess happened in a couple months. There is no way!‖

She simply stood looking as demoralized and incompetent as usual. He couldn‘t stand her

silence. ―Do you understand that you can‘t live at our house much longer? Joan wants

you out. Hell, she wants me out too because of this. Do you understand the importance of

anything I‘m saying?‖

       ―Yes, Mark.‖

       ―I had to go through the trouble to get a dumpster in your front yard to deal with




                                           108
the mess you left me with. An f-ing dumpster!‖ It was no use shouting. It was no use

reiterating the same points over and over again. He knew she felt terrible and knew that

she understood what he was saying, but she simply was unable to part with her

―treasures‖. She was unable to change. It was a sickness. She was a lost cause that he was

determined to put back on course. He was determined to make her realize what she had

created was wrong even if it meant pushing her to a breaking point. After all, he had been

pushed there himself and it just wasn‘t fair. All he had tried to do as a father and husband

was to separate himself from his own father‘s mistakes and now his father had caught up

with him after all the years. Smothering him with forty-five years of history that reached

all the way through his DNA, the house in which he was standing felt inescapable.

                                              *

       On the night that Marks father finally died, his son and grandson visited him at

the hospital. Mark had not wanted to go to visit at all as it had become common for his

father to be in and out of the hospital within a couple of days. He had appeared to be

doing much better on the surface. Mark‘s son, however, had insisted that they go and

visit, and, because nobody suspected that he was going to die that night, it seemed strange

to Mark that his son felt the sudden urge to visit his sick grandfather. And so Mark drove

John over at around ten o‘clock. They found him lying in bed, half asleep. He looked

much thinner and paler than usual but he went on to them about the Phillies and about

this nurse and that nurse and about relatives (all of his usual rants) until they decided that

it was time to leave.

       Mark watched his son hug his grandfather and whisper, ―I love you,‖ into the old

man‘s ear. This always lit up the man‘s face with a smile, a smile that Mark had rarely




                                             109
seen as a boy. Mark knew his father loved his grandson intensely but still couldn‘t help

feeling that his father had always looked to John for a second chance of sorts—a way

heal the wounds of a broken father-son relationship without ever confronting the

wounded. The notion simply reaffirmed his belief that few relationships are as sacred and

beautiful as they appear. He immediately thought of the beautiful front porch and tidy

garden of his parent‘s house, which acted, in his mind, as a mask that disguised the

disorder within.

        Mark suddenly thought of a day two years previous. It was a snowy January day,

and he had just come home from work to find his father at his house and doing a project

with John. They were taking down the storm windows in John‘s bedroom. Mark‘s dad

was letting John take out the screws as they took down the windows together. The only

issue was that it was January, and it clearly was not the time to be taking out storm

windows. It was freezing out. Mark seriously thought that his father did these things just

to piss him off. And so Mark got mad and put them back up and an argument ensued.

Mark told his father he could go home. Instead of getting his things and driving home, the

stubborn old man decided he was going to walk home, eight miles down Baltimore pike

in wet, snowy conditions. He made it halfway before he was spotted by a friend and

driven the rest of the way home.

       On the night that the old man died, Mark never said, ―I love you‖ before he left as

his son had. He had wanted to say it, but he couldn‘t get the words out of his mouth.

Instead, he gave the man a nod and escorted his son out of the room. His father didn‘t say

anything back to him and so he felt ok about it. In the middle of the night, only about five

hours later, Mark‘s mom called him to tell him that his father passed away in his sleep.




                                            110
       At the funeral Mark was the only person who never cried. He decided that he

must have been the only one there who had really known his father.

                                                  *

       ―Mark, she really can‘t stay here any longer. We never planned for her to live at

our house,‖ said Joan as she looked across the table and over a bin full of her in-laws old

finance reports and saved junk mail.

       ―Yes I know, but she can‘t go back there now, and it is going to take twenty

weekends with me and John slaving away to haul the shit out of that house. I am already

beat from working five days a weak at the plant anyway. I only have so much energy.‖

       ―Ok, well . . . then do what I have been telling to do since your father died. Go get

a dumpster and throw everything in it.‖

       ―And for the last time—they are too expensive.‖

       She paused and quietly responded, ―I bet your father would have made that case

too. You know, you are just as cheap as he was.‖ Back when they had first fallen in love,

Joan decided to go to law school and was able to enhance her already argumentative

nature with real training. In other words, she always knew what to say to undermine

Mark‘s arguments. And, in other words, he could never win.

       ―Joan, listen, I would rather not get into it about my dead father right now if that‘s

ok with you,‖ he said with a hint of bitter sarcasm.

       ―Well here is the issue Mark: you are refusing to get your mom back into her

house in a timely matter while I am having to lie to my mom who you damn-well-know

would be pissed if she found out who was staying here. And, in the meantime, you are

once again worried about a few bucks you could save by putting all of the goddamn trash




                                            111
out for the garbage man. It is exactly,‖ she paused and repeated the word, ―exactly what

your dad would have done!‖

       ―I am not like my father!‖ he said as she laughed at the ease in which he was

falling into her trap. Mark was fuming. ―Why the hell do you have to bring him up

repeatedly when I just said I don‘t want to talk about him.‖

       ―A-ha!‖ she yelled grinning from ear to ear. ―Another symptom! Denial! Go

ahead, we don‘t have to talk about the issue at hand. We‘ll just push it off to the side and

let someone else deal with it right? Is that what we will do? Because that is what your

father did when he left you that shit-hole of a house! Do you want to leave it for John?

Should we pass it down another generation!‖ Her smile vanished.

       ―Joan, FUCK YOU,‖ he yelled across the table as he rose to his feet, scattering

papers to on the floor. ―And while we‘re on the topic of resemblance all of a sudden, you

are just as much of a bitch as your mom is.‖

       ―Wow. Bold move you ass-hole. Well how about this for a proposal. Why don‘t

you just go and live over at the house with your mom so you can sit on your ass all day

and sort through all your family‘s shit possessions at your own pace while we all go on

with our lives.‖ Mark paused. He had no response to offer. He was completely broken

down and looked so angry that he appeared like he was trying not to cry. He slowly

collected his thoughts and carefully continued in a near-whisper.

       ―Do you want to know what I‘m going to do? I am going to go and get the

fucking dumpster and I‘m going to throw all the shit through that goddamn upstairs

window and out into the yard. Then I‘ll tuck my mom into her dusty bed and I‘ll shut the

door and we can leave her there to rot just like she did for the last fifty years of her




                                             112
marriage. Ok? Will you be so happy then? I really doubt it because you are never, ever,

are happy. You are only going to be satisfied when you get the last thing that you want, a

fucking divorce. ‖ He looked up to see his son frozen in the doorway behind the table,

looking as if he had just seen a ghost. Mark could see the damage displayed on his face

and immediately regretted everything he had said.

       ―Are you happy now?‖ said Joan as she got up and went to comfort her son.

                                                 *

       Mark had finally cleared a larger path in the debris and was slowly making his

way through the trash and up the steps to the bedroom. He was exhausted and his nerves

were shot. The sky was getting dark and the dumpster was already about a third filled and

Mark‘s mother stood and fretted over every moldy pillowcase and sweater that was

thrown away. After about an hour of clearing, he finally made his way to the upstairs

bedroom where his mom would be sleeping. It was his old room, and he could tell

because everything was still the same, only more dusty and with more accumulation. On

his bed, buried under piles of clothes that she had claimed were her ―party clothes‖, he

could make out the remains of a half knitted quilt that she had started making him when

he was going off to college.

       He squeezed his way around the bed and got over to the large set of low-sitting

double windows. Mark observed that his father had never taken out the storm windows

in his own house. Moisture had collected in between the two pieces of glass from the

storm windows having been in during the summers and the supporting wood for the

window had rotted away, almost to non-existence.




                                           113
       ―The bastard could fool with my windows but couldn‘t even take out his own.

What a fucking hypocrite,‖ Mark said to himself out loud.

       Surrounding the window were piles of boxes that Mark discovered to contain un-

used gifts from his parents twenty-fifth anniversary, now over twenty-five years old and

still in the original gift boxes. This infuriated Mark. He picked up a silver glass vase and

threw it across the room at his old encyclopedia shelf, which had sat there since before he

was born. To Mark‘s horror, the impact of the vase went through the bindings of the

dusty books and released thousands and thousands of termites which had been living in

the books and in the shelf. Quickly, they hurried under the carpet and down into the

house infrastructure.

       ―Mom, get in here now!‖ he called down the steps as he began smashing the old

gift boxes into a large pile on the bed.

       ―What is it Mark?‖ she cried has she hurried into the room, alarmed by the sound

of breaking glass.

       ―What the hell Mom. Why did you leave me all this. Why? Why?‖ He was

unsuccessfully trying to choke back tears. ―I never wanted any of it. I never wanted it to

be like this! What good ever came from all the fucking hoarding and greed! Where did it

get anybody? Fucking alone is where!‖

       She made her way across the room to try to stop him. He raised a second glass

vase above his head to smash on the floor and she reached out in frustration as he was

bringing it down. She put her arm on his and tried to push him away from the gift pile, all

the while calling his name. He lost his balance and toppled over the remaining pile of old

jars and gifts and fell straight through the rotted window. The wood submitted easily




                                            114
under his weight. He flailed helplessly through the air and landed at the bottom with a

muffled metallic thud. His head was gouged by the sharp edge of the dumpster just before

he hit, and he lay in a great bloody mess in with all the trash he had thrown away. He was

gone by the time his mother even had time to poke her head out the window to see what

had happened. She let out a desperate cry of sorrow as several curious neighbors looked

on from their quiet front porches.

                                            *

       Several days later there would be a funeral that many of the same curious

neighbors would attend to offer their polite condolences. Many of them would even cry.

John would silently sit in the front row with his tearful mother and sobbing grandmother

and wonder about how many of the people there had even known his father.




                                           115
Vickram Narayn Premakumar

                        Analysis of Suburban Pretension

       The alarm clock sounded at noon. His fingers crept onto the wailing black plastic

and instinctively cycled the power switch. He wouldn‘t be bothered by the time again

today. The sun was furiously shining into the room, coercing him to start his day. He

gathered the sheets off of the ground and replaced them on the bed. The first couple

mornings of the summer commenced with a sharp knock at the door and summoning to

breakfast. Now, he awoke at his leisure and settled to eat as his mother clicked away at

her laptop.

       His sister was busying herself with last minute summer work on the opposite side

of the table. She barely noticed the other two.

       ―Dear, you might want to start looking for flights back to school soon‖ Eliza said,

forgoing her usual morning greetings.

       He continued to stare at the back of a cereal box and made a noise of accordance.

She paused for a second and then looked up from the screen. The foggy image of a little

boy and his sister pouring over the maze on the box flashed across her eyes. She

appreciated how things didn‘t change. As much as Eliza wanted her kids to grow up, her

instinct to cling to the past never faded. In that respect, she was glad they still managed to

sit together like this. Too many families devalued that connection. It provided a force that

held them together.

                                              *

       ―Transaction complete!‖




                                             116
        The printer lethargically poured out his ticket back home. The pressure he was

expected to feel in his parents‘ house was finally becoming evident. If he could have

returned home earlier, he would have. Unfortunately, he was still in university housing,

so he was stuck here for another week. The summer had been quite uneventful; a sharp

contrast to what it was in his high school days. Everyone now was striving to dust off

their old lives; they put more effort into reviving experiences than they ever did in school.



        All he wanted was to be able to move on. He was positively elastic in this sense.

He didn‘t dislike his old life, but he knew it wasn‘t leading anywhere. Everyone knew

that. There was something about the stagnation he felt during the summer that he couldn‘t

stand. No matter what he did, it wasn‘t going to move him forward; all he could do was

reminisce. And, unfortunately, it seemed like that was all anyone else was willing to do.

He was riding field lines, each segment of his life passing him on to the next, integral for

a time, but subsequently irrelevant.

                                               *

        There was a certain stillness in the house. It was characteristic of Sunday nights at

his parents‘ house. The crest of the workweek forced people to squeeze as much as they

could out of their final hours of freedom. He sometimes wished there were no weekends

just so he could avoid this horrendous idleness. The ring of the house phone disturbed his

tranquility. Since the whole family had cell phones, they weren‘t used to answering the

landline. He was uncomfortable with a traditional telephone‘s ringing – A polyphonic

rendition of the latest pop tune was much more familiar. Two rings passed before he

lifted himself off the floor to silence the racket.




                                              117
        ―Francis…err...please‖

        He didn‘t recognize the voice on the phone. There were small pauses between

words, some discomfort in the call. He united the caller with his father, sat down on the

bed and proceeded to watch the call. This curiosity was unusual, he felt it was an invasion

of privacy, but a magnetizing force held him there. His dad could barely respond into the

phone, fragments of ―stop‖ or ―please don‘t‖ were the only discernable phrases in the

sludge of mumbling pouring forth from his mouth. Francis‘s deterioration terrified him.

He wanted desperately to ask what happened and to have his father answer in his usually

matter-of-fact tone.

        ―No matter your age, you can still be an orphan‖ was the only information he got.

        The news didn‘t affect him at all. His grandmother‘s death would not change his

life in the least. He relaxed.

                                                  *

        He muttered to himself as he rested the phone in its cradle. He felt no sympathy,

no sadness, no anything. The loss should be killing him. Unfortunately, it was doing

much worse. He thought of his father, weeping in the basement, wishing to feel the same

way. The hollowness of the apathy burned as an empty stomach does. Without feeling

grief, he was not part of the family. But apathy, that was enormously worse.

        The worst thing about this break was that he couldn‘t enjoy his family. It‘s not

that he disliked them in any sense; he just did not give them the attention they deserved.

