A Taste of Prozac by Jessica Clifford

A Taste of Prozac
Jessica Clifford

 

“I’m just not sure this would be best for him.”

“Mrs. Nowak, I know why you have your reservations towards this medication, but it has been improving depression for people of all ages for six years now. It is the safest SSRI for young children and adolescents.”

I look down at my coiled hands in my lap. My nails are uneven nubs, with crimson cuts from biting them too often. I sense the psychiatrist’s eyes located on my pale scalp facing him.

“Look, Mrs. Nowak. I can see you are unsure. How about if Collin takes the pills as a trial run? He can see how he feels on them – how he reacts to them.”

I bring my hand up to my mouth again. My fingers hesitate on my lips.

Forcing my idiosyncrasy away, I say, “What are the side effects again?”

 

.       .        .

 

“But, I thought crazy people and celebrities are the only people who take Prozac. Hell, I even read somewhere that they named it Prozac because it sounds zappy. What does that even mean?”

“Collin, don’t take this lightly – you are depressed. If what happened the other day wasn’t…” she stifles a sigh, “… I’m not sure about you taking it either, but as Dr. Langham said, it is just a trial run.”

I rest my head on the side of the window, still able to watch the people in the cars to my right. Everyone is smiling or laughing, with canoes or bikes hitched to their cars – ready for their pre-summer vacation at Lake Eerie.

No one seems to look the way I feel inside.

 

.       .        .

 

“Okay Collin, now back the car up, and put it in park.”

My head feels loose on my neck, like at any second it will roll off onto the passenger side’s floor. I twist my head and the insides of the car shifts. The seats are moving in aimless circles and ovals, while I’m wondering how my school backpack has not fallen forward yet.

“Slowly. Slowly. Annnnd great!”

My Mom’s happiness feels fake. I know she is acting this way only to make me feel better, as if my depression is solved by a contagious happiness. As if others can solve the issues of my mind.

I roll down my window, “Can we go home now?”


“But, we just got her forty-five minutes ago,” her face inquisitive, searching my own, “Are you not feeling good?”

 

“I—I think I just need some time to hang out in my room. Relax a little.”

“Are you sure? You always love driving practice.”

“Yeah, just don’t really want to today.”

My Mom’s face is drawn down, looking at me as if I’m a hurt puppy. I hate that. I’ve always despised that look.

 

.      .       .

 

I hear three soft knocks on my door. My Mom, on the other side of the threshold, opens it a crack.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were sleeping. Dinner is ready.”

Groggily, I rub my eyes open. Yawning loudly, “What time is it?”

“6:30. Do you feel like coming down?”

I nod reluctantly – I know I want to sleep more though; my limbs are weak as if I slept for too long. What have I done today? I shouldn’t be this tired, I think.  My bones feel sleepy as I pull on the side of the mattress to sit up.

“I’ll be down in a second.” My Mom leaves as quietly as came, while I fall back onto the mattress sighing. Something feels different. As if something has forged my body, locating my weaknesses and working them harder than before.

I swing my left arm around to my eyes, squinting without my glasses at my faint scar. Tracing it with my fingers in a pacing motion over my wrist; I begin to feel nauseous. My stomach carves itself out deeper and deeper as the short moments pass.

I force myself downstairs anyways. My Mom and younger sister are waiting.

 

.      .      .

 

“So then, Mr. Barfield told us we didn’t have to hand in our math practice sheets because we were doing a really good job in class. He then brought Lizzy, Kelsey, and me to his desk in front of everyone, and let us pick stickers from his collection. We were SO surprised.”

My Mom chimes in before she could finish her sprawling story, “Sounds like you had a great day.”

Heather’s toothy smile carries her happiness to her iris,’ glaring from the kitchen light.

“Yeah,” I said, shoveling a piece of beef stroganoff into my mouth, “Sounds like he has a total hard-on for you girls.”

My mom’s eyes dilate, “Collin, don’t ever use that language in this house.” She continues to scold me without my attention.

I look over at Heather, her face emblazons with an uneven red blush on her cheeks.

 

.      .      .

 

The soapy dishes enflame my hands a temporary sun-burnt red. Heather went upstairs after dinner; I’m not sure if I’ll see her for the rest of the night. She is probably writing in her diary all that she told us. Recently, I read it for no reason at all. Maybe, I just felt the need to see the inner workings of a sixth-grade girl – sad in their need for attention.

My Mom and I are cleaning the kitchen in complete silence. I don’t know exactly what to say. Now that twenty minutes have passed, I’m surprised as much as she is in what I told Heather. My mind fingers through ways I can apologize, flipping my choices in a cyclic motion.

“You know,” my mom’s head turns, interrupting me from my loitering thoughts, “Just because you are on medication, doesn’t mean you can do or say anything you feel.”

Instinctively defensive, I say, “I wasn’t trying to be an ass- … I mean, Mom, my mind’s a little foggy right now. I’m just trying to get used to it.”

“I don’t think this is ‘getting-used-to-it’ Collin. It’s already changing you.”

“Mom. They said it would take a week of irritation, change, ups and downs. I can’t explain how I feel, I just need you to understand I’m not making these decisions purposefully.”

She sighs, “I’m still wary, that’s all. You’re just – you’re still my young little man,” I can’t meet her eyes, afraid my stock-piled emotions will boil onto the surface of my face.

“But,” she says trying to change the subject, “It’s okay. I just won’t bring it up for right now.”

“Thanks… Hey, would you mind if Amber comes over tomorrow?”

“Yeah, but like always, she can’t stay past ten.”

She walks out of the room, leaving me to finish drying the dishes.

 

.      .      .

 

I’m never too sure if bringing Amber up to my room is a good idea, except for today. My Mom goes to the grocery store to pick up a few items for dinner, leaving Amber, me, and Heather in the living room.

“Let’s go upstairs,” I say while nudging her on the sofa.

“What if your mom sees we are gone when she comes back?”

“I think we have some time.”

Amber’s eyes contort into their thin sultry way –seductive, while being half closed. I think she even bit her bottom lip. I pull her from her stereotypical crossed-leg sitting position onto her unstable feet. We stumble sleepily to my bedroom.

I unbutton her shirt, my hand pulsing under her ample, yet petite breasts. She moans hard, slightly overexaggerated, but I keep going. I watch as her eyes move farther back behind her head, drifting into pleasure from the gentle way I bite her neck.

Finally, her agile fingers are on my belt buckle. Precisely undoing it from its worn hole. Her hands are cold when she first touches me, my skin prickling. Minutes of massaging go by, but I continue to be flaccid.

Now, with Amber sitting at the edge of my bed, her hair mussed, and her makeup slightly smudged I realize – the idea of sex seemed a lot better than the actual act. I could not understand this, only last week was I finishing too fast. Now, I cannot even start.

Amber’s eyes become two giant quarters placed in her soft face.

“I’m sorry, I – I’m not too sure why this is the case.” Then I remember reading about my medicine’s side effects. I never told Amber about my prescription. I was not sure how she would react to her boyfriend taking “crazy-pills.”

“It’s okay,” she says in a less-than-hidden disappointed voice, “Let’s go back downstairs. Your Mom will be back soon.”

Maybe I should have mentioned it.

 

.      .      .

 

Why did that have to happen? I’m always ready to go with Amber.  I think, sitting up in my bed – slightly crinkled from my tossing and turning. I contemplate screaming into my pillow, but I think my Mom would hear me in the room across the hall. Why couldn’t Heather have this room? – I’m just being angsty. That’s all. Or, so I tell myself now, at 2 in the morning.

