A Sparkle In Time by Cindy Xinru Yan

A sparkle in time
Cindy Xinru Yan

     1977 was an important year of Chinese history. Beloved chairman Mao passed away a year before, and the demise of the Gang of Four ended the most painful history of the Culture revolution. “This country changed every day and night,” the newspaper told people. I was a 12-year-old girl, and 1977 was just a regular year for me. Those changes did put more insecure looks on my parents’ faces, but people’s life didn’t change a lot. We still lived in a room no bigger than a dove cage. I might have exaggerated a little, but that was how I felt. I didn’t know how to call this place because it was neither a house nor an apartment. Two small rooms and a tiny living room were the entire living space for five people in my family. We did have a small storage room in the yard, which was the place mother stored all the food for winter. I avoided to go in there because the freezing air and thick darkness in that closed space took all the air from my chest. Me and grandma stayed in the smaller room, my parents slept with my younger brother, Ming, who was only 3 years old. Every night I fell asleep listening to grandmother’s gentle snoring. The wall was old and covered with yellow water spots. When I stared at those shades of spots under the moon light, they looked like tiny people. The fear and curiosity went away when I turned to my grandmother’s side and held her tight.

   One morning I woke up early, the entire world was still dark and quiet. The sound of snow falling from the roof was loud and clear. I heard mother and father’s argument regardless if I wanted to or not. Carefully crawling over sleeping grandma, I put on my heavy winter coat and pushed the door open slightly.

  “If you still care about this family you wouldn’t buy those useless things! Do you think we are rich enough to be generous to random people?” Mother tried to lower her voice but failed. The shakiness and long pauses meant there were tears in her eyes.

  “The old man doesn’t have a place to stay if he doesn’t sell those matches. Lunar New Year is coming after all.” Father, clearing his throat, sound defeated.

“Those matches were wet! I thought you are a smart man Dr. Li! I can’t believe we live in this condition as a doctor’s family! I didn’t become a nurse to pay for your medical school to live this kind of life!” Mother was crying now.

Father grabbed his coat and stormed outside. I huddled back under my blanked as fast as I could to avoid seeing mother cry. Those yellow tiny people on the wall stood there peacefully; they looked down at me and my life in this tiny space. Pulling the blanket over my head, I needed to stop thinking about why I lived so poor as a daughter of a doctor and a nurse. Grandma always told me that my father was a decent man, but I wasn’t sure. Everyone said Dr. Li was the kindest man they ever met. When patients couldn’t afford their medicine, they came to Dr. Li because he let them borrow money or even gave their medicine for free. When our neighbors didn’t have money to buy food or pay for their kids’ school, they knew they could rely on him. However, as a father, he couldn’t pay for hardly anything Ming and I wanted. It made me feel sorry for him when he lowered his head to avoid looking in my eyes. However, I wanted to believe in him because he was my grandmother’s son. My mother used to say that the best thing my father ever did to this family is letting grandma stay with us. I couldn’t agree more. The life without her is unimaginable. Who’s going to wake me up every moving and prepare me for school? Who’s going to make toys with color papers for Ming and me? Who’s going to comfort the whole family when my parents had a fight? My mother was busy enough with her job as a nurse, and father barely came home for dinner because he always worked late in the hospital. Luckily, grandma was always there for us.  

 

*****************

I was the first one running out the classroom after the teacher dismissed the class. Chilly wind swiped through narrow streets and blew down some branches. I felt like a bird flying in the wind. When I was running through the freezing wind, I didn’t have to think about the fight, the small living space and my mother’s tears. There were probably not enough winds to blow all my troubles away. I raised my head and took a deep breath. It was not worth to get a cold for running in the wind, so I decided to go home.

Before I reached door, I was surprised to see my whole family standing next to the storage room. Ming jumped out of mother’s arms and ran to me.

“June! Look what daddy got us for the New Year!” he said. His little face blushed with excitement.

I couldn’t believe what I saw. The cold, small room which used to be filled with cabbages and potatoes now looked like a palace of foods. A bag of pork ribs hung in the corner of the room. Oranges and apples were shining on the shelf. I felt saliva forming. The last time we had pork was months before, and I almost forgot what fresh fruits tasted like. Some decorations for Lunar New Year were on the shelf. The color of bright red and gold brought the new year atmosphere into the room. My father took a box from the shelf and handed to me. Smiling, he seemed shy, and gently encouraged me to open it up. It was a beautiful red box decorated with golden flower patterns. I took it with my both hands, it was heavier than I thought. No matter what was inside I wanted to save the box for my toys. Ming couldn’t wait and opened it with his little hands. At least 20 pieces of traditional pastries were placed closely in that box. I didn’t know foods can be that pretty. Some of them were pineapple cakes shaped like bunnies and sunflowers. I could smell the sweet and sour pineapple jam inside of the pastries. Taro buns have golden and fluffy crust with crispy beaked almond on top. The one in the middle was shaped like a lotus. The pink petals were made by many layers of crispy pastries. I was sure that the flower heart contained soft, sweet red beans. It was even looked better than a real lotus! Before I reached out my hand to take one, mother closed the box. I immediately knew that we needed to save the pastries for the New Year.

My father looked at my mother and said, “Today I picked up my paycheck and brought something for the Lunar New Year. I felt sorry for my kids because they had not eaten tasty food for months. I spend money on everyone else, but not them. They deserve a better life. At least I can give them a happy new year.” he picked up my little brother and placed one hand on my shoulder. Mother laid the box on the shelf carefully, and closed the door behind her. Her face was brightened up by a gentle smile.

“I will cook those foods with grandma. We will have a great Luna New Year like your father said,” mother said warmly, slightly leaned on my father’s shoulder. My family had some fruit after dinner. Meat, pastry, and other food were saved for new year just like I predicted. My father even drank some wine with mother on the dinner table. They talked and laughed like they never fought. Suddenly, a thought stroke me, “only money and fancy food can bring peace and joy to this family.” I was terrified by my own thought. Biting my lips, I forced myself to stop thinking.