He was aware of this, and wished it away, but his new college persona would not let it

happen. New experiences had diffused the intensity of his family‘s light. There was no




                                            118
happiness to be had in their presence. He had tried to be with them many times, but

inevitably returned to his haven.

       The dreary whirr of his laptop greeted him as he entered his bedroom. The

purchase of it was right before he left for the university. His family‘s final gift to him as

he started his own life severed his dependence on them, and he accepted that. The

whirlwind before his departure was equally stressful on the whole family. It gave them

something in common. The family would all sit around their single computer, vultures,

trying to maximize the utility of a dollar. The team would keep records, make phone

calls, and formulate plans to provide for his college experience.

       The door to his room clicked behind him. With a slight hesitation, he locked the

door. With any luck, people might think he was crying. The room was different since he

moved out. Of course, his belongings no longer carpeted the floor, but that wasn‘t the

extent of it. He liked it much more now. When he was in here, he could escape. It was

simply a vessel for him to retreat to the internet now -- A place to forge a connection to

something, however feeble it was.

       He had never been interested much in technology. It was undoubtedly over his

head and in some cases a complication to an otherwise simplistic life. In high school, he

tried his best to be a minimalist. Not for any reason in particular, but more just to be

someone – to have a character. No cell phone, no car, nothing. It gave him something to

be proud of, even if it was at the cost of modern life.

       He looked down. A computerized chirp called out to him. He scrambled about his

bed trying to find the source. Finally, he pinned down his cell phone and convinced it to

spit up its information. His eyes had barely hit the screen when he deftly flipped open a




                                             119
keyboard and danced his thumbs on its face. Each incoming message was matched with a

prompt reply. Between them, his eyes flicking up to the laptop monitor to catch anything

coming in from that angle.

                                            *

       Eliza paused before descending the basement stairs. The lights were off, and she

didn‘t bother to change that. The length of the basement was littered with the family‘s

outdated goods. Some time ago, each had its moment, but now they did nothing but bring

back memories. She saw her husband, in pieces, laid before her. The shakes of grief

permeated the house. She kept her composure when the news was relayed to her. Her

familial duty was to take this role. She needed emotional release, but her needs were not

the focus at this point. She slowly sat down next to her husband and blindly consoled

him. She silently assured him of the future, without knowing the recent past. Once

Francis was sufficiently prepared, Eliza brought him to the bedroom. He needed to be

around the rest of the family.

                                            *

       ―What‘s going on?‖ He heard from down the hallway. He knew the question

wasn‘t for him, but he walked out to join the conversation anyway. His younger sister

stood, framed by her doorway, clearly worried, trying to justify her concern. She needed

an answer that would let her be angry, an excuse. Her words didn‘t matter; she was

simply desperate for the information. He watched as despair gripped her face and twisted

it. The quiet sob that emanated before she managed to collapse into her room did nothing

but disgust him.




                                           120
        Their acquaintance was no more than eleven years, yet somehow she managed to

care about her passing. He was utterly bewildered at the feelings had. Almost jealous. He

wanted so badly to steal some of that despair. He was worried about his own apathy –

what did it mean? It‘s not like he should be expected to care, he had met her fewer than

ten times in his life. Who could be attached enough to cry about that?

        Pure genetics could not possibly foster a sentimental connection independent from

sincere interaction. The reasoning was sound; he should not be worried at all. Logically,

he was in the right and nobody could question that unassailable train of thought. Through

all the rationalization of the afternoon, he still couldn‘t shake the apathy‘s grip of his

mind.

                                                   *

        He was assigned to drive the last of the flowers to the venue. The funeral came

quickly. Francis‘s siblings did not wait for others; they acted immediately to send their

mother off. The car rolled smoothly to its destination. He had made this drive so many

times in the last week that it was instinctive. Each intricacy of the drive became

increasingly comforting to him. Nevertheless, he was always in a rush to get to the other

end of the drive. As he sat there with the flowers in the rear, he made no effort to enjoy

his time on the road. It was simply a way to get from one place to another.

        The funeral was thoroughly traditional. He sat with his family, garbed in somber

colors, watching the procedures unfold. They had not participated much in the

organizational aspects of the event. Seated in the second row, he craned his neck to see

the sealed casket resting at the front of the hall. Peripheral vision showed him that his




                                             121
father was watching his efforts to participate in the funeral. Francis‘s tears changed

character.

       Trying to internalize the emotion of the funeral was not successful for him. His

desire to pull in some feeling was not satiated with a simple ceremony. Seeing his sister

continue to push tears out of her eyes in the midst of it was unparalleled in its absurdity.

Days had gone by and she was still connected enough to display such powerful emotion

while he sat, realizing his ultimate inability to care. Eliza nudged him to bring his

attention to the crying child. She wanted him to help her, or console her. To care for her

like Eliza cared for Francis; as a family member. He looked forward, into the

proceedings. The sense of his mother‘s eyes resting on him was still present. The eulogy

was about to be presented. He selected the moment carefully and proceeded to close his

eyes. Eliza waited for tears, but none came.




                                             122
Brittany Radcliff                                                                      Short Story


        Most people would have automatically assumed that Tracy and Ricky were in love. And

sure, they loved each other, but it was solely a best friend relationship. It was the first day of 6th

grade and Ricky and Tracy sat next to each other in their homeroom class. Everyone in the class

was quiet and felt awkward; but when Ricky looked to his right Tracy flashed a welcoming

smile. He smiled back. They got to talking, and not after long were they on their way to being

best friends. They both knew it was going to be something very special that would last a very

long time. As the school year went on, they slowly grew closer and closer to each other. They‘d

do math homework together on weeknights, and on the weekends they would watch movies and

bake cookies; it was always fun when they were together. They were like any normal pair of best

friends and their lives together were only just beginning.


                                                    *


        I couldn‘t believe how beautiful she looked. I watched her as she wrote out her lesson

plan for her 8th grade math class. She had no make-up on, bundled up in a sweatshirt and

sweatpants and she looked absolutely beautiful. I wasn‘t sure why I was so mesmerized by her. I

was watching the pen as it floated across the paper. I was watching her hair as it kept falling in

her face; and then as she would run her fingers through it and push it behind her ears. I was

watching her bite her lip as she thought hard about what to write next. I was watching the love of

my life. Sure, she was my best friend and had been for years. But that feeling for me had recently

grown much stronger, and it scared me. It utterly, flat-out terrified me.


―What was I supposed to say to her?‖ Ricky thought to himself, still hypnotized.


―I couldn‘t possibly tell her how I felt. I‘d look like a simple fool. Could I write her a letter? No.


                                              123
That‘d be cheesy...‖


The more I thought, the more anxious I became. My head started to spin. I forced myself to stop

thinking.


―I‘m feeling a little sick,‖ I told Tracy. ―I think I‘m gonna take a nap because when I wake up,

I‘m going to make dinner tonight instead of you!‖


                                                  *


       A few hours later I woke up from my nap and started to make dinner for Tracy. I knew

she was hungry just like she was every day when she came home, so I started as quick as I could.

I started to think about how she was probably going to find this action very suspicious

considering the fact that I never would voluntarily offer to make dinner. It is true though, I have

been going out of my way recently to do nice things; I just want to make her happy. I tried to let

go of my worries and forced myself to focus on what I was cooking. As I finished, I fixed Tracy

a plate and set it down in front of her at the table. Despite her long day at work, I couldn‘t ignore

how beautiful she looked. I tried to impress her by pouring her a glass of her favorite wine. I

made my way back to the stove and fixed myself a plate. I sat down and she thanked me. All I

could do was nod. I felt nervous, really nervous.


I thought to myself, ―this isn‘t like me, she‘s my best friend. Could she tell how nervous I was? I

hope not, that would be embarrassing…‖


As we both ate I noticed an unusual awkwardness between us.


―How was your day?‖ I asked her.


―My mind was running wild today!‖ She exclaimed.


                                            124
―I can‘t believe Christmas is in just one week! I love the holidays, it‘s all I can ever think about

when it gets close!‖ I agreed then heard words come out of my mouth that I couldn‘t believe,

―Yeah…for some reason I just couldn‘t get you off my mind today.‖ She hesitated.


It was pretty clear that I made her uncomfortable. I thought maybe, just maybe, she‘d begun to

feel like that towards me too, but I guess I‘d been wrong. She smiled, thanked me for dinner, and

walked to her room leaving me alone with nothing to do but think.


                                                      *


       I was in a daze as Tracy left for work. I heard the shower running, the hair dryer turn on

and then off again, and then the door slammed shut as it always did and I was left alone, again. I

forced myself to get out of bed. I put on the coffee and looked at the calendar; it had been almost

two weeks since the interview I‘d had with the local law firm. I was sick of waiting and decided

that it was time to call them because I really needed a job. With that kind of money, I could buy

Tracy anything she wanted; and lately that seemed to be all I could care about. So I picked up the

phone and I called them. They told me that my application was still pending and that I‘d have to

wait another week or so; all that was left for me to do for the rest of the day was to think about

ways to tell Tracy I loved her. It felt like time was passing so slowly all day as I sat at home

waiting to hear the key in the door, signaling Tracy‘s arrival. I flipped through all the TV

channels but it seemed as if nothing interested me. I couldn‘t bear to sit here any longer, so I got

up and walked out the door. I wasn‘t really sure where I was going, or what I wanted to do, but I

needed to do something. I walked a few blocks down the rows of shops on 17th street and one of

the stores caught my eye. A flower shop, what could be better? My knowledge of flowers was

way below-par so I asked the owner for a little help. I told him my situation in hopes that he‘d be




                                             125
able to lead me in the right direction of the perfect bouquet of flowers. After what felt like hours

in the shop, I came out with what looked to me as a beautiful set of flowers. I felt confident and

proud as I walked home, drowning out my nerves. As I got back home I looked at the clock,

3:30. She‘d be home within the next half hour. I wasn‘t really sure what to do with myself while

I waited. I felt a whirlwind of emotions. I had no idea how she would react, there were so many

possibilities. Suddenly, I heard the sound I‘d been waiting for, the key in the door. My heart was

racing.


*


          She walked in the door and dropped all her bags immediately. She looked exhausted, and

I could tell it was probably a long day. She flung her shoes off and walked over to the fridge. She

grabbed an apple out and bit into it. I started to ask her to sit down but she just yawned and acted

like she didn‘t hear me as she walked to her room. I felt stupid and felt like giving up; but I

refused. Then instead of feeling stupid I started to just feel angry, like I was about to overflow

with emotions. I walked outside and threw the flowers over the balcony; obviously they meant

nothing to her. Obviously nothing I do meant anything to her. I‘ve been trying so hard recently to

show my feelings for her; but it seems like she doesn‘t have the time or even the desire to care. I

just can‘t fathom how after all this time together her feelings for me couldn‘t have gotten any

stronger than friends; I just don‘t get it. I was torn…go into her room and tell her? Or miss an

opportunity to tell her and regret it later? I thought about it for a minute or two and the decision

was made; I trudged into her room. Before I could allow myself to second guess the decision I‘d

made, I blurted out my feelings,


―Tracy…‖ I hesitated.




                                             126
―I know this might come as a little bit of a surprise to you, but recently my feelings for you have

been changing. I don‘t know how else to say it, so I‘m just going to come out with it. I love

you.‖ I breathed.


It was done. I said it. Now all I could do was wait for her response. She looked uncomfortable,

nervous, like she didn‘t know exactly what to say. I couldn‘t tell if it was good or bad. I just

wanted to hear what she had to say but she seemed frozen. Finally I started to hear words coming

out of her mouth.


―Ricky, I don‘t know what to say. You know that I love you, but I‘m not in love with you? If that

makes any sense…I‘ve thought about it many times, I‘ll admit, but in the end I always just come

back to best friends. You know that we are best friends and unfortunately I think that is how it‘s

going to stay.‖


She gave me a hug but I couldn‘t feel it, my body was numb. I think it was safe to say that I was

heartbroken.


                                                   *


       Days passed and there was tension and some awkward moments between Ricky and

Tracy. Tracy thought she had seen this coming, but constantly kept forcing herself to ignore what

her instincts were telling her. She had noticed all the nice things that Ricky had been going out of

his way to do that, things he never would have done before. It was obvious that he had wanted to

tell her that for a while now, but she tried to avoid it at all costs. Ricky was beside himself. He

was almost positive that after all the years that they had grown so close to one another, she had to

love him back. He didn‘t believe that she had no feelings for him beyond friendship and he

wasn‘t going to give up that easily. He would do whatever it took to be able to call her his


                                             127
girlfriend. He knew from the first day they met it was going to be something special, and he

know he would be able to make it happen.


                                                      *


        It had been two weeks since I‘d confessed to Tracy. Things were slowly starting to get

less awkward and maybe even close to back to normal. So I decided that I‘d start trying to do

those extra nice things for her again. I just wanted to be able to show her how much I really

cared. So I told myself that I‘d wait for the next perfect opportunity to help her out. Tomorrow

was going to be my first day working at the law firm so I was trying to prepare while Tracy was

at work. The next thing I knew, I heard that routine noise of the key in the door and Tracy‘s

footsteps coming through the doorway. I could tell that it had again been another long day for

her. She sat down on the couch and flipped on the TV.


―Oh fuck.‖ I heard suddenly.


Tracy hadn‘t said anything since she walked in so I had no idea what the problem could have

been.


―Why am I so fucking stupid? Of course, on the day that I am the most tired of the whole entire

week I leave my stupid fucking laptop at school and it‘s not like I can just wait until tomorrow. I

need to enter report card grades tonight.‖ Tracy screamed.


―Calm down!‖ I told her.