I rub my temples, massaging out the tension crippling my forehead. Do I have a headache? Maybe I should take some Advil. But, can I take Advil on Prozac? I don’t see why not. I go to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom adjacent to my bedroom. I flip the light on and cringe at the face looking back at me in the vanity mirror. I really haven’t gotten much sleep in the past three days, have I?

No water, just two red capsules dyeing my sweating palms red. Though the pills are round and small, they scrap the edge of my throat as they go down in a loud gulp. Once I turn the bathroom’s light off, I look down the hall towards Heather’s room and then the opposite direction. The darkness becomes lighter in my eyes as if it is being dimly lit by an invisible light. I don’t hear anything, except the buzzing in my ears from the stark silence.

I fling the covers over my body, warming my legs all over again. Who knew a spring night could be this cold? …Well duh, I’m in Ohio. It was only snowing about five weeks ago. I start to wonder why I think so negatively about myself at night. Does the night sky perform as magnets – producing a field of attraction between it and me?

Just shut up. You think you’re so poetic, don’t you?… If only. I look at my bookcase sitting forlornly in a caddy-corner on my left. So many books shielding themselves with new dust as the days go on. My legs become urgent and wriggle their way out of my bed. I thumb through their bound spines – creating a clean line between the dust. Moby Dick, hmm. When was the last time I read this? Probably when I was 11. I slide the book out gracefully, keeping every book in its place, without any falling on an angle.

Back in my bed, I flip to the first page of text. “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world…”

Two pages went by and I was almost crying with boredom. How many times have I read this? It would definitely be more than one hand’s worth. I concede to my aroused mind – for another night.

I hope this goes away soon.

.       .      .

 

“You’re already up?” My Mom asks as she walks towards me in her slippers – making a swipe noise that gets louder as she comes near. “And you ate breakfast?”

I sit with my t-shirt and jeans on, all showered-up, with a bowl of Frosted Flakes sitting empty in front of me – except for the remnants of dried milk and crumbs. “Yeah. I just couldn’t sleep.”

“Like the other night? You know I heard you getting up and down to go to the bathroom.”

“I think we have bigger problems, like your light sleeping.”

“Ha, ha. Very funny,” she twists the bag of cereal up and puts it in the cabinet, turning around to face me again, “I just, want you to be happy.”

“I’m well aware Mom. I can’t sleep well. That’s not your problem.”

“I know, but I can’t help making it feel like my problem. Like everything else since you started taking Prozac.”

“Mom. Let me handle it. Okay?” Picking up my backpack, I say, “I gotta go, or I’ll be late.”

I walk out the door, leaving my Mom’s small voice to be covered up by the slamming behind me, “Have a good day.”

 

.       .      .

I plop myself on the bus seat next to Amber. Her face is staring out the window, with her brunette hair covering most of her profile. If I could see her eyes I know they would not feel ecstatic to see mine.

“What was last night about?” She mutters, still peering out the window.

Heat instantly travels to the surface of my face. The embarrassment comes back to me renewed, stronger as if it never left in the first place.

“I uh…,” I stumble over my words, calculating my options. I decided to tell her. “I’m taking Prozac.” I leave my words hanging in the air, as if a wet and lofty shirt trying to dry in the wind, turning to the smell of mildew as time goes on.

Her face flashes fully towards me, “But, why? You don’t need that.”

Hot anger consumes my face, this time as white electricity. I try to mute my rage, reminding myself I’m on the bus. “I know you heard that I tried to kill myself a few days ago! This town is not large enough for you not to know. You just don’t want to bring it up. Why don’t you just bring it up?” Some of the other teens in the surrounding seats look over at me.

She uses the back of her hand to wipe away the tears puddling at the edge of her eyes. “I just don’t want to think this is possible. That this – that you’re shit feelings are real.”

Amber buries her head in my arm, shaking my body with her sobbing until we get to school.

 

.        .      .

 

“What are you still doing up?” Heather asks as she comes out of her room, most likely about to go to the bathroom.

I ask her the same question in an accusatory tone, “Why are you up?”

She does not trip over my mock-anger. “Mom tells me you’re on that new drug. Prozac, right? It makes you do some weird stuff sometimes.”

“Yeah, so?” I say with a little less edge in my voice because I’m slightly surprised that Mom told her.

“Just know that you can talk to me. If you’re unhappy, or whatever. You can talk to me.”

“But – “

“Don’t say I won’t understand. I understand more than you think. I just – wanted you to know I’m all ears.” Heather walks off in her baby blue flannel pajamas; the ones that showcase lambs jumping over yellow moons.

I catch her before she goes into the bathroom, “Heather – I’m sorry about the other night. Y’know, at dinner.”

Heather’s face blossoms crimson; she does not seem to need the foolish insinuation. “It’s okay. Drugs do stuff to a person.”

She closes the door behind her, making a small ticking noise as she turns the lock over.

 

.        .      .

I hear a double-knock clamor on the door, and not a moment later, it squeaks open. “What are you doing in this dark room? It’s so nice outside!” My Mom tries to go over to the shades to unfurl them.

I shake my head, “I-I’ve got a piercing headache,” I spit out.

She backs away from the window. “Okay,” my Mom says exaggeratedly, “Then, let me get you some Advil.”

“I’ve already taken four in the past two hours.”

“N-n-no, I know what this is, it’s from your meds isn’t it?”

I peek my head out from under my cool comforter again to see my Mom’s stern look, the classic look, when her eyebrows’ nearly touch. “I’m not sure, but I bet so. It’s all right though, we see Dr. Langham in two days.”

She is contemplating her next move. But, I know she wants to put me in the car and drive me over to my Doc’s office right now, just to curse at him for putting me on this new drug. She wants me off it, I know that’s what she’ll say.

She bites the edge of her bottom lip until it tints a bright red. She brings her hand to her mouth, about to bite her nails. But instead, a long sigh hangs from her mouth, “I just can’t help but feel bad for you. Is there anything you need me to do, or anything I can get you?”

“I’ll take the Advil you proposed earlier,” I say and place my head under the tent of my comforter once again, wondering why my Mom’s emotions are playing Russian Roulette as if she were in my situation.

.        .       .

 

The drive to Dr. Langham’s office is uncharacteristically silent. My Mom stares ahead, keeping herself focused on the road, while her eyebrows dance back and forth from a pinched to relaxed state. Her nails are short, cut unusually closer to the edge.

This morning I feel as if everything is clarified – my sight, my touch – all my senses are vibrant. But, when I look down I can still see the nerves in my hands, as they shake ever-so-slightly in my lap. I have gotten used to it already, just like my lack of sleep. For some reason, I think even if I didn’t have the Dunkin Donuts coffee my Mom bought me this morning, I would still be rearing to go.

The car becomes humid from the spring weather. I manually roll the window down just a few inches.

“Can you put that up?” My Mom demands, instead of asks.

“Why? It’s hot in here.”

“It makes a loud whirring noise, and that makes me anxious.” She looks over at me, “And I’m already anxious.”

“Fine,” I say, following her commands.

I don’t believe in God, but I make a quick prayer to someone or something that this next hour ends as fast as it begins.

 

.       .       .

 

“So, Collin, how has your past week been?” His grey eyes sit behind a quarter inch of glass, studying me in contentment. His grey beard, black in spots where it had not faded to an aging color. His hair had the same peppered color, brushed backward for a perfect view of his forehead’s sunspots. The freckled tie around his neck was lopsided, sticking a hair too high on the right, with an outdated silver suit to match.