The happiest person on the table was my grandma. She sat quietly, cut an apple in small pieces, and placed them on everyone’s plates.

“Anyone want more apples? I can get it in the storage room,” grandma said. When she mentioned the storage room, she looked at my father. Her eyes were filled with satisfaction. I didn’t pay much attention to what they were talking about because the lotus shaped pastry was the only thing I could think about. Looking out from the window, I could only see the shape of that storage room. I wanted to go in that room again but outside was freezing with snow falling heavily.

    I went to bed early at that night, wishing to weak up early next morning so that I could spend more time in the storage room.

**************

“What should we do now? We have to call the police to find the thief!”

“You lost your mind. Polices would not come here for some lost food!”

Waking up by sounds of a fight again, I couldn’t open my eyes because of the bright light streaming through the window. I reached out my hand to grandma’s side of the bed. It was cold and empty. When I ran into the yard in my pajamas, I couldn’t feel the cold at all. The storage room was wide open like an empty black hole. Some carrots and half bag of flour lay on the ground. Pieces of red paper which used to be new year decorations were still hanged on the broken shelf. Some neighbors stood in front of their doors, scratched their necks and stared at our empty storage room.

“What a shame! Now everyone knew we have no food for the New Year!” my mother’s voice shaken because of the anger and shame.

I saw my classmate stood with his mother. When my eyes met with his, he walked towards me. His mother genteelly grabbed his hand.

“We all feel sorry for June’s family, but you’d better not go. There is nothing you can do, and what if they asked to borrow some foods from us?” the mother lowered her voice but I heard her clearly. They walked inside and closed the door.

Burning tears rolled down from my cheeks; everything was blurred but I knew grandma was comforting Ming. I could still hear my mother yelled at my father.

I lost the lotus flower, and my parents were fighting again. Looking into the empty storage room, it was nothing there to make the family happy again. My heart ached when I thought about it. Suddenly I fell into an embrace; it was my father. I could feel his chain bone when I leaned my head on his chest. I didn’t realize my father became that thin. Without looking at his face, I knew he wasn’t crying or shaking. His steady heart beats calmed me down, and my tears stopped.

“We are going to figure something out before the Lunar New Year,” my mother looked at me. “Don’t you worry about it.” Like the most of Chinese mother, she refused to show her volubility in front of her children.   

“Go and help your mother. I need to go to the hospital,” my father told me.

I knew exactly what my mother meant by “figure something out,” Every time she said that, she went to borrow money from Mrs. Yang, the old lady lived next to us. I didn’t like Mrs.Yang at all even she regarded my father as a savior of her family. My father operated her son for free when they had no money. The son recovered well and became a director of the largest factory in the province. Woman in neighborhood said that Mrs. Yang was an ignorant barbarian, and all the money she had didn’t buy any class for her. I didn’t know what that means, but every time she talked, it sounded like she was yelling. When children accidently walked in her yard, she yelled at them so loud that the whole neighborhood could hear the high-pitched voice. Children in the neighborhood called her an old witch. However, she only showed her hospitality to my mother, which didn’t make it easier for my mother to talk about borrowing money.

I looked my mother fixed her hair again and again before she left. Looking into the mirror, her face twisted slightly as if she ate something sour. Quickly rubbing a little bit of lipsticks on her lips, she blended it with her finger. The scarlet color made her face less pale. She took out her nicest dress from the closet, it was a light brown winter dress she brought two years ago. The way she pulled the zipper up reminded me of a warrior putting on an armor. My mother barely dressed up. For some reason, she seemed sad every time when she put on nice clothes and make ups. Chinese people always said woman look like lotus flowers when they dressed up, but my mother looked like a warrior with sadness in her eyes. I took a deep breath, held her hand, and followed her. She looked surprised, and told me to stay at home. “I don’t want you to go alone.” I said. She gave me a pale smile, held my hand tight, and knocked on Mrs. Yang’s door.

“Mrs. Li! What brought you here? Please come in!” the old lady wore a silk robe with tiger pattern on it. She invited my mother and I into her house.

The living room was two times bigger than ours. A large soft leather sofa shined under sun light. Before my mother said anything, she started to talk about her son brought a new refrigerator for her as a new year present. Words came out of her mouth like bullet shoot out the gun. My mother was not capable of stopping the bullets.

“Mrs. Yang, I have to tell you something” my mother finally got a chance to speak.

“If it’s about the money you borrowed from me before, don’t worry about returning it today! Just return it whenever you are ready, probably after the Luna New Year?” Mrs. Li poured more tea in my mother’s cup.

The awkward smile on mother’s face made my heart shrink. Mrs. Yang kept talking while my mother sat on the couch anxiously. When she finally paused, we said goodbye to her and readied to leave.

“I hope you staying longer, Mrs. Li, I always love to talk to you.” Mrs. Yang said. She went to kitchen and took out a basket. “I roasted some sweet potatoes, please bring it with you.” She handed the basket to my direction without looking at me.

My mother sighed after Mrs. Li closed the door behind her. We walked home silently. My mother held my hand tight, it started to hurt. I said nothing and kept leaning close to her. I was so mad at Mrs. Yang but I was also tired and hungry, so I took a sweet potato from the basket. There was a red envelope on the bottom of the basket.

Mother picked up the envelop and opened it. I saw a stack of cash and a hand-written note, it says “Happy Luna New Year”. It was Mrs. Yang’s hand writing because she was the only one in the neighborhood who spelled “Lunar New Year” wrong. My mother smiled, carefully put the cash back to the envelop.

“Neighbors told that me I shouldn’t be friends with Mrs. Yang. Guess who’s wrong,” Mother said while she walked fast towards home. I could tell how happy she was by her steeps.