I could tell she was very, very tired because she never curses, ever, unless she had a horrible day

or is very tired…or both. Right then, a great idea popped into my head, it was the perfect

opportunity. I offered to go and pick up Tracy‘s laptop at school for her. I told her that I hadn‘t



                                             128
been out of the house entire day and I wanted to get out anyways. I even told her that I‘d pick up

Chinese food from her favorite take-out place. Again, I was feeling confident. I knew she‘d

appreciate this. As I walked out the door Tracy couldn‘t stop thanking me. I was thinking to

myself that maybe she would finally realize how much I‘d really do for her. And with that, I was

on top of the world.


                                                       *


       As I was driving down Sycamore Street to get to the middle school that Tracy had been

working at for about three years now, I couldn‘t seem to get her off my mind, not like that was

surprising or anything. As I was flipping through the radio stations, brown-eyed girl came on.

My heart fluttered as I reminisced listening to this song with Tracy. I told her that it reminded me

of her because she had beautiful brown eyes; they turned lighter in the sunlight, more of a

chestnut color. I blasted the radio as loud as the volume would go as I sung the words loud. I was

going through the last green light before the school, all I could hear was my loud voice


―your my brown eyed—‖ and then I heard a loud crash…and then nothing…


                                                       *


       I was in the shower as I heard the phone ringing. The warm water was keeping me from

getting out into the cold to answer it, so I ignored it. But it kept ringing, and ringing, and ringing,

so I got nervous that maybe it was something important. I wrapped my towel around me and ran

to my room.


―Hello?‖ I answered, breathlessly.


―Hello. Is this Ms. Tracy Stewart?‖ The woman on the other line sounded stern.



                                             129
―Yes, it is. May I ask whose calling? I requested quietly.


―Yes, this is Nurse Newton from the Oak Street hospital. Do you know a Ricky Reynolds?‖ My

heart dropped.


―I-I-I- uhhh- yes he‘s my roommate, my best friend.‖ I told the woman on the other line.


―Okay honey. Well, you better get down here as soon as possible, he‘s been in an accident, and

all I can tell you is that he‘s in critical condition. The doctor‘s are still running tests, we‘ll know

more in an hour or so.‖


It was like I had just fallen into a bath full of thousands of ice cubes, my body was completely

numb. I had to look down to make sure I still had a body. I thanked the woman on the other line,

and hung up the phone immediately. I dashed to my dresser, threw on the clothes on the top of

the pile and grabbed the car keys. I was out the door in ten seconds flat. I was speeding down the

highway. My mind was racing. I was trying intently to make sense of what the nurse had just

informed me with. It was all a blur. Tears were streaming down my eyes as I started to sob. I

wasn‘t sure why I felt this way. I felt empty, like I had nothing to live for right now. Did I love

him? Was I wrong in telling him he was only my best friend?


                                                       *


        I finally arrived at the hospital. After what seemed to be days of waiting I finally got to

see Ricky. I had to admit, he looked awful and it scared the hell out of me, and the pang of

emotion that I got when I saw him; unexplainable. I totally understood what the nurse said when

she meant critical condition. He was in a coma, had bruises and cuts everywhere, and had tubes

and monitors connected to him in at least three different places. Seeing him like this brought



                                              130
tears to my eyes. I couldn‘t hold it back, before I knew it I was sobbing again. Literally, I was

sitting in the chair next to the bed, holding his hand, weeping. I couldn‘t believe the emotions I

was feeling. As I started crying harder and harder, I started to feel a new emotion come over me.

The only way I could express it was love. Love. I loved Ricky Reynolds. Sure, he was my best

friend, but I did love him. I loved him back. And he loved me. But was it too late? No. So I

vowed to myself that I would do everything in my power to be sure that I‘d have the chance to

tell the man I loved that I wanted to be with him forever. So every day, there I was, in the Oak

Street hospital next to bed number four in the Intensive Care Unit. My days consisted solely of

teaching and visiting Ricky in the hospital. Every night, I sat next to his bedside and prayed. First

I prayed that he would wake up. And it worked. About a week after the accident he awoke from

his coma. I was overjoyed. I cried…but this time it wasn‘t sad cries, it was the happiest cries of

my life. He still needed to stay in the hospital a few more nights. So I prayed and prayed that he

would be able to go home very, very soon. And it worked. After three more days I was able to

take him home with me, to our home, together. The nurses told us that they were absolutely

amazed at his miraculous recovery. They told me that they thought things weren‘t going to be

okay for him. They had no idea how he made it through. But I knew, he made it through for love.


                                                       *


Later that day I watched Ricky as he sat on the couch, flipping through the channels, leg in a

cast, bruises on his face. All I could think about was how lucky I was. I couldn‘t bear to think

about what my life would be like without him to love, without him to hug me every day when I

came home, without everything he does for me. We were in love. That was it. Anyone could see

it; I just don‘t know why I couldn‘t. I needed him, he needed me. We kept each other going since

6th grade and it was time for us to keep that going, to start the rest of our lives together. But first,


                                              131
I had to tell him just how much I loved him.


                                                  *


        Days started to pass and I had been trying to confess to Ricky my love for him. I wanted

to tell him that he was everything I needed, everything I wanted. But every time I tried it was

like he was confused or something, like he didn‘t quite understand who I was or where he was. I

don‘t know what it was, but I knew for a fact that something wasn‘t right. I made an appointment

for him to see the doctor. I took him in the next day and they did a head exam. I waited

nervously in the doctor‘s office and I watched Ricky stare at the wall. He was so handsome, his

brown hair and light eyes, his tan skin and his muscular figure. I wanted to badly to know what

was wrong with him because I was sure something just wasn‘t right. Finally, the doctor called us

back to his conference room. He looked very serious. My heart felt like jello; actually, all of my

insides felt like jello.


―Ms. Stewart, I am very, very sorry to inform you that Ricky‘s lost his long-term memory in the

accident. He has no recollection of his past from anything before the accident. His short-term

memory is somewhat functioning, it‘s nothing like it was before the accident but it‘s still there.‖


I stared at him. I couldn‘t speak. My mouth was so dry, I wasn‘t quite sure I even had a tongue

anymore. I nodded. The doctor patted my shoulder and walked out of the room. I took Ricky

home. I introduced myself to him, I tried to tell him about everything we‘d been through

together, but sure enough he had no idea. I now loved a man who completely forgot all his

feelings he ever had for me. I‘m so in love with him and he may never feel the same way again. I

lost my chance. I was stupid and ignored him when he loved me the most. And now, I‘d be the

one to pay. Maybe, now I knew how he had felt before the accident. But even I knew, things



                                            132
would never be the same and ultimately it was my entire fault. At that moment all I could feel

was the guilt starting to make itself a home on my shoulders where it would remain for the rest

of my life.




Shannon Simpson


                                         Changes


       I woke up on the floor of my one room apartment, tired as can be, smelling of the

sharp scents of bathroom and floor cleaners from the night before. My other roommates

were still sound asleep on the floor, but I knew that I had to get up and get going. The sun

was shining already and you could hear the chirping birds in the trees. I knew it was

going to be a good day. I hurried to get ready so I wouldn‘t miss the early people strolling

through the park. Once I got to my part of the park, I set down my temporary dance

boards, turned on my stereo, and started dancing. It was the start of another long day.

       On the surface it may seem like I dance for money, which in part is true. But

really, I dance for myself. Dance is my life, it always has been, and that‘s why I dance in

Central Park. I can‘t remember a time when I wasn‘t dancing; it‘s the one thing that I

absolutely love and actually know how to do well. Dancing makes me feel calm and at

peace, like I‘m in my own little world and nothing bad can touch me.

       Every day I see new faces, ones that see my artwork and admire it. Walking fast

with their briefcases slung across their shoulders, they almost walk past until they catch a

glimpse of my dancing and movements. They slow down until they finally stop in front

of me. It seems as if they‘re mesmerized by my movement. They stay for a couple


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minutes, smiling and clapping, throwing me a bill or two. Then there are the ―usuals,‖

like Marty from the bakery shop on the corner or Mr. Kim from the Chinese take-out.

They wave and put their hands above their heads and clap a little in my direction. That‘s

why I love dancing where I dance; I feed off the crowd, no matter who watches. Their

reactions affect how I dance and the next movements I make; hearing their claps or

whispers make my day. Even though there maybe two or three people watching, I feel

like I‘m by myself.

        Everyday I hope and pray that my parents might walk past me in the park. I don‘t

know if they‘d even recognize me, or whether I would recognize them. The possibility of

reconnecting keeps me going day after day.

        One sunny spring day, I saw someone I had never seen watching me before. He

was sitting on a bench a little ways off. I could tell that he wasn‘t trying to be seen

staring, but I got a glimpse of him looking every once and a while. After that day, I

continuously saw him, usually during lunch hours when the park was bustling with

people. Finally, one afternoon, he came up to me, said, ―Hey…you‘re really good.‖ I said

thanks, but I didn‘t know if I should say something else, I mean after all, he was a

stranger…a really good looking stranger. But that was it, our conversation was over. But,

day after day, he would appear, say a couple words, and then leave, except one day when

he said that he wanted to get to know me better. I knew I shouldn‘t, despite how much I

wanted to. I told him, ―I‘d like to, but I don‘t know if it‘s the best idea.‖ I couldn‘t let him

know my history, much less my current situation; he‘d never give me a second look. I

figured I might as well not open up to him just to be shot down and end up with nothing

and no one yet again. But, he didn‘t give up. When other people were throwing change




                                              134
into my hat, he was throwing letters. Finally, I couldn‘t take it anymore, and I decided to

talk to him. He introduced himself, and I did the same. He told me about his life, who he

was, what he does, and even his past. I knew I had to do the same, even though I didn‘t

want to at all. If he wanted to never talk to me again, that was fine, because it‘s not like I

have anyone in my life anyways or anything to lose. All I have is myself and dance. This

was my story. Is my story. This is who I am:

       My parents didn‘t know what to do. Even though I was only six, I knew things

weren‘t going well for us, to be honest, they never were. Day after day one of my parents

would stay with me in our part of the tunnel while the other looked for food, money, and

clothing. My parents would try their best to get jobs, but no one would take them. One

thing I learned while living on the streets was that first impressions and appearances

really do matter. Since they couldn‘t find jobs, we collected soda cans and bottles which

gave us a few extra dollars here and there. My parents would also sell cigarettes to other

homeless people on the streets. That was their main source of income. I remember one

time when one night I was so cold, my dad walked around the streets until he could find

some other homeless person with a blanket with whom he traded seven cigarettes for. My

parents would do anything for me, even if that meant giving up their way of making

money to make me just a little warmer.

        I wasn‘t allowed out in the streets in the day time, just in case I was spotted by

child services. But, nonetheless, my parents tried their hardest to give me the best life

they could. They taught me how to read from books in the library. Of course we didn‘t

have enough money to check them out, but on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, we

would go, sit down on the bright blue carpet, and read together. On the days we didn‘t go




                                             135
to the library, my dad would teach me simple math in the tunnel. We didn‘t have proper

materials like at schools, but we did our best with the resources we had.

       My family made a lot of friends in the tunnel. At night, we would all get together

around a huge fire and laugh and tell stories. They were my friends. They were my

family. They were all I had. One night in particular, as we were getting ready to leave our

friends for the night, my parents told me to tell all of them goodbye.

       Winter was starting to come and my parents were trying as hard as they could to

find shelter and food for our stomachs. The tunnel we stayed in at night protected us from

the wind, but it was still freezing cold and was becoming unbearable. I remember my

parents telling me that everything was going to be all right, and I believed them.

However, one night, they took me to some house. They crouched down at my level and

told me that I had to stay there that night because it was too cold outside. They said that

they would come back for me in the morning. I had no idea what was going on. Tears

welled up in my eyes and after that, and the only two things that I can remember are the

sight of my parents, my everything, walking away and hearing my frightful screams of

―Mommy! Daddy!‖ At the time, I didn‘t know that it was an orphanage. I found out when

the head director, Miss Laura, opened the door to see me standing on the steps when she

brought me inside. That was the last time I saw my parents.

       I waited day after day for them to come back and get me. The other kids in the

orphanage tried talking to me, but I would just ignore them and look out the window,

looking for my parents. Nothing made me happy-no games, dolls, or Saturday morning

cartoons. I don‘t even remember how, but one day, I started dancing, and I couldn‘t stop.

It was the one thing that actually made me feel better. There was a part of me that was




                                            136
missing since I didn‘t have my parents any more, but dancing temporarily filled that hole.

The only shows I watched on television dealt with dance.

       Every year, Miss Laura took a different group of kids to a place where they all

wanted to visit, like the bowling alley or a town fair. I didn‘t want to go to any place like

that. I wanted to go to one dance lesson, just one. I was able to convince enough of the

girls in my group to also want to go. I remember how nervous I was going into the lesson,

but how happy, encouraged, and inspired to keep dancing. Dancing started out as a mask

for my wounds, but it evolved into my dreams. I pictured myself dancing as a prima

ballerina. I thought that if I could somehow become famous for my dancing and become

a ballerina, my parents could somehow hear my name and we would meet up with each

other again. That‘s what motivated me and pushed me to my breaking point. Dance was

no longer a thing to do. Dance became my life.

       I ended up spending the rest of my childhood at the orphanage. Whenever a new

couple came around to look at possible children, I would always act depressed. I didn‘t

want a new mom and dad, I wanted my old ones back. I figured if I could put a wall up

between the adults and me, then they wouldn‘t want to take me. I even remember that

Miss Laura and her other helpers would ―prep‖ me before possible parents would come

around. They would put on cheery faces and say, ―Now remember Becca, smile big and

make sure you interact with the other kids!‖ But I never would. It wasn‘t even worth the

extra breath.

