ADULT-ORIENTED by Kala Frances Wahl

I was seventeen with braces, bright pink rubber bands looped around the brackets in my mouth, when God appeared to me in a dream. He told me it was my destiny to be a porn star. I was peroxide blonde, big-breasted and flexible. I readily accepted God’s proposal. Once without direction, my life now had purpose, meaning, something tangible that I could grip onto and ride like a mechanical bull. The horns felt good in my hands.

I attended Catholic school, but I didn’t believe in God. I wasn’t sure what I believed in. I wanted to believe I was edgy or rebellious, a flamingo in a flock of pigeons, or a loud tornado gliding over a quiet Midwestern town. I wandered the hallways aimlessly with no shorts beneath my plaid kilt and a fresh tongue piercing; I spoke with a lisp for a month as my swollen tongue healed. My history teacher caught on that I wasn’t speaking correctly. He promised not to give me a detention for my new body modification, even though school policy insisted he should, but he did warn me about potential gum decay from having a metal ball in my mouth. I appreciated his concern; that teacher always rooted for me. I think he was the only one.

Teetering on a jagged line between searching for meaning in life and being too cool to search for meaning in life, I sat on the floor of my bedroom and waited for someone to tell me what to do. I was open to suggestions from anyone. God just happened to be the first one to tell me exactly what it was I needed to do.

When I told my mother about my vocational calling, we were in the car on the way home from school, a black Ford Escape that glistened in the sunlight like a damp forehead. My mother was also blonde, platinum. She always wore capris and oversized t-shirts with various logos on them. Some were for local fundraisers she never participated in and others were for tractor supply companies or breweries. Those shirts were amassed in her closet from various thrift stores and flea markets. Comfort was her thing, not fashion. I admired that about her. My mother gripped the steering wheel and called my dream ridiculous. I reminded her that God only appeared to important people, like prophets and virgins. She ignored me and asked if I’d taken out the trash in my room. Apparently it stunk in there; I hadn’t noticed.

We went to a tattoo parlor on a Saturday morning, a nice one with a fake chandelier and large fish tank in the lobby. The fish swam back and forth like they were running from something, but I couldn’t tell what. I identified with that. I told my mom we were there because I wanted to reinvent myself. She nodded and said to consider it an early birthday gift. I lay on my back while a man, who looked to be in his late 30s with a tattoo of a sphinx on his upper left arm, pushed a needle through the top of my belly button. I winced and wondered if he’d ever been to Egypt, or if he’d like to take me. The belly button gem was light blue and sparkling. It made me look edible, like candy. I looked at my piercer and smiled.

At home, in the mirror of my vanity, I pursed my glossy lips into an O and moaned. Taped along the golden frame were pictures of my dog, friends and makeup tips cut out from the pages of Cosmopolitan. They surrounded my face and torso like an attentive audience waiting for the next song, and I was going to give it to them. I was going to give it to everyone one day. I slid my tongue over my braces, feeling the rough grooves of metal before grabbing my bare breasts and squeezing. I moaned again. I practiced, and then I practiced some more. I slipped my fingers in between my lips and sucked. It wasn’t enough, though. Nothing was ever enough, and I threw a fit. I needed actual practice; I needed a boy.

So I found one and agreed to meet at a campsite twenty minutes from my house where he would take my virginity. Inside a tent, the classmate from third period Current Events flipped me onto my back on top of a sleeping bag. His penis was inside of me as he knelt over my naked body. We were two wrestlers tangled up in one another, oiled with each other’s sweat and grunting with every slight movement. My pussy bled from the pressure, the blood smeared along my inner thighs and coating his dick, but I told him to keep going. It was all so dirty and rough, and I liked it. He slammed his eyes shut and whimpered, and I told him I felt like I was in a porno or something. He didn’t say anything but instead panted like he was going to cum. 

I looked up at him and said, “Did you know that I want to be in pornos?”


I began to spray-tan. I used those cans from the drugstore. I’d baptize myself with the orange spray as I leaned my naked body against the walls of my shower. My mother complained it stained the white porcelain; I complained she spent too much time drinking on cruise ships with male suitor number five, or six or seven. I lost count.

My naturally curly hair became fried beneath the tongs of my flatiron as I straightened it stiff, and I wore heavy eyeliner, thick and black like the ink of a King-Size Sharpie. 

“If I wouldn’t pose for Playboy in it, I don’t leave the house,” I told my friends on the school track as we stretched our legs before practice. 

I then lifted my arms upwards over my head, reaching and reaching until my shirt rode up enough for my belly button piercing to show. The girls stared and asked me about it. 

Coach yelled at us, “Stop talking and run!”

And I did run—away from home in the black Ford Escape. I drove on the highway barefoot, my dirty sneakers tossed into the backseat along with a duffle bag. All it held were four half-empty bottles of nail polish and a few pairs of dirty underwear I found beneath my bed, because I hadn’t done my laundry in a while. I drove fast, but I shouldn’t have. I didn’t actually know where I was going; the whole thing sounded better in my head. With each slam of the brake, my toes pressing down hard on the pedal and the tires screeching, I yelled expletives out of the half-open window. My mom asked via text where I took the car, and I responded, my fingers thumping angrily against the keyboard, “Fuck you.” She could use her company car. I drove for thirty minutes before getting off on Exit 31. I went to my friend’s house and ended up staying with her for a week. When she asked why I left home, I told her it was my mom or something like that: “She’s fucking wack, dude.” 

During my stay, my friend and I went to different malls and shoplifted. We drove to our local mall, then to the mall in the next town, and then to one in the town over. I would drop frilly G-strings from display counters at Victoria’s Secret into my purse. I ducked behind scantily clad mannequins in bridal lingerie and threw more panties into my bag. I accidentally swiped a pair that said, “I Do,” on the butt in shiny rhinestones. But the muffled sounds of the mall cops’ walkie-talkies in the distance scared me, so I tugged at my friend’s sleeve and we left.

We made our way to the riverside. A flickering light bulb surrounded by giant moths guided us to an adult-oriented store called Southern Secrets. We got in without being carded, which I took as a compliment. I must have looked mature for my age, or fuckable, so I covered my braces with my lips. Reaching my sticky palms out towards the shelves of erotic merchandise, nipple clamps and cock rings manifested in the bottom of my bag like a spreading wildfire. I’d been bad. I needed to be spanked, and I wanted the guy from the piercing shop to do it—the one with the sphinx on his arm. I’d ask him to call me a slut. The thought excited me, but no one was calling me a slut. My mom just called me “crazy” over a three-minute voicemail. She wanted me back at the house. I didn’t want to go, so I didn’t. 