 

*********************

Delightful smell of food rose from kitchen; my little brother ran in there excitingly every few minutes. Mother used the money in envelop for new year shopping. We got all the meat and vegetables, but the box of pastry was already sold out. I felt guilty for my disappointment. Luckily, everyone was busy so no one noticed that. It was too late to buy decorations. My grandma picked the red paper from ground and asked me to draw something on it.

“I have a better idea.” I told her, pointing at a box of wet fire matches my father brought.

I painted all the fire matches with gold paint and used glue to attach them with the red paper. I put the matches into a shape of “福”, which means luck and fortune. I wish I can light those matches. Imaging those sparkles of fire made up the character 福, I felt extremely satisfied. After hung the whole thing on the wall, Grandma sat on the bed and made papercuts used the rest of red paper.

“June, this is for you,” Grandma put a red lotus shaped papercut in my hand.

I looked around, Mother was cooking in the kitchen, her eyes were red because of the smoke. Ming sat on the floor played with matches I left. Holding the lotus tight, I felt that I was not a child anymore. The pastry box wasn’t for me because I was no longer the child that carving for pastry. I still wanted delicious foods, but the happiness of whole family meant more to me at that moment. My father came in, shut snow and wind behind the door. His hair and shoulders were coved by snow. Taking off the heavy black coat, he took out a box of firework. I poured a cup of tea and handed it to him. He took the tea, looked surprised.

“I saw the old man who sold me matches. He gave me this box of firework to thank me for helping him. I checked it this time, the fireworks were good,” father said.

“Daddy is the best!” Ming ran to him.

I smiled, placed the box of firework on the table and took my father’s coat. People said they enter the adult’s world at the age of eighteen, but for me it was on the Lunar New Year of 1977. At that moment, I knew the time when people really became stronger was when they made sacrifice because of love. My mother was strong, and so did my father. I didn’t know what will happened to my life after 1977, but I knew I will always remember this new year. The decoration which I made by matches stacked in my mind. If I can light it, those sparkles will made up the character that means lucky. The Lunar New Year of 1977 was like a little sparkle in time, tiny but bright, my heart was brightened every time I thought about it.


Cindy(Xinru)Yan is a junior student in UNCG, born and raised in Shanxi, China. She majored in Chinese literature before she came to North Carolina.She attended UNCG since 2016.

Sunshine and Rain by Brianna Joyce

Sunshine and Rain
Brianna Joyce

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day. That’s what all the children say. At least, the other children. But not Maggie. Quiet Maggie welcomes the rain. Throughout her school life, she was known for sitting in the rain for hours. If she had the opportunity, she would stand or sit in the rain for hours, unmoving, motionless. The drops would soak through her clothes, but she wouldn’t shiver. She’s seen too much to be cold. It all happened in the midst of WW1. Her family was packing for the evacuation. Only they were too late.

***

“We should have left ages ago. They could be on their way right now.” Maggie’s mother huffed, as she tried to clear her jewelry box of anything valuable.

“We’re going to be fine, just hurry and grab the emergency money while I go start the car.” Said her father, quickly rushing outside.

Her mother had just finished packing their valuables and was now fishing for the money. As she did this, Maggie watched from the doorway, not truly comprehending why they were leaving. But she knew it wasn’t good because her mother wasn’t smiling. She gripped her red coat nervously.

“Mommy where are we going?” Maggie asked quietly from the door. Her mother stopped and knelt down in front of her. She took her daughter’s face in her cold slender hands and kissed her gently on the nose.

“We’re going to be leaving for a little while love.” She gave a reassuring smile.

“Will I ever see my room again?” asked the little girl somberly.

“If we can get this war over with. Now did you pack your thi-”

“Polgari! Sutrender!”

“What was that?” asked Maggie.

Her mother slipped out the door and a few seconds later, scooped the child into her arms. She was in tears as she just saw two Hungarian soldiers holding a gun to her husband. She ran towards the nearest window and quickly opened it up. She kissed her daughter and held her tight.

“Mommy what’s going on?” Maggie whimpered.

“I just want you to know that I love you very much and that you are my sunshine.” Her mother answered in tears, trying to keep her voice steady.

“Is daddy okay?”

“Everything is going to be fine. I just want you to listen to me very carefully. Whatever you do, don’t stop running. Even when you think you’re tired, don’t stop until you reach Hawlington, that town we normally walkthrough. Remember?”

Maggie stayed quiet.

“Tell me you remember.” Her mother pressed her head to hers.

“I remember mommy.” Maggie answered.

Even with the shouting, it felt quiet.  The sky was clear and the sun shined through the dimly lit room. Without realizing it, her mother began to hum You are My Sunshine.” Maggie felt a little better until the soldiers kicked down the door, startling them both. Her mother kissed her goodbye one more time and started hoisting her out the window.

“Whatever you do, don’t look back now run!” her mother ordered, and Maggie did. Maggie ran as fast as she could, and when she heard the gun shots behind her, she knew her family was dead.

But she didn’t stop. She kept going. She ran towards the town only to find it abandoned by life and infested with war. The shockwave from the explosions made her stumble. She fell on the cobblestone path in front of the old candy shop her father would take her to after school. Behind her, a tank rumbled close by.

Maggie tried to move, but fear kept her down. She turned her head to see it stop in front of her just a few feet away. The barrel was pointed straight towards her. She held her breath and shut her eyes tight. She let the tears fall as she watched what little of her life flash before her eyes. five years was not that long, not that much. She thought she could hear her mother’s voice singing.

You are my sunshine.’

A fire roared in the distance from a bomb drop.

My only sunshine.’

The sound of shouting was mixed with anger and fear.

You make me happy.’

Smoke clouded the skies, suffocating the sunlight.

When skies are gray.’

She could hear them loading the shell.

‘You’ll never know dear.’

Behind her another shell landed, deafening her ears.

‘How much I love you.’

She prayed to God one more time.

‘Please don’t take.’