       I stayed in the orphanage until I was eighteen. After that, I was on my own. I

didn‘t have anyone in my life besides my brothers and sisters at the orphanage, all of

whom were still able to stay at the shelter. So, I ended up back where I started, on the




                                             137
streets. Only this time, I was capable of working. Not being ―educated,‖ it was hard for

me to get a job, but that doesn‘t mean I gave up. I went from one job to

another…working at Burger King… Taco Bell…even McDonalds. I worked my ass off

but I couldn‘t take those shitty jobs anymore. It was so hard to stay focused while

working. I just wanted to dance. That‘s all. Late at night when I was one of the only

people still there, I found myself sweeping a few feet, then stopping just to do a couple

dance moves. My life was dance, and that was slipping away from me gradually.

       I knew I needed to make a change in my life. It was already hard enough to make

ends meet, but I rather be doing what I love than crushing my dreams just for a few extra

dollars, which brings me to now.

       I currently work for a cleaning agency, sweeping and mopping floors and

cleaning bathrooms of different law offices. I work night shift, which gives me the entire

afternoon to dance here, Central Park. I know it sounds crazy, but it‘s my life; it‘s who I

am.

       He said nothing at first, sort of just stared at me in shock or disbelief. I was

embarrassed. I shouldn‘t have told him; I knew it was a terrible idea. He finally said,

―Well, I guess it was nice meeting you. Maybe I‘ll see you around…‖ I knew I never

would see him ever again, just like I probably won‘t ever see my parents either. My cycle

of having and then losing people will never change. Nothing will ever change.

       I moved on. What else was I supposed to do? Sit and sulk in pity? I‘ve come to a

realization that I don‘t need anyone. I don‘t need to be wishing everyday that maybe I‘ll

find someone who actually cares and loves me. I know I‘m a good person, a better person

than before.




                                            138
       A couple weeks after spilling my story to that random stranger, I got a better job.

The company I was working for promoted me to a higher position; I actually have an

office job. I don‘t know. Maybe it was a miracle, or maybe it was a sign that I‘m going to

be ok. I know I will.




                                           139
Short Story                                                          Zachary Slavin

                                       The Soft Earth

       I couldn‘t help but imagine a dolphin with his mouth locked shut by the six-pack

rings Ronny assured me could be appropriately discarded via a toss to the ground or the

cans from Ronny‘s night of drinking which would stay in the water for the next 367

years, or so. I ignored the abuse to our earth (I very rarely questioned Ronny‘s actions),

and walked behind him watching him stomp footprints into the dirt. Ronny wore huge

size 13 boots, and as I traced behind him, I compared our footprints. Mine were shallow

and small, the type that barley left an imprint on the soft earth.

       We were on our way back to my house from a night out. We had spent all night

outside. The air was cool, around 58 degrees, but I didn‘t mind. I liked being outside, and

would rather spend all night outside than stuffed up in someone‘s basement, with the

smell of teenage girl‘s perfume and stale beer (the type which had been sitting in a

younger sibling‘s closet for three weeks prior to being re-chilled for 20 minutes and

consumed). We were in 11th grade now, and had finally found our niche between the

school parties and everything else to do on the weekends.

       We had spent the night out in one of the few places left in our town that wasn‘t

owned or being developed. It was a little patch of green we called ―Square 4‖. It had a

fence around it that was overgrown with vines and weeds so that it provided a good eight

feet in some places of coverage and fencing. There was a little opening in the fence

where a gate once stood, but now overgrown and broken, this is where we climbed

through the brush. The rest of the field was overgrown grass and weeds. In the middle




                                             140
though, stood a tree. One of the few trees left in our town, which was being developed

more rapidly every year.

       The tree was a giant maple, just like the kind you see in parks and in people‘s

front yards, just a regular old tree. This tree was old though, it must have been 100 feet

tall, and 60 feet wide, it practically took up the whole field. In the fall the leaves would

drop and the tree would become bare, revealing its tattoos in its nudity, carvings that

teenagers had scared into the tree since the beginning of time it seemed. Hearts and

names and arrows and penises decorated the tree‘s bark. ―Anita & Johnny – 1942‖ with a

heart around it and a big X through the whole picture, drawings like this marked the tree

from the ground all the way up to where the branches started, and even on the larger

branches. My father reminded me of times when, in the winter, the elementary school

kids would hang little paper bags with tea candles inside from the tree‘s branches and the

parents would supervise a bonfire next to the tree in the once well-manicured field. This

type of family/neighborhood bonding was long gone, not to mention the clear fire-hazard

of hanging candles on an old tree.

       Ronny and I spent the night around the tree with about twelve other kids who

we‘d grown up, and spent time with in that field before. Every time we hung around the

tree we talked about making a tree house, or a fort or some kind of structure around it, but

we never found the time or the money to accomplish that. On our way back to my house

Ronny teased me about my pets and critters that I always had to be back early to care for.

He reminded me they‘re just stupid animals as he threw his empty bottle on the side of

the street. I agreed out loud, as I inwardly called him a fool.

                                                -------




                                             141
       Upon arriving home, my mom greeted us with apprehensive ―hellos‖ as we

stumbled past her in our buzzed stupor. She had grown accustomed to a bit of drinking

after her second child (my older brother). Ronny went into my room and fell asleep in my

chair. I fed my animals; a garter snake and an Indian rat I called Bhumi, as well as my

fish, and followed Ronny as I passed out in my bed.

       I woke up 4 hours later, it was only 10:00 AM, and turned on the television. I

flipped through the channels and arrived at the local channel, the school channel. The

power point slides that the school posted showed slides inviting, informing, and

congratulating.

                                          ATTENTION:

All Featherberry Township residents: Yard-by-Yard Real-estate plans on developing the

                     lot in between the soccer field and North Grape.

                      COME OUT NOVEMBER 25 TO PROTEST –

                    CALL 232******* FOR MORE INFORMATION



       ―Ronny, wake up!‖ I searched for something to throw at him as I tried to wake

him from his slumber by yelling, ―Get up and look at this.‖ I urged him as I found

Bhumi‘s rat ball and tossed it across the room toward Ronny‘s chair. It hit him in the

head, and then I watched it return through the air directly toward me.

        ―Look!‖ I said as I pointed to the T.V.




                                           142
                                      CONGRATULATIONS:

                To the Rent-way All-stars little league baseball team for winning the

                      championship: 6-0 against the Comcast Comets.



       ―What?‖ Ronny questioned angrily

       ―They‘re tearing down Square 4, in order to build houses, man, didn‘t you see that

slide on the school channel?‖

       ―Who cares dude, we were outgrowing that place anyway. We need to start going

up to the college to hang out on the weekends, I heard there are some wild things going

on up there.‖

       ―But..but that‘s our spot, dude, we‘ve always used it. Well, alright I guess its no

big deal‖ I feigned interest in Ronny‘s college party plans, but all I thought about was a

house standing in Square 4. How could they develop one of the last open spots in the area

into housing?

                                                -------

       School ended early that week. There were elections on Friday, so the school made

it a four-day week, giving us off Thursday and Friday. I went to meet Ronny at his

locker, but saw him in a science lab room, the room where they held the Eco Club. I

waved at him through the window next to the door.

       ―There‘s this girl in the Eco club, so I went right after class into that club, with all

those nerds worried about the environment so much. But, hey, guess what they were

talking about?‖ Ronny explained to me as he snuck out of the science room and met me

outside the door.




                                             143
        ―What?‖ I inquired, again feigning interest.

        ―Square 4!‖ Ronny eagerly almost interrupted, ―Did you hear they want to

develop there? Dude, we can‘t let them do that.‖ And as soon as he‘d said that, he‘d

changed subjects to what we were doing with our four-day weekend. I tried to get back

on the subject of the development but Ronny controlled the conversation.

        I thought about Square 4 as we walked. Initially, just how unfortunate it was that

they were replacing it. Then, what I could do to stop it. I figured nothing; I was just a

junior in high school who used the field to drink underage. There was so much more to

that field though. It was the only place in town where there was a tree left, a tree that had

been there for more than 15 years, one that was self-seeded, not bought at Home Depot

and planted in all its root bound artificiality.

        Who was this girl Ronny was talking about? If I wasn‘t the only one who cared

about the tree, then may be there was a chance to save it. I just couldn‘t be the only one. I

told Ronny I‘d meet up with him later and sprinted back to the science lab. Everyone was

filing out, I sighed and turned to walk away.

        ―Are you friends with that Ronny kid?‖ I heard her voice say,‖ I‘m Sandrine. He‘s

one big jerk!‖

        ―Uhhhhh, yeah,‖ I stuttered, another mess Ronny had gotten me into, ―Why?‖ I

questioned as if asking for trouble. Noticing my timidity she backed off a bit.

        ―What‘s your name?‖

        ―My friends call me, Eiffel‖ I responded. It seemed as though I had a new friend,

of the worst kind. One that got in the way of another friendship, and hated that I had so

much in common with Sandrine and that her and Ronny were not going to get along.




                                              144
                                              -----------

        Two days later elections were held. The hot topic for debate? The Tree.

Everything turned into a struggle for the Tree‘s survival. It was like a game of manhunt.

A bunch of kids separated into two teams. It was the developers verse half the town. The

town seemed evenly divided between those for and those against the developing.

Sandrine and I got close; everything was about the elections, which in turn was about

saving our tree. The deadline for the demolition of the tree was one day after the

elections. I felt like I was a hippie in the 60‘s, but I didn‘t mind. All I wanted to do was

save that tree.

        During school we hung up posters. Cheesy 8‖x11‖ signs that said things like

―Tear down the tree? Then where will we be? Tearing up the grass? Yeah right, my ass!

Join us after school in room L-45 to protest‖ (Sandrine thought of that one) or even just

sloppy pictures of trees on poster paper with tea candles and people dancing (which I

thought of). Turnouts increased though, and debates were heated.

        Somehow the mayor for the renovation won, and the whole town was aghast.

Turns out this mayor came from a very well off, well-connected family. You know the

type: polo on the weekends at the family vacation house and dinner at fancy restaurants

on a Wednesday. So it should have been no surprise he paid a couple people off here, did

some favors there, and pulled a string or two on the ―man‘s‖ marionette. No matter, the

date the tree was set to be torn down was just a day away.

        I had given up though. Ronny and I were in a fight; he was mad that I liked

Sandrine. He didn‘t even know her! He‘d throw her out like a piece of trash on the side of

the road, like every other girl he knew. Except this girl was different. Normally I‘d let




                                             145
him litter the world with heartbroken girls, like I let him throw his trash on the side of the

road, but I liked her. I really did.

         Sandrine was mad that I was too occupied with Ronny than with her, and wasn‘t

helping her with the tree enough. She called me, threw a fit, and hung up before I could

even say a word. It just wasn‘t fair. I didn‘t even care anymore. I threw tree-saving things

away, along with my poster ideas. Right into the trash, where they belonged.

        The day they came to tear down the tree, I went to watch from down the block. I

climbed high up in a tree outside my house and watched Sandrine and the rest of those

hippies argue with the people hired to do the job. I felt bad for the tree removal service;

they had nothing against the tree; they were just doing their job. The tree even looked

stressed out, if that‘s actually possible. It was only early October and it seemed almost

ready to brave the frost with all its leaves on the verge of falling off.

        All of a sudden the bulldozer, which had been placed secretly the night before

right next to the tree, started up. It jumped forward just feet away, and raised its arms.

Slowly though, it inched backward. By this time all the protestors had been forced out of

the area. The bulldozer, named Big Rat, kept inching, as if setting itself up for the most

speed, like a stunt man about to make a big jump. It turned, and its back faced toward a

large opening, previously cleared for the tree to enter.

        It never stopped. I just backed all the way out of the field. No harm done to the

tree. Evidently the renovation was called off on account of under funding of the project. I

could see from my post, through all the obstructions, the driver of the bulldozer pick up a

cell phone and hold it to his ear. He sat up a little higher in his seat, as if to hear a little

better. Through a miraculous set of circumstances the tree was saved. I didn‘t care.




                                               146
Sandrine and everyone in town heard of the occasion and rejoiced with a celebration in

the field. It had been cleaned up, in order to better justify saving it, and was all set for a

wonderful evening with a bonfire, and even those little tea candles in bags which hadn‘t

hung from the tree‘s branches in at least 10 years.

        I didn‘t go. Ronny went, and I heard him and Sandrine had fun together. Great for

them. Great for my best friend, and the first girl I ever liked. I didn‘t care. I stayed home

and watch Planet Earth. I watched all those lonely whales, swimming across the ocean. It

was pathetic, I saw my self in each whale. The narrator of the show described the affects

of pollution and garbage on the whales; how six-pack rings could be mistaken for food,

consumed, and not digested; leading to a 120 ton mess at the bottom of the sea, or

washed up in front of someone‘s beach house.

        I went to look at the tree the next day, early in the morning, while everyone slept

from the festivities of the night before. A large split up the tree divided it in two. A huge

splintered stump stuck up in the air, and the other half of the trunk (split diagonally up the

side) with the braches and leaves, lay fallen on the ground. The leaves were all dark

brown and shriveled up. My guess? All the stress had killed the tree. It lay sullen on the

ground. I walked away and watched as one of those helicopter seeds spiraled across the

street, and landed by a drainage screen, teetering between rotting at the bottom of that

gutter and landing on the soft earth were the tree had fallen.




                                              147
Meyling Taing

                                 A Late Mid-Life Crisis

        It was a warm Sunday in July, and Julia‘s house was filled with people: cousins,

aunts, uncles, and family friends. She and her two sisters, Kim and Susan, had planned

this party for weeks. It was their father‘s birthday, which was the perfect opportunity to

bring their family together. Almost everyone they invited came to this occasion. But

someone was missing.

        The door slowly opened and Julia cheered, ―Dad, you‘re finally—oh, hey Kim.‖

        Kim walked through the front door carrying a large cake that read ―Happy

Birthday Dad‖.

        ―Dad‘s not here yet? The party started over two hours ago.‖ Kim replied.

