“Miss Lilac Arugg” By: Robert Boucheron

Louisa walked the few blocks down Main Street. The day was turning out to be fine. As she reached the café at noon, a man unlocked the door. Wearing a black vest, bowtie and a handlebar mustache, he was either an actor in a movie about the Wild West or a bartender. From behind the bar, he set a paper napkin before her.

“A little early in the day for a cocktail, ma’am, but you may have a reason. Charles is the name. What will it be?”

“Nothing to drink, thank you. Unless you happen to have a fresh pot of coffee?”

“Coming right up.” Charles assembled a cup and spoon. “We don’t get much of a lunch crowd here. We do get folks with a thirst for something other than whisky. So we offer a little bit of everything. Come for the booze or come for the atmosphere. There’s plenty of both.”

“I came on another errand,” Louisa said. “I want to talk to someone who performs here and goes by the name of Lilac Arugg.”

“Hapsburg’s reigning queen of camp. I wouldn’t have pegged you as a fan.”

“Do you know where I might find her?”

“Sure thing. She lives upstairs, over the café. Mr. Small owns the building. He likes to rent to tenants in the arts. Go back to the street and ring at the apartment entrance. Or you can use the back stair.” He gestured behind the bar. “It’s more convenient if you’re in a ball gown and high heels, with an ostrich plume on your head.”

“I’ll use the street entrance. Thank you, Charles.”

Louisa gulped her coffee and exited. She rang, climbed two steep flights of stairs, and arrived winded at the top. An overweight man in a lavender robe and sparkling slippers opened the door. The same height as Louisa, he took her in from head to toe and frowned.

“I don’t know what you’re selling, lady, but it better not be cosmetics. You look like a girl who doesn’t know which end of a lipstick to suck.”

Louisa had not expected a challenge. “I am Louisa Abernethy Jones, from the Vindicator.”

“And I am the Queen of England, just in from Buckingham Palace.”

Louisa’s face fell.

“Just kidding, honey. You look as forlorn as a nun in a brothel. What can I do for you?”

“I’m looking for Lilac Arugg.”

“Then you came to the right place. It’s much too early in the morning to receive visitors, but slide on in and make yourself at home.”

Louisa entered a spacious, sunny room furnished with a few tattered pieces that resembled theatrical props—a sofa upholstered in crimson plush, a clawfoot armchair, and a vast painting of a carnival scene in an ornate, gilded frame. Water stains marked the ceiling, and the carpet was frayed.

“Take a throne, any throne.”

Louisa sat in the armchair, which creaked.

“Don’t worry, it won’t break. Heavier hitters than you have taken a load off in that chair. I’m a big-boned gal myself.” The man sat on the sofa and leaned back with one arm raised, as though a servant might appear with a cocktail or a cigarette.

“The maid is off today. She’s a wicked little bitch, but what can you do? Here I am with my hair undone, no makeup, and barely a stitch on. And with the worst craving for a smoke. But I quit that nasty habit. Now I’m looking for a new one. So where were we?”

“The newspaper editor asked me to write about Ralph Willis, the musician who was shot. In the course of my wanderings, some people mentioned you and your show, so I thought I should ask. Did you know him by any chance?”

“In passing. We danced together. We talked. We’re about the same age with similar tastes, as you may discern. You look like the discerning type. Are you sure I can’t get you something, Miss . . .”

“Louisa. Charles gave me a cup of coffee downstairs.”

“I’ll bet it was hot. Now, that’s what I call a full-service bartender.”

“He added a good word for you.”

“Don’t you believe it, honey. I’m as mean as the next girl and twice her size.”

“If you don’t mind, do you have a day job?”

“In civilian life, I’m Stan Maupin, a youth counselor for social services. Youth as in troubled teens, boys with problems, emotional and otherwise. It takes one to know one, as I tell them on our first date. Make that our first counseling session.”

“And by night . . .”

“A performing artist. I picked the name for its entertainment value. Lilac is my signature color, as you see.” He flounced the hem of the robe.

“Who are the Ladies of Illusion?”

“Oh, honey, you make it sound like a cult! We’re a collection of misfits and has-beens, street tramps and trollops. The only qualifications are a smart mouth and an overwhelming disregard for standards. The current roster includes Miss Kitty Litter, Miss Helen Highwater, and Miss Ivana Getsome, all local talent.”

“Did Ralph Willis come to the show?”

“Now and then. There’s not much of a bar scene in the Shenandoah Valley. Where else can an eligible gay bachelor go to see and be seen?”

“So he was visible?”

“In a small town like this, everyone gets to know everyone. There’s no place to hide.”

“Did he ever mention a romantic interest?”

“In a veiled way. He claimed to have a hot boyfriend, an active-duty cop in uniform who rode a motorcycle and arrested crooks—the whole police department scene. It sounded more like a fantasy than anything that could happen here in little old Hapsburg. Then, as the entire world was shocked to learn, the fantasy turned out to be real, our very own chief of police.”

“Did Ralph give any hint of dissatisfaction?”

“Toward the end of last year,” he grumbled. “I put it down to the seven-year itch. Carrying on with a married man is dicey in any case. E. M. Forster got away with it, with Policeman Bob, no less. That’s England for you. In America, bisexual is a fancy word for confused.”

“Did Ralph say anything about that?”

“He said he was going to break off the affair. It had dragged on too long, he saw no future, he wanted to settle down, and so on. A soap opera has better dialog. Now if you ask me, this is when things get messy.”

“How so?”

“Consider the cast in this drama, none of whom is getting younger. How will the valiant officer react to being dumped? And how will the valiant officer’s wife react?”

“Mrs. Ryder didn’t know.”

“Oh, Louisa, get a grip. The wife always knows. She puts a good face on it, hikes up her hose, and gets on with life. At a moment like this, however, as power shifts and lead weights start to drop, she may get just a smidgeon bent out of shape.”

“Alice Ryder made a spirited defense of her husband.”

“To which I say brava diva!”

“What about Gary Nash, the missing young man? Did you ever meet him?”

“Far too young for Miss Lilac. My social service clients are his age. Willis introduced him to me, said he sang like an angel. He came to the last show, a week ago Sunday.”