The gases and fumes burned her eyes and nose as she started to fade.

‘My sunshine.’

Goodbye she told herself.

‘Away.’

 

A pair of wings enveloped her waist and soon she was pulled from danger. She opened her eyes to see a pair of blue ones staring down at her. She couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it wouldn’t matter as he was strapping a gas mask to her face. She took small deep breaths and was coming back to consciousness. Through the foggy lens, she could see his own fear. Terror more likely.

“Everything will be alright love. Just hold on tight.” He spoke quickly. “Can you nod your head yes?” he propped her head in his hand, trying to keep her awake. She slowly nodded, and he smiled. “Very good.”

***

Bianco, looked around, held her tight and ran from cover to cover. Separated from his squad, he was trying to regroup when he finds a little girl on her knees in front of a tank. “Nothing is ever easy.” He muttered in frustration.

There were two enemies to his left, so he quickly turned right into a small alley way and slipped behind some wooden boxes catch his breath. The little girl raised her head as the youthful man was praying to God for some form of safety. He looked down at her and saw big brown eyes through the mud stained glass. His name patch was covered in blood.

“It’s okay, everything is going to be okay.” He said, gently bouncing her on his hip.  She nodded then screamed as an enemy charged toward them with a bayonet.

The soldier pulled a pistol out and shot a round through the enemies skull before the blade reached them both.

He hit the ground and Bianco shook. He pulled the little girl tighter to him. “We have to move.” He breathed. She couldn’t hear as her ears were still ringing. Bianco put a hand over the back of her head, hoping a sniper’s bullet wouldn’t fight its way to her precious head, and started running again.

They ran past everything. Char, debris, bodies, good and evil depending on which side you were on. Maggie kept her head buried in his shoulder as he sped along. A shot rang out, narrowly missing the back of Bianco’s head.

“Shit!” he vexed. He took cover in a broken down home, and surveyed the area. He took off her mask letting her breathe easier. He then found a closet with piles of clothes and sat her down. He took out one of his pistols and gave it to her.

“Listen very carefully.” He stressed, lightly cocking it. “Pull the trigger, if anyone is not me. If you hear shouting, or they don’t speak English, pull the trigger. And that’s only if they try to open the door. Do you understand?” asked Bianco. He looked over his shoulder to make sure no one heard. The little girl nodded, wrapping her small hands around the weapon. “Alright, good.” He smiled. He watched the tears fall from her eyes and wiped them away with his thumb.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Maggie.” She whispered.

“Well Maggie, My name is Bianco, and I promise I will keep you safe. And if I don’t,” his nerves shook as he heard footsteps nearby, “Please forgive me.” He gave a reassuring smile. He kissed her forehead before he shut the closet door and climbed up the decrepit stairs. He reached a room with four windows and kept his body low to the ground. His plan was to find the easiest route out of town. If they could make it to the woods where his team had dispatched, they would both be in good hands. He peeked through each window, finding that two rights and a left would put them on the path to safety.

***

Maggie held her breath with each creaking sound. She tried to hold back tears as she kept the gun aimed at the door. It was heavy but she refused to let it fall. After a few moments of silence she jumped as a pair of boots marched in. she peeked through a small hole in the closet door and with bright brown eyes, spotted a Hungarian soldier. Maggie froze as he stepped closer to the door.

***

Bianco carefully went back down only to quietly fall back into cover. He peeked over out to see the Hungarian officer reaching for the closet door, his gun ready. If he fired his own gun, it could alert other soldiers. If Maggie shot the same could happen, but that could buy them time.

The officer opened the door and Bianco’s heart leapt only to settle when nothing happened. A shot somewhere off in the distance was heard and like a distracted dog, the officer left to investigate. When all was clear, Bianco rushed down to the closet. He opened the door and it was empty except for the pile of clothes tucked in the corner.

“Maggie.” He whispered, checking behind him. It was quiet until he saw a piece of brown curl sticking out under the clothes. He called her name again and she poked her head out of the clothes. She climbed out and ran into his arms.

Bianco picked up his companion and held her tight. “Oh thank God.” He breathed kissing her head.

“I’m sorry,” she began to cry. “I couldn’t shoot the man.” She nuzzled her face into his shoulder.

“Shh, it’s okay.” He said softly. “You did the right thing now let’s get out of here.” He said.

They followed the path with caution. Bianco could hear shouting in the distance and picked up the pace. The clouds and smog hung heavy in the sky, with no light to break through the dark. They were almost to friendly territory when Maggie saw an enemy behind them in the distance.

She shouted as he took aim. Bianco looked back but it was too late. A blast was made and a bullet lodged itself right in the back of the soldier’s leg making him and Maggie both of them drop to the ground.

Maggie’s heart pounded as Bianco took out the pistol, but the blood from the wound was making him lose consciousness.  Maggie crawled over and shook him, but he was becoming more and more unresponsive. The enemy drew closer and she didn’t know what else to do.

She took Bianco’s pistol and just like he showed her, cocked the hammer back. When the enemy reached them she shut her eyes as she aimed the gun and squeezed the trigger as hard as she could. The recoil was heavy in her hands pushing her back, and blood sprayed them both. The enemy fell back, a bullet lodged between his eyes.

She threw the gun to the side, her body was shaking. She turned back to Bianco, shaking her friend praying he’d wake up. The soldier fought to keep his eyes open. He took her hand and smiled. “It’s okay sunshine. We’ll… we’ll be okay.”

In the distance towards the woods, four men wearing the same colors as Bianco, ran towards them. Maggie, who still held Bianco’s hand, felt a spotlight of sunshine pour over her. It began to rain, even though the world grew brighter.

The drops were heavy and warm and then, it happened. Everything began to wash away. The dirt, the soot, the blood, it all washed away from the soldier and the little girl. As if God was washing their sins and woes away. Maggie couldn’t help but stare at the sky in wonder, and smile.