I’ve met people like Dr. Langham before. He expires the style of his wardrobe at the era he felt his best. For Doc here, it was the ‘70s.

“You know, I have never been more tired in my life.”

“Is that so?” Dr. Langham asks perplexed, his eyes squinting slightly.

“Yeah,” I shrugged, “I thought it must be the medicine.”

His mouth slowly stretches into a wide smile – then, I finally notice how unusually large his teeth are for his face. “My, I know you’d be a wise-ass by the way your Mom was talking about you.”

“Really? What did she say?”

“That you are a compulsive liar.”

“No, she didn’t.”

“You’re right she didn’t, she said you were gullible.”

The light bulbs in my brain click on. “Doc, you’re funny.”

“Well you get that way when you’re my age, or you’re just a curmudgeon.” He makes a knowing face, “Now how about you tell me about the real symptoms you felt this week.”

I make a quick sigh, “Just the normal stuff. Insomnia, migraines, jitteriness, irritability” I look to the corner of the room, “no sex drive, drowsiness.”

“Hmm,” he uttered and wrote it down in his padded notebook. “No sex drive, so I see you have someone,” he says looking over his thick frames.

I rub the nape of my neck, “Well…”

“I see,” Doc says as he fixes his glasses. “So, what do you think?”

“What do you mean, what do I think?”

“About staying on Prozac.”

“No.”

“No?” He gestures for me to expand.

“No, there are way too many side effects.”

“Yes, but you haven’t told me the one thing I need to hear. The one piece of information that would make me take you off the pills.”

I stare blankly at him. This man just wants to play mind games, as if I haven’t had a shit week already.

“Look at your wrist, maybe that will spring the memory.”

I look down about to touch the raised edge of skin but stopping myself when I realize where I am.

“Have you felt like that in the last week?” He nods at my wrist. I start to see the youthful side of him, a piece of him that is ironically exposed while he’s seriousness. I think we could have been friends if we were both young during the same time.

“No…actually I haven’t.”

“Do you think there is some connection between the medicine and that feeling?”

“Maybe.”

“Do you want to find out?”

“But, my Mom doesn’t want me – “

“Never mind her, she wants what you want.”

It’s not a possibility anymore. We would have been friends.

“Let’s find out.”


Jessica Clifford is a senior majoring in Communication Studies. She unabashedly relegates humans as second to dogs.

There Are Some Things I Need to Say by Elliott Voorhees

There Are Some Things I Need to Say
Elliott Voorhees

Say I burn dinner tonight
despite it just being spaghetti.
Say I trip over a pile of nothing on the tile floor.
Say I write a poem about important things
I’m too cowardly to say to your face like

say I pretended to be sick before our first date
because I was afraid you wouldn’t like me.
Say, I lied about having a gift for you
then paid $26.00 to ship your present overnight.

Say I thought I was asexual for several years
.                                         because I’d fooled around before,
 .                                         and after every encounter against
 .                                         school bathroom tile, I stuck around
 .                                         to throw up in the toilet after they left.
But potentially,
you’ve made me not so sure.
Say I’ve never had sex—couldn’t without
being painfully aware of my stomach
contents—and say I think you’re someone
I’d be ok doing that with.
.                                         Because,
                                       you held my hands before
                                       my breasts. Because you
.                                         only asked “Can I stay?”
                                       when I said stop. Because
                                       you held me close after that
                                       and told me to take my time.

Say, would you be down for that?
Hypothetically having sex with a possible virgin?

Say I don’t think I can feel pleasure,
say I’ve tried before and nothing
has ever worked, but say I still want that
say, that I still want, despite all of that.

What would you say
if I asked you to fuck
a 19 year old virgin
who might not even feel it.
Hypothetically speaking.

Say     something.     Say yes, yes
despite the tremor     in my legs     and your hands yes
despite this whole poem yes.
Say silk, soft, supple, sweet
say everything we’re told to for a first time.

Then say surrender. Say the safeword
then push me into the bed.
Give me more credit than I deserve
in this department.
Say yes             yes, yes, yes.

Say, would you be down for that?


Elliott is just a queer city boy, born and raised in a white suburb. They dream of fleeing to the woods and becoming a whispered urban myth.

Moran Castle by Abigail Davenport

Moran Castle
Abigail Davenport

Rose hadn’t been to her family’s cabin since four Christmases ago and, up until a week ago, had no intention of going back anytime soon. But her therapist had insisted that it was an “invaluable part of her psychological reconciliation,” and for a hundred fifty dollars a session, she wasn’t planning on ignoring her advice. So 5pm on Friday evening found her sitting in her car, contemplating the looming, blurred silhouette of the log cabin, taking hold and letting go of the door handle over and over.

“I don’t think the emotional healing starts until you actually go in,” said Brady jokingly.

Rose ignored her girlfriend’s remark and continued her staring contest with the house. She knew she was being ridiculous; it was just a house, just ceilings and floors and walls and a roof. There was no horrible evil waiting for her just inside the door—no kidnappers or ax murderers.

Brady reached over the center console and squeezed Rose’s hand. “You don’t have to do this yet if you don’t want to.”

Rose shook her head as if to clear it, her chestnut bangs falling in her eyes. “Yes, I do. I can’t keep being afraid of an empty house,” she said with a confidence she wished she really felt. “I’ll be fine,” she turned to Brady and did her best to muster up a reassuring smile, “I promise.”

If Brady had any doubts, she kept them to herself, simply giving Rose’s hand one last squeeze. They climbed out of the car and retrieved their overnight bags from the trunk before following the gravel driveway up to the front of the cabin.

Tucked away behind at least half a mile of forest, the Moran Family Cabin was the same as it always had been. Rose swallowed down the lump in her throat as she took it all in: the stepping stone pathway that cut across the yard, the familiar scent of smoke and pine needles on the bracing early winter air, the pile of firewood stacked precariously on the porch, and, of course, the sign above the door that read Moran Castle.

Rose’s father carved the makeshift sign out of a piece of firewood after her brother, Lukas, had dubbed it thusly when he was nine and preoccupied by all things fantasy. To him, the cabin was his fortress, and the surrounding forest was a vast kingdom that was his to rule and protect from all manner of creatures and villains. Rose, a whole five minutes his elder, thought her brother’s name for the cabin was silly at the time, but now, twelve years later, she looked at the crookedly carved letters and smiled.

Rose dug her keys out of her purse as she and Brady climbed the porch steps and came to a stop in front of the door. She felt Brady’s eyes on her as, clutching the key with white knuckles, she built up the courage to open it. Taking a steadying breath, she stepped forward, unlocked the door, and, after hesitating half a second longer, turned the knob and pushed the door in.

For a moment, she felt peace. And then everything inside her cried out in pain.

As she looked around the living room, memory after memory flashed in her mind. Huddling with Lukas in front of the fireplace to thaw after they fell in the lake one Christmas. Spending 12 hours on the worn, leather sectional and playing a marathon session of Bioshock. Accidentally scorching the rug when they’d tried pot for the first time.

The loudest sound she’d ever heard. A murder of crows suddenly and urgently taking flight. Tearing through trees and bushes. The forest floor drenched in snow and blood. Too late. Too late.

Every nerve in her body burned in protest. She couldn’t be there. Brady was right. She wasn’t ready. She wasn’t supposed to feel pain—not here. Moran Castle was everything she loved: winter, string lights, candles, fleece blankets, the smell of apples and spice, falling asleep to the sound of owls from outside and Lukas’s snoring from the bed next to her’s. These things weren’t supposed to hurt her. They were supposed to make her feel safe. Leave, her brain wailed at her. Get out now.