My phone, however, buzzed all night in the back pocket of my denim shorts. It was my mom again, “You need to come home. And bring the car with you, obviously.” I ignored her.

I ignored her until I stumbled back into the house on a school night. I wasn’t drunk or anything; I stumbled because I was careless, misbalanced and unaware of how to put one foot in front of the other anymore. My friend said she needed space or whatever, so there I was. I slammed the front door behind me and watched as the ceramic candleholders on the end tables shook. I liked the rattling noise they made as they shivered against one another. 

“Talk to me,” my mom said as she emerged from the dimly lit kitchen. Duffle bag dangling from my shoulder and resting against my hip, I held the car keys. I held them firmly in case I decided to recoil back to the Escape and drive to Kentucky or maybe Canada.

“Talk to you about what?”

“About what’s going on,” she said.

“I was with a friend.”

“I knew where you were.”

Rolling my eyes far back enough to where I could see all of the pink, squishy stuff inside my head, I tossed the car keys onto the table and headed towards my bedroom. My mom stayed in the kitchen, which disappointed me. I wanted to be followed. I wanted to be chased and grabbed and tackled to the ground, because any kind of attention was good attention, at least that’s what I thought; I thought it consciously. But instead of running after me, my mom called in a relaxed tone, her voice cool and collected as always, “I knew where you were, but I didn’t know where you were going, or what you were doing, or why you were even doing the things you were doing. I was scared.”

“Me too,” I said to the door of my bedroom. I ran my fingers over the brass knob before entering, “Me too.” I lay in bed that night and thought about my destiny. 

I was seventeen with scrapes and bruises on my knees from falling so much on the ground beneath me. I was good at that—falling. I would even do it on purpose and like it. The wounds were self-inflicted, and each time I found myself lying on the ground, fewer people were around to offer me kisses or gauze. But some still tried. I’d sit across from my therapist in tight mini-dresses or graphic t-shirts that’d say things like, “I’m Not Listening,” or “Buy Me Things and I’ll Be Nicer,” and she’d ask me to elaborate on my dream. She wanted to know more about what God was like, what he was wearing, if he said anything else or why I even listened to him if I wasn’t a believer. Her questions annoyed me. Batting my black-shadowed lids and crusty, coated eyelashes, long and thin like a bug’s legs, I shrugged and said, “I think you’re just jealous God didn’t appear to you.”

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ALWAYS AND ONLY JUST ALMOST by Felicia Rosemary Urso

Strangers came by to give you gifts: a fresh fish on ice in a styrofoam cooler, metal frying pans, a machete, two bottles of rum, a bunch of bananas the size of my torso. At night, we played gin rummy, shared liters of Kava and waited for a full moon. In the daylight, you showed me the jungle and explained every root or plant I could use for sunscreen or gelatin shampoo. I woke up picking my scabs, legs stuck to the leather couch on your porch. Nineteen and sick for you.

You were two hours late when you pulled up to the Kona airport, perched in the bed of a white pick-up truck. It had been a year since we had seen each other. We talked on AIM every day for seven years but hadn’t spent more than a few days in person since we met. I went nowhere new without sending you a postcard.

You used your EBT card to buy us raw fish with rice we ate in parking lots and green melon ice pops we ate on the side of the road. You picked me passion fruit when we’d pass a tree. We walked or hitchhiked to long stretches of flat land, black sand beaches with naked families smoking joints, both of us wearing only your boxers, swimming as a shower in turquoise coves filled with unforgiving coral. Places I can see when I sleep but not on a map. Places I only see through you.


Living alone, and with so little, I didn’t understand how you weren’t lonely or why you couldn’t seem to miss me. No electricity, no heat, no running water. The field surrounding your plywood house that sat on stilts was filled with a fruit the texture and color of chicken-fat, with a vomit aftertaste. The first three nights on the farm I dreamed that you stabbed me, my stomach as easy to push through as a pillow.

You lifted me onto the counter, pushed up my dress and licked at my core, like it was a pinkness you had never seen. 

You told me about the purple cottage with a flower and vegetable garden you’d build for us, for our children, who would be as gorgeous as you are, and I believed you. While watching a white owl float over the dark field, you talked about your daughter who died when she was three days old. You heard her at night, howling. You heard her during thunderstorms and felt her there on your lap. Felt her between us under the navy sheet, while shoveling the earth, while collecting guava and avocados off trees, while walking through the jungle’s wetness to fill up your giant jug with drinking water for the week.


The gauze covering the light, the motes in my eyes. How much more could I have proved? Whittled down, your little flute.

I made you cum with your pants buttoned up but even then, I couldn’t feel you. I brought up my father and you pointed out a crimson flower. I saw a blood orange and you saw god. The ocean’s red seaweed stuck in the hollows of my crotch and thighs, like tiny clotted miscarriages. Looking up at an ancient Banyan tree you said, “That’s us.” Two trunks with branches reaching out and coiling into each other. Stuck, together.

On a single lane dirt road, laying in the back of a stranger’s pick-up truck, you used your arms to keep mine warm, hitting pause. There was no light, no apparent life, we could have been the only people the dead dark trees had seen. The volcano had erupted a few weeks prior—was still gushing through some open holes, you showed me where—its wake scratched fields into blank black. When we woke up, our toes and eyelashes touched. Pure by morning, you retold my dreams to me.


I thought nothing bad could happen in August, but out of all the men who could have had me but wouldn’t, it was you who the drunk driver hit. It was you, who lost all feeling in every limb except for your left hand. You, who had never been able to touch me but never stopped making me squirm. Once stable enough, you were flown from Hawaii to a Philly hospital. I didn’t take the bus from New York to visit you. I couldn’t bear to see you need me. 

You never slept in this bed, but I tell myself I smell your deep-green scent on my pillowcase, and so I do. In the downtown Brooklyn hotel room years later, your skin hung onto the mineral dust smell that tortured my pussy for a decade. The sweat that made me want to climb you where we lay, on top of the sheets, both of us still as meat. 

I brought you to the roof. The seatbelt on your wheelchair wasn’t done on, the wheels caught on the lip of the door, you fell forward and couldn’t reach out. Once back in your chair, I put the straw to your mouth and we drank. I put the blunt to your lips and we smoked. For a few hours before check-out I slept curled into your armpit, again, unsure.


