Creative Nonfiction

PET by Danielle Chelosky

The night we met, I showed up at your apartment with fishnets shoved inside my bag. I was too nervous to wear them as I walked from my car to your door. I got catcalled three times anyway.

Catcalling is really bad over here, you told me while we ascended the stairs. You took the lead; I followed timidly. I couldn’t take in your apartment as we stepped inside because I had too much going on in my mind. Your room, though, came across as beautiful—the light soft and careful, your bed sheets floral and muted, your walls white with art strewn about. I complimented the painting above your desk; it’s overtaken by a brown so dark it looks black, and two figures stand in the bottom left corner, hidden but visceral. You thanked me and said no one ever noticed it. I looked at the books stacked on your shelf against your wall. I was still awkward and scared, but I was at home.


You said I was like a cat—the way my eyes wandered, my attention small. I laid my legs on top of yours, and you smiled. 


We stayed inside. Our love remained within the walls of your room, though I would never say it was restricted or confined. In the summer, I wore denim shorts and tank tops. I found closer parking spots. I got catcalled by a man skating one day but I didn’t mind. I smiled. I’d sweat on the forty minute drive to you; my car’s AC was broken and I’d decided that was fine. 

I sat on your floor, painting on a canvas. It was for my art class. I looked at the corner where your bed met the walls. I stared at it, perplexed, trying to understand the geometrics. I was never good at compositions or technicalities. My professor called my work funny, so misshapen things became my style, unintentional or not.

You laughed at me sitting on your floor with all of my supplies set up. You look like my pet, you said, in your little nook.


I was a stray cat who frequented your home. You fed me, quenched my thirst, offered your affection as treats. I got dopamine rushes when you pet my hair or stroked my cheek. You bought us bottles of wine when I was used to liquor. Suddenly, the whole summer eluded me—the sunny days, the hot air, the sweaty freedom—and it morphed into a Yellow Tail blur.

You were eleven years older than me. I wanted to know what it felt like to be taken care of—to follow, to be someone’s shadow, to be given love that was bigger than what I knew. Once I felt it, I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t be on my own. I wanted to forever keep my head in the crook of your neck, your hands wherever they want to be on me. 


You got me my first toy. Your present came in, you said. I felt so small, so silly. I wasn’t going to let you use it on me; I wanted to be the first for myself. And then we got drunk. And then I was on the edge of your bed open and curious like a butterfly. You pleasured me in new ways—you were solidifying your authority, securing our bond, hypnotizing me into being yours. I curled up and rolled around in ecstasy, purring.


I’m gonna get you a cage, you said, fucking me, and a collar and a leash.

The reward of your love and attention eclipsed the pain of trying desperately to elicit it. Mornings without you, I was with you—only in a one-sided kind of way. I lived in my head where I played moments of us over and over. I brought dead memories to life. I clung onto what I could from the nights that didn’t turn into a black haze.


One of those summer painting afternoons, I leaned on your windowsill looking out onto the street. You’re like a cat, you said again. I waited for people walking to look up and see me. I was naked. No one did. You came up behind me, touched my shoulders.


I don’t know if you know, but you do this thing, you said. You’ll wake up and start making these noises, and if I touch you then you’re quiet and you go to sleep. It happens every time you’re here. You were upset, not well-rested. I apologized; you said that you’re just trying to find out what’s wrong with me. What was that term you used, you asked, which I thought just applied to dogs when their owners are away at work and they bark a lot? I said: Separation anxiety? You said: yeah


I am sitting on the edge of your bed and, without turning your head, you tell me to stop looking at you. I am waiting, I am begging—I am thinking of what trick I could do for you to give me a treat. 

Still, in this restless desperation I find pleasure. I like when you tease me, when you’re mean to me. I love when you pay no attention to me, I love when you hit me. I love the one-sided tunnel vision I have for you, I love the pain and the neglect.

It’s winter now. I think I will spend most days wandering around in the snow.