“I can’t,” said Rose, shaking her head vehemently. “I can’t do this.”

“Rose, hey.” Brady took hold of Rose by her shoulders. “You can.”

“No.” Tears ran freely from Roses eyes now as her breathing got tighter and faster. “I can’t. There’s too much of him. I c–I can feel it,” she stammered, grabbing her head as if to show where. “It hurts.”

“Hey, look at me,” said Brady, gentle but firm, ducking her head slightly to meet Rose’s eyes.  She brushed away a few of her tears with her thumb. “It’ll be alright. You said it yourself–it’s just an empty house.”

Rose nodded. After a few moments, her breathing slowed down and the tears subsided. “I’m okay.”

Rose and Brady left their things by the door and starting walking to other parts of the house. At first, the pain was still strong—tight in her chest and heavy in her head. But then after a few minutes, as she wandered from the living room through to the rest of the house with Brady close behind her, the pain began to dull. She paced carefully through hallways and in and out of rooms, glancing her fingers over the distressed wood of the walls, and an old, familiar warmth diffused the air around her and calmed the pulling in her chest. Happier, safer memories chased away the scary ones, and the resistance and tension in her muscles melted away bit by bit.

Eventually, they ended up back in the living room. Brady turned to Rose and took her hand. “Are you gonna be okay?”

Rose squeezed her girlfriend’s hand and nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”

The next morning, Rose did everything she could to avoid going into the backyard.

While she felt happy with the progress she had made the night before, the cabin itself was only half the battle. In order to face the problem head on, she had to go back to the exact place where it happened.

Far more easily said than done.

But Rose knew that she couldn’t put it off any longer; this was why she came, after all. She went downstairs to the kitchen where Brady was waiting for her by the backdoor. Rose held the door open for them as they stepped out onto the back porch. The morning chill took hold immediately, causing goosebumps to rise even under her coat, as they stared at the dense wall of trees.

“Ready?”

Rose sighed deeply but nodded. “As I’ll ever be.”

“And you’re sure you don’t want me to come with you?”

“I’m sure. I have to do this by myself.” She stepped forward off the porch, snow crunching under her boots, before turning back to look at Brady. “You should wait inside. You’ll freeze to death out here.”

Brady nodded, leaning forward to kiss Rose and whisper a quick “good luck” before she turned around and went back inside.

Rose faced forward again, taking in another deep breath before she started walking. As she crossed over the edge of the trees, she felt optimistic. Yes, what she was doing was scary, and yes, she would be lying if she said she wasn’t nervous, but she’d felt the same nerves about going into the cabin, and that, while difficult at first, turned out fine.

It’s just a forest, Rose, she told herself firmly. Just trees and some snow. Nothing to be scared of.

She walked for almost 20 minutes before she got to the treehouse. Her whole body tensed when she saw it, her nerves getting louder. She could still see spots of blood on the lower footholds; her stomach turned with nausea at the sight.

Her father had built the treehouse for her and Lukas during one of the summers they spent there. It started out as their fort when they would play pretend, and when they got a little older, it became a place to get away from their parents when they got tired of them. Rose smiled sadly, tears pricking her eyes as a chill she was sure had nothing to do with the cold passed over her. This had always been a happy place, but now she would only be able to remember it as the place where Lukas—

“Aaagh.”

Rose nearly jumped out of her skin at the sudden voice, whipping her head around to identify the source of it. She saw nothing. She held her breath and waited to see if she would hear it again, and sure enough…

“Er, ah, aagh.”

It was louder that time, but she still couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

“H-help.”

She froze with her foot still lifted in mid-step, realizing the sound—voice—was coming from the other side of the tree. Rose took a few tentative steps forward and looked down. She could barely contain a gasp.

A man was slumped on the ground against the tree with a hand pressed to his left shoulder, blood seeping out between his fingers. He looked to be in his mid-twenties and his face, or what she could see that wasn’t covered by his full beard and mustache, was ashen. There was something familiar about him, but she got the feeling that this was the type of person she’d definitely remember meeting.

“Oh my god,” Rose gulped, her own already pale face losing what little color it had at the sight of him. “Are you okay?” She realized as soon as she said it how stupid of a question it was.

The man sputtered what might have been a laugh, although it morphed into a coughing fit.

“Right. Dumb question,” she said, kneeling down in front of the man. “What happened to you?”

“Got shot. Long story,” he managed out, wincing. “Where am I?”

“Laramie Mountains, just outside of Casper,” she said. She noticed there was a sizeable pool of blood around where he sat. It made her stomach lurch with a horrible sense of déjà vu. “What’s your name?”

“Logan.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Logan. I’m Rose,” she said in a voice she hoped was comforting, pulling her phone out of her coat pocket. “Just hold on for me, okay? I’m gonna call 911.”

“No! Don’t,” he said urgently, making Rose stop with her thumb hovering over the screen, frowning. “I, uh—” he swallowed, “don’t w-worry about it. I don’t want to cause you any trouble.”

“It’s no trouble. The nearest hospital is about an hour away so it’ll take them a little while to get here, but I’m staying in a cabin about a mile from here and I can bring you back there and try to do something about that in the meantime.” She nodded her head towards his wound.

“You don’t have to, really, I’ll be fine-ahh!” He cried out in pain as he attempted to sit up.

Rose shook her head and took off her scarf, helping him press it against the wound to staunch some of the bleeding. “I can’t just leave you out here like this,” she said. “You’ll freeze to death. If the blood loss doesn’t kill you first, that is.”

“Okay, you win.” Logan managed something like a smile and said, “Thank you.”

After she called 911, Rose managed to help Logan get to his feet. Although it wasn’t easy, because he was nearly a full foot taller than her 5’3” stature, and almost all dead weight at that point. Once they were both standing, she got an arm around his back and let him lean on her as they started walking, slowly but surely, back to the cabin.

“You seem to know these woods pretty well,” Logan said after they’d been walking for a few minutes. “Do you live around here?”

“Kind of,” she said, starting to breath heavily under Logan’s weight. “My family bought this cabin when I was little and we used to spend Christmases and summers up here. My brother and I played in these woods a lot.”

“Why’d you stop coming?”

“What?” she asked, surprised by his question.

“You said you used to,” he asked, his voice even more strained than it was before. “Why’d you stop?”

“Oh,” she said. For a moment she wondered why he was using the energy to ask her about her family in his state, but decided not to think on it too much. Maybe it was easier to focus on that than the pain. “That’s kind of a long story.”

“Do I look like I have anywhere else to be?” he asked, smiling dryly.

Rose laughed nervously. “Well, basically, um, there was a hunting accident and uh, Lukas, my brother…” Her voice trailed off for a moment, partly from lack of breath and partly because she hadn’t told that story to anyone in more than two years. “He was shot.” Her voice was barely more than a whisper. “Some drunk guy with a shotgun thought he was a deer, and when he realized he wasn’t, he bolted. We didn’t find Lukas until, uh, until it was too late, and, well…” She swallowed hard and took a deep breath to steady herself. “Anyway, none of us have really been that eager to come back since.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Logan, his voice surprisingly ardent.

Rose shrugged. “It is what it is,” she said, far more casually than she felt.

Neither of them spoke for the rest of the walk, the silence only punctuated by the crunching of snow under their feet. Once they got back to the cabin, Rose managed to awkwardly get the door open with one hand, and she felt Logan relax significantly once they were in the warm kitchen.