        Julia‘s oldest daughter walked up to her mom and asked, ―Is Grandpa even

coming?‖

        ―Of course he‘s coming! What kind of question is that?‖

        ―A very serious question considering Grandma didn‘t even come to her birthday

last year.‖

        Julia smiled at her daughter and told her to go play and not worry about it. After

all, even if her dad didn‘t show up, they would still have a fun party. She didn‘t want to

waste a perfectly good cake though.

        ―Hey, Kim did you buy candles?‖

        ―I thought you already had candles.‖

        ―I‘m sure there‘s some candles lying around your house somewhere,‖ Susan

chimed in, and she searched through the kitchen to find some. After a couple of minutes



                                            148
she found two number candles. She looked for more candles, but those were the only

ones she could find.

       ―Is Dad 67 or 76?‖ she asked her sisters holding up and flipping two candles.

       ―I have no idea. Probably sixty something‖ Kim replied.

       ―67 it is!‖

       ―What if you only found a 2 candle and a 3 candle?‖ one of the kids asked.

       ―Then we would put the number 32 on his cake,‖ Susan said with a smile.

                                             *

       Almost three hours had passed since the party began when an infectious pop

sound resonated from the driveway. The kids ran up to the window and the youngest one

shouted, ―Grandpa‘s here!‖

       An old, gray-haired man stepped out of the SUV. He wore a white collared shirt

and khaki shorts with sandals. He also held several DVDs in his hand. As he

nonchalantly came inside, the little kids rushed to give him hugs and kisses. Julia peered

through the window with a confused expression, and then turned to face her father.

       ―Dad… what‘s that?‖

       ―It‘s my car; what do you think it is?‖

       ―When I saw you last week, you were driving an Acura.‖

       He just laughed. He stepped outside in front of his car and motioned for everyone

else to follow him.

       ―I just bought it!‖

       ―Why the hell would you do that?‖ Julia asked.




                                           149
       ―Everyone‘s driving SUVs nowadays, and since it‘s my birthday, I want one too.

But, don‘t worry Ju. I‘m giving my old car to you.‖

       ―Your old car is only a year old.‖ Julia made quotation marks with her fingers as

she said the word old. She kept arguing with her father for another minute but realized

that it wasn‘t worth it. No one could ever win an argument with him because he was so

stubborn.

       He walked back inside and placed one of his DVDs into the DVD player. The

same infectious pop tune started playing again. One of the kids looked through Grandpa‘s

collection of DVDs: The Best of Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson in Concert, Michael

Jackson‘s Greatest Hits, #1 MICHAEL JACKSOM. He even had multiple copies of the

same Michael Jackson collection.

       ―I guess we‘re watching Michael Jackson all day?‖ the grandchild asked as he

stared at the words MICHAEL JACKSOM. He couldn‘t contain himself as he burst into

laughter and passed the DVDs around.

       ―They were five for seven dollars!‖ his grandpa excitedly replied. ―Look at his

skin! He‘s black, but he‘s white! Look at all those crazy fans fainting!‖ He pointed to the

screen and chuckled as he chatted it up with his buddies. They were enjoying themselves,

and they talked about subjects that no one else except them would care about.

       Soon Kim called out to her dad and the kids, ―Guys, it‘s cake time!‖ All of the

little ones rushed up to the dining room and gathered around the table. Her dad walked

slowly and sat in the middle chair. The youngest of the grandchildren scurried up to her

grandpa and sat enthusiastically on his lap. As Susan was bringing out the cake, she

realized that she had accidentally placed the number 76, instead of 67, on the cake. She




                                            150
shrugged and decided that it didn‘t really matter. Her dad looked at the cake with

indifference. Everyone started singing Happy Birthday to Grandpa. Then they took

pictures. Grandpa said that he had to go home early, but the party still continued without

him. All of the adults and older kids talked endlessly, and the little kids played for hours.

                                              *

       Julia was driving her kids home from school one night in September, when she

noticed a police car trailing her. She was only driving on a local neighborhood road, and

there were no other cars near her. She looked back and got slightly worried.

       ―Guys, make sure you have your seatbelts on,‖ she calmly said to her kids.

       She pulled over, and the cop followed her. She got out of her car and saw that the

cop had a serious look on his face.

       ―Ma‘am, you have illegal lights on your exhaust pipe,‖ he said.

       Julia just looked at him. ―Excuse me?‖

       ―You have flashing neon lights on your exhaust pipe. Those lights are reserved for

police cars only. I‘ll have to give you a fine, and you‘ll need to get them removed.‖

       She had a confused expression on her face before she came to a realization. She

tried to walk around the cop to check the back of the car, but he stopped her.

       ―I‘m really sorry, but I had no idea that there were neon lights on my car. You

see, my dad just recently gave me this car. He must have put them in and didn‘t tell me. I

can just—―

       ―Your dad put flashing neon lights on his car?‖

       ―Yeah, my dad!‖

       ―And how old is your dad?‖




                                             151
        ―I don‘t really know, sixty something?‖

        ―Riiight. Listen, you can say all you want, you‘re still going to have to pay this—

―

        ―But I didn‘t know about the lights! I‘ll take them off, I promise!‖

        This conversation went on for a couple of minutes. Clearly, the cop was not

convinced. He seemed to think that this was the lamest excuse ever. Still, Julia managed

to beg her way to get out of a ticket. Her kids found the situation merely amusing.

                                             *

        Julia‘s dad came over the next day to ask his daughter to help him read his mail

and get directions to the bank.

        ―Ju, your nephew doesn‘t know anything. He can‘t even tell me where the bank

is. And I need you to make sense of all this‖ he said as he held up a bunch of envelopes.

        She didn‘t say a word. She was still frustrated by her experience with the cop, and

now she was annoyed that her dad suddenly needed her to help with him petty chores.

        ―Ju?‖ he asked again.

        ―Dad,‖ she said in a calm voice, ―remember the car you gave to me?‖

        ―What the hell does that have to do with anything?‖

        She walked into the garage, and her dad followed. She pointed to the exhaust

pipe.

        ―Yeah, what about it?‖ he wondered.

        ―These lights are illegal, Dad. Why didn‘t you tell me that you put them in the

car?‖

        ―I dunno. Guess I forgot,‖ he shrugged and walked back into the living room.




                                            152
       She stopped him and stood right in front of him and said, ―I almost got a ticket

because of those lights. I was stopped by a policeman. I could have been fined and gone

to court to deal with crap that I didn‘t deserve.‖

       ―But you‘re fine,‖ he said in a lighthearted tone.

       Julia could not believe this. She was trying to find a way to get it in her dad‘s

head that he did something wrong, and it could have had major consequences. He wasn‘t

fazed by anything she said though. She thought about all the other illegal things her dad

was probably doing. What if he got caught with all of those Michael Jackson DVDs?

                                              *

       Kim awoke to the sound of her phone ringing. She looked at the clock. Who in the

world would be calling her at 3 in the morning? She was incredibly tired from preparing

for the upcoming Thanksgiving celebration her family always had every year. She

considered letting the voice mail get it, because it was from an unknown number. It just

wouldn‘t stop ringing though.

       ―Hello?‖ she said in a sleepy voice, ―Dad? Is that you? Wait, I didn‘t hear that last

part. You said you… WHAT?!‖

       Kim suddenly wasn‘t sleepy anymore.

                                              *

       The next day Julia and Kim drove to the police station to pick up their father.

       ―He was charged with conspiracy,‖ Kim told her sister.

       ―I can‘t believe Dad would get himself into this. Wait, yes I can. It‘s Dad. Why

wouldn‘t he get arrested? Why hasn‘t he gotten arrested before?‖ Julia said, frustrated.




                                             153
       ―Calm down, Ju. He may do some bad things, but this arrest was nothing. All he

was doing was playing poker with his friends. He‘s innocent. It‘ll be fine.‖

       When they got to the station, Kim decided that she needed to have a talk with the

policeman. He was middle-aged, and he had an odd looking mustache. He gave her a

stern look.

       ―Are you his daughter?‖ the cop asked.

       ―Are you the guy that arrested my dad?‖ she asked him.

       ―Yes.‖

       ―Okay, let me see the tapes.‖

       ―The tapes aren‘t ready. We‘ll have to wait until court to discuss that.‖

       ―Why? So you can manipulate them?‖

       ―Listen, ma‘am. I know what I saw. It was conspiracy.‖

       ―Haven‘t you ever played poker with your friends? You know, Friday night, just

for fun?‖

       ―No.‖

       ―Really? Really? You don‘t know anyone who has poker night at home?‖

       ―Well, yeah—‖

       ―A-ha! Wasn‘t my dad doing the same thing?‖

       ―No. This was different.‖

       ―Sure. Sure it was.‖

       Kim wanted to laugh at the cop. She obviously didn‘t think he knew what he was

saying. She had outsmarted him. Kim could handle the legal stuff. Julia, on the other

hand, was still angry at her father. She was also a bit worried.




                                            154
                                             *

        The family was back together again for Christmas. The arrest wasn‘t completely

sorted out, but everyone agreed that everything was going to be okay. Julia and Kim

helped out their father, and they all agreed that he should plead no contest. He got off as

if nothing had ever happened.

        ―You know what? I think Dad‘s arrest was truly a blessing in disguise. Look at

him now: he isn‘t buying as many extravagant, useless items; he‘s being more careful,

and he‘s spending more time with the family‖ Julia remarked.

        ―Oh, I don‘t know, Sis. He might have taped up his door and isolated his house so

no cops could get in, but he‘s still gambling,‖ Susan said.

        ―Well, I‘m seeing a slow, but sure change. Maybe he‘s finally getting over his late

mid-life crisis.‖

        ―Haha, Sis, you‘re so funny. He‘s just old. He‘s got no more worries. Yeah, he‘s

being careful, but he‘s not suddenly going to stop buying stupid things and gambling. But

I‘m not worried. That‘s just how Dad is.‖

        ―Yeah, and Dad thinks he‘s going to waste his money if he doesn‘t spend all of

it,‖ Kim chimed in.

                                             *

        The months passed, and soon it was already summer. Julia had been pestering her

father for weeks because she wanted him to teach her his secret recipe for making beef

jerky. She thought he made the best beef jerky in the world. She had tried to make it

many times, but could not understand how he did it. In years past, she had asked him to

teach her his recipe, but he always insisted on making it himself and just giving the food




                                            155
to her. This time he finally agreed to teach her as long as she helped him move furniture

around in his house.

       Kim and Julia went to their parents‘ house on a sunny Saturday in June. They

both helped their parents move furniture and cook dinner. Their mom and dad didn‘t own

a restaurant, but they frequently sold food. They usually gambled their extra money

away. Julia noticed a red envelope sitting on the table.

       ―Dad, what‘s that?‖ she asked.

       ―Ju, Kim, This is for you guys,‖ he responded, taking the envelope and placing it

into his daughter‘s hand. She opened it. It was filled with $100 bills.

       ―Why are you giving this to us?‖ Kim asked, startled.

       ―Kim, I would have never been able to handle the police and the lawyers without

you. And Ju, thank you for helping me be a better person. Oh, give some to San too.‖

       Julia smiled. She was pleased, but she felt wrong for taking money from her

father. It was supposed to be the other way around. She had always given her parents

money during every major holiday. She tried to hand back the envelope, but he insisted

that she should keep it.

       Then they all heard a knock on the door. Julia‘s dad walked up to the covered

glass door and looked through the peephole. He opened it, and an old man wearing jeans

and a nice shirt stood in the doorway. He was smoking a cigarette.

       ―It‘s Friday night! Are we hanging out? I got cards,‖ the man said

enthusiastically.




                                            156
       ―Oh, yeah, I‘d be down for that. Why don‘t I just—‖ Julia‘s dad looked back at

his daughters, ―Actually, I promised Ju I would help her make beef jerky. Maybe some

other time.‖

       ―Dad, it‘s okay. You can go play cards,‖ Julia insisted.

       He smiled at her and said to his friend, ―I‘ll play tomorrow. If I don‘t help her

with this now, then she‘ll be bugging me forever.‖

       Kim looked at her dad. She could see that he was tired from all the work they had

been doing all day. She couldn‘t believe her eyes, because she knew that he still wanted

to go play cards and gamble his money away. He seemed disappointed to tell his friend

that he had other plans.

       ―What‘s going on with Dad?‖ she whispered to her older sister.

       ―What do you mean what‘s going on? Maybe he finally wants to live his life

without wasting all his money.‖

                                              *

       A week later, Julia was in the store trying to find a gift for her dad. His birthday

was coming up in a few weeks. She thought of giving him some bottles of wine. It was

generic, but it always worked. She wanted to get him something that was better though.

He deserved it after all that he had done.

       Her phone rang. She picked it up and recognized it as her dad.

       ―Dad, I was just shopping for—what? No. Dad. You‘ve got to be kidding me. Are

you drunk? How could you—How did you manage to get arrested again?‖ she sighed,

and she honestly didn‘t know what to think.

                                              *




                                             157
       Julia didn‘t want to deal with this. She wanted to just let her dad fend for himself.

She needed to talk to him just one more time. If he didn‘t listen, then she was done.

       ―Dad, I thought you said you were going to be careful. How did the cop even get

inside your house?‖ she asked him.

       ―One of my friends let him in. Don‘t ask me why.‖

       ―Then why didn‘t you stop him!‖ she was on the verge of crying. She didn‘t think

her dad‘s fighting with the law even mattered to her. But these optimistic past couple of

months made it hard on her.

       ―How should I know? I was drinking and smoking. I just needed a break. I don‘t

even gamble that much anymore.‖

       ―Is that what you want to do with your life? Just gamble it all away?‖

       ―I just want to enjoy myself.‖

       ―You can enjoy yourself without throwing your money away!‖ she yelled, and

then paused for a moment, ―Can you just promise me that you won‘t get arrested

anymore? Because I know you can prevent that.‖

       ―I promise. I‘ll be careful. I won‘t do anything stupid anymore,‖ he said,

sincerely.