“Was Willis there too?”

“No, I didn’t see him. But I saw something else. Our musical friend Nurse Nash engaged in a tête a tête with a suspicious character.”

“Do you know who the other man was?”

“Never saw him before. Heavyset, fair, wearing a ballcap and sunglasses in a dimly lit bar. The hearty, he-man type, what we in the business call acting straight.”

“Your description matches J. D. Ryder.”

“Ooooh!” Miss Arugg squealed. “The Captain does drag.”

“I wonder what he wanted with Nash.”

“From my vantage point, it could have been a pickup or a body block. The stage lights made it hard to tell.”

“Did they leave together?”

“Miss Louisa, what an improper suggestion! No, come to think of it, Nash did not look at all pleased by the encounter. Up to that point he was gay as a lark. He must have left the café soon after.”

“Whatever Ryder said to him spoiled the mood.”

“So it would seem.”

“When did Ryder leave?”

“At the end of the evening, about eleven. I remember, because he loitered, as if he had nowhere to go.”

“So Ryder didn’t casually drop in for a few minutes.”

“If that’s what he told you, honey, he was fibbing.”

“You say he was reluctant to go?”

“There’s always one or two. We have to sweep them out with the trash. It’s no reflection on the entertainment. The malingerers are sad or drunk or both.”

“Was Ryder?”

“Sad, maybe, but sober.”

Louisa stood. “Thank you so much for your insight.”

“The pleasure was mutual, I’m sure. Love the hair and the outfit. Come see the show. You might get some tips on makeup.”

“What this is.” By: Meeah Williams

This is only a test. Gasp. Sigh. The old Boo-Hoo. Boo Who? This is only a test. (sound of voice clearing). If this were an actual emergency. If. (sound of laughter) We interrupt this regularly scheduled broadcast. Well, if this were an actual emergency. A test, did we say that? Yeah, this is only a test. It’s a test of…what…your patience, your intestinal fortitude, your sanity? It’s a test of the Emergency Broadcasting System. That’s what it is. If this were an actual emergency, you would have been given instructions of where to turn. He nudges me and points to a table: there’s her coat, some petite plaid thing. She’s probably claimed the table and gotten up to get her food. Just seeing her coat I feel instantly panicked and nervous. I decide to try to find her before she gets back to the table in order to say just a few words in private. You see now, if this were an actual emergency, you would have been given instructions of where to turn in your own neighborhood. We would be telling you, you see, what to do in an actual emergency. I walk around and around but I can’t find her. Finally I start back to the table and I see she’s sitting there already. I back up into the hallway and I can barely breathe. I can barely stand. I’m gasping. I’m touching the wall for balance. I tell myself, “Well at least when she sees you like this she’ll realize how much you love her. She’ll be touched. She can’t help but be touched.” You would have been given a lot of instructions, a lot of gobbledygook about what to do, where to go, and all that jazz by someone who doesn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. This is what happens in an actual emergency. Because right then the exact opposite thought occurs to me. “No, she won’t be touched at all. She’ll see you as weak, as exactly the kind of man she didn’t want in the first place and rejected.” You see, Plato said that we are all looking for the other half of us, that the spell of tenderness, trust, and unselfishness with which we fall under is a miracle; lovers no longer want to be apart, not even for a moment. And in this way all true lovers spend their lives as one, without ever being able to say what they expect from one another; for it’s not the dear one’s body, or resources, or even their own self-interest that these two lovers seek in each other. But something else…and what it is they cannot say, cannot ever say, and that never-answered-question, that is love. Sorry about that. The fucking aforementioned regularly scheduled programming. Goddammit, it’s hard to get it off the air. You have no idea. Listen, like we said, we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a test. A test of the Emergency Broadcast System. We’re really proud of this test, it’s stood us in good stead for a long time, you really have no idea. No clue. You see, in an actual emergency. She’s sort of slouched in her chair, a wool cap on her head. She looks up and gives a polite little “oh it’s nice to see you smile” like you’d smile at a puppy. Her face is beautiful, more beautiful than in real life, like its being shot with a soft-focus camera. I can barely talk. I manage to ask her if I can have a few words with her alone. She doesn’t think that’s a good idea. Does she think I’m going to hurt her? Is she afraid of me now? I just want to talk to her. I just want three minutes. Cut the fucking tape, Maynard. Jesus H. Stop clowning around. This is an emergency. (clearing of throat) You see, in an actual emergency you would have been told where to turn. Where to turn? (laughter) Where to turn? (laughter, two, three, four voices, monkey-house stuff) Oh who am I kidding? Let me be honest for a change. There ain’t nowhere to turn. We interrupt this regularly scheduled broadcast to report that massive explosions have rocked the center of our world, our major cities have crumbled to the ground, the sky is on fire, and the water is poisoned. You can kiss your asses goodbye, suckers! People are killing each other indiscriminately in the street. The army is indistinguishable from the citizenry. When has it not been? Everything is out of control. You tell me, when has it not been? Escape is impossible. You tell me, When has it ever been? There is no Law. It was all a sham, all an illusion, all of it. We admit it. This is an actual emergency. When has it not been? Okay? Happy now? You wanted the truth, you got it. You’ve been practicing for it all your life. This is it. Stop being such a goddamn victim. Get up off your ass. Figure it out yourself. We’ve been giving you instructions for years. Have they ever helped? Think about it. Have they? The truth is, it’s been an actual emergency all along. We can’t tell you where to go or what to do. We don’t know ourselves. You’re on your own. You always have been. Everything is falling apart. You are the chair which is falling through the floor which is the soil under your feet which is the bedrock of the earth which is swallowed by the sun which is exploding forever and ever into the cold oblivion of empty space. Empty space. Everything is everything. This is an actual emergency. It is so, so, so over. You would have been given instructions on where to turn if it weren’t. Trust me. You would have been told a lot of lies. You would have been told what to do. When have you not been? If there were an actual emergency. You would have been told. In your area. To turn. Where? There is no where to turn. You are turning in on yourself. Good luck.
 

[laughter].
 
[long silence].
 
[uninterrupted tone].