“Rose? Are you back?” Rose heard Brady call out.

“In here,” she called back, helping Logan over to sit at one of chairs at the table.

“Oh good, how did it—oh,” Brady stopped short in the doorway when she saw Logan, all pale and bloody, a look somewhere between confusion and uneasiness on her face.

“Oh, right, um, Brady, this is Logan. Logan, this is my girlfriend Brady,” Rose said, gesturing respectively.

Logan smiled and waved, rather awkwardly. “Nice to meet you.”

“It’s uh, nice to meet you too,” said Brady, her apprehension of the situation clear on her face. “Um, Rose, can I talk to you for a moment?” She glanced pointedly at Logan. “Alone.”

“Yeah, just let me take him to the bedroom so he can lie down.” She helped Logan up again and walked him through to her and Lukas’s old room, helping him lie down on the bed closest to the door.

“Okay, I’ll be right back. Don’t try to move or anything,” said Rose, putting her hand on Logan’s shoulder as he tried to sit up. “Just lie still.”

“Okay,” Rose began as she re-entered the kitchen. “I know what you’re gonna say.”

“No, I really don’t think you do,” said Brady, eyebrows raised.

“Look, he was at the treehouse when I got there. He’d been shot, Brady. I couldn’t just leave him.”

“Yes, but did the fact that he’d been shot not set off any red flags? Maybe let you know that you shouldn’t bring him into your house?”

“Well where was I supposed to bring him?” Rose asked indignantly.

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe a hospital?”

“And you think it would’ve been smart for me to drive a man with a bullet wound in my sub-compact VW Golf? He needs an ambulance. I just wanted to give him somewhere warm to wait for it to come. He’ll be gone soon, okay?”

Brady sighed, pressing the heels of her palms into her eyes for a moment. “Fine.”

“Thank you,” said Rose, kissing Brady.

“You’re lucky I love you,” Brady murmured.

Rose smiled, kissing her one more time. “I love you too.”

She went to the bathroom and found the first aid kit, then went back to the bedroom. “How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Oh, never better,” said Logan.

Rose perched on the edge of the bed and looked at him for a moment. Now that he was in front of her like this, she could see him more clearly. He was wearing a grey sweatshirt and jeans, both which looked to be a couple sizes too big for him. She wondered why his clothes didn’t fit him, but his shoes—a pair of plain black sneakers that kind of looked like nurses shoes—looked like they did.

Rose shook her head. It hardly mattered at that moment, after all.

“Hey,” she said, poking Logan in his non-wounded side when he started closing his eyes. “Don’t fall asleep. I didn’t carry you a mile in the snow just to have you die in my house.”

Logan laughed, wincing as Rose used the medical scissors to cut his sweatshirt open and started cleaning the skin around the bullet hole with peroxide. As she did, she kept talking to keep him awake.

“There was this one time, when Lukas and I were little,” she began, “that we were playing at this pond nearby. It was towards the end of December, so it was in that state where it was frozen over but not completely solid yet. Lukas saw that it was frozen and got all excited and wanted to go out on it, but our mom had told us to stay off it earlier so I told him not to.

“Of course he didn’t listen to me and went out on it anyway. Went right out into the middle of the pond and started jumping and dancing around, trying to make me laugh. He was always trying to make people laugh. Always did, too.”

Rose paused for a moment as she started rolling out some gauze, smiling. “Anyway, obviously the ice wasn’t thick enough to support a 70 pound child jumping on it, so it broke. He fell in, so of course I had to go on to the lake and get him. But all that ended up accomplishing was me falling in with him. So we’re both in this frozen lake, screaming and kicking and half drowning, and we probably would’ve died if our parents hadn’t happened to be coming to get us for dinner at the time, so they were able to get us out.”

Rose’s smile faltered when she realized what she’d said, and refocused all her attention into bandaging up Logan’s wound. The silence that settled over them felt heavy, and Rose hated herself for the tear that trailed down her cheek.

“Alright,” she said, managing a smile as she finished dressing the wound and pulled his shirt back over it. “I didn’t even try to get the bullet out, but that should tide you over until the ambulance gets here.”

As she said that, the doorbell rang.

“And there they are now,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

Rose crossed through to the living room to answer the door, and when she opened it she found the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle, but not an ambulance.

“Sorry to bother you ladies,” said the officer with a thick western accent as Brady came to stand behind Rose, “but we’re looking for someone we think might have come through here.”

Rose and Brady exchanged a look. “Who are you looking for exactly?” asked Brady.

“Escaped convict, broke out of the state penitentiary about 40 miles east of here. Would be about 6’2”, caucasian male with brown hair and a beard.”

Oh.

Rose turned around and ran back to her old bedroom, leaving Brady to explain the situation to the cop, but she was too late. The bed where Logan had been was empty, and the window was open.

Brady cursed quietly as she came up behind Rose and saw the empty room, and the officer went around her into the room to look out the window. Rose couldn’t stop staring at the bed.

“Alright, well, thank you ladies for your help,” said the officer as he left the room and walked back into the living room, followed by Brady. Rose was frozen—a statue in the doorway. “If you see or hear anything, please let us know.”

“Of course, officer,” said Brady. “But, um, before you go, can I ask–what did he do?”

“Involuntary manslaughter—hunting accident in Jackson. Shame, the kid was only 16.”

Rose’s stomach dropped to her toes. She heard Brady say goodbye to the police officer but she was miles away.

She couldn’t stop staring at the bed.

Logan’s words echoed in her mind—all he had asked about her family and her brother, how sincere he sounded when he said sorry, how quiet he got after.

An image flashed in her mind then: a newspaper, from almost exactly a year to the day Lukas was shot, with a picture of Logan in handcuffs underscoring the headline.

Rose stared at the bed, Lukas’s bed, at the fresh bloodstain on the comforter, and she screamed.


Abigail Davenport is a fiction writer who knows nothing about herself and ghost writes drill tweets.

 

This poem has been brought to you in part by by Michelle Everette

This poem has been brought to you in part by
Michelle Everette

 

I wrote this while on a
Trip.
this poem is only as
existential
as you make it out to be.
For all I know
this poem could be about
Trees.
or the
State Of My Blackness.

 

For all I know
this is a
Militant
Poem.
Maybe you think i’m a
Militant person.

That is how i would see me
If i were you, white girl

A woman who uses her Blackness
As an opportunity to educate
Is a woman to be feared.
This woman is too political.
This woman is too

This woman is too human.

But this is not a political poem- not if you don’t want it to be.
This poem could be about
whatever makes you more comfortable.

Keep reading this, and tell me what it is about.

If I sound incredulous you’re imagining it.

Or maybe you’re not:

Maybe I just cannot honestly believe that you think we wash our hair once every 2 weeks.

Maybe that negro Alex or Allan or whoever
Only washes his shit once every 2 weeks
But Alex or Allan or whoever
Is not the spokesperson for the Black Experience.

If this poem is getting too loud, set it down. Come back to it.

What does it say now?

I hope it says “proceed with caution”
But that may be too cli·ché for your tastes.

Are you able to separate me from this poem?
You can try but I don’t think you will be able to.

We are one now, so if you think I am angry then this poem is about anger.

If you think I am sad then this poem is about sadness.

If you really don’t know what the fuck to think because you’ve never had a conversation with
A Womanist
Then this poem is about

Education.