When I first met you, and when I meet you again, I’ll think I was sent for you. Can you remember? Your friends said the day you met me, you repeated my name like a chant as you fell into our dreams.

Before our warm January, before we touched anyone, before the drugs we had to do: the grass, the lake, my bunk bed. I want to watch how your lips tell it, the summer we met—drowsy New Hampshire dusks, quiet pines vibrating in dry heat. Capturing each others flags, watching each other bite granola bars, blushing… 

Two twelve-year-olds in black converseconspiring, shoulder to shoulder, pinkie to pinkiealways, and only, just almost.

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The in-betweens are like waiting for something to happen, like flashes of red and blue sirens pulsing through my car, while searching for the police officer about to step to my window. And I watched from the rearview mirror, and would say and act exactly how my mother told me—to call him or her sir or ma’am, to be polite, to keep my hands on the steering wheel, to have my paperwork ready. And that my stomach was buoyant, and that my eyes blurred from tracking the sirens, and that I felt the spotlight sizzle on the back of my neck—but I kept the speed limit, and my seatbelt was fastened, and I used my right blinker when pulling over to the side of the road, and that my vehicle was in good-standing; and even though I had three friends in the car, none of us had been drinking—none of us smoked or did much of anything that night besides driving back to campus from dinner. And when the police officer knocked on my window, I lowered it, and he instructed for me to step outside the vehicle—to exit slow, to keep my hands where he could see them. And another police officer, around the rear, with his flashlight, inspected the rest of my car—targeted it on my friends in the backseat—asked them their names; one said Mike, and the police officer said Miguel, and Mike said—no, Mike. And while I was outside the car, I handed the other police officer my license, and he examined it with his flashlight, checked my face to match, and then told me to sit back, and I did, resting on my hood. He studied my license longer, and though I wanted to ask him what I did wrong—that I wasn’t swerving, that I didn’t run a stop-sign, that I didn’t commit any traffic violations—I said nothing, and stood stone-still knowing it really didn’t matter—knowing exactly why he pulled me over—and that when he said there was a string of burglaries in the neighborhood and we looked suspicious, I wasn’t a bit surprised.

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Every party we went to in the summer of 1999 was lit up red. Red drapes fell over windows. Red vinyl chairs sat in kitchens next to red retro tables. Red walls vibrated with red Belle and Sebastian. Red wine gushed from boxes on countertops. Red signs glowed in dive bars. Red Schwinn bikes got stolen off our friends’ porches. Red hair dye spotted our shower mats. Red Chuck Taylors tapped in bathroom stalls.

We were only babies when we heard about the stray shar-peis of Ohio City. Mara, a thirty-something veteran of the scene who claimed to have once been a runway model in New York City, told us about them. She held court around a glass coffee table covered in ash trays and coffee mugs of merlot. A long, white Virginia Slim extended from her long white fingers. Smoke curled around her visage, giving her the sheen of a once faded runway model from New York City.

“They travel in a pack,” Mara said, “and roam the streets. They come out late, late at night. They only show themselves to the desperate, the lost, the delirious.” 

We didn’t believe her. We laughed. We bombarded her with questions. Refutations. Challenges.

“Shar-peis aren’t street dogs.”

“They’d get eaten by other animals.”

“But where did they come from?” 

“People breed shar-peis on purpose, they wouldn’t just let them roam.” 

Mara crumpled her Virginia Slim into the ashtray and we competed to light the next one for her. We held the flames of Bic lighters out to her and she kissed her cigarette to each of them as if she were anointing us. We basked in our own glow. We wanted to hear more. We didn’t believe her but we wanted more.


The truth, though, is that we forgot about the stray shar-peis of Ohio City. We stopped being babies out of a mixture of impatience and necessity. We got bus passes and coffee shop jobs. We sold plasma for beer money and rent. We left bars with the wrong men. We got stranded in the Flats and had to call friends from pay phones. We wiped blood from the backs of our boyfriends’ heads when they passed out on our living room floors. We begged our parents in the suburbs to just write another check. We broke down sobbing in brightly lit hot dog shops at three a.m. We screamed at each other from second story windows to come back inside and stay the night. We blew off work to feed our hangovers. We skipped classes to drink vodka and Sprites on backyard patios. We got called groupies and sluts and dumb-drunk-lushes. We borrowed our parents’ cars to drive each other to job interviews and abortions and airports. We shoplifted cigarettes and sugar-free Kool-Ade packets. We flirted with lazy eyed doormen to let us into five-dollar shows for free. We went out looking for madness. We went out looking for more.


Some of us learned better than others. Some of us settled down in suburban duplexes and office jobs. Some of us stopped sneaking into concerts on weeknights. Some of us gained weight from having kids instead of guzzling happy hour margaritas. Some of us moved to New York City for grad school or graphic design jobs. Some of us stayed and slinked around parties, waiting for someone to light our cigarettes. 


It was a couple winters later. The sides of I-90 were covered in snow but the road was clear. The travel coffee mugs in our cars were filled with Black Velvet and Diet Coke. People used to mistake us for teetotalers at shows because we always carried those mugs. 

“It’s so cool,” sensible men used to say, “that you don’t drink like all these other wasteoids.”

Inevitably, something we would say or do would shatter the illusion for them. We’d spray verbal venom mixed with cheap whiskey, trip on our high heels, try to make out with other girls’ boyfriends in basement bathrooms. We would earn our reputations. 

But it was on one of those cold nights in the early 2000’s, when lavender clouds streaked the sky above the highway, that we sat at a stoplight on a side street in Ohio City near the I-90 on-ramp. We felt drunk and defeated from another night that didn’t go our way. We waited for the light to change, to be able to go back to our only comfortable state, which was in-motion. Onto the next thing. We needed something else because what we had was never going to be alright enough.

There were no other cars on the road. No reasons not to just go. The streetlamps cast an amber haze over the intersection. It felt like a cloak of invisibility. Because maybe that’s all we were this whole time. Invisible. We reached for our travel mugs, we cracked the windows, we lit our own cigarettes.

From the right hand side of the car, a brownish blob wiggled off the curb. We thought nothing of it. It was just some stray dog crossing the street. 

We stopped.