“Trying To Make The One-Night Stand Last” By: Joseph Reich

Although’s made-to-look like

cookie-cutter condominiums

& aint criticizing (condemning?) them
 
looking like some postmodern nightmare cotswald

& think they need some sorta
murder or shakespeare drama

but perhaps that’s all/ready happened
and just one big denouement

 

(of climate-controlled

happily ever afte)r

 

ap:e think hope solo just lost it

& still so pretty, aint no sinner

my american hero (!) could use

an american hero & oil & vinegar

a grinder? a hoagie? submarine…

 
steve mcqueen (the fleeting,submarine sailor)

one of the first known cases

(to go untreated) & fatalitites of mesolthetimia
can’t spiel that like the state of mississippi

 

think jack the ripper & the boston strangler

just felt unwanted & unloved

(no one to eat bagels with or pick up

the new york & london times)

 

& that there being the biggest crime…

 

has there ever been an extensive,clin,icall,didactic

study on fog? on bogs? (onward christian soldiers)

on those logs being delivered downtown,upwards,downriver

from the skull of the lumbermill up in the missionary mountains

 

past the ex-cons & dope addicts?

past the foghorns & windy apple orchards?

past the hotsprings & scenic view of the city?

 
beneath that lonesome silo:wedded solitary
tow-bridge operator

to those stray dogs guarding the used-car lots

 

& american indian just leaned back in the park

playing harmonica…

“Sidewinder’s Cat Steven’s Vibe Stem-winder” By: Gerard Sarnat

Family of origin, the four of us always sat smack in the center.

Auditoria (no temple), political (Democrat) middle…

 

An esteemed accomplished adult, when we were kids figuring it out,

Sis got in troub in school for sitting front row center, raising her hand

too much, shouting out answers when the teacher asked the class a question.

 

      …But I drift from midpoint — adjusted a tad left, I slacked the ‘60s

      experimenting in hippy dippy radical chic college towns

 

Middle son went UCDavis gay                                “Perch off to the side, Dad. Quiet.”

 

  On the window seat, I watch him download Minecraft for his two nephews.


Gerard Sarnat is the author of two critically acclaimed poetry collections, 2010’s “HOMELESS CHRONICLES from Abraham to Burning Man” and 2012’s “Disputes.” His work has appeared or is forthcoming in eighty or so journals and anthologies.  Harvard and Stanford educated, Gerry’s a physician who’s set up and staffed clinics for the disenfranchised, a CEO of health care organizations, and Stanford professor. For “The Huffington Post” review and more; visit GerardSarnat.com

“The Pain-Body” By: Kirby Wright

for Eckhart Tolle

 I flop in bed, placing a fiver over my heart. I want to lure the pain-body to the surface to see what’s shaping my thoughts. I’m guessing it resembles a pulsating blob of tar. I can’t get angry waiting. I must remain in a trance to draw the creature out. I forget childhood beatings. I ignore my divorce. The future? Meaningless.

My bowels pop. There’s a stabbing in my tailbone and a tug at the penis. Something claws from spine to liver and swings the rib cage. I feel teeth gnawing through my heart. I hide the bill under a pillow. A phantom with a platinum bouffant and red lipstick erupts from my chest, teeth flashing gold. “Gimme that money,” demands Mummy, who died a year ago last June.

“Broken Glass” By: Andre-Naquian Wheeler

It was seven o’clock on a Saturday night and I was in my bedroom taking a nap when Jonah woke me up. He did his knock and open the door at the same time routine that always left me startled and I wanted to scream out: “What’s the purpose of even knocking!” but then Jonah would always flash a sheepish apologetic smile as he stepped into the room and so I never did.

“Yo Daren,” Jonah spoke quietly in the darkness. He stared at me as I groggily sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes, trying to pretend I had only closed my eyes for a second. “I thought you said you weren’t gonna take any naps this semester?” I was a compulsive napper, always preferring to sleep and escape the stress of the world over actually dealing with it.

I was caught. “I tried, I’m just really tired, and I’ve had a busy day. Plus Bobby’s gone and it was just so quiet so it was bound to happen.” Whenever Bobby, my roommate, left the awkward tension between us left with him.

“Well get up,” Jonah said to me, as if it was an order. “I’m about to start watching United States of Tara and was wondering if you wanted to join me.”

I sat quiet for a beat, pretending I was mulling over the option.

“Sure,” I said in a faux-casual voice. I hopped off my bed and took off my shirt, which was soaked with sweat. I’d had a nightmare: I’d dreamt of walking around New York City with shards of glass filling my shoes, blood soaking my Converse, and making a squishing sound with each step I took. For some reason in the dream I never thought to just take off my shoes, which made me feel very foolish now.

Jonah leaned on my door frame, looking at me through the fluorescent light flooding in from the kitchen, and said: “You look like you have more muscle…”

“Yeah I think so too.” I held my arms up and flexed for him. “I guess going to the gym with you hasn’t been pointless.”

Jonah smiled and gave me a once over. “You should keep going with me.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I lied. I had stopped my tag-alongs to the gym with Jonah a week before because I couldn’t stand the out-of-place-feeling in there. I’d be the scrawny guy standing above Jonah, who’d be lustfully sweaty and straining, as he lifted the heavy weights rhythmically. I would spot Jonah even though we both knew if he actually needed me it would be of no use. But that was Jonah’s usual effect on me, driving me to do things I wouldn’t normally do just so I could please him.

I don’t know what it is about him.

I remember walking into my dorm for the first time on a sticky late August day and seeing two extremes for my roommates. Bobby being scrawny, unimpressive, and socially awkward, pushed his glasses back into place, looked up from his computer game, held out his long, limp arm, and simply said hi. That was the extent of conversation we’d the first day. But then there was Jonah. He sauntered in with confidence and an infectious energy.

“Yo,” Jonah said in a voice that sounded like Seinfeld’s. “I’m Jonah.” For some reasonI was entranced by the short, muscular, tan guy with a five o’clock shadow who wore plaid shorts and a baggy, faded polo.