So while you are still reading this, let me educate you:
Poetry is the platform in which I, as a black woman, can be sneaky.
I can write a poem
Full of theory and one very
not-so-subtle
political agenda
And make you believe that you wrote it.

And you truly did.

This poem has been brought to you in part
By an ashy negro girl who washed her hair 3 times this week.


Michelle Everette is “that scary Womanist bitch.”

Midnight of 1989 by Harper Wells

Midnight of 1989
Harper Wells

 

At first, there was darkness. Frigid, seeping darkness, suffocating him from all sides. It pressed down across him, wet and heavy, flattening his interred form. He grimaced, stretching within his confines like a caged animal and delicately pushed his cold hands outward from his torso in a desperate attempt to stretch his limbs. An aching settled within him soon thereafter, his cold limbs resistant to the sudden movements. He swallowed roughly, his tongue and teeth bulky and awkward in his arid mouth. Running his tongue across his teeth, he could feel the dry flesh catching and sticking lightly to the insides of his cheeks. He opened his mouth in a wide yawn, baring his teeth like a cat. The lingering taste of mint and rubbing alcohol clung desperately to each shaky, stale breath he took.

Uncurling his fists, his palm met with fabric almost immediately, silken and cool to the touch. He tried to blink, tried to peel his eyelids back but was met with the same persistent darkness that had settled around his rigid form. He sighed—more of an indignant huff, really—and began pressing his flat palms on the lid above him, pushing slowly. Fingers sank into the silk lining, giving way to cushioning until finally, he could feel something dense resist him—wood. The man pressed onward, the sounds of his breathing matched by the crackling and splintering pine that began to fall back into his face as he pushed.

Flecks of dirt slipped through his fingers, dusting his face. He flinched, slamming his eyes shut and spitting out what debris had fallen into his mouth. There wasn’t much he could do about the dirt, but it irritated him nonetheless.

“Christ,” the man muttered to himself. Suspicions confirmed, he rolled onto his belly and pulled his legs up beneath him, positioning himself into a semi-prone kneel. Using his new leverage, he slowly unfolded his body, pushing with his arms and legs, using the flat of his back to push up against the lid.

After some negotiation, the lid buckled with a thunderous crack, and dirt quickly rushed into the space around the man. He cursed loudly, quickly stretching out and doing his damndest to climb and claw his way out of his confines. The dirt settled around him, quick to hug the curves of his body and tighten around him with every movement he made.

The young man instantly stilled. The sound of the dirt settling around him waned, petering off until he could hear that it had ceased and he was back where he began, albeit now upright. Slowly, he moved right foot and waggled his ankle, creating a pocket of air within the dirt. At the same time, with his left arm, he began to shovel dirt down towards his feet, to offset the space he had created. As the soil began to slide and shift around him, he pushed off with his left foot, pulling his right out of the air pocket and sliding his body upwards.

It took him more than an hour to finally claw his way to the surface. His hands hit fresh air first, cool and wet. For a moment he stayed there, rolling the dirt between his freed fingers and feeling the fresh dew on the morning grass in his palms. He reveled in the texture of the plants above him, grateful to feel each silky blade of grass between his fingertips, while the rubbery, living roots laid across his tear-stained cheeks.

Incensed by the freedom that was mere feet above him, he grasped desperately at the ground above and clawed his way forward. Inch by inch, the man pulled himself through layers of sunken soil and grass until he could pull himself free and up, as one might exit a pool from the side. Fresh air and early morning rain fell across his face, hard, and he opened his mouth, grateful for the crisp droplets as they battered his tongue.

The man took pause, kneeling in the dark as the midnight storm howled. He let the rain soak him, unbothered by the cold water and searing winds that whipped around him. He was covered in soil—now mostly mud and sweat—but the rain was slowly taking care of what was caked to his skin and clothing. The night’s final beams of moonlight filtered through the trees, dusting the ground with a jittery, silver light.

He looked down at his body for the first time, in the waxing light. A cheap suit clung to his wiry form, mud-soaked and disgusting. Shedding his jacket and collared shirt in favor of the tank top and suspenders beneath, he shuddered in the moonlight, running his fingers through his soaked hair and shaking the last of the dirt and grass free. At best, he looked like he’d lost a wrestling match to a bear in the middle of a mud pit. He frisked himself, patting down his pockets until he found what he was silently praying for: a damp, crumpled but intact pack of cigarettes. He mouthed a silent prayer of gratitude to whomever had left them in his pocket. They were cheap, not the brand he typically preferred, but he’d gladly take what he could get.

He pulled one out of the fresh pack and fished a match out of the damp box that was left with his smokes, the motion all too familiar to him. The smell of sulfur hung heavy in the humid night air, clinging to the raindrops and smothering him. The light of the match illuminated his shaking palms as he lifted the match to the cigarette hanging loosely from his cold lips. He took several long, desperate drags, leaning his head back and relishing in the feeling of a well-deserved nicotine buzz. Eventually, he opened his eyes and took in his surroundings.

He sat, cross-legged and soaked to the bone, on the lip of a sunken grave. The freezing rain had flooded the cemetery, loosening the dirt and pushing his casket closer to the surface. The top end peeked out from the grave’s mouth, lid cracked and tossed aside. Something silver gleamed in the moonlight, catching the young man’s sharp eye. He bent down, brushing dirt off of the coffin’s lid. His hands quickly met cold metal beneath the wet dirt, and with a tight grip, he pulled back hard.

Heavy, iron chain links clattered across the coffin’s cracked lid, scattering the dirt and splinters back into the open grave. He jerked back, flinging the chain from his hand and back into the ground. He shuddered and turned away from the chained and buried box, ungrateful for the knowledge that he had been buried in chains.

Like an animal, he swallowed, hard. Chained like a dog.

Thick grass and ivy had grown across the plot, obscuring both the caved-in ground and the leaning stone marker in front of him. He rose, careful to avoid the muddy pit he had created, and slowly approached the stone. He grasped the vines, crisp leaves crunching beneath his fingers as he pulled the roots off of the white marble to which they clung. Gently brushing away the lingering dirt and grime, he quickly found what he was searching for beneath the fronds of ivy:

 

ANDREW COLLIN CROWE

BELOVED SON & FRIEND

JANUARY 9, 1879 — FEBRUARY 5, 1902

 

“Son of a bitch,” He said, taking a final drag from his cigarette before flicking it into the wet grave behind him. “Son of a bitch,” he repeated, quieter this time. The young man pinched the crooked bridge of his nose with two gritty fingers, perturbed by the reality of what had unfolded just a half hour before. He couldn’t bring himself to question the why of it just yet—merely shaken to the core at the fact that it had happened at all. He’d heard stories, of course—he’d been a boy like any other once, and his father had always taken a great joy in spinning threads of howling wraiths, thirsty creatures of the night. Tales of unholy things, beasts of bone and claw, with voracious appetites for little boys that wandered too far from their homesteads. He couldn’t bring himself to smile at the memory, despite his fondness of it.

It was then that the boy realized several things: firstly, that the sun was coming up across the horizon and soon it would be daylight. Standing over an openly disturbed grave, covered in mud and grit; even at his best, he wasn’t confident he could talk his way out of this. Some part of him was filled with urgency; he knew he needed to leave, and quickly. His second realization came shortly after, a result of the first: he had no idea where he was. Or when, he thought bitterly. He was, in that moment, only certain of one fact:

His name was Andrew Collin Crowe, and he had most certainly been dead for quite some time. He swallowed that revelation, the knot in his throat thickening. He was parched, the rain having done nothing to quell a growing, primal need that now settled itself in his very bones. Yes, he was Andrew Collin Crowe—and Andrew Collin Crowe was thirsty.