We jerked our heads and saw four more wrinkled dogs, all tottering along. Their hides were tan and smooth, not chubby like regular household shar-peis. Their strong legs looked more like those of a pit-bull’s. They glided in a regal line and pranced over the snow crusted curb, glittering in the sodium glow of the highway entrance.

Green light flashed across the windshield. It was finally our turn to go.

But we sat. We sat and watched the stray shar-peis.

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WHEELS by D. T. Robbins

Fat-boy Brad, the same Brad who went, Hey, Cheese Factory!, to me on the bus because my teeth are a little yellow, stood in the middle of the street with Chris, the same Chris who almost drowned me in his pool last summer showing me what a washing machine was (you flip someone over and over and over and over until they can’t catch their breath and they start to cry and someone’s mom comes out and yells, What the hell are you doing to that boy?), looking at my bike, telling me how fucking gay it is because it’s white and only queers have white bikes, and am I a queer? I tell them my dad says I’m getting a new bike soon, maybe for my tenth birthday coming up,  a Mongoose BMX bike with pegs, so Parker can ride on the back and we can jump the ramps we made in the woods behind his house. I look at Parker, he looks away. Brad and Chris go, if you’re getting a new bike you should just fuck this one up. I ask what they mean and they say they’ll show me. Chris stands on the back wheel while fat-boy Brad stands on the other. They start jumping and the wheels start bending and Parker starts laughing so I laugh too because Parker and I are fourth graders and Brad and Chris are seventh graders and that’s just how it works. Like that, they say. I get to walking my bike back to my house on the other side of the neighborhood but then I think dad’s going to be pissed so I start crying as I’m walking. Sure enough, dad sees the bike and flips out and starts asking what happened and I say it wasn’t me but I don’t want to say who did it because Chris already almost killed me once and who knows if he’ll try again? But I end up telling dad and we get in the car and dad’s driving around the neighborhood looking for fat-boy Brad and Chris and when we find them dad hops out the car and gets in their faces and asks what the hell is their problem doing that to a boy’s bike? They say I told them they could and dad says he doesn’t care if I said they could or not, it doesn’t give them the right to destroy someone else’s property. Dad tells them if they ever come near me or my bike again he’ll…and I don’t really hear or understand that part very well. Dad drives us back home but the whole time he’s hollering at me and telling me I shouldn’t let boys like that pick on me and I need to stand up for myself and act like a man. We get in the house and mom asks what happened but dad ignores her and gets his belt instead. I don’t get the Mongoose BMX bike for my birthday. 


I know dad only bought me this Jeep—an ’89 Suzuki Samurai—to keep me from starting any more shit. Guess he got tired of me calling the cops every time he shoved me down the hallway after I told him my little brother and I want to leave shithole Mississippi and go back to California to live with mom, that I called him a deadbeat dad since he didn’t pay child support (because fuck your kids, right?) and that’s the only reason mom couldn’t afford to fly down to Louisiana for the court hearing and that’s the only reason he got custody of us instead of her. He thinks buying me this Jeep is going to keep me happy and quiet because that’s what keeps every sixteen-year-old happy and quiet. Except he’s wrong. All it’ll do is keep me away from him and the stepmother. Well, seeing as how it’s the first day of spring break, I decide to get the hell out of the house and go somewhere, anywhere. The Jeep is parked in the garage because dad wanted it out of the driveway this morning when he was washing and waxing that turd green Camry he’s trying to sell. He and the stepmother left for work so I’m alone and there’s only so many times I can jerk off and, besides, there’s a girl who’ll let me touch her tits so I think I’m going to see her. I grab my keys and throw the Jeep in reverse and haul ass. At first, the crunch of metal on metal is muffled by the Jeep’s exhaust but when I back out further I see the whole side of the Camry torn to shit—dents six inches deep, black lines and scratches like the striking surface of a matchbox, the side mirror dangling by a single wire. I start screaming, oh fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck, and jump out the Jeep to see the damage. I’m dead and I know it. I call the girl who lets me touch her tits and she doesn’t know what to do so I call the stepmother. I tell her dad is going to kill me and I’m really sorry, I should’ve looked behind me when I went in reverse, can she please talk to dad because I’m afraid of what he’ll do to me. 

Dad and the stepmother pull up in her truck and dad steps out and starts inspecting the Camry. I look at the stepmother and she raises her hand like, calm down it’s okay. Dad looks at her, then me. You’re grounded for a month, he says and walks into the house. 


The judge says I’m old enough to choose who I want to live with. 

Dad sits up in his bed. The stepmother pulls the blanket over her face. It’s cold. It’s always fucking cold in this house. He asks, what’re you going to do? I’m going back to California, I say. He tells me I’m making a mistake, says the Jeep stays with him.


The car mom’s been letting me use to get to my job at the movie theater just got repossessed and she says if I want a new one then I can call dad and ask him for the money because she doesn’t have it. I don’t want to fucking call him. It’s not that it’s been three years since I’ve been back in California or that he never came to my high school graduation or that he’s still trying to get custody of my little brother. What I don’t want to tell him is that we’d just been homeless for the past six months or so because mom got us evicted from our house in Ontario. Mom says she couldn’t pay the rent because dad wasn’t paying child support but somehow she could afford to pay for the new furniture, somehow she could afford to take that trip up north to see that guy she’s been talking to. I don’t want to call dad because I want to talk to someone about all of this but I sure as shit don’t want that someone to be him. Fuck. I still need a car and I still have no one else to ask for help. The movie theater pays shit and most of my money goes to helping with groceries or the cell phone bill we’re behind on. When he answers, he sounds tired. His voice is softer. Not a whisper, but close. I ask what he’s doing, he says he’s feeding a bottle to my new baby sister, Grace. We talk about that, how she’s doing. He says everything’s great, they’re all great. I say, good. He says, I’m sorry, son. If I had the money, I’d give it to you, I really would. He says he wants to help me. I say I know he does, and I mean it. After we hang up, I get in bed and cry into my pillow for a really long time. 


I just wired you five thousand dollars your grandma wanted you to have when she passed, dad says. I ask how things have been since she died. Someone finally ended up buying her house, so that’s a weight off his shoulders. We talk about my brother and sister, Grace and Graham—how smart Grace is, how she’s kicking ass in all these speech debates at her high school. Graham is Graham, loves his video games. He asks how my kids are. He wants to see them one day, says maybe the kids and I and my fiancé should visit Mississippi next Thanksgiving or something. He asks if things have gotten easier with my ex-wife, if we’re getting along. I tell him that things are better, getting better, there’s good days and bad days. It’ll all work out, he says. He thinks I should put the five grand toward a new car. 