Jonah and I first bonded over photography; Jonah being the photographer and me, the model. One morning, during the first week of school, Jonah performed his knock and enter routine for the first time with a camera in his hand, snapping pictures of a sleeping me. I enjoyed being studied by Jonah through his lenses, knowing, even if for just a couple of seconds, that I was his focus. Then we would print out the pictures, sitting close to one another, and admire them. He would say things like: “look at the boca in this one!” or “you see the way the shadow falls on your face!” or my favorite: “you look amazing here!”

One gray winter day Jonah and I did a photo shoot in Central Park; I shivered inside Jonah’s warm fleece coat during most of the shoot.

“When did you know?” Jonah asked after taking a picture of me standing on a giant rock with a dramatic hand-in-the-air pose.

“Huh?” I asked through clattering teeth.

“When did you know you were gay?”

“I don’t know.” I grappled for a suitable answer while trying to figure out why Jonah was asking me this now. “That’s a hard question to answer. All I can say is the cliche ‘you just kinda always know’. ”

“You were never confused or unsure? I mean everyone goes through that right?”

I was taken aback by why he was asking me such direct questions. “It’s different for everyone,” I said. “I just mean deep inside I always knew the truth. I just tried for a while to ignore the truth, though the truth never goes away.”

“Huh,” Jonah said and for the rest of the time in the park he stayed painfully quiet. Once we were through taking pictures we stood above the ice skating rink looking down at the moving circle of smiling faces skating around. I looked over at Jonah, who stood looking down at the rink with clenched teeth and piercing eyes.

Later, I walked into the living room after changing my clothes. I wore my pink baja hoodie, which was really hot and made my skin itchy, but Jonah said he liked it.

I sat on the couch next to Jonah, who was busy twisting his weed grinder back and forth, and stared at the ridiculous fifty inch flat screen Jonah bought for the dorm so he could watch his treasured movie collection. I poured a shot of vodka into my red solo cup of orange juice and took a sip, the vile taste burning the back of my throat, as I awkwardly waited for him to press play.

Thirty minutes into the show I began to feel the alcohol drip into my brain. I cycled over the idea of reaching over to Jonah, placing my hand on the back of his head, clutching the curly strands of his bushy black hair, and reaching in quickly to kiss him before he could refuse. I would feel the stubble on his chin rub against my face and the softness of his lips. Instead I tried to focus on the show we were watching. It was about a woman with multiple personality disorder, who commonly lost her shit and went bat-shit crazy yet her family was always there for her, especially her husband. No matter what she did, even when she changed into a toddler alter ego and peed on her son while he was sleeping, her family just shrugged their shoulders and forgave her. And most importantly, they always loved her. I wonder if I’d peed on Jonah would he just shrug his shoulders and say: “It’s cool man.”

I would if he did it to me.

Jonah paused the movie again for what seemed to be the twentieth time, which pulled me out of my drunken reflective trance. He held his glass bong, which had turned a dirt brown color from constant use, up to his lips. He lit the bowl, inhaled, holding the harsh weed smoke in his chest for as long as he could and then exhaled. Then we sat in silence for a little while. It was annoying and I wished we could’ve just watched the show or talked, which I almost said every time Jonah pushed pause, but I silenced myself by taking a sip of my drink.

“Hey Daren, you want a hit?” Jonah said to me, holding the bong out in my direction with a smile. “Come on, you know you want to.” The last time I smoked with Jonah I ended up lying paralyzed in my bed because of the heavy laziness that crushed me and endured what felt like a psychotic panic attack in my head. The whole experience was traumatic yet Jonah laughed every time he thought about it.

“No,” I said resolute. Then I smiled playfully to make Jonah think he didn’t bother me with his jokes.

Alrightttt, you don’t know what you’re missing out on,” Jonah said before lighting the bowl and placing his thick lips on the bong.

“That’s okay. I have this,” I said, holding up my drink and taking another sip. I knew I was getting drunk when holding up my cup took way more concentration than it should’ve.

Jonah’s vibrating phone broke the long resulting silence.

“Louis just asked if I wanted to come downstairs to smoke with him and Ernest.”

I shook my head. “Don’t you get tired of smoking all day?”

Jonah looked up at me with dagger eyes. He spat out, “Well what else is there to do?”

“I don’t know,” I whined, stopping an argument before one started.

Jonah sighed. “Well I’m going down to Louis’ and Ernest’s,” he said while getting up in one fluid motion. “You can come down if you want.” Jonah went into his bedroom and closed the door behind him.

Mmmmm,” I grumbled dissatisfied with the way the night was going.

“Maybe.”

To be honest, I didn’t want to go to Louis and Ernest’s room because I didn’t want to see Ernest. Two nights ago, while drunk, I had bluntly asked Ernest if he cut himself after hearing Bobby and Jonah talking in the kitchen that afternoon about seeing a flash of a red and black scar on Ernest’s wrist. Ernest slowly nodded his head and pulled up his black sleeves and showed me the deep scars covering his pale white arms. But somehow the night ended with me crying on Ernests shoulder, sobbing and saying: “I just wish Jonah loved me.”I was self-centered and embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t even want to change that fact about me.

Then, Jonah came out of his room in grey boxers.

“What are you doing in your underwear?” I squealed, crossing my legs.

“Calm down, don’t get too excited. I got the munchies.” Jonah rummaged through the kitchen cabinets, pulling out a bag of chips that were mine. I didn’t say anything.

“You couldn’t wait until you put pants on?”

Jonah looked at me, throwing a sheepish smile, and shrugged before he filled his mouth with a handful of chips.

“You’re torturing me,” I said.

“I know.Eh, you get to look at me and I get attention. Win-Win.” Jonah flashed an unapologetic smile at me.

I wanted to say: “No, Win-Lose.” but again I reached for my solo cup instead and imagined what I would do if I woke up to a crazy Jonah peeing on me.

In Louis and Ernest’s room I sat on Ernest’s bed scrolling through Facebook on my phone, trying to block out the sound of the blaring music, and Jonah and Louis’ voices struggling to talk over each other.

“P.T. Anderson didn’t write The Master to be about scientology!” Jonah yelled.

Louis finished taking a hit from the bong and passed it to Jonah. “Come on it was about a cult!” Louis shouted, egging Jonah on.