       She believed him.

                                             *

       Once again, Julia‘s house was filled with friends and relatives. It was her dad‘s

birthday, and she had just placed two candles shaped like the number 65 on his cake.

Julia, Kim, and Susan were all in the kitchen, cooking various foods for the party.

       ―So, did you figure out when the court date is, Kim?‖ Julia asked.




                                            158
        ―Court date?‖ Susan asked, confused ―For what?‖

        ―Dad‘s arrest.‖

        ―Dad got arrested again? Why didn‘t anyone tell me?‖

        ―San, you live in Michigan. Why does it even matter?‖

        ―Maybe I‘d like to know what‘s going on back at home. I can help out too.‖

        ―San, you should be lucky. I wish I didn‘t have to deal with Dad‘s crap,‖ Kim

said.

        ―And besides,‖ Julia said, ―Aren‘t you like, Dad‘s favorite? Why don‘t you just

ask him yourself?‖

        So Susan decided to call her dad. He was late to the party, just as expected.

        ―Hey Dad, when are you getting here?‖

        ―I‘m not coming. I‘m going to Atlantic City.‖

        ―What do you mean you‘re not coming?!‖

        But he had already hung up. The three sisters all looked at each other and just

shrugged. They laughed. Of course Dad would be at Atlantic City. It didn‘t even matter.

They still had a great party.




                                            159
Nicalia ThompSon

                                               Getting Out

  We Millers are funny people, and humor is just a part of our nature. Over and over

again, I told myself that it was just a joke (a twisted one, but none the less a joke). It had

to be. I needed it to be. And of course, it wasn‘t.

  For someone so high up on the corporate ladder, his word choice was horrible. All day

he writes reports and gives presentations; yet he warned me with the words, ―brace

yourself.‖ He should have told me to brace myself inside of an army tank parked miles

away, protected by an invincible shield. There was no tank, and instead the only thing I

could grip was the handle of the car door inside my dad‘s Honda SUV seven-seater. ―You

never know when something will come up and you‘ll need some extra seats! Just in case.

The price will change a little, but it‘ll be worth it.‖ That‘s what the salesman told us. I

knew we should have gotten the regular model. Five seats were just enough.

   I was dumb enough to believe that the news would be something good. Five words

were all I wanted. I thought it could have been, ―we‘re buying you a car‖, or maybe

―were going on a trip‖. Hell, he could have even told me, ―I‘m taking away your phone‖

or ―I‘m grounding you for life‖. I could handle that.

  Millers are funny. All of my relatives are funny, tall, and are good cooks. In some way

or another they are all screwed up and dysfunctional, but not our immediate group. The

inevitable divorce and separations-that was fine with me; it was nothing. But this was

different. We were now a part of their fucked up club with a platinum membership. I

could always bank on our white picket fence. Even when we fooled the world, when our

cards were dealt on the table against the rest of our family, our hand would always win.




                                             160
  The car rolled to a halt at the stop sign at an intersection that was strangely angled

rather than perpendicular in crossing. I didn‘t get the five words that I wanted. I got more

than five words, and I didn‘t want them. Nor did I want the torrential down pour that was

about to follow. When he hit word seven, my hopeful expression melted away. At word

twelve, I giggled remembering our funny family trait. By word nineteen I knew my

giggle had no value and that I was back to the dark place where hopeful expressions

could never be made. I knew that it was real, and she was real. My father had just told me

that he might have another child out there; a fourteen-year-old child.

What the hell.

  I couldn‘t eat or drink. I tried sipping my mocha latte but I couldn‘t bring myself to let

it successfully pass through the tip of the straw. Eventually I just gave up and sat the cup

on top of his filing cabinet. It was the first time in my life that I had a taste of shock. Life

has brought me news that made me never wanting to stop crying, but with this my eyes

were dry, and cold and empty was all I felt. Really, what the hell. My mind wouldn‘t stop

processing the details, and my imagination didn‘t help at all. He was already so

convinced that it actually was his child. Her name was Christina. Of course her name

started with a ‗c‘, just like my dads. She lived five counties over. Why couldn‘t she live

on the other side of the country? She was fourteen. That means I was…three.

  I played it cool. The lanyard connected to the visitors pass for my dads office kept me

occupied. As his employees came into his office to update him on the morning business, I

sat relieved to see familiar faces. The picture of her face had been embedded in my mind.

I could see her in my head. Apparently, we had the same nose. The more people that

walking into his office, the better. More of them, and less of her.




                                              161
  My friend Terri was coming to pick me up for the weekend. She lived the life. She

moved around a lot, lived in small houses, but was free from the things that unhappiness

attaches itself to.

           Terri: Hey. Sorry, I‘ll be a little late.

           Terri: Got stuck behind this Oversize Load truck.

―Who‘s that Rach?‖ my dad asked me. ―Terri‖, I told him. ―Is she here? I can walk you

out.‖ ―No she‘s not here yet. She got stuck behind some truck and she‗s gonna be late.‖

―Oh. Well things happen.‖

Right, things just happen.

   The time waiting for Terri felt like it was hours instead of minutes. When none of my

dad‘s workers were in the office, my mind went back to racing. I had to get it to stop.

Breathing was the trick (that‘s what my therapist always told me to do). I went into my

own world with no cares and no worries. I was so deep into my paradise that I didn‘t

realize my dad was talking to me until my eyes glanced at his face and his mouth spelling

my name. ―What?‖ ―Do you want to order your books now?‖ he asked me. It was the

whole reason I came to his office in the first place. The bookstore in town didn‘t have

what I needed. I was milliseconds away from responding with a ‗sure‘. A slight hiss of

the beginning sound left my lips until it registered with me. Books? Books. ―She reads a

lot, just like you and your brother did when you were younger.‖ He told me that in the

car. How could I forget.

  I stopped myself and answered with a ‗no‘. I told him that I would do it another time

and then lied and said him that Terri was outside. I got to the opening of the door and

remembered that I left my latte on top of the filing cabinet and turned back to get it. ―Do




                                                162
you want to heat it up?‖, he asked. ―No its fine, really.‖ I sat on a curb in the office

parking lot waiting for Terri to actually show up. I gave myself until I got into her car to

get over it.

  More than anything, I just wanted to know the next step. I told myself that until I

believed it. There was a problem and we needed a solution. The emotional journey was a

waste. I had learned my lessons before. The details were a waste. It was all a waste.

  My desire for an answer came fast and was predictable. My father related to his new

child. They both had troubled family dynamics and he only made it though his childhood

because of the willing people that took him and his sisters in. It was just my luck that he

had this heartfelt connection with his long lost child that made them inseparable even

without blood. Besides, he always got what he wanted and always handled his

responsibilities. Whether anyone else had a conflict with it, it‘s always his way or no way

at all. I couldn‘t burst out and an express one ounce of emotion that was inside of me. We

were going to keep her. He hired the best lawyers money could by to divorce my mother

five years ago, and he was going to do just the same to get his kid. From there, my next

step was to like it. The choice to be OK with it was not given, it was expected.

Everything moved too quickly and she would be arriving on the scene soon.

  At the end of the hallway is the guest room. Walking by made it my stomach turn. It

was always like my second room. It was a simple and distant room that was my haven. In

that room I used to play, read, and get away form it all. Its significance was about to be

taken away. It would be her place and her haven. I couldn‘t picture the change. There was

going to be a new permanent resident in our household. Another seat at the dinner table,

another birthday to celebrate, and another person to share the bathroom with in the




                                             163
morning before school. Soon we would be standing by my side in front of the bathroom

mirror, brushing out teeth. Soon we would be sisters. What the hell. Half of us was each

other, but that didn‘t make it any easier. It was that bad. I couldn‘t even find peaceful

ground off of that vital connection. On top of everything else, I just couldn‘t handle it.

―I‘ll have to buy some paint and get new floors. Oh! And go to that furniture store on

Route 28. I want her to feel as comfortable as possible.‖ my dad announced with such

happiness and optimism.

  He was not around much. Apparently he had been seeing her for a month, and I had no

idea. And well, I guess that would make sense. Maybe as I child I was taught to not

realize it, just as I was taught to walk or ride a bike. He was just gone without any

explanation but life continued. Ten years later, and life still kept on going.

  My father said that he his new child deserved the same as my brother and I did. She

deserved the same resources and love. The lucky bastard got a bike. I found the Toys-r-

Us receipt hanging out the lid of the trash can taunting me. It was fully decked out with

angled in handle bars, chrome spinners, and a helmet. She had just stumbled upon a bag

of money in the street that rightfully belonged to her. Sure, I had the same bag all my life,

but nothing was ever in it. I gathered the picture in my mind of her riding down the

streets of Felton with everyone venturing off of their stoops and slamming on the breaks

of their outdated cars to watch her glide by on her shiny new bike; my father right at her

side. She was going to make it out of there, and I found that to be the most unfair.

  I was dreading the day that had to meet her. It wasn‘t like the arrival of a package or a

new family pet. She was going to be a family member that was connected no matter what.

Once again our lives had to change and I was forced to adjust my finally adjusted life. I




                                             164
was given the task being the transitional person, making her feel a part of the crew.

Brilliant idea. It was times like those that I wished my older brother Chris was still living

in the house. He was old enough to get out and could pretend that he had no family back

home. My father questioned me with ―How would you feel in her situation? Think of

ways that would make you feel accepted.‖ I responded to him with no words - a shrug

and a necessary smile. I thought that it was silly to entertain another human being that I

did not like to say the least, but I had less than a couple of weeks to figure it all out.

          ―Blood Sharing (sort of) Sister To-Do List‖

        1. Smile

        2. Hug???

        3. Show room

        4. Get food

  I was in the middle of deciding whether the hug should come first or second. It didn‘t

really matter anyway, so I left it how it was and erased the question marks. I had made

the first step. It took every ounce of energy in me to make the effort. And maybe a

miniscule piece of me wanted to do it. When I finished I made my way downstairs to the

kitchen to devour the brand-new container of Double Chocolate Chunk ice cream that sat

in the freezer. As I turned the corner past the living room my eye caught a glimpse of a

shadow. I froze. My heart started to pound in my chest. I thought that no one was home.

My first instinct wasn‘t to be worried that some killer may be sitting on the couch ready

to attack at any moment. Rather, I thought it was her. Christina, in the flesh, only yards

away. I wasn‘t ready to meet her.

  After moments of almost hyperventilating, I realized that it wasn‘t her. It was my




                                              165
father. He sat on the angled couch facing the window that captured the gloomy night. I

was just as surprised that it was him. He usually spent his Thursday nights ‗out‘. He

called me over to couch with something to tell me. ―So, we got the paternity test back.

Turns out that she‘s not mine.‖ I couldn‘t believe it. He was so sure that she was his and

the rest of us were convinced just the same. Not once had there been any pause for

speculation. But now, Christina was not my dad‘s kid. After he told me, all I said back

was ―Oh.‖ I didn‘t care about the next step in that moment. It didn‘t matter. I didn‘t stop

to think about how he felt, what a lying bitch her mother was, how I felt, how Christina

felt, or about the untouched ice cream in the freezer. I left him alone in the room and

went back upstairs to retrieve my list. Repeatedly claming my hands together, I balled up

the stationary sheet until it was a mere piece of trash and threw it on the ground. It was

over, and that was all that mattered.

  The weeks went by without mention of the situation. Our lives continued as if nothing

even happened; at least mine did. During the day I wore a smile, and at night I slept in

peace. It felt good knowing that I could sit on the roller coaster of life, knowing that the

ride was not going to start. For once everything was still. Everything was so still until the

doorbell rang last week. I opened the door to a short middle-aged woman wearing an

oversized blazer. ―Hello‖, she greeted me. ―I‘m here to meet with Mr. Charles Miller,

regarding the case of Christina Moore.‖ I hadn‘t heard her name in what seemed like

months. I stared blankly at the odd woman until the pieces started to come together. She

was a social worker. It wasn‘t over, and my father was getting what he wanted. No more,

I can‘t take anymore.

                                                *




                                             166
  I never actually pay attention to the news. I like to leave something on in the

background while I work. For some reason I took a moment away from reviewing a

finance report to glance at the television. The volume was muted but I could tell it was

something about a bad accident. I was going to return to my work but something familiar

caught my attention. I had been working for three hours straight and deserved just a little

break. It was the car. My father had the exact same one when I was younger and I

remember going with him when he picked it up. It was green, a Honda I think, and had

seven or eight seats. I was supposed to get that car one day.

  With no sound I continued to watch. I sat thinking how glad I was that it wasn‘t me,

and how glad I was that I didn‘t drive. That‘s one of the perks about living in the city,

and I never got around to getting my license when I moved here. It was a nasty accident.

A truck didn‘t stop at an intersection clipped the back of this poor girls‘ car causing it to

spin out of control. He made it through without a scratch but she skidded in circles, was

and launched into a pole. She died instantly. It was really a shame. They flashed her

picture on the screen with the headline ‗College Student Crashes‘. Pretty girl. There was

something about her face though. Maybe either her eyes or bone structure reminded me

of myself, but I didn‘t spend much time on the matter; there was work to do.

  Two hours later, and I got there. It was time for my ritual last coffee of the day.

I turned on the coffee maker, and reached for the cup from the cabinet. I couldn‘t stop

thinking about that news report. That girl had no idea what was coming; it just happened.

And if the truck driver was steered just a little bit more to the left, or if she was going just

a little bit faster, or if her car wasn‘t the extended model, the accident wouldn‘t have been

so tragic. I kept thinking about her picture and what it was that made us favor each other.




                                              167
I was midway through pouring the fresh brewed coffee into my cup when I figured it out.

Ah, it‘s the nose.