Harper Wells is a figment of your imagination. Nothing is real, words are imaginary

 

 

The Usual by Andrew Salmon

The Usual
Andrew Salmon

 

So, Carmen, my speech therapist, said if I didn’t come back with my receipt from Sandy’s Subs then I wouldn’t meet my last goal for the semester, which was to order my own food at a restaurant. That didn’t necessarily mean I’d fail the class—which was speech therapy, as a class, yes—but she did say if I didn’t supply proof of my purchase at the counter then I wouldn’t get the credits. So it wouldn’t be an F, but I wouldn’t get any hours, and this was supposed to be my easy class. I stopped going to math after the professor called on me to give the function of G, which was 14 and I knew that but I got caught before I started, I felt it way down somewhere between my heart and my lungs, and stayed silent as I strained and buckled. Even the professor laughed, though he tried not to.

Carmen, she said to forget about that idiot professor so I did. I forgot about him and now I’d missed two tests and I kept forgetting that I forgot. It was there, somewhere, in a different part of my brain that I don’t know how to reach anymore. Maybe talking out loud is there, too.

I stutter, but not really. Stuttering involves sounds and repeating them but I have no sound at all. My voice is dammed as sound ceases its flow along the river of my throat somewhere by the larynx. It does not repeat. It stops and my lips never even form the words to repeat and my chest only shrinks.

Class, speech therapy, whatever, was tomorrow at nine in the morning. Coffee was out of the question—I had initially considered going to Starbucks in the morning but the barista always asked for my name, which was the hardest word of all—so it had to be tonight. Sandy’s Subs, they stayed open late. And I had a “the usual” there, I guess. Nine inch, whole wheat, ham, salami, provolone, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato, onion, brown mustard, mayo. Salt and pepper to bring it all together. I always ordered online—I had the order saved on my phone; I’d punch in my card then pick that shit up fifteen minutes later, just sign here, no questions asked. I ate there a lot; they all knew me well enough to know what the usual was.

But I needed the receipt. One that didn’t have “online order” printed all over it.

I took an Uber there. It was a mile away; I wasn’t much of a walker, especially at midnight down dim city sidewalks. My driver of choice was Tima. I didn’t know who she was because we never spoke, but her eyes were so deep and so dark that the yellow streetlights we would pass shone off them like a mirror. Her lips were always sealed. We nodded and smiled whenever I left the car, sometimes grunted an indication of a thank you or a good bye. That was the full extent of our interaction.

Tima was on tonight. She always lurked at the Walmart parking lot across the street—from my third story apartment, rising barely over the line of trees between the road and the Walmart, I saw her Kia humming in a dark corner by some sleeping tractor trailers. I set up the ride on my phone and she flipped on the headlights.

Be there in about two minutes, she texted me. She always texted me to let me know when she was coming.

Okay. I slipped on a shirt, shoved my wallet in my back pocket, and pounded down the stairs outside. Here, it was dead, not even the brush of a breeze sweeping through trees. Silent as I, I shared my nothingness with the night until Tima’s headlights pierced the darkness a minute later. She pulled to the curb and I hopped in.

One thing I liked about riding in Tima’s car was that she had the ‘new car smell’ freshener dangling around her rearview. It reminded me of my grandma’s cars back home—she got a new car every year—and, if we put the windows down and blasted The Rolling Stones, it would be so loud I could almost speak without hearing myself stutter. It was a good smell.

She rode with no music. She had a nice car, roomy, especially for a sedan. I cracked the window. The first time, I had done it on accident, just set my elbow down right on the button, and she never said anything. So I ran with it, cracked the window every time I rode with her, and the air was cool and damp, wet my lips and my lungs. I just needed the usual. Four syllables, though I knew the second would be the hardest. ‘The’ was a piece of cake. Listen. “The,” I whispered under my breath, and over the low hiss of the passing wind, Tima never heard. “The, the, the, the.”

But it would be the long u in ‘usual’ that I knew would kill me. The long u always killed me. I didn’t dare utter that dreaded phoneme—the very thought made my throat twist and contract, like when the rabid consider drinking water.

A mile later and Tima pulled up to Sandy’s Subs, the only place still open in an otherwise desolate shopping center. It was packed—of course, it was the last Thirsty Thursday of the semester. Cars gathered up on the curb by the door and fanned out to cover a quarter of the parking lot. In the dimness, a cop was staked out by an inconspicuous dumpster, waiting for the first idiot who busted out a bottle.

Tima didn’t stop by the curb. She rolled up to the first parking spot she could find, between the front door and the cop, and we shared that nod and a grunt of appreciation and I left. I should’ve told her to wait but I was focused on those four syllables. The u-su-al. Now she’d have to come back.

I crossed the parking lot and walked inside. The smell of baking bread was thick as smoke. The line stretched from the counter, past the makeline, to the near wall, then shot back ten deep, halfway to the front door. Every table was occupied, and I listened to them drunkenly blabber on about who fucked whom or how Cindy convinced a cop she was 21. I slipped into line. When I did, the gravity of the situation hit me—I bowed my head as the first bit of sweat came. The sweating was almost as bad as the stuttering itself. The thought of speech made me sweat and now I was here, in line, with so many people who would hear me when I had to order and see me sweat all over the sneeze guards.

This should be so easy. I could even drop the ‘the’ if I wanted to. Usual. That’s it. It was only three syllables now—25% less. But my chest was tightening. That u would end me. It would end this before it began and I wouldn’t be getting any credit hours or even the psychological gratification of doing something good for myself.

I was about to explode. The line had shrunk considerably—I was still looking at the ground, shuffling my feet, eavesdropping, repeating the four syllables in my head. Cindy was being loud, but her boyfriend was being louder. She had moved on to accusing him of stealing a bottle of vodka from her purse.

“You already DRANK THAT.

Screeching of moving chairs. “FUCK YOU. AND I KNOW YOU SLEPT WITH… TAMMY!”

I finally turned my head—faces flushed, they were both livid, locked in a standoff across their table like two drunken rangers at the saloon. From behind the counter, the manager, who had been slicing meat in the kitchen, stomped out in a hairnet. She shouted at them from the register. “I’m gonna need y’all to STEP OUTSIDE if you want to use that kind of language in this establishment!”

They didn’t hear her. “I didn’t sleep with Tammy; she has chlamydia!”

“Then I guess I’m getting tested tomorrow because you definitely slept with that bitch!”

Cindy’s boyfriend, his hair wild and sweaty, raised his hand and slapped the surface of the table, hard. So hard his cup of cola shook and tipped over and spilled all on the floor. Cindy gasped, the whole store went quiet for a few moments, and she held her manicured hands up to her mouth.

The manager emitted a guttural noise and stepped out from behind the register. “Okay, now y’all really need to get the hell out of my restaurant!” But Cindy had started crying, and the front door opened—I spun around. It was the cop, a white man with a shaved head and one meaty hand on his service pistol. The manager let out a sigh of relief, a I’m-glad-this-cop-is-here-because-I-didn’t-want-to-have-to-deal-with-this-shit-tonight kind of sigh. The boyfriend turned around too. They both knew he was there for them.

“Y’all two do me a favor and come on outside with me,” he commanded.