***

Bianco lost his leg a few days later. Maggie had no other family. So when Bianco went home, Maggie went with him. They were both welcomed home by his lovely wife. She was a woman with a mother’s heart, but could never have children of her own. So when little Maggie came along, she was nothing but overjoyed.

She grew up in a loving home. Granted, she and Bianco would still be haunted by the memories of that day. But whenever it rained, she would quietly sit outside and hum You are My Sunshine. Sometimes Bianco would sit with her and sing with her. Or they sat in silence as the sun came over the clouds making the raindrops shine.

Because if it was one thing she loved, it was sunshine and rain.

The Hallway of Flowers by Brianna Joyce

The Hallway of Flowers
Brianna Joyce

I remember when my mom gave me five dollars. Even when I was six, I knew the importance of that amount. One time, my school had a festival and were selling these flowers called “Snap Dragons”. I didn’t think they were all that pretty, but they had the name “Dragon” in it, and I knew my mom loved dragons, so I spent the five dollars and brought them home. It was a 40 minute drive from my home to school, so it was 40 minutes of balancing it in my lap while I told her about the rest of the festival. She smiled and listened intently. We were always getting home at seven or eight at night so when we walked in, I immediately sat them on the front porch freezer. You know, one of those you could lay a body down in.

This porch had magical powers. When we first moved in, it was a long hall with a washer and dryer at the end, along with a window that led to the couch where I had to climb through when my mom locked her keys in the house.

I can’t remember when we started collecting plants and flowers but it had seemed to start with one plant that we would water and make sure got enough sunlight. Soon one plant, became three plants. And day by day the hallway turned more… green… more… earthly.

Some plants began to hang from the ceiling and my mom would put me on her shoulders and let me water them. One night, I walked through the hall singing along when all of a sudden, I couldn’t see the washer and dryer. I kept going, but still nothing was there. All around me, fireflies lit up the surrounding leaves and I followed them. The flowers that were closed up, began to bloom roses and lilies. I sang louder and vines would grow and stretch to life.  

When I walked deeper in, the fireflies began to fade, the bright floral colors were beginning to lose their vibrant attraction. I kept a box of matches in my pocket and struck one to keep the light going. Other than the soft glow of the fire, I was surrounded by emptiness.

“Hello?” I asked weakly. It was too quiet, and then, I heard it. A deep, guttural noise from the dark abyss.

“Who… who’s there?” I squeaked. There was a low growl and then, it attacked! The Snap Dragons!

They tried to bite at me, taking turns snapping their vicious jaws at the light. I tried to run away, but they surrounded me. They tried to bite me again, but I managed to dodge their attacks. The leaves and vines began to pull themselves together as if to block my path, but I pushed past them. I tripped over my own two feet and stumbled near the edge of the perennial tunnel, and soon, I could hear them. The dragons! I shut my eyes tight and clenched my teeth as one lingered close to my face.

Just a few centimeters away…

It unhinged its jaws and I waited in despair as it sized up my head. It slowly lunged but quickly stopped.

I waited a few seconds, then slowly, I peeked to find that the Dragon had turned to stone. I looked to my right and saw the sun ceaselessly climbing over the trees. Soon, I could hear the cries of agony as the others began to wither away and I knew I was safe. I drew a deep sigh of relief and quickly made my way to bed before my mom found out. I slept soundly that morning… until I heard it.

That low… guttural… sound….

 

Daughter of Athena by Nick Grogan

Daughter of Athena
Nick Grogan

She wiped the little droplets of sweat from her forehead. The steam rose tall like large gates trapping her behind it’s defense. The aroma was normal in her house. The grease popped and hissed against her olive skin and each jerk was a reminder she was stuck doing this until all pieces of chicken were done.

Lexy sighed. This had been the third day in a row she had to come home and cook this shit. The house reeked with the stench and no matter how many windows, doors and vents she left open to quell the smell, nothing could fully destroy the attack on her nostrils. But of course, she trudged on without the slightest whiff of a complaint. What else could she actually do?

Terrance, her husband, bellowed at how well she could cook that damn chicken. He sat on the couch, looking in increments over in her direction to see if his woman was making progress. Lexy could see it from the corner of her eye, each incessant check, each pandering cock of the head, the low grumble of the hungry man.

“Hurry up,” she finally heard from him.

“I only got two hands, nigga.” Her voice muted against the violent grease pops.

“What?” another bellow came from the living room.

“Nothing,” she shook her head, “it’s almost done. Can you go tell the kids it’s almost ready, so they can wash up?”

The large release of air from his nostrils clashed with the grease pops and several stomps later he was on his way to get the kids. Lexy bore a hole through his large back but eventually went back to her duty. The kids must eat.

The pattering of six small feet came within seconds. The little ones were ginger coming down the staircase but as soon as they hit the wooden floors it was racing time. She turned toward them and smiled, telling them to sit down at their seats.

“Mike, make sure your sister and brother are set nicely in their seats.” The oldest of her three kids, but still pretty young himself, she depended on Mike heavily with taking care of his younger siblings. The boy, for what it was worth, was mature beyond his years and always seemed dependable in most situations. For a kid, at least. Lexy laid out four plates and spooned small portions for each child unto their plates, tripling the portions when it came to her’s. The banging of silver and screeches were cathartic compared to the sounds of boiling grease and breathy sighs.

She joined her children at the table and shared a few smiles, listening to their stories about what boy 1 did with girl 2 and how girl 1 started her own group of friends without girl 3. Not once was there an inquiry as to how her day went but she enjoyed their silly conversations nonetheless. Gasping on cue, asking the important questions, agreeing to their little madness. That brief moment wouldn’t last for long though. Terrance stomped back to the kitchen and stood at the threshold, his figure barely fitting in between the space. He circled the table where the four of them sat, inspecting what she only believed as the portions on their plates and how much was left for him.

“Where mine at?”