  The nose…the car…college student. I thought to myself that there was no way. But it

was true. The puzzle pieces fit together perfectly. It was Christina. Immediately I just

began to feel. Eight years worth of emotion built up over this girl and the change she

brought to my life. My coffee cup crashed to the ground as my body did the same, falling

to the floor. It was finally over.




                                            168
Maura Waldron

                                       Balancing Act

  ―What?‖ Dr. Jason Green, a tall, dark haired, blue-eyed, clearly angry man said. He

was already mad enough. His carpool partner was late picking him up and he had patients

waiting at the door. This phone call only made things worse.

   "How did you not have any vaccines left?!" Jason could not believe what he was

hearing.

  ―Listen sir, I understand you're upset. But the time it takes to make the vaccine is

longer than we initially anticipated...‖

  ―I understand that, but I have already diagnosed three patients with the flu and people

are constantly calling for the vaccine and aren‘t very understanding when I tell them that

I don‘t have any.‖

  ―Doctor, I‘m sorry, but your order can‘t be filled until we have the vaccines made. We

have your information and order, and you‘ll get your vaccines when their ready.‖

  ―Fine, call me.‖

   The swine flu epidemic was killing Jason. Not just the virus, but the paranoia that

comes with it. Patients would continue to call and visit asking for the vaccine, and leave

angry and frantic because they could get one. It was helping business though. Actually,

he had to admit, that business was great. There were plenty of patients and work, and the

first few months have been extremely successful.

      Jason‘s home life however, was not as great. I don‘t understand why Liz is so upset,

Jason thought to himself, he could hear her saying, ―You need to be home more, or you

need to balance work with home-life, or you missed Kev‘s game again...‖ She‘s making




                                            169
me feel guilty for working so hard to provide for the family and make our lives

comfortable. I haven‘t missed that much at home, have I?... Mid-thought, Leslie a new

doctor at the practice pulled him out of his trance. Jason realized he had been staring at

the same spot of his navy blue office walls the entire time.

―Doctor‖ she said, causing Jason to jump slightly.

―Yeah Leslie, what‘s up?‖ he replied.

― I need you in room five immediately.‖

  ―Oh, another H1N1 case?‖

―No...‖ she said, ―...something different,‖ she answered slowly, nervously.

Jason walked into the room and could not believe his eyes. Why does she need my help

with this? he thought. The boy, the chart said his name was Jimmy, had a severely broken

leg. It was obvious.

―Jimmy,‖ Jason said, infuriated. ― Your leg appears to be broken. However, I‘m going to

send you to the hospital for some x-rays, just to make sure.

"Oh...before I forget, How tall is he? He needs crutches,‖ Jason asked Jim‘s mother.

  ―Ummm about 5‘2,‖ she replied nervously.

  ―It‘s okay, he‘s gonna be fine,‖ Jason said, sensing her anxiousness.

  Jason handed Jimmy his crutches, and as he leaves, Jason asks to speak with Leslie in

his office.

  ―Why did you ask me to help you with that!?‖ he asked. ―Did you even look at his leg?

It was clearly broken!‖--He was clearly angry, she wasted his time, he could have been

doing something else, inventory, paperwork, anything.

  ―I understand, but I just wanted to make sure before they did anything unnecessary.‖




                                            170
  ―Unnecessary! The only thing that was unnecessary was the amount of time he spent at

this office. When you walked into that room you should have examined his leg and sent

him to get x-rays. The only thing you did by calling me in was waste everyone‘s time!

Couldn‘t you tell how much pain he was in!?‖

  ―Of course but...‖

  ―But nothing. It was a simple diagnosis. You hesitated, second guessed yourself, and

the only thing you accomplished was cause Jimmy more pain. Don‘t waste anyone‘s time

like that again. You can go.‖

  She was upset. Jason could tell. He should not have been that harsh. He let his

frustration from the vaccines and problems at home come out, and he shouldn‘t have. She

was young and still had a lot to learn. But he was right, and she needed to hear it.

                                          * * *

Jason was relieved when his carpool dropped him off in the driveway of his large, single,

family home that evening. It had been a long day, and he could not wait to get home and

relax. He walked into the front door, and could smell that dinner was ready. His son Matt,

who was only seven, excitedly ran up and greeted him as he entered the kitchen. Kevin,

the oldest at ten, surprisingly did not even acknowledge his father when he walked in.

Kevin seems mad at me, but for what? Jason pondered.

  ―What‘s wrong with Kev?‖ Jason whispered to Liz as he threw a cucumber into his

mouth.

  ―You know why,‖ she said. ―Or...you forgot. Again. He had a baseball game today

that you promised you‘d be at.‖

  ― Oh dammit, I knew I forgot something. I was just so busy at work.‖




                                           171
  ―Yeah your always busy.‖

  ―What‘s that supposed to mean?‖

  ― Forget it. Let‘s just eat... Dinner‘s ready.‖

At dinner they talked about the boys sports, school, and everything else that they were

doing. Apparently Kevin hit a home run in his game today... Jason was looking at the

boys as they were eating and they both looked so different--older, taller. He now

understood what Liz was trying to tell him in the kitchen before. It was not like he‘d only

missed a game here and there. In the past few months since the opening of his practice,

he‘d missed everything. He‘d missed games, parent-teacher conferences, school plays,

the list went on and on.

Jason could remember when the boys were born--he was still working at a hospital and

was there both nights they were born. That night, he made a promise and not for the first

time. He had promised Liz the night they got married that he would be there for her and

in the future, for their kids. Then work took over. Now he realized that he was breaking

this promise for a second time. He felt horrible, and didn‘t want to miss anything else.

But he did not want his practice to suffer, or lose any money, especially in this economy.

He didn‘t know what to do...

                                            * * *

When Jason approached Liz that night after dinner, she was not expecting anything

different. She thought he was just going to help clean up, say, ―Thanks. Everything was

great," and go into his office to fill out some paper work for the next few hours.

Surprisingly, he instead said,

  ―I think I‘m gonna take a couple days off a week. You know, to spend more time with




                                             172
the kids and make some of their games.‖

  ―OK,‖ she said sarcastically. Liz would have been surprised, happy even, if she hadn‘t

heard it before.

  ― No really, I‘m tired of coming home to angry and upset kids because I missed their

game, or play. I feel like I‘m missing everything.‖

  ―That‘s because you are missing everything, and don‘t make yourself seem so

innocent. The only reason why you come home to angry kids is because you forget

about...‖

  ― I don‘t forget, I...‖

  ―Yes, you do forget! Maybe if you penciled your kids in somewhere on your schedule

they wouldn‘t be so mad when you got home. You just have to be around more--that‘s

all. If you were around more, our life would be much happier.‖

  ―OK... Whatever.‖

That is not the way Liz wanted the conversation to go. They are both just so stubborn,

they were never on the same page. Everything seemed to be falling apart. Liz had heard

―I think I am going to take off a couple days a week.‖ so many times before, and to be

honest did not believe him when he said it. It was the same thing every time. He would

tell the entire family that he was taking some time off, get the kids all excited, and then

disappoint all of them when he didn‘t follow through. So when he told his wife and kids a

few days later that he decided to take two days off a week, Liz was shocked. She was

shocked and happy, but at the same time scared that he was not going to follow through.

She was afraid he would tell the boys that he could go to their game or be home more

often, and then run to work the next time something came up and disappoint the them




                                             173
again. Don‘t misunderstand, she trusted her husband completely, and knew how hard he

worked to provide his family with a good life and all. But the problem was that work was

always first.

He had decided to work four days during the week, and take off on Wednesdays and

Saturdays, and close on Sundays. For the first few weeks, he kept his promise, and life at

home was better for everyone, the boys were happy--Jason was going to their games and

taking them to friends' houses, and Jason and Liz were fighting less. Everything and

everyone at home seemed happier, more positive. But with the practice closed on

Sundays, they were making less money. It did not bother Liz, but it was evident that it

was beginning to bother Jason.

  ―The boys seem happier, don‘t they?‖ Liz said to him one night.

  ―Yeah they do, I‘m glad they are,‖ he said not nearly as excited as she was.

  ―What‘s wrong?‖

  ―Nothing really. I‘m just nervous about the practice.‖

  ―Why? Everything is gonna be fine. There‘s nothing to worry about.‖

  ―Yeah I know. It‘s just I‘m nervous about how the practice is doing when I‘m not

there, and if we‘re going to make it if I keep taking off.‖

  ―You‘re not considering going back to seven days are you?!‖

  ―I don‘t know. I‘m not sure.‖

  ―You can‘t be serious!‖

  ―I said I don‘t know... I‘m just thinking about it.‖

  ―You know I don‘t care about the money...‖

  ―Yeah but I do.‖




                                             174
  ―I can‘t believe you‘re actually thinking about going back full time!‖

  ―I...I just don‘t know.‖

  ―I hope you make the right decision.‖

Liz fell asleep that night upset and frustrated. Jason did it again, let them all down...it just

took a little longer than it had in the past.

                                                * * *

  Liz didn‘t hear Jason get up the next morning, just the car horn when he got picked up.

He did call when he got to the office, she hoped it was to apologize and say he wasn‘t

serious when he said he might go back full time. But no, he just asked ―What time is

Kev‘s game?‖ When Liz answered, he just said, and ―Thanks‖ and hung up. Hung up!

Liz thought furiously, Without a word about the conversation they had the night before!

She couldn‘t believe it. She was mad, sad, upset. She had felt a whole cornucopia of

emotions. Not showing up to Kevin‘s game didn‘t make anything better. Now she was

worried, I had no idea what was going on with him, she thought. It wasn‘t until later that

night that Liz found out what really happened...

They left his office quickly and were probably driving too fast. Jason wasn‘t driving

because he never took the interstate home from work. They were trying to get over to the

right lane when it happened. The car that hit them was tailgating a tractor-trailer that

stopped short, it swerved to avoid hitting the eighteen wheeler and hit Rob, the driver,

and Jason instead. Rob‘s Audi didn‘t stand a chance against the Goliath F-250. They

were hit on the side, flew off the road into the air, and flipped twice, before crashing to

the ground, and landing in the large, grassy, median. By the time it was over, Rob‘s little

Audi didn‘t even look like a car anymore. It looked like more like a crumpled up can




                                                 175
more than anything else. By the time, the ambulance arrived, the unharmed driver of the

F-250 had given up on trying to get Jason and Rob out. He had moved on to examining

his truck, checking the damage...his damn truck looked pristine compared to the Audi

and he cared more about that than the severely injured people in the other car.

By the time the ambulance, fire trucks, and cop cars finally arrived, traffic was stopped

and other drivers had gotten out of their cars to look at the scene. Not to help, just look.

The ambulance pulled onto the yellowing grass, right up to the car. They had to use the

jaws of life to get Jason and Rob out; they were both unresponsive by the time the got to

the scene. Rob was driven to a nearby hospital, while Jason had to be airlifted.

  Jason arrived at the hospital in critical condition; they immediately took him to the

operating room where they worked for hours. That‘s when they called Liz--when he was

in the operating room. ―Why wasn‘t I called sooner?‖ she asked her sisters when they

arrived watch the boys. But she didn‘t wait for the answer, she ran out the door, and

rushed to the hospital. Not long after she arrived, the surgeon who operated on Jason

came into the waiting room.

  ―Mrs. Green.‖

  ―Yes.‖

  ―I just finished working on your husband, he got here in pretty bad shape...

  ― Oh God...‖

  ―...but we were able to stabilize him, now all we have to do is wait for him to wake

up.‖

  ―Okay, when can I see him.‖

  ―Now if you want, I‘ll show you to his room if you like.‖




                                             176
  ―That would be great...thanks.‖

  That happened two weeks ago. Since then, everything has gone so fast. All the visitors,

trips to the hospital, the boys games, and all the other things that have been going on.

  To add to all that, Jason still hasn‘t woken up--

―The boys are starting to get impatient, they keep asking me when he‘s going to come

home, and I don‘t know what to tell them because honestly I don‘t know‖ Liz said to Dr.

Shields, Jason‘s physician.

―I know‖ he responded, ―that‘s understandable, but don‘t worry, Jason is going to be

fine.‖

―Good, Good, that‘s great. Thank you for everything.‖

―No problem, let me know if you need anything else.‖

         As Dr. Shields left the room, Liz sat beside Jason‘s bed, relieved that he‘s was

going to be okay, but frustrated that he still had not waken up. It‘s like he is still thinking

about what to do for work, she thought to herself, I know what I hope he decides, but he

seemed convinced that if he takes time off, his practice is going to fail. However, it seems

to be doing fine without him. But even so, who knows what he‘ll chose. He‘s changed his

mind a hundred times. I guess we‘ll know when he makes his decision, because that‘ll be

when he finally wakes up.




                                               177
Jennifer Walker



                     Close His Eyes To Sun and Sky

       A crisp morning breeze gently encircled the building as Joshua Tanner squinted into the

sheer rays of the pale rising sun. The American flag positioned in front of Lakeside High School

was lifted momentarily, unfurling slightly. The new day could not raise the flag, just as it could

not lift Joshua's hope for a day any better than the rest of his miserable life. With a deep sigh,

Joshua heaved his backpack higher onto his shoulders as he shuffled through the doors into the

dim light of the hallway.

       "Hey, Josh! You ready for that math test 4th period?" Joshua's friend, Luke, inquired as

they passed in the hall.

       Joshua merely gave a slight nod and a wave of his hand. He hadn't expected his spirits

could fall any lower; but now, realizing that he had forgotten about the quarterly math test today,

he knew his life really didn't have any hope of improving. How was he supposed to concentrate

on school when his parents spent all night screaming at each other? How could he attempt to

finish his homework last night with his brother, James, and his druggie friends blasting noise

down the hall? Joshua returned home from school each day with his mind set on accomplishment

for the evening. However, each morning as he returned to school, he was simply sleep-deprived

and depressed, with unfinished assignments cluttering his backpack.