“Yes, but it wasn’t about scientology specifically. And the movie was about so much more. Freddie and Lancaster’s relationship…” Jonah stopped and took a hit and signaled to Louis for the smoke-buddy to blow into. Jonah exhaled and began to rapidly talk again while passing the bong back to Louis, “…was actually the central focus, I mean look at Joaquin Phoenix…”

I laid on Ernest’s bed exhausted from just listening to the conversation.

“You okay Daren?” Ernest asked, who sat at the foot of his bed and looked down at me, worried.

“Yeah,” I croaked out. “I just can’t take any more of this conversation.”

“I know right?”Ernest said with a laugh. He made a dramatic face of exhaustion that made me laugh with him.

“How are you feeling?” I asked, sitting up. “I’m sorry about the other night.”

“No, it’s nothing,”Ernest said, waving his hand, “it’s good to let it all out sometimes y’know?” I believed him. Ernest had a likable mid-western accent that made everything he said sound genuine. “So how it’s going with him?Any luck jumping into that car?” Ernest asked, pointing to Jonah.

“One day,” I said looking over at Jonah, who was still arguing with Louis over the central theme within P.T. Anderson’s The Master.

Ernest shoved my shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll find the right guy.”

I shook my head. “I just want him. No one else.”

“Just promise me this,” Ernest said seriously, “don’t let him be the only guy you spend your time thinking about. He doesn’t deserve that. Don’t give him that much.” Ernest suddenly turned joyful again. “Hey, maybe you could get with Louis?”

Louis had a nice smile that always appeared when he saw me. He shared the same deep love for pop music as me, always playing new tracks that he thought I’d like while I sat back and watched Jonah and him smoke. He also had a likable personality, becoming friends with almost everybody. And I liked his curly brown hair. Louis was a good friend and just that.

“No, no, no, not Louis,” I slurred, turning my head and noticing the wonderful separation I felt between my mind and body.

“Come on take a hit.” Jonah said before I felt the wet glass pipe touch my lips. Then burning smoke entered my chest and I wanted to blow it all out as if I were a fire breathing dragon and then cough my heart out. Then I was on the bed crushed with laziness. I laid spread eagle on the bed; my body feeling dead other than the occasional violent shiver that would pass through it, but inside I was fighting a mental war. A tidal wave of vivid memories crashed down upon me as if they were actually taking place again. I was trapped in the memory of a fifteen year old me crying alone in my dark room at night, as if I was lying in the same bed and crying the same tears over the same heartache.

I tried to keep it all together and make Louis, Ernest, and Jonah think I was asleep but tears began to fall down my cheeks.

“Is he okay?” I heard Ernest ask, his voice had a heavy echo to it.

“Yeah he’s fine.” A deep chuckle. It was Jonah. “This is ridiculously funny.”

I sat up slowly. I needed it all to end. So I laboriously reached for my cup and took a big gulp. The normally vile vodka tasted refreshing to my dry, scratchy mouth.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea Daren,” Jonah said.

And I closed my eyes, hoping my mind and heart would do the same.

I woke up in the dark, disoriented in Ernest’s bed. I sat up, shivering, and still felt the schizoid frenzy of from the weed in my head. I looked around to see Ernest sleeping at the foot of the bed and Louis snoring in his own. No Jonah around.

“Ernest,” I whispered into the darkness. “Help me.”

“What’s wrong,” Ernest said while rubbing his eyes and trying to see me through the darkness.

“Just, can you help me back to my room?”

I leaned on Ernest’s warm shoulder as we walked up the stairs and down the hallway. I tried to keep it all in but every now and then a tear would betray me by falling down my cheek or a sob would quiver in my chest.

“You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah,” I whispered slowly.

Finally we ended up at my dorm. “Bye. Thanks,” I said, before turning around and clenching my teeth to keep the tears in and stop my body from shaking.

“Wait. What happened? Do you want me to stay with you for a while?”

“No,” and closed the door behind me with a bang.

“If you need me just call me,” Ernest shouted through the door.

Many times I have run through that night and I can never understand or remember much after I closed the front door and was alone in the pitch black of my dorm. I look back and all I can remember are the feelings but not the cause behind them. I laid down on the cold tile floor of the common room and sang to myself in a slurred voice, feeling alone. I had come to an acceptance that this beating sadness laced with anger and self-hate would last forever. There was nothing I could do about it. I’d decided that Jonah viewed me as a joke and I’d never matter to him as much as he did to me. I remember feeling I didn’t belong here in the city and that it was time I stopped pretending I did. All of the self-hate bubbled inside of me and I needed it to leave me, for the first time tears, sobs, and wails weren’t enough. I crawled my way to the kitchen crying “Why Me?” repeatedly in a voice that sounded too broken to be mine. Was I asking the question to Jonah, or maybe myself, or maybe God? I’m still not sure.

I grabbed onto the kitchen counter and stood up. I wobbled over to the light switch and flicked the lights on. Then I remember the sound of glass hitting the floor and how it gave me pleasure. Then another, and another, and another, and another. It was all fluid and quick. It all played out in less than thirty seconds and I sat down beaten and shaken but relieved.

I pulled out my phone, my hand no longer shaking, and texted Ernest: “Come.” The glass crystals on the floor sparkled from the light that hit them and I was mesmerized. That amongst all of those broken pieces the light could touch them and make them beautiful. I looked up, my head heavy and my body still tingling with numbness, and stared at the light.

I woke up the next morning in bed with my clothes still on. My mouth bitterly tasted of vodka and I felt groggy and submerged in a thick cloud of confusion. As I sat up, my body heavy with exhaustion, I remembered some the foolish things I had done. I sat up and stared at the beige wall thinking that I could stay like this for the rest of my life.But then I went into auto pilot, my method for coping with problems, deciding it would be easier to ignore the catalyst.

I tip-toed to my door, swaying a little along the way, and immediately saw the mess of my emotions beautifully materialized on the kitchen floor. Cherry red pieces of dish-ware sprinkled the tiles and even spread out to the common room. The trash can laid defeated on the ground, spilling out near it were smashed cans of beer and plastic bottles, browned banana peels, and crumpled stained brown napkins. The trash just needed to be swept up and things would be rebuilt, better this time. But I knew Jonah and Bobby wouldn’t see it that way. I closed the door, locking it, and pulled my blankets over me, pretending they were my castle walls.