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GIRLHOOD by Jodi Aleshire

A body washes ashore in the recommended section of my Spotify podcast radar. This isn’t the first or the fifth or the third time it’s happened and I’ve long since lost track of the tallies meant to keep them in check. Their faces have become nothing more than the black censored bars used with relish by shitty live television and their bodies, marionette pieces, hocks of meat articulated in a mockery of form. The podcast entices me to listen—a flashy title, a well-made header, a snappy byline—offer a glimpse into an abjection of innocence, voyeurism without the guilty intent. They tell me, words blinking in bright pink neon, THIS COULD BE YOU. This body is every body and everybody is just an accident waiting to happen, a crime scene waiting to happen, a byline on the nightly news just waiting to happen, a catchy warning to stay sexy and don’t get murdered just waiting to happen. Silly, stupid girl. Didn’t anyone ever tell you to carry your keys between your fingers? 

In the mid-twentieth century, it wasn’t uncommon to pull bodies from peat bogs, mummified in the swampy murk. A glimpse into a world we hardly know, into barbarianism we think ourselves past. I find myself entranced by these bodies and their buried history and I’ve fallen in love with the Windeby Girl. Her skin mottled, ancient browns and aged like leather. Her hair shorn close to her skull, a blindfold over her eyes, hands bound. I’ve memorized the planes of her face. She’s beautiful, a bug trapped in amber, a tragedy frozen in time. They thought she’d been killed as punishment for adultery, the archaeologists who scoured her remains for a story; murdered. She couldn’t have been older than sixteen and I too once couldn’t have been older sixteen but that time is gone and I wish now that I could have been there in the muck and the cold and taken her hand, promised that things would be alright. I wish I could have been there as this woman-girl-child weighed down by planks and rocks, died. The memory of her murder is sour on my tongue and I wonder if anyone in the incensed masses thought to remember they were once children too.

A lifetime ago, I stood in the Chicago Art Institute, shifting my posture to mirror the stance of one of Degas’s thousands of dancers. She was a delicate, towering statue of bronze, her fabric tutu aged and weathered brown, his little dancer. My feet, turned to fourth position, lodged me in my place as I longed to touch her, to stroke my fingers over the cast of her hair. I pray she had a better life than the one history has written for the petit rats in the Parisian ballet. Men lurking in the wings with unburdened bodies and propositions. Girls, poised and bleeding, hungry. The sordid back halls of the Palais Garnier float, arabesque and haunting, through tunnels of memories that aren’t my own but I understand them, don’t we all understand them? What haven’t we all sacrificed to let the show go on? What haven’t we sacrificed to survive? I read once that Degas crafted multiples of his sculptures, built body after body until he was satisfied with the way her legs curled, her face quirked, her arms beckoned. This girl, this child in a world she was not meant for, is frozen in time and I cannot shake the feeling I would have loved her too, something desperate and open. How many versions of her were touched by unwanted hands; how many versions were thrown away?

I remember, still, the day I learned Marie Antoinette had only been a child when set onto the path that would kill her. Powder pale, throat bared for the bite of a blade. She was nothing more than another child-bride, nothing more than another lamb sent to the slaughter, her own body the meal and the means of making. Ribs split open on a rack, lock-picked open and apart. I wonder, some days when I feel only able for glutton, would we have been friends? Her and I, two children without childhoods, taken before we’re given a chance to taste anything more. Just wrist bones and knocked knees and butterfly lashes. We lavish her name with acts of treason without proof, qu'ils mangent de la brioche, but it’s bitter in my mouth. Did she ever have a chance to eat with her hands, unscrupled and unwatched, a girl once again? I think of her now in soft shades of periwinkle, robin’s egg, blue, in the fierce glint of a blade splitting the time between then and this, childhood and all that is left. Did she ever have a chance to know better? I try to remember her whole.

As a child, barely girl but not nearly woman, a decade or a century or a second ago, I remember tiptoeing down the hall of my best friend’s creaking farmhouse. I felt like I’d walked over someone’s grave. As we laid together, sprawled on his bed, he told me about the ghosts in the walls and the pain sunken into the bones of the house. His sister’s tragedy in the next room salting the earth and tainting the home. A child too. She never told their parents, because that wasn’t what good girls did, was it? In the present now, only a tightrope’s fall from the girl then, I think of all the women, the bones building up my exquisite corpse, all gone mad, robbed of something beating and vital. A rabbit quick pulse and magpie longing, girlhood is a fever-pitched dream. A poison. A butcher’s knife. A scalpel. A series of rungs on a ladder rotting under your hands. Flashpoint tragedies pinned, stigmata, linked through time. One day you’ll choke on everything you should have been, broken from the bell jar, thrown from the water. We were never given a chance.

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NO, YEAH. by Erin Gallagher

“You can play games or you can end it and move on.”

Lit by twinkly string lights atop a shiny marble counter, apparently we’re not fucking around anymore. Soft pink and blue bulbs create a calm ambiance, steam rises from big porcelain mugs of herbal tea, and we are sparing no emotional expense. Play games: win, lose, flip your phone upside-down and wait two hours, three hours, reciprocate every unit of time you’ve ever waited, multiplied by three. We’re not talking about me (this time), and my advice is out of character, it’s...hopeful: 

“Yeah, no, maybe just act as you normally would. Don’t do anything impulsively when you’re frustrated. You won’t get what you’re looking for, and it will make you feel worse.” I nod, take a sip of sparkling water, as a mature, well-adjusted adult does. I guess I never found it necessary to...give myself the same advice. Overthinking? I’m not familiar. The constant need to get in the last word? I’ve never heard of it. 

In the winter, sufficiently settled into my new home, the sky began to darken earlier and earlier, and I started going on first dates. Many dates. How many cocktail bars are in New York City? Waves rose up and crashed, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, all booked. Reprieve of quiet for a few weeks followed, while the pack narrowed and we allowed ourselves to lean into the mortifying reality of being known, before inevitably, turning into nothing: wisps of air, almost like a ghost. But not technically ghosting,

“I didn’t technically ghost him,” I clutch a vodka soda under my arm, my focus remaining on the glowing screen before me.

“You did, and you should feel bad. Every time someone ghosts, the world becomes a worse place.” I’m being scolded at Brooklyn Bowl, surrounded by tie-dye T-shirts, she goes on, “We’re hurting each other and not thinking about it. Each time, we make it normal, and it shouldn’t be.”