       "Josh," whispered his other good friend Jack in first period. "Guess what? I've got to

show you something."

       Jack reached into his jeans pocket and slipped out a brand new iPhone, carefully keeping

it under the desk to avoid the teacher's hovering eyes.



                                             178
        "I just got it last night. Sweet, right? Early Christmas present. Hey, do you know what

you're getting yet?"

        Joshua forced a half smile, putting out his hand for a high five. His parents probably

forgot there were still holidays, let alone the fact that they should maybe get their son a gift. He

thought back to his 10th birthday when they had neglected to remember the important date. He

had timidly approached them that evening, mentioning, "It's my birthday today. I thought you'd

like to know." Joshua's father, Dan Tanner, known as part of Clearmont, Wyoming's

unemployed, simply stared at him for a moment. "Yeah, right. Happy birthday," he had replied in

a monotone voice before turning back to the TV. Joshua's mother, Laura Tanner, was half asleep

in the recliner. Now, certainly as a senior in high school, Joshua no longer expected much from

them.

        The day dragged on slowly, except during Joshua's math test. The clock seemed to tease

him during 4th period. Each minute seemed shorter than sixty seconds as he struggled to

remember endless formulas, with no avail. Lunch rolled by. Luke and Jack discussed the

upcoming holidays and the preparations that were taking place in their homes. Joshua merely

stared at his food, tasteless in his mouth, and attempted to pipe in occasionally on the

conversation to not entirely seclude himself. Finally, Joshua was climbing the stairs of the bus to

go home. The sun shone brightly into the large windows, creating a glare across the surrounding

mountainous landscape.

        Joshua was soon at his front door, not noticing that he had exited the bus and walked up

his street; he had been busy thinking about the terrible test, doubting he could even scrape by

with a C in math now.

        "I'm leaving," James declared in his scratchy smoke voice.




                                             179
       James shoved by Joshua, who was entering through the front door, without a glance.

Joshua knew he had become invisible to his brother. James thought he was weak for not joining

up with his gang of derelicts, and now even a slight acknowledgement of one another's presence

was unusual.

       "Joshua? Is that you? Clean up that god-awful mess downstairs!" his mother said from

the sofa, pointing Josh in the direction of the disaster-zone.

       "Uhh, you know that was all James! I have to do homework. I think I just failed a test

today," Joshua retorted.

       "That's your problem. Now get to fixing this place up," she replied, as she changed the

channel on the TV.

       Joshua just wanted to scream. It's not fair. They never gave a second thought to throwing

trash, piles of dirty clothes, and unopened junk mail and overdue bills around the house. James

had trashed the downstairs during his last late-night party. Why doesn't James ever have to clean

up his own mess? Why don't Laura and Dan Tanner ever act like a real mother and father? Why

is everything always up to Joshua to take care of? Probably because he would always try to show

some sense of responsibility to make up for his family's serious lack of it.

       Joshua struggled to calm his fuming nerves as he scraped the dishes and loaded them into

the dishwasher. Finally, trudging up the worn carpeted stairs to his room after finishing cleaning

the bathroom, Joshua dropped his backpack by his bed. He pulled out a textbook and a notebook

to begin his history homework. Sprawling across his bed, the text soon blurred before his eyes as

his drowsiness caught up with him. Around 3 a.m., Joshua woke with a start to the slam of the

front door.

       "Where were you!" she barked, as his beer sloshed onto Joshua's newly-mopped kitchen




                                             180
floor.

         Joshua rolled over, smashing the pillow over his head in an attempt to block out another

of their daily arguments. He didn't stir again until the steady beep of the alarm clock began at 6

a.m. Shaking himself awake, Joshua tried to expel the nightmare from his mind. It was always

the same one. He would be himself one moment, and then he would realize that he was

becoming James. He would run from the image with no success. They would chase him down

the street, yelling "You have no choice! You have no choice!" The dream haunted him

continually. At least school was an escape from these horrid thoughts and the depressing reality

of being in the house with his family.

         Luke slid into the benched seat beside Joshua at lunch, placing his tray of food upon the

table.

         "So, I was thinking, there's a concert this Friday at that little place in the city. It's only

$10, if you'd want to go? Jack's coming, too," Luke said.

         "Who's playing? Could you give me a ride?" Joshua inquired.

         "Yeah, I can drive you. It's The Kin. This newish band, but they're good," Luke

responded.

         Joshua hadn't been out with his friends in forever. Anything was better than staying at

home.

         "Yeah, ok sure," Joshua agreed.

         Friday took long enough to arrive. Luke and Jack arrived at his house around 7 p.m. Luke

was driving his three-year old silver SUV. Joshua cringed at the thought of his family's one beat-

up sedan. As soon as the SUV reached the driveway, Joshua was out the front door. There was

no way any of his friends were going to see anyone in his family.




                                                181
        Joshua was surprised by his enthusiasm at the concert. His skin absorbed the rock music,

and he allowed it to permeate through his blood, filling up the empty space inside him. He

smiled at Luke and Jack, an internal thanks for inviting him along. Then, the numbing euphoria

of the music and noise and contrast of dark with bright lights was abruptly cut short. A cold

liquid had splashed all down his back. Spinning around, anger pulsed through Joshua at the

disturbance.

        "Watch it, would you!"

        Her bright brown eyes implored forgiveness.

        "Oh, no! I am sooo sorry!" She reached out in an attempt to show her sincerity.

        "Uh, no, it's fine. Yeah, it's fine." Joshua glanced at the girl for a moment and then began

to turn back around into the satisfaction of the music.

        "Forgive and forget? Hey, what's your name? I'm Sky," the teenage girl stated.

        Joshua turned his head, actually looking at her now. She had medium-length light brown

hair that glistened in the spotlights from the stage. She held her hand out, waiting for recognition

from Joshua.

        "Yeah, forget about it. I'm Joshua," he replied.

        He held her hand momentarily. It seemed small and gentle in his own. The touch of her

skin sent an unexpected charge through his own hand. He wasn't sure what to do next. Was this

girl really interested in him? Is that why she introduced herself and looked straight into his eyes?

Should he try to think of something else to say? Gathering courage, Joshua decided to make a

move.

        Smiling tentatively, he asked politely, "Uh, do you want to go back by the doors. It's

much cooler back there."




                                            182
           As soon as the words left his mouth, Joshua felt that they were utterly stupid. Why would

he say that? Why could he never think of anything smooth and cool to say to a girl?

           "Sure," Sky agreed, smiling through her eyes.

           The two pushed their way through the crowd, finding their way to the back doors. Joshua

looked back over his shoulder and saw his friends, Jack and Luke, catch eyes, only to shrug and

shake their heads before turning back to the concert. He knew they understood that he could take

care of himself from this point forward.

           Standing by the doors, Sky looked up at Joshua, while he frantically flipped through

pages in his mind, searching for something to say, awkwardly looking around the outline of Sky

in the dim light. The concert was coming to a close, The Kin ending the finale of their last song.

The small crowd was beginning to disperse to head for the doors.

           "So … maybe I could give you a ride home … to make up for … you know," Sky began

finally.

           "Oh, a ride home? … "

           "Unless that's not good … Sorry."

           Joshua was somewhat taken aback at her sudden offer. They had only just met. She was

different from everyone else Joshua knew - so open and friendly and seemingly genuinely nice.

He thought that she must like him or she never would have made the suggestion. He knew he

would be foolish to pass up the ride home. It would give them the opportunity to get to know

each other better.

           "No, no. That'd be great, thanks," Joshua said, worrying about what she might think of his

house.

           They walked outside and around to the parking lot. Joshua watched as her light brown




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hair was blown back by the wind, how she turned and flashed a smile when she asked him what

school he went to. He could sense something happening between them here under the night sky.

The lights flashed on a sleek blue sports car as Sky pulled out her car keys.

          "Nice car," was all that Joshua was able to manage.

          "Thanks." Sky flashed that smile again.

          The ride to Joshua's house was quiet, but comfortable. They talked about the concert, the

songs they liked best, The Kin's awesome Australian accent. The car rolled into the gravel

driveway in front of the house.

          "Hey, would you want to get together, maybe next Friday?" Joshua asked, after mustering

enough courage to spill out the question.

          "Ok. Here's my number," Sky replied eagerly. She pulled a pen and slip of paper from her

purse and jotted down the ten numbers for him.

          "Thanks. I'll call you later then," Joshua responded, thrilled that she wanted to see him

again.

          That night, Joshua kept picturing the image of Sky's face. Maybe there was still hope in

life after all. Next Friday was soon enough. He could manage to get through another week. He

thought about Sky all weekend as he tediously worked on homework he barely understood with

the background yelling voices becoming the soundtrack of his life.

          As the week wore on, Joshua's cautious optimism deflated as his family tore away at the

particles of hope stored inside his heart. The image of Sky became faded around the edges in his

memory. By Friday, Joshua wondered if he had dreamed his encounter with the girl or maybe, if

he had actually talked to her, she had merely been humoring him by agreeing to get together on

Friday.




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         After school on Friday, Joshua was practically holding his breath waiting for any sign of

Sky's arrival. When he saw the front of the blue car pulling towards his house, a short intake of

breath made him tremble as blood gushed back through his veins. Sky really had been earnest

after all.

         "Where do you want to go?" Sky asked Joshua as he slid into the front seat beside her.

         "You hungry? We could get something to eat. There's that little diner about three minutes

away."

         "Ok, sounds good. Just remind me how to get there?"

         Joshua could sense his tension and stress evaporating now that he was once again in the

presence of Sky. At the diner, they ate slowly, in contrast to their escalating conversation. Joshua

found himself talking about his family, releasing the pent up emotions he locked inside.

         "My father … he's never home … always out drinking … and when my mother and my

older brother aren't fighting, she's glued to the TV and James is partying with his crazy friends."

         Sky listened calmly, comforting Joshua in a way he had never felt before. She told him of

her own family.

         "Yeah, my dad loves to have cook-outs. We take the grill and the tent and go camping at

the lake every chance we can get."

         Sky had the kind of family that Joshua had always envied.

         "It seems like you have a great life," Joshua murmured, looking down at the table.

         "Oh, it's really not that great. There are so many rules, and I never have enough time

alone or just with my friends, you know?" she continued.

         Joshua was surprised at this. How could she be unhappy with her seemingly perfect life?

         "You haven't mentioned anything about your mom?" Joshua inquired.




                                             185
        "Oh, … She died when I was nine, and my dad never got over it. I guess that's why he's

so overprotective of me." Sky dropped her gaze as she finished speaking. "Much too

overprotective."

        "Oh, I'm sorry," Joshua spoke gently.

        "I wish I could just run away sometimes…" Sky seemed lost in thought, but then she

lifted her head suddenly and looked at Joshua.

        "Run away with me? We could disappear into the wilderness for a while, where no one

would find us," Sky seemed to plead.

        "Of course, let's go right now," Joshua said, continuing the teasing conversation.

        "No, you don't understand. I'm serious." Sky stared deeply into Joshua's eyes, penetrating

his insides.

        She reached across the table and pulled Joshua's hand into her own.

        She had to be kidding. They had just met last Friday. What did she really mean?

        But something was drawing him to her. She seemed sincere, serious. She really did want

to leave. She had chosen him as her escape.

        What if they did go somewhere right now? What was he leaving behind? …

        Studying Sky's face carefully for any hint of casual jest, Joshua finally accepted that this

was no joke.

        "Ok," Joshua replied after what seemed like an eternity.

        She clasped her hand more firmly around Joshua's and pulled him from the table. Sky led

Joshua out the door of the diner and headed towards her car. She drove swiftly out of the parking

lot and soon began winding along a narrow road unfamiliar to Joshua. Joshua wondered where

they were going, but he didn't ask. Twenty minutes later, Sky slowed the car and turned off the




                                             186
ignition.

        "Let's get out here," she declared.

        Sky guided Joshua towards a worn dirt path ahead leading into the dense forest.

        Joshua soon perceived that dusk was approaching. Stars appeared as his eyes adjusted to

the darkening sky. When the last bit of sun disappeared from view, they stopped. They rested

side by side at the top of a grassy hill. Below, a lake reflected the tranquil scene. Their fingers

entwined against the cooling grass. There they lay through the night.

        The sun stretched its rays over the contours of the earth.

        Sky spoke quietly, "Let's go. I want to show you something."

        She led him down the hill to the edge of the lake. They sat down side by side, arms

around each other, watching the reflection in the lake of the sun rising over the mountains.

        Sky and Joshua whispered softly with each other. Sky began to lean back into the cool

dewy grass; then she abruptly froze. Every muscle tensed in Joshua's own body as he looked

around to follow Sky's line of sight. There was a man, muttering, almost stamping his way in an

awkward movement towards them. Sky and Joshua jumped up to face the intruder, Joshua unsure

why Sky seemed to be growing paler by the second.

        "It's my dad. He's going to kill me," she uttered barely audibly under her breath.

        They stood frozen and watched Sky's father stampede even faster as he caught sight of

his daughter with the tall teenager by her side. They watched, eyes opening wide, as he pulled a

revolver from his inside coat pocket and pointed it toward the sky.

        Joshua, standing by the bank of the lake, squinted towards the man in utter confusion.

The scene played out before him, almost as if in slow motion. Sky ran towards her father,

yelling. She grabbed at the arm that clutched the gun, barrel facing towards the brilliant pale blue




                                              187
sky. As Sky's forceful grip pulled her father's arm down, a burning sensation suddenly ripped

through Joshua's chest as if someone had torn his body in half.

       Joshua looked at Sky. He looked at her father. Then his mind shifted away, quickly,

unexpectedly, to … Dan, Laura, and James Tanner. Would they even care? … The sun shone

brightly before his eyes creating a glare across the surrounding mountainous landscape.




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