I woke up to Jonah banging on my door. Boom. Boom. Boom. My heart dove into my stomach and I quickly chickened out and decided I would just ignore him. Boom. Boom. Boom. “Come on Daren. Open up… please,” Jonah pleaded, in a voice I’d never heard from him before. It made me feel guilty for pushing him into my dark hole of sadness. I turned onto my side and stared at the beige wall again, trying to make figures out of the random stucco blobs. Boom. Boom. Boom. “Daren, please.”

I heard a tense voice. “It’s whatever! I’ll get my stuff later, but this is ridiculous!” It was an angry Bobby.

“No, no, no. I’m going to get him to open up.” Boom. Boom. Boom. “Daren, Bobby just needs to come in and get something real quick, that’s all.” I sighed, Jonah wasn’t going to give up. I inhaled like I did before the doctor stuck a needle in me and prepared for the pain. I opened the door, leaped back into my bed, and pulled my castle wall blankets back over me. I peeked out and saw Bobby with a clenched jaw and dagger eyes swoop in and grab his backpack. He flashed me a quick glance of judgement that I’m sure he relished and slammed the door behind him.

After an hour of laying in bed, still shaking from my hangover and fear, I finally got up. I kneeled down on the kitchentile and endured the small pain it drove in my knees because I thought it was a beautiful punishment for what I had done. Jonah came out of his room and sat in a chair facing me and just sat there, blank faced with his eyes locked to me. For fifteen long minutes we just stayed like that: me violently shaking on my knees, in my sweat soaked green sweater and jeans from the previous night, cleaning up my emotions and Jonah in his grey boxers staring at me for God knows what reason. I felt as if he was watching me pee and I just wanted him to stop. Finally Jonah broke the silence by rising out of his chair with a sigh and saying: “Let me help you.” I looked up at him and it felt like he’d risen over me like the sun over dirt, but maybe that was because his intense stare made me feel hot. I was confused. He should have been angry with me, but he wasn’t.

“No. It’s fine,” I whispered, averting my eyes to a streak of rainbow inside a piece of broken glass.

“No,” Jonah said resolute. “Let me help. It’ll be much quicker this way.” He wasn’t going to run away. I obliged and handed him the broom and dust pan before I started scrubbing crusted patches of dried food off the floor.

“I think this is the best thing to happen to the dorm,” Jonah said to me after some minutes of silence. “We’re actually cleaning up for once.” He looked at me expecting a laugh but I did nothing.

After Jonah cleaned up there were still pieces of glass small like sand that I had to clean up myself. I wished he would’ve just let me do it myself because then I wouldn’t’ve had to clean up after him, even though it was nice just to have him there.

When I was done, I laid lifeless on my bed. My left arm limply hung off of my bed and my face was blank as I stared at stucco blobs again. Jonah knocked and walked into the room and snapped above my head while saying “Yo”.

“Yeah?” I asked, not moving.  I don’t know why he insisted on talking, it felt like he was dumping whole salt containers on my open wounds.

“I’m just trying to understand,” Jonah said while sitting on Bobby’s bed. “What exactly happened last night?”

“I don’t know,” putting my hands over my eyes, hoping it looked like I was trying to think when really I just didn’t want to look at Jonah.

“It was just everything. I think it was the weed plus the alcohol. I’m fine. I don’t know… I think I was just stressed out…I’m fine now. I am.” I looked at Jonah to see if any of my lies stuck.

“Did something happen when you came back here? Everything was alright before then.”             “I don’t know. I don’t really remember much.”

“Was it something I did?”

“No, no, no. I don’t know what happened.”

Jonah sighed, looking at me suspiciously, and started to walk out of the room but then he stopped and turned back around towards me. “Are you going to be okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, telling the truth for the first time.

“Alright,” Jonah said with a sigh and started to walk out of the room again.“Oh, Ernest and Louis came by while you were sleeping. Ernest wanted to make sure you were okay,” he said over his shoulder.

After I texted him, Ernest came up and sat by me on the cold kitchen floor, rubbing my back as I sobbed into his soft cotton t-shirt until I fell asleep. I probably should have texted Ernest to thank him and let him know I was fine but I didn’t see much purpose in it.

Jonah slowly closed the door behind him while throwing glances at me. He opened the door again. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“For what?” I asked, raising up.

“Just everything. I feel like I’ve been an asshole to you sometimes. We’re cool right?”

I nodded rapidly. “Yeah, why wouldn’t we be?” I asked, pulling my voice down a couple octaves to sound cool.

“I don’t know,” Jonah said, shrugging his broad shoulders. “I can never tell if you really hate me or like me. It always feels like a back and forth kind of thing.” He grinned and I realized he did it because he was anxious.

“No we’re fine. We’re cool. Really.”

After that I emerged from my room and sat on the common room couch with him. We sat in silence for a couple of minutes until Jonah asked me if I wanted to watch something.

“Yeah, sure,” I mumbled and Jonah threw me the remote. I put on the show about the crazy woman who peed on the people who always loved her.

Jonah and I sat in silence as we stared ahead at the T.V.; I sat on the couch balled up- trying to pull in every limb of my body to become as small as I felt, and Jonah sat tense, staring blankly ahead. I stared at him from the corner of my eye and I could see the confusion on his face in the way his mouth sat slightly open and his brow in a deep furrow. I thought to myself, He probably thinks Im crazy. That thought made me want to burst into tears but I stopped myself because then Jonah would have definitely thought I was crazy. For thirty minutes we sat in silence, attempting to put on airs, and I wanted to say thank you to Jonah for it but I never did.

I moved out of the dorm two days after that as Bobby never got over what I did and complained to the RA that he didn’t feel safe living with me. I guess I understood it. I guess he wouldn’t let me pee on him. Ernest helped me move out. Jonah and Louis were too busy smoking to help.

My new roommate Justyn was gay and we got along well. I didn’t hang out with him like I did with Jonah but we didn’t passively hate each other like Bobby and me. I messaged Jonah a week after I moved out asking him how things were and then he replied:“Do you think you’re going to have sex with him?”

I joked and messaged Jonah no, but that I would be sure to message him if I did it.