I shift my focus to my vodka soda. I’ve been making excuses for myself. A wave crashes upon me and I struggle because I feel too much. But yet, after I find my footing, I continue on as though I’m still underwater. I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t. I see stars in my periphery, wipe a loose piece of cheap glitter out of my eyelashes. My tab is still open at the bar. In the back of my mind I dream of telepathically closing it, from inside of the backseat of a taxi. I could bypass the crowd and go straight outside, ask the driver if it’s possible to take me back to two weeks ago, when I handled something poorly. The band starts to play. In a few hours, karma will make its way back around and I’ll be hurt the same way I hurt someone else. What would Co-Star say about this? 

Which is worse: sitting down and writing about how I’m feeling in a meaningful way, or going on a first date and using self-deprecating humor as a defense mechanism, while I get drunk in the middle of the week, all in the name of pursuing monogamy? I don’t want a boyfriend, but I do want to be a writer, I’ll go on one more date. It’s a new year, but I never said what that would mean. Speak what into existence? I want whichever cocktail has gin. It comes in a jar? Sure, fine. These are pictures of my dog, these are stories about the years I traveled the world, these are brief silences. This isn’t it. We part ways after one drink, and once he crosses the street, I go back inside, have another round and give my phone number to the bartender. It’s for my writing. 

Blue (sometimes green) and grey bubbles carry my mood up and down, waves roll onto the shore and retreat into the sea. You’ll have more time to focus on your life when you’re no longer checking the views on your Instagram story. We share our anecdotes and we overhear them all the same, over glasses of wine, coffee, the boys behind me in the bubble tea shop, the girls next to me on the subway. As I write these words, a girl at the counter in the cafe speaks about a guy who is a “bad texter.” My friends and I exchange knowing glances. I bite my lip. Who do you know who is a “good texter?” We tell each other “you’re too good for this,” we type it, we speak it, we scrawl it across walls that we’ve built up around ourselves. I say it confidently to the people in my life. To myself I know it to be true, but sometimes I waver and I don’t know why. I wake up in the morning to messages I sent to a friend, after walking with her to her apartment in the middle of the night, 

“...You’re one of the best people I know...Please don’t sleep on the floor...” 

One ghost will haunt me a little more than the rest. At low points, I’ll look for attention in the wrong places, but I won’t act on it, I don’t believe in ghosts. (But can you be afraid of something you don’t believe in?) I used to live in a flat that was haunted, on the twelfth floor of a mint green building in Hong Kong. We banned ghost talk inside the apartment because we were scared of angering her. This ghost had a feminine energy. I can’t explain it. I tell this story on a third date, in a cash-only dive bar on my block that has a name I can’t remember or maybe I’ve never learned. I can see in his eyes, he thinks that I’m naive. He’s looking down  at my chest, maybe he’s not as interested in ghost stories. 

We drink natural wine at a dimly lit countertop. I wore this same top on a different first date two months earlier. It snowed that earlier night, and I walked to the bar, wishing I could just glide past the adorned windows and continue to venture through the cold. I pulled a second tiny straw from behind the counter, because one tiny straw is not sufficient to absorb a gin and tonic, and he asked if I needed to drink faster to deal with being around him. This isn’t it. I drew a heart in the snow on a car window outside, spent the rest night thinking of the falafel wrap I would buy on my way home. This time, the mood is lighter. My paisley blouse is under a spring jacket, the uncharacteristically warmer weather is discombobulating. It’s still winter, and I’m still booking myself too busy. He knows more about natural wine than I do. I don’t know anything about natural wine. I make a mental note to bring my friends here, to this place; we’ll tell the same kinds of stories and I’ll remember the idea of someone sitting with me in front of the natural wine and oysters, someone who I’ll never see again. I’ve never liked oysters. 

It’s all fun, until one morning, or one evening, or one moment, it’s not. How well do we really know anyone? I feel clear-headed and calm, the peace that comes from having the upper hand. I don’t play games, but I don’t want to lose. The peace descends into chaos, circles that I’ve talked my way around and around; I don’t want to spend any more time trying to figure him out, but inevitably, I will and I do. Friends I’ve known my whole life still surprise me. Everyone we know will either be there forever, in our life, or, they won’t. This will last or it will end. It’s simple. It’s simple.

Low expectations, or disappointment? Delete the number, or never save it in the first place? These things come in waves. These things are all fun and games. I feel relieved. I don’t feel anything. I feel rejected. I feel neglected. I feel foolish. I’m smiling in the back of an Uber, going over the Williamsburg Bridge. I’m crying on the street on a rainy Tuesday morning. How much of the feeling is the drama? How much do you like the attention? What have you learned about yourself?  

“You’re saying you don’t?,” I ask across a small table, fingers tapping on an almost-empty bottle of beer.

He shakes his head, “I do. I said, ‘no, yeah,’ but I don’t think you heard the 'yeah.’” 

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SCURRY by Vanessa Chan

As a killer pandemic swept through the world, my mother died from cancer, alone in a Minnesotan hospice facility. A thousand miles away, also alone in my Brooklyn apartment, I held my breath as my heart caved into itself, salted with guilt.

A week later, I encountered my first common New York house centipede. He winked at me from the white walls of my apartment, wobbling on his many legs. “HELP ME,” I scream-texted at friends, paramours, anyone who would listen. 

The centipede began dashing madly up my wall, pausing as if to catch his breath, then continuing his ascent. I envied him, exempt from social distancing, able to sneak into dark crevices, able to run everywhere unmasked, able to be with other centipedes he might love. No one in our family could be with my mother during her final weeks; the pandemic robbed us of the last decency of death, the comfort of each other.

I took photos of the centipede, then videos, one sound-on to capture my cussing, and one sound-off to capture the abject loneliness of the encounter. Sitting on my floor with my centipede content, I was reminded that bug removal, whether smacking a mosquito that landed on a child’s fleshy arm, or prying a flea off a fleshy family dog, was a distinctly matriarchal domain in our Malaysian home. “Only the boys are scared,” my mom would say, gesturing at my father and brother, legs curled off the floor in fear of a scurrying insect. “Not us.” I was also reminded that my mother, who usually received my photographic mundanity, and who laughed at all my jokes, was gone. 