The air stifled, only the fading pitch of chirping birds were audible. She pointed towards the stovetop.

“Huh?” his voice a little louder than before.

“On. The. Stove.” Lexy’s eye twitched.

“You ain’t make me a plate?”

Really, she thought. Terrance never ate with them, but he loves to go on his soapbox and claim she wasn’t being the wife she promised to be. It wasn’t enough for her to get up before the rooster, fix the kids breakfast, get them on the bus and work eight hours a day. If only she had made that damn plate, right?

“Obviously not.”

“Don’t disrespect me in front of the kids. We don’t do that in this house, huh?”

“Nope. You’re right. How foolish of me to not have considered you when making dinner for the kids. Here let me get that for you.” She snatched the plate from his hands, gripped was like that of a golfer and splat the different foods on the plate. She could feel him watching. Asshole.

“Here.” She said. He let out a grunt and walked away from the table to his place on the couch, turned the television up and began smacking. Lexy sat back down, put a piece of cold chicken in her mouth and tried not to be noticeable when she sighed. Mike rubbed her arm for a little bit. She gave a little smile and angled her head toward her food.

Lexy was sore from the night before. Washing the dishes did not do her any justice and then she had to deal with the rough ineffective thrusts from Terrance for ten minutes. Those nights were always the worst because the words of her mother always came to her head. “Just let him be, he’s a man and it’s our job to make sure he’s able to do as he pleases.” An antiquated view on gender relations for sure, but Lexy continued to live by those standards.

Times were not always about making sure the hearth was taken care of. Lexy was into all the typical boy things: stick fighting, playing with bugs, wrestling with the other local kids in the summer heat, staying away from boys because they had the germ. Doing all the things schools in the south taught her were supposed to be unbefitting of a southern charm such as herself. Back at home with her mom were some of the same lessons she finished going over at school. Knitting, cooking, doing hair as a presentation for some undeserving suitor and etiquette. The last part however, more scenario-based teachings than mouth to ear.

She would be remiss to think her father was a bad one. Those sweltering summer days when he would take her and her brothers down to the lake and fish were nothing but testaments to his unconditional love for them. The pungent smell of each sturgeon they release back into the murky opaque waters came rushing back to her nostrils as she drove home. Dad always applauded her for outdoing her brothers at most “male” activities but always made sure to say to them how they should never let a woman outdo them. Lexy would snicker at them when she won, unknowing of the damage he continually caused to all three of them. At home, mother would have a fit about how unkept she was or how her body odor palpable when in fact the only thing men should smell is fragrance of her lotion. “Go wash up, now,” her mother used to say, “and do something about your hair. You know how much I hate those curls.”

Sometimes she wondered if her parents would be proud of her. By her mother’s standards absolutely. Three kids, a nice home, beautiful kitchen and bedroom; a real mark of success.

Lexy did away with thoughts of her parents and focused on what was to come. She was just promoted and couldn’t wait to tell the family. Finally, she was moving up the ladder and taking on some leading responsibilities at the office. It would require her to spend more time at work but nothing that wasn’t manageable.

She went inside the garage and noticed the smaller door was unlocked again. She just got home. The door to the house opened and Mike stood at the threshold.

“No bags today, sweetheart.” Her little man went back inside the house and she followed. Two steps in and her other two children rushed her like linemen, grabbing hold of her dress, peppering her with all sort of kisses and hugs. Their smells were familiar. Grass. Dirt. Outside. She wished they had been bathed before she came home.

“Hey Babe,” she called out. Terrance grunted. “I just got a promotion at work. I’m finally moving up.” Didn’t come out like she wanted but good news is hardly ever planned correctly.

“So, what does that mean?” His voice echoed across the hall.

“I’ll be getting paid more, but I have to stay at work a little longer.”

“What?”

“I have more responsibilities now, so I just have to put in a bit more time.”

“What about your responsibilities here?”

“Such as?”

“Matter fact, what you cooking tonight?”

“You tell me? You haven’t fed the kids?”

“Fuck no, I’m busy. I don’t have time to do all that.”

Busy doing bullshit was more like it. Terrance hadn’t worked in years thanks to a few lucky breaks and lawsuits. Most of the time he sat at home and watched tv, only making sure the kids got in the house okay. His busy work usually consisted of drinking, talking to his ex-wife, drinking, eating and shitting. Occasionally he would get off his ass and disappear a few hours and return home in the dead of the night, waking everyone in the house.

“So, you’re telling me I have to find something to cook at 7PM?”

“What else would you do? Don’t worry about me though, I’m going out.”

The image of her mother returned, and she pulled out the leftovers from the night before. The kids ate as their father stepped out of the house, each brutish step carrying echoes of his dominance. She knew he walked like that because in his eyes, he couldn’t be touched. Women were beneath his might, any one of them should be lucky to have a man like him and they would never be left alone about that fact. The door slammed, and the kids began their chaos as they always have once he left. She picked up the dishes.

Lexy heard the unsubtle crash of the keys late in the night. The frogs moaned their bitter tune against the call of the geese as her husband stumbled his way around the house. She shifted, hoping to feign sleep so he would just lay himself down in his drunken stupor. A knock here or there, a sorry came from the kids’ rooms before Terrance finally found the door to their bedroom. Lexy pressed her eyes down harder, tried to regulate her breathing and stay perfectly still.

He came anyway. The quick thud of his body on top of hers thwarted any attempt of possum. The effluvia of cocktails, cheap pussy and cigarettes encompassed her once pristine bedsheets. She ignored his unattractive mating call; small rumbles, a show of his teeth, the eerie curl of his lips. The usual suspects.

“Come on, Baby,” he half-hearted whispered in her ear.