The couple were drunk but not drunk enough to fight a cop. Sobbing, Cindy came first, and the boyfriend followed, his head down like mine usually was, nearly slipping on his puddle of soda. I watched them walk out the door. Cindy took a seat on the curb and cupped her face with her hands while the boyfriend leaned against a brick pillar a few feet away as the cop tried to talk to him.

“Sir.” I didn’t hear them calling me from behind the counter—I was too busy looking. The cop said something they didn’t like; the boyfriend threw up his hands and the cop produced a pen and a citation pad. “Sir.

I looked back to the counter and my stomach dropped. Amid all the commotion, I had lost track of my spot in line. I was now next up, and I didn’t recognize the sandwich maker behind the counter. A new guy. Who didn’t know what ‘the usual’ meant.

Shit, okay. Change of plans; I had prepared for this. Instead of ordering what I always got, I would simply get the easiest sub on the menu to say. Tuna sub. The t sounds weren’t that bad. I could say tuna—I was confident in my ability to say that word. I hated tuna, especially on a sub and in salad form, and I would throw it out once I get back home, but that was fine with me. I just needed the receipt.

I stepped up to the counter, knees quivering. I stuck my hands into my pockets so he couldn’t see them shake. I was thinking about the words and now my throat was closing. “That was wild, sorry,” he told me with a toothy sneer. “What do you want?”

“T—” Oh, no. It was stuck. A bead of sweat trickled down my forehead. I couldn’t breathe. But I tried again. I had to; I couldn’t come home to my parents with an ‘incomplete’ for freaking speech therapy. Two syllables, that’s it. Tu. Na.

Tuna,” I finally said, almost gagging as the sound somehow slipped through. I half-gasped to myself. I didn’t think I’d get through that long u.

“Cool. Footlong?”

I didn’t want a footlong in the slightest but I nodded so I wouldn’t have to speak.

“And what kind of bread for that sub?”

Now I had to speak—I saw the loaves crowded in the bread warmer—and I normally wanted whole wheat but that required twice as many syllables as ‘white’ did so I said, “Wh—” And I got stuck again and this time it was worse. I had a vein along the left side of my neck that popped up only when a block was give-up-and-never-speak-again bad. It popped; it was that bad. “Wh—”

Yeah, fuck this. Without another sound, I looked back down at the ground and walked out the door as the employee laughed at me. I couldn’t recall another moment in my life in which I’d felt more shame.

When I got outside, I couldn’t help myself and dry-sobbed once, but those sobs got stuck in my chest, too. Cindy and the boyfriend were talking with the cop by his car—they looked marginally calmer, but she was still crying. Some other car blared music with a bass so powerful it rattled the pebbles of chipped asphalt beneath my feet. My eyes grew misty but no tears fell; I always held them in.

Once I had gotten away from the cars and the cop, I propped myself up against a street light, alone, and fiddled through my pockets for my phone. Opened up Uber. I failed; I was going to fail speech therapy and Mom might laugh, Dad may yell, but both would agree I need to pay for my own fucking education if I couldn’t pass speech therapy class.

Tima was a long ways away—miles away, probably taking someone else home. So some other guy in a Honda was closest to me—he was actually in the shopping center; I saw the black Civic by the curb next to a closed grocery store—and I drafted a new text to Tima as fast as I could.

Can you drive me home right now? I’ll pay double.

I was about to bounce back to the Uber app so I could cancel the ride with the Honda but she opened the text immediately. Waiting on two other costumers. Will be hours before I can get you.

I couldn’t do that; I just wanted to go home, sleep in and miss speech therapy in the morning. Sleeping was so perfect because I could always speak, even in my nightmares. Okay, forget about it.

The Uber driver in the Honda—his name was Corey—pulled up just as I put away my phone. He rolled down the window. “Headed to The Lofts?”

Nod.

“Hop in.”

So I did. I got in the back—crumbs all over the floor mats—and prayed he wasn’t a talker. I had a terrible feeling he was, though.

“How you doing tonight?” he said as he puttered off. I caught my last glimpse of Cindy and her boyfriend—the cop handing the boyfriend his underage drinking ticket, Cindy already holding hers.

Grunt.

“Yeah, me too,” Corey said as he pulled onto the street. “Making good money tonight, though. Sandy’s Subs is always crazy this time of the night.”

Definitely a talker, he would be getting a one-star review in the morning. But he wasn’t wrong, so I grunted again in agreement. I was hardly paying attention to him, though. I could still hear the echoing of that employee laughing, though it didn’t get any quieter each time the echoes came back.

“You get anything to eat there?”

Grunt.

“What did you get?”

Then I locked eyes with him the rearview mirror. It was the first time I’d looked at him. He had acne scars so bad my first thought was he’d been burned. But he kept glancing at me with wide eyes and a half-smile, like he really wanted to know what I had to eat.

So I told him.

“The u—” It came like I knew it would. The constriction was snakelike—it was suffocation, gurgling, gasping, so I stopped, took a deep breath, tried again, dropped the ‘the’. “Usual.”

“The usual?”

Nod.

“What’s the usual?”

“Nine in—” I saw him still glancing at me in the mirror. He just wanted to know what I had to eat. Okay, let’s try again. “Nine inch… whole… whole wheat… ham, salami, p—” Shit. I was sweating so much. “—provolone, pe…pper jack, lettuce, tomato, on…ion, brown… mustard—mayo.”

“That sounds amazing.”

“And s—” It’s okay. Take a breath. “And salt and pepper.”


Andrew is the sports editor at The Carolinian but loves creative writing even more.

Five Haiku for the End of History by Kelly Jones

Five Haiku for the End of History
Kelly Jones

*

what apocalypse
who cares the bees are dying
still there is the moon

*

do not cat-call me
as I walk alone to work
be ready to fight

*

1996 called
from a landline and wants a
refund on optimism

*

the problem with holes
is where to put all the junk
dug up out of them

*

I heard the monsters
in outer space were singing
we are the future


Kelly is a queer poet who is studying in the MLIS program, with dreams of being either a librarian or vagabond in the near-ish future.

Bird of Passage by Kelly Jones

Bird of Passage
Kelly Jones

At Whole Foods I ask for help finding supplements for skin health
and am led to collagen pills and creams.
I am not worried about wrinkles.

I am worried about the rash on my back, on my arms, and behind my knees.
It is spreading and doctors can’t reach a diagnosis.
They have me on steroids and antihistamines.
I am slathering my sores with cortisone cream, but still I am itchy.

It is past two in the morning and I am wired. Tonight a friend
messaged me to say they came upon the dictionary entry for
‘bird of passage.’ It has been nearly nine months
since I last moved. The new place is by railroad tracks.
The windows rattle a little each time a train goes by.
I am growing restless. I have work in the morning. I want to sleep.

My father, in another town with trains roaring through it,
will be waking up soon to begin his long day of work
laying the cement that makes the roads
I drive away from him on.


Kelly is a queer poet who is studying in the MLIS program, with dreams of being either a librarian or vagabond in the near-ish future.

Window Garden by Caroline Galdi

WINDOW GARDEN
Caroline Galdi

Remove six to eight seeds from the packet,
but if twenty slide out of the paper envelope into your hand,
plant them all.

Press the seeds into the soil gently
or scatter them clumsily across the surface.
The roots will find their way.

Mist gently with a sprayer
but if you don’t have one, just pour water into the dirt
and the seeds will forgive you.

The optimal amount of sun
is the exact amount of light that filters through the trees
and spreads itself over your windowsill.

You will see the first buds
when you have earned your garden’s trust.
Trust in it, too.


Caroline Galdi is trying really hard. She reads your tweets as @cyclostome