As I glowered at the centipede and contemplated all modes of murder, he sprinted—balancing precariously on the right-angle that separates wall from ceiling—straight into a spider’s web coiled on the corner of my windowsill. He struggled, tangled himself further into the strings, then tipped upside down, his many legs scratching the air, the futile dance of the already doomed. 

People kept saying, “Maybe it’s for the best. Your mom wouldn’t want you to see her this way. Remember her the way she was.” But now my memories are darkened by bitterness; there’s no peace in wondering if she stared quietly at the ceiling alone, or if she clawed at the sheets, the air. 

If I were a centipede, I wouldn’t stop to catch my breath on walls or run mindlessly into a predator’s web. I’d rush across state lines, hold my mother’s hand, tell her I loved her. I’d remind her how, in fact, it was she who first told me the difference between a millipede and a centipede—that the millipede, common to Malaysia, was not venomous, but that most centipedes are in fact venomous, and to stay away from them. 

But Mom, I would protest, my group-text friends say New York house centipedes are the good guys—they eat other bugs, and don’t bite unless provoked. In fact, the internet says what centipedes do isn’t biting, because they aren’t using their mouths or teeth. What they’re doing is poking you with one of their many legs, a sharp kick, so you get out of the way.

“Well then, get out of the way!” my mother would say. “No need to pick a fight.”

As though listening, my multi-legged menace tugged through the webby mess and inexplicably, miraculously, freed himself! Resuming speed, the centipede scurried up and down my wall, a dance of the victorious. He paused right at my eye level, as though proud of his achievements. 

Somewhere, my mom laughed. 

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Is heaven a proper noun?

Here, I learned to love myself. To love the thick full shimmy of thighs against one another; to appreciate the height of my traps compared to the valley of my clavicle. I fell in love with butter churned from cream produced by cows who live only a few kilometers away.

I learned to seek out the salted rotisserie chicken, its skin crispy and shimmering after hours on a spit. As much to bite into something with savage need as because there's ownership that comes from eating simply to eat. But chicken is only good when washed down with room temperature fest beer, brewed like their ancestors and consumed within modernity in overcrowded but not too autophobic beer tents where everyone knew everyone else, except for us because here we are, moored inside something that looks like expat living but is actually attempts to recreate America whenever possible.


Our circle within a circle confuses even us. We drive roundabouts and autobahns and pay tolls on roadways, deposit euro coins into bathroom vending stalls so we can enter and not be able to tell the attendant there's no soap, the water is too cold. We recede into the background if we're not on post.


We become obnoxiously loud and boisterous, the kinds of Americans who boast about a war that ended seventy-five years ago, who consistently remind the local populace that had it not been for us, the entire world would look different, feel different, be different. Well. That's so consumable and true and entirely false that the congruencies between understanding now and then becomes complex and altered so it's easier to reach for another warming beer.

We travel, we rove, we move, searching for something that feels like home but gives us enough space to learn to grow. I take moments for myself, carve out instances in which I can identify as myself and not (just a) spouse, my own person, my own truth, my own evocation:

Mornings when the moon is bright, and there's no one else in the forest so I can turn off the headlights and pretend I'm a real forest witch.

When half my drive has no cell signal, so I'm forced to sit in silence, contemplative, and settled.

Looking for the quiet markers of age—the creasing of an elbow joint, the slow upstart of lifting from a chair, I settle into this time-space, being the preemptive feelings of being nostalgic before it's time. 

And in nostalgia for here comes past-longing for forms of then, tangible or  esoteric, the kinds of memories that come unbidden:

Dima buying a bedroom set, Ken buying an air mattress, his aging skin that looked like leather from a distance and felt even more snakish next to mine. The first two airmen I slept with, their introductions into my life only a half-week away from one another. The expectation that eventually, I would find myself grown, polished, and with a family to support.

A mother, two toddlers, and an infant strapped to her chest, EPT test in hand as she sets down birthday candles, plastic party favors, sweets and treats onto the conveyor belt, her hand clutched around her wallet, head constantly evaluating her two small humans, looking for relief and answers and silence. And I watch her watch that which she's produced and clearly her womb isn't hollow, her tribe is continuing to grow, (though I sense that she gleefully accepts the silken luxury of sitting in a bath in solitude, or spending a morning reading and drinking coffee, luxuries that she's never going to be able to afford, not now, not with her progeny continuing to propagate and just once), I want the openness that might come from being able to reproduce; mitosis at its very core, a concept that has both alarmed and paralyzed me, left me bereft with longing and sighing with relief.  


Whisk(e)ys we like

Bushmills Original only in basement Irish bars watching soccer and listening to 90s "classic rock" while we're both recuperating from the walking and the sleeping outside of our schedule, the constant seeking of something that we're certain, if we just keep traveling, we're going to find. In these basement bars, we avoid serious discussions, like what's going to happen when we never have children, and how should we deal with deployment, or our next concrete steps after the army, after uniform, after boots. Instead, we talk about the better band and I toss out suggestions, none of which are ever, ever better than Nirvana. The light is low, which hides the shimmer strands of grey that color both of our heads, our lines from lack of sleep, hollow nights lost to wonder and worry. 

Glenfiddich, good for dessert cheese plates when we're feeling fancy and pretending like we were born fluent in sophistication, though communism and generational poverty rarely suggest a fluency in anything but loss and longing. 

Paddy and Red Breast for those nights when we've finally made forever friends and we can just be loose but that would require us to be in a place longer than a tour and we're both so hard to get to know that ultimately, we learn to lean into our own patterns, create tradition that can exist outside the need for friends

and finally

Querceto Chianti that's a little overpriced paired with Italian food that a chef didn't prepare but we're hungry and trying because it's been a long weekend full of unknowns because we're on the way to listen to a symphony, something purchased well-ahead of time, that Sunday morning when we planned the trip to Salzburg; when it felt wrong not to include a small dip into the sort of chords that make each of us whole.