She declined, gesturing him away like she would a fly. It didn’t stop him. Crabby hands made their way up her gown, a tongue stabbing the side of her face, the heat of his breath seizing the clean air around her. She winced. Each grotesque grunt followed by another. Her eyes fixated on the ceiling, counting the seconds until it would finally be over. Her mother would emphasize the importance of keeping a man satisfied no matter the occasion. “The duty of the wife was never over, even if another woman has helped you out a little.” The view of the ceiling distorted to a wetness and the lessons of her mother chimed ever so as the barbaric man had his way with his woman.

Three hundred seconds. She turned over and clutched the sheets. The darkness gave her solace while the shower’s hum lulled her to an escape.

She woke to the smell of fresh bacon being fried. There were clutters and clatters coming from downstairs and the sweet laughs of her little children brought relief to her tired body. There was something else, a laugh from a voice she hadn’t heard in a long time. The soft, passive voice of a man who spoke with purity. The vibrato of each syllable danced around his tongue, playing a sweet sonnet of which only the foolish would not be enticed by. It had been so long since she heard that voice and through the haze she saw its silhouette.

“Hey, Baby,” the wide, commanding figure said in front of the glares of the sun, “the kids and I made you breakfast. Come down when you’re ready. But not too long, wouldn’t want the food to get cold.”

The kids? What did this voice know of her ki- Terrance? Her eyes fixed upon his figure, making out the subtle details of his large frame. His face washed, the stench replaced by what smelled of frankincense. She sized him up one more time and nodded.

Although she heard the commotion earlier, the scene she walked in to was different. The kitchen utensils neatly cleaned and drying in the rack, frying pans already disposed of the grease, neat plates already prepped with respective meals.

“Come sit,” Terrance motioned for her to sit at the table. Her approach was ginger. She looked at all the kids eating, quiet as predators finally catching their prey. Mike was the closest to her, so she rubbed his head. As long as they were okay.

“Where did you learn to do all this?” The food was a wonderful medley of aromas and tastes. Each type of food fulfilled a different objective. At the same time, they complimented each other like a marriage. The flavors partnered with each other to fulfil their common purpose, not leaving anything out. It was complete.

His smile brought her back to the wonderful days of him courting her. “I know a lil’ something,” he said.

“Yeah but this is really good!” The kids agreed in unison.

“Oh-ho! You didn’t think I had the skills!”

“That’s not it silly,” she lightly tapped his knee under the table, “I just don’t remember you telling me about how you versed in the culinary arts.”

“Well, if you must know,” his eyes trailed from hers, “When my cousins weren’t beating me and constantly reminding me of how luck I was to be living in their space, they actually taught me useful skills like this.”

“Oh.” Lexy eyes couldn’t meet his anymore.

“Great. You’ve gone and ruined the whole damn meal.” She snatched her head up, cocking it to one side. Terrance banged against the table, the two youngest began to cry. “You just had to ask something so fucking stupid, huh?”

“No that’s not it. It was really good and I-”

“I didn’t ask for your fucking response. Here I am, busting my ass to make this nice fucking breakfast for you and the kids and you just can’t keep your mouth fucking shut and eat like a goddamn human being. The family suffers when you act like that.”

She should have known it wouldn’t last. It was always like this only he wou- her head slammed against the table, sirens screamed inside her head. There was a deep pressure behind her neck and it progressively got tighter. He was choking her. She tried to scream. Nothing. Two of the little ones were crying but she couldn’t hear Mike anywhere. Lexy prayed Terrance wouldn’t kill her today.

“Get off of her!” Mike’s scream rose over the wailings of his younger siblings and Lexy froze, she didn’t know the capacity of Terrance’s rage and surely didn’t want it to be turned on to Mike. She faintly heard light thumps and felt the impacts of each hit from her son’s small hands.

“Stupid little boy. Just like your mother!” The grip Terrance had on her loosened. There was a clap. “Fuck this.” Terrance released Lexy and stampeded out of the house, knocking over family photos, memorabilia and other aesthetics in the process, shattering must in dozens of pieces.

Lexy ran to her son, checking him for any additional bruises. She gathered the other two kids, held them tight and cried.

This was too hard for her. Lexy knew there was no way she was going to survive. That was the first time he had ever laid a hand on her, but the impact of the blow was excruciating. She had seen her mother take beatings like that all the time. Each time, the thuds were loud and noticeable behind closed doors. Every time though, her mom would smear the blood from the corners of her mouth, straighten her blouse and continue the work she had set for the day. Her father always had called her mom weak. Lexy always agreed because there was no way a woman would continually take beatings like that.

Lexy knew she couldn’t. She rolled the windows down and started the car. It ran for moments and the haze around slowly filled the area. The kids had been put to bed and Terrance had been gone for most of the day after his incident. She just couldn’t take it anymore. The only way she knew how to get back at him would be for him to take care of the kids without him. It’ll show him how weak he actually is.

The first nod came. There was an unbelievable tiredness. Lexy figured the last thing she wanted to do was think of something so negative, at least once she wanted to do something that would fill her with happiness. She thought back to a time her Dad had taken just her fishing. She was the best one out her siblings and he said he wanted to spend some time with his “little girl.”

They sat in the boat, the morning sun barely reaching over the horizon, mosquitoes attacking their skin searching for any way to break the human flesh. Fish jumped out of the water and the boat lulled slowly on the waters as father and daughter stared out, not saying a word to each other.

“Lex,” her father finally broke the silence, “Don’t let what your mom and I do happen to you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Athena is a strong woman. I know I treat her like shit most of the time, but that is the only woman I know that scares the shit out of me.”

“Daddy, I don’t see that. Everything I see seems like she just takes it. How can she be strong?”

“Every beating you think she takes is a damn fight. She looks me in the eye every time and never sheds a single tear. She’s strong because I can never break her spirit. Your Dad has never been a great husband and I take it out on Athena all the time. But, she right back in there every day making shit hard on me.”

“I never knew that.”

“That means we sort of did our job. I just wish I never hurt her in the first place. But what’s done is done, all I hope is that when you are finally married, you nip that shit in the bud before it gets too out of hand. Promise?”