Jonah never messaged me again.

The rest of the school year I tried to hang out with them again but Ernest and Louis would always say they were busy or simply not text me back. I guess they chose Jonah over me.

It took six months for me to talk to Jonah again, when I ran into him on the 6 train, and sat next to him. When I asked him how his life was going Jonah simply said: “Good.” and stared out the window.

I tried to joke about how the turtle neck sweater he was wearing was a major step up from his old style but Jonah just sat stone faced and said: “No, I still dress the same.”

As I followed him out of the train station Jonah complained: “I could never walk barefooted thanks to you.” I stopped and Jonah just looked back, threw his hand up, and kept walking.

“The Deputy Clerk’s Daughter” By: Vanessa Escobar

The first girl I ever kissed was Eleanor Carlson. Her family called her Edy for short but she said she would do away with all that once she ran for the senate. She said no one would take her seriously if she ran as Edy Carlson, but Eleanor Carlson, that was a name that could win, a name that could be respected. I didn’t come from a political family like her so I didn’t know what a name was worth.

We lived in a small southern town called Allan. Everyone went to Laurent High, or got home schooled. Edy’s parents had home schooled her for most of her life; but at fifteen she told her parents she needed to be with the people, to learn social skills, so she enrolled at Laurent High School at the end of freshmen year.

We didn’t meet until mid January of our sophomore year. I’d wanted to take drama because I liked plays about New York City, but the class got full so I was put in my second choice: reading. I liked books so I was okay with the choice but was sure it wasn’t going to be as much fun as all my other friends were having, acting out scenes of Rent and Stop Kiss.

Our reading teacher was Miss Michelle Carr; she was young and beautiful. Her accent was a little funny though. She said it’s because she was from Atlanta. The first book she had us read was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was fun and we even got to see the movie. But then some kid complained Harry Potter was against her morals and religion so the Principal scolded Miss Carr for exposing us to fictional witchcraft. He said we were impressionable and that she needed to stick to the curriculum. Edy spoke out and said that it was “dumb” for the Principal to make such a statement and “damn Baptists.”

Everyone’s mouth flew wide open when she said that. I didn’t know if Edy was new to town but she couldn’t say that when almost all of her classmates were Baptists! Allan was full of Baptists and Pentecostals and they were always angry at one another. I was a Catholic so I never mentioned it and the nearest Catholic Church from our house was two towns over. I hated the Sunday drive to mass but my father always stopped at Taco Bell on the way home so that was good.

I tried to come to Edy’s defense. “She didn’t mean that!” I shouted over my angered classmates and Edy yelled even louder, “Yes I did!” I thought everyone was about to hang her out to dry but Miss Carr calmed everyone down. She told us take out pen and paper and write all our thoughts down. All my classmates scribbled angrily on their sheets while I stared dumbly at a defiant Edy, who had her arms covering her chest and a frown on her lips. She caught me staring so I tried to wave but she looked annoyed.
I gave up and wrote on my paper, “I think everyone would have liked The Goblet of Fire.”

That night at dinner I told everyone about the scene at school. My brothers laughed and my father told me to pass the salsa verde. Then my mom said, “I know her, that’s Judge Carlson’s daughter. I work for her dad.” My mother worked at the Allan courthouse as a clerk. She worked with a few of my friend’s parents so I was not surprised. Everyone knew everyone in Allan. “They don’t live too far from us.” My mother said.

Edy and I both lived on South Patchett Road. It was ten miles long. She was at 1405 and I was 1409, which was a good two miles apart. Some nights, after we were already good friends we’d lay in the bed of her pick-up truck and stare at the stars. Allan’s stars were the best she would say to me because city light would just get in the way of the beauty. Her body always felt sticky next to mine; the humidity always messed up her hair, but she would just laugh. I could never tell if the heat on my skin was from her or the tight air.

The day after the Harry Potter incident, Miss Carr produced copies of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It took the rest of January, all of February, til mid-March to finish the book. By the end of it we were all tired of Raskolnikov’s moral conflictions and everyone was mad at the girl who got Harry Potter banned. But I was no longer jealous of my friends in drama class because I had Edy. She didn’t mind my rowdy brothers or that my mom always cooked spicy food. She said eating pollo con mole would help her win the Hispanic vote. I smiled and pushed the brown sauce onto my rice.

Edy had an off-again-on-again boyfriend that she didn’t care too much about. She said he was for appearances. The July before our junior year Edy would come over a lot. We would walk in the forest behind my house, she would talk about philosophy, and I would pick flowers and put them in her hair. One Thursday she was very serious about this one philosopher, her hands were waving around and her cheeks were red. She asked if I ever felt like I was in a dark cave, unable to see past the projections. I said no because I really had no idea what she talking about.

“Don’t you want more than what’s in front of you?” she said, flustered. The yellow flower petals were already falling out of her hair, her white tank top was drenched in sweat, and I could tell the material was clinging to her body. She pushed the blonde hair out of her face and stepped forward to me. I stepped back. “I’m not going to hit you,” she whispered. I counted every freckle on her nose and she pushed her lips against mine and I let her.

Her lips were soft, not like a boy’s. And she was gentle, not like a boy. My body felt like it was on fire, it was never like this with a boy. Her hands seemed to know where to go but mine didn’t. I thought maybe I should touch her breasts, so I did. I let my right hand cup her left breast and it lingered there until I got brave enough to slip my hand under her shirt.

My clothes had to have been wet. I was sweating everywhere but her mouth didn’t care. Her breath was hot against my neck and her teeth bit into my collarbone like I was a piece of meat. My underwear were soaked, a mixture of mostly sweat paired with a new feeling I didn’t know. “Aida!!” I could hear my brother screaming. “Aida! Dad says how many enchiladas do you want? Edy?” I moved away from Edy and held onto the nearest tree.

“I want three!” I shouted and looked at Edy. Her chest was pink. “Two,” she yelled.
I was glad my brother had called out instead of finding us. I wouldn’t have known what to do. I let go of the tree and grabbed her hand, noticing her yellow nail polish. I whispered in her hair the word yes, over and over.