So tonight—

I'm sitting in a 17th century palace where Mozart first performed, watching a small group of students play a selection of winter music. Two whiskeys and two wines in and the viola player looks exactly like a powerlifter I used to fuck but can't remember his name. Exactly like him, even down to the shape of his nose, the way it meets the beginnings of his lip because I used to think it was so endearing that his youth meant he couldn't grow a beard (and even in those endearing moments I used to find a slight smidge of pleasure at knowing even at my age, I could still pull one so young; but that was always accompanied by the idea that at my age, I shouldn't need to pull because I should be settled, which would revolve like glass doors of emotions that shouldn't be examined or even seen during the middle of a little better than average sex) so in the palace, for the next 90 minutes I focus in and out of trying to remember what his name might have been, studying this Austrian's face for similarities to the Ohioan kid, but now I'm thinking maybe he was from somewhere north in Ohio where they're committed and focused on OSU football because their small towns are devoid of industry and therefore absent culture or other events. I can remember his numbers; he was a beast on bench, pushing with ease and his youth made it so he could easily shed weight before a competition or put big gains on the bar without really struggling and I always wondered what someone so objectively physically gorgeous was doing with an old lady like me, until I realized from his perspective that I was the one who had my shit together; early thirties graduate student who could afford an off campus rental that came with a driveway and a basement, two gym memberships because I was just that serious about making myself into what I wanted to see. One day, he came over, residually stoned and hiccupping about not being prepared for his next day and all I could think was how delightfully not serious it must've been to just exist for one single day.

At the palace, I'm flanked on either side by two pregnant women and their presence makes my womb ache in ways that feel hollow, mountainous, bereft.

I watch my husband watch a promising Virtuosos whose hair reaches her hips and whose lace cuffs land delicately on violinists' wrists. He leans in, whispering between Vivaldi's notes, that our daughter should play, too.

And I want to tell him that we're both getting old, geriatric for conception, so maybe that very pressing desire needs to be butterfly-fleeting, the way spring sunlight can't be captured, the way trills and scales feel real and immediate in the moment but whose notes eventually, ultimately, finally, fade away.


The Heart of Joy premier vegan but we're starving and don't look at the menu because it's snow-raining and we're more attuned to fashion and photos.

Dead animals, eggs, Buddha, a repeat loop of some Kundalini style retreat, servers dressed all in white, heads covered, I can practically hear tables repeating Bhajan's words

We need meat

A runners' body, the server's face


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Pickleball is a fun sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and Ping-pong, according to the USA Pickleball Association. Kids and teenagers play it. Seniors, too.

I am middle-aged, but anyway, I play pickleball. According to me, pickleball is an okay sport you play with a paddle and a Wiffle ball.

I play pickleball with my aunt in Arizona, the day before I fly home. She is a senior. She falls.


The registrar in the emergency room looks like her name should be Gail, and she says You are lucky you came in tonight. Last night, 40 ambulances. Tonight, nothing. Seems like your aunt maybe broke her hip. I hope I'm wrong. 

You're lucky you came in tonight.


My aunt has cracked her pelvis. I change my flight. 


My aunt's roommate is sad and annoying and confused and petulant and friendly and annoying, which I said before, but she is.

First I am polite. Then I pretend I can't hear her. Then I hide behind the curtain separating her bed from my aunt's. She asks my aunt to pull the curtain back so she can see me. She says My name is Kitty.


The first day, a physical therapist moves my aunt's legs and it hurts. My aunt says I might swear. The physical therapist says My wife went to Catholic school and didn't know anything about swears. Now we like to sit in the car and swear for five minutes at a stretch. 


Two signs are outside the door of the room my aunt and Kitty share. The signs say Catch a Falling Star. My aunt and Kitty are Falling Stars. They are not supposed to walk without help.

Other rooms have other signs. One says Stop Call, Don't Fall. One says Wake me up to see if I'm breathing


In the hospital, the elevator doors are decorated with life-size pictures of hospital staff. I study the elevator people while I wait to go up or down. Always, they look cheery.

A lab director is pasted on the elevator doors by the Joint Academy. His hands are on his hipster eyeglasses and he is happy, maybe because the glasses are new, or maybe because he's just been accepted to the Joint Academy.


The second day, a physical therapist helps my aunt stand up and sit down. My aunt says it hurts


When I am bored I pretend I am in an episode of Nurse Jackie. I find Jackie and Thor but I can't find Zoe. I love Zoe.


Kitty is always forgetting she is a Falling Star. She rips out the oxygen tubes running into her nose and shuffles to the bathroom. 

At first, I report Kitty to the nurses. Eventually, I only say Kitty you are going to get me in trouble and I watch her shuffle. In my head, I start to call her Fucking Kitty. When she returns, I say Kitty put those tubes back. Sometimes, I pull her covers up and tuck her in.


The elevator doors by the Cool Beans coffee shop are decorated with a life-size poster of a nurse. She has one hand out low and one hand out high, maybe because she wants to high five and low five at the same time, or maybe because she just said ta-da!


I make a Five-Minute Friend on the elevator. We discuss the life-size cheery elevator poster people. I say I wonder what the photographer said to them right before taking their pictures. My friend says I wonder if they are just naturally like that


The chaplain visits and prays for Kitty. I write my aunt a note that says Shut your eyes and pretend to be asleep. When the chaplain comes to my aunt, I whisper She's sleeping and we talk about pickleball.


On the third day, my aunt takes 10 steps. She says it hurts.


A Five-Minute Friend rings up my lunch, which totals $5.55 and would be a bargain in Massachusetts where I am from. She says 555 and Did you know the lottery is at 212 million? I did not know. We agree I should put those fives into play.


When I am bored I spy on the nurses. One afternoon, they get angry. They tell each other they are having to do jobs the assistant nurses should be doing. Not that they mind, they tell each other, but still. 


My aunt moves to a single room. I do not miss Kitty and I go visit her. She says How is your aunt today, and I say Just fine how are you, and I think Fucking Kitty you are all right


On the fourth day, my aunt takes 40 steps. She says it hurts. On a scale of one to ten, it's a ten.


A Five-Minute Friend looks like Jimmy Buffet and has just the one kid. The kid's all right now, but he had a hard time with the reading. They wanted to hold him back but Jimmy Buffet went to school and helped his kid and a few others with the reading. And you know what, it worked.


When I am bored I read Lila by Marilynn Robinson. This book is the loveliest thing that happens to me at the hospital. 

The saddest thing that happens to me at the hospital is a body being rolled out through the sliding front doors. That thing is the saddest, but it doesn't make me ache like Lila by Marilynn Robinson does.


On the last day, my aunt rides in a wheelchair down the hall, to the elevator, to the lobby, to the sliding doors, to a van that will take her to rehab. Behind her, I walk. The floor is wet and my shoes are rubber. I slip and land on my ankle, my knee. I say it hurts. On a scale of one to ten, it's a seven. Tomorrow, I will fly home.

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