“I promise.”

Her father committed suicide not much longer after and her mother stood tall, married another sweeter man and all that time Lexy hated her for being weak and not cherishing her late husband’s legacy. It was as if their last talk went through one ear and out the other, but now that she was reminded of the peaceful scenery with her father, she could plainly see how pissed and determined her mother would be after every argument or beating. Not because she was ashamed of her inadequacies as a wife, but because her dumbass husband had actually tried her again. Her mom had the grace to keep moving forward and never breaking just because someone meant to abuse her.

Lexy nodded again, the haze was heavier and thicker, almost palpable in the garage. It smelled of her weakness and she took what little strength she had remaining and pressed the remote to open the garage. The haze rushed away from its prison, letting its purer cousin occupy the space, turning the area into a clean pasture of opportunity. She breathed. The fog began to dissipate, and her vision cleared.

Inside the low rumbles of the kids breathing occupied the house’s enclosures and Lexy sat in the chair Terrance usually sat in.

He finally came home. The noise he usually makes accompanied him along the way and she stared at his hulking frame.

“Finally decided to come home?”

“Fuck you still durrrring up?” his body leaned.

“Waiting on you.”

“You apologisssing?”

“Hardly.” She raised from her seat as a queen would when leaving her throne. Each step deliberates, her eyes never off him or his swaying figure. “I think we need to have a talk.”

He reached up and slammed his palm across her face. She barely budged, the pain she had received from him all seemed trivial. The kids in bed were more important than her feelings of embarrassment and shame. She needed to teach them that this way of life was not certain and would not have to be repeated. Lexy knew Mike would probably remember these moments but the other two little ones would be spared for the most part.

“Who are you talking to like this, bitch?” He went in for another but Lexy was quick, moving under him and placing the cold steel object just under her husband’s chin. The image of her mother staring intently and approvingly at her was solid. Her mother nodded. The lessons about being womanly were not all about being the perfect wife, they were about perseverance and dignity, something she had never seen in her mother. But now she saw it clearly. The woman she so harshly scorned was actually who Lexy would have to become.


Sometimes he writes just to find deeper meaning in his thoughts. An unpolished product, as it was intended.

 

Since You Been Gone by Michelle Everette

since you been gone
Michelle Everette

all i do is spin spells &
bite bars of sunsets
to spit up into a
canvas of
cobweb. how can i
just
sink in black &
eke past purple, is
it u who smelled
the cancer first
maybe i
could have caught
the darkness. fished
it out with a healing
stick. but you
sensed we r
spirits too derived of
death,
known also
as the old woman who
swallowed that spider. it
hung itself from
her uvula &
god did not
stop to mourn.

The Worst Poem Ever Written by Michelle Everette

The Worst Poem Ever Written
Michelle Everette

Writer, a woman stopped
breathing once. Because you
couldn’t stop
stirring your fucking coffee, you
missed it. There are no abstractions
here- i’m much too aware for
that. Hey
sir, when the soul
gets through Slopping rubbery
eggs and reading shitty poetry, does
it ever pick up
a pen?

A Dream Dismantled by Michelle Everette

a dream dismantled (it seem to come to me from the trees.)
Michelle Everette

drunk & black i enter your home, following my mother’s scent. i am the poet’s pretty
wound. a man raised me this way- to move in metaphor. i breathe only in riddles. this
hell is where you brought her to die. did you yank her by the big toe, shove aristotle so
far up her asshole that the teeth bled rhetoric? there are dots here where stars once
were, say the trees out there. but this ain’t about you. or even the way i dressed to kill
your daddy. got an ocean of red inside me, so dark now it’s like swallowing after
midnight. so i come back here to free myself. & watch you drown.

Positions by Anna Nichols Cooksey

Positions
Anna Nichols Cooksey

When we lay in bed,
the crux of my body
hinges on your soft edges;
morphed together, tethered magnetism.

When we wake,
the curved outline of your hand
lingers on the small of my back
no longer longing, but desire.

When you turn over,
I trace it all with my fingers—
the strong sides of your shoulders,
the wild arches of your spine.

When we face each other,
I breathe in, savoring
the perfume from your collarbone,
hopelessly drunk on your spirit.

Sometimes I worry,
when our bodies grow old,
your flesh and my flesh
will cease melding and mixing and molding.


Anna Nichols Cooksey is a perpetually caffeinated junior pursuing a double major in English and Media Studies. She finds dogs and cats much easier to talk to than humans.

Vanity by Anna Nichols Cooksey

Vanity
Anna Nichols Cooksey

for their fifteenth anniversary,
my father built my mother
a vanity.

each sunday I watched her sit at the altar.

she approached plain and pious,
dressed in pj’s from the night before.
faint shadows under her eyes
and slippers swallowing her feet.

she prayed with mascara on her lashes.
she sang with lipstick on her teeth.
she loved with pale pink circles
that lit the dimples on her cheeks.

she smiled when she saw my reflection in the mirror
and invited me to join her in worship.


Anna Nichols Cooksey is a perpetually caffeinated junior pursuing a double major in English and Media Studies. She finds dogs and cats much easier to talk to than humans.

made of marzipan by Anna Nichols Cooksey

made of marzipan
Anna Nichols Cooksey

since childhood,
my body has been a slave to the sweet.
smoking candy cigarettes
and snorting smarties.
specks of sugar set fire
to the hairs of my nose
and the back of my throat.

my sweet tooth was insatiable.
xanax wrapped in hershey’s
bars on bars on bars on bars
on cages trap me inside
a prison made of candy canes.

gluttonous by nature,
no pastry or confection
nor candy bar or chewing gum
could ever cease the cravings
in the syrupy streams of my veins,
or these brittle marzipan bones.


Anna Nichols Cooksey is a perpetually caffeinated junior pursuing a double major in English and Media Studies. She finds dogs and cats much easier to talk to than humans.