Later that night I felt incredibly calm as if everything finally made sense. I replayed the kiss in my mind a few times before falling asleep. The next morning I got a text from Edy stating her had decided to spend the rest of the summer in North Carolina. She said that she was back with Thad and felt this was the best move for her political career. Thad’s father was a senator and she would need the numbers that her ties with the Stone family would bring. I told her that it made sense and she thanked me for understanding.

When she came back in the fall things were strained but we would still have sleepovers and dinners together. Some nights I could feel her arm pressed against my back and I willed myself not to turn over and face her. She would hold my knee and tell me how much she loved Thad and she was sure they’d get married one day, even though I’d pictured Edy and I getting married.

One night she sent me an extraordinarily vague text saying she broke up with Thad and had finally saw the light. At first I was annoyed, now instead of hearing “I love Thad” all the time I’d be hearing how much she hated him, and I would have to pretend to be supportive and not jealous. But the worst thought came to me: Edy had broken up with Thad for me! I could hardly eat my father’s pozole. I concealed my giddy smiles by stuffing cabbage in the soup. My brothers stared at me and my father muttered I must be on my period.

The next morning I waited at our usual spot at school. I thought about the kiss in the woods and I felt my neck burn. I saw her walking towards me and I tried so hard to keep the smile down, but it wasn’t too hard considering I realized right away she was holding another boy’s hand. She came over to me and they both talked excitedly. Mostly about boring government stuff and how joining the Peace Corps to save those hurt souls in Ethopia would come in handy one day if she ever decided to run for president. My neck and eyes burned.

In a moment of teenage haste, or to get my mind off of Edy, I went and bought menthol cigarettes and played the lottery. I didn’t win. I called my old boyfriend and told him to come to my house. That’s when I told him I thought I was bi. He said “that’s cool” and kissed me. I let him and tried to pretend that his wet, salty kisses could one day be desirable. To say Edy and I began to part ways sounds like an old boring Western, which it felt like at times. We’d shoot each other with words. Hers were always more eloquent. At my mother’s job, Edy’s father asked her where I’d been; telling her I’d missed out on Jenga. My mother lied and said I was failing Spanish class so I’d been trying really hard to study. Well, it wasn’t a complete lie, I wasn’t doing well, but I wasn’t trying either. How could they expect me to conjugate verbs in Spanish when I could hardly do that in English?

I started dating my old boyfriend again as a distraction and to look as if I didn’t care. I confronted Edy and made an emotional spiel about losing my virginity to him. I didn’t actually have sex with him, the thought made me want to vomit. But it worked, and she wanted to be around me all the time and hear all about it. I borrowed some of my brother’s porn so I could know what to tell her, but looking at all those girls with their legs spread in magazines made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to objectify my fellow women and they never looked happy. How can you enjoy it if they’re not happy?

I decided to come clean to Edy, to tell her how I felt. I was terrified because all my life I’d heard bad things about homosexuals, but I didn’t feel like a homosexual, I was just a girl who really liked another girl. I liked how soft her arms were and the different designs she put on her nails. I saw no reason as how this could cause me eternal damnation.

Unfortunately Edy decided to give me the truth first as we sat in the back of her truck, in the middle of the woods. She caught a lighting bug with her hands; I tried as well but accidently killed mine. She laughed and smiled so I did too. We were both sweating because the heat kept getting worse and no one believed in Al Gore’s global warming theories. The tips of my hair began to curl and Edy started playing with them; I held my breath not knowing what else to do, then she kissed me softly. I didn’t realize this was one of those goodbye kisses like in the movies, so I kissed her back really fast before she turned away, leaving me with a mouthful of hair. She then proceeded to tell me how I needed to get over her, and how it’s “so obvious you’re in love with me”. She’d also told her parents I was gay and they felt really sorry for me; then she told me how lucky I was my mom still had her job and what would happen if everyone at the courthouse knew that the deputy clerk’s daughter was gay.

I shoved her really hard and she fell out of the truck onto the ground. She tried to get up and I shoved her again. “You know I’m a pacifist!” She cried out, dirt on her face. I bent over and threw up yellow bile. “I’m sorry,” she told me. “I’m sorry but I can’t have a political career and be gay. I would never make it.”

She drove me home. I stuck my right hand out of the window and tried to catch lighting bugs. She whispered about having to be careful or I’d kill them.

A few years later when I came home to visit my parents from college there was a “Vote Eleanor Carlson for Mayor” sign in the front yard. The girl I was dating was in the passenger seat so I tried to look calm. “That’s her, isn’t it?” I nodded. We’d only been on four dates but she said she really wanted to hang out with my family; she said they sounded fun and she would love to learn how to cook real enchiladas one day.

She got out the car and walked over to the sign; I turned the car off and followed her. “What are you doing?” I called out. She turned around and said, “I really want you to run this sign over but I know how you hate looking angry and immature, so I’m going to be immature for you.” She took a pen out of her purse and drew devil horns and a mustache on Edy’s face, and then she grabbed my hand and swung me around, a failed but romantic attempt at ballroom dancing. We laughed and I wiped my eyes, watching her walk toward the sign to take it down.

“Sylvia” By: Clinton Van Inman

I hear they have placed
A pretty blue plaque
High above your flat
So that tourists can find you
And say that this is the spot
Where you killed yourself.
 
Lucky girl, you modern Sappho
To take the quantum leap
Like a comet to take your place
Among the darkest regions of empty space
With a brilliance that few can keep
And even less the mind to know
Where no dull planet can perturb you
As fallen flowers have no faces.
 


Clinton Van Inman was born in Walton-on-Thames, England, graduated from San Diego State University, and has been a teacher all his life having recently retired from the Tampa Bay area where he lives with his wife, Elba.

“What You Do When You Die” By: Lucas Khan

For Jason Topper

When you decided to die
The earth hung headlong
from the sky, then fell choking.
Two revolving stars kissed,
and in the swirling friction
ate each other raw.
Everything homogenized
                      divided
when you decided to die
I turned my back to the sun,
I tried to imagine the grass
as your body, and then
threw it overhead
like funeral confetti.

When I’m dead, I’ll decide
whether to forgive you
for what you do when you die,
Or dissolve like an alkali
ghost into the digestive earth.