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THAT’S ALL YOLKS by Alex Juarez

I think about crawling into Arizona’s skin. It would be easiest to go through her eyes. A few years ago, I read an article about a girl who while on meth performed self-enucleation. Her pastor found her screaming, “I want to see the light,” while holding her eyes in her hands. I don’t want to hurt Arizona, but I think if I could slip inside, we would be easier.

Before our alarms go off, she has a headache, so she presses her palms against her face and groans. I mirror it to make her feel like our emotional bond is strong.

“Do you want some Advil?” I ask.

She shakes her head. 

We don’t say anything else because maybe, after eight months, there is nothing left to say. Instead, we lay down shoulder to shoulder and try to not touch each other. 

Outside, the flowers are coming back to the trees, and I watch them without moving. If we were forced to stay in bed like this forever, it wouldn’t be terrible, but I wouldn’t volunteer to do it. An alarm is waiting to make us move in a few minutes. Tomorrow, I will get on a plane and then we will never be in love again.

I turn to look at her. If I could get to her core, I could grab the headache and pluck it out. Back when we were more in love than this, I would place my head in her lap and she would tweeze my eyebrows. When I shower at her place, I leave long strings of my hair all over her apartment, so that she’ll have to remember me.

Last night, we watched a horror movie and she closed her eyes the entire time. As the girl on screen chewed on a finger like a drumstick, she said that we don’t have any of the same interests. I asked if that was a bad thing.

After the alarms, Arizona’s headache stops, and she asks if I want something to eat. I kiss her cheek, just under her eye. 

“No, I’m okay. I don’t really want to get up.” 

She nods and unsticks the mess our legs have made; our skin peeling apart with sweat.

“I’m going to make eggs.” 

She gets up and walks into the kitchen. I roll over onto her side of the bed and imagine how warm I would be inside of her. I wonder where we could hide the zipper that I would use to get in and out; how I could shrink for the extra three inches.

On our third date, we sat in a pierogi shop until 4 am. Over blue cups of sour cream and onions, I told her about my murdered uncles. I said, “It’s twenty years this month and I feel like I am supposed to be more upset, but I didn’t even know them.” She didn’t say anything, and at the time, I imagined that meant that she was digesting me completely. 

When I don’t hear anything from the kitchen besides the bursts of hot oil and the fridge opening and closing, I get up.

I bite her shoulder as she cooks. I am supposed to be in love to the point that I can’t help but want to put my teeth around her. 

Arizona shrugs herself out of my mouth and makes her eggs, scrambled.

“Do you ever think about how yolks are fetuses?” I say into her hair.

I want her to want me like this. Or for her to pretend to want me like this. My deep desire to amalgamate controlling everything and every thought. I want to see what the reciprocation feels like. 


After tomorrow, Arizona and I are not going to see each other for two months. I know that she won’t write me any letters. A dull, persistent pang births at the base of my throat and seeps into the rest of me. I move to the table.

“Would you ever eat your own body?” I ask her. 

“What?” She turns away from the frying pan. Her invitation to crawl into me is open. “Why would you even think of that?”

I tell her that I read an article about a man who had his leg amputated and he kept it to make tacos. He invited his friends over, and they all ate him. I add that I wouldn’t do it, but I don’t believe myself. 

She turns around and flips off the heat.

There is a cup of juice from the day before on the table and I want it inside of me. Last night, I asked Arizona to put her fingers in my mouth or around my neck; she didn’t and then we both cried. 

In a few months, in a bathtub in Cheyenne, she will tell me, “You said we were soulmates, and I wanted to believe you. But I think I’m just someone who loved you without being mean.”

She slides the eggs onto a plate and squeezes some ketchup on the side. Then, she sits down at the table with me and looks into me. I put my feet on her thighs to see if she will do anything. 

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Silencio, our guide whispered. 

Just then, we were ambushed by hundreds of orange bursts, swirling and darting in every direction, while thousands more blossomed in the pine branches overhead. The sound of their powder-thin wings fluttering so close to my ears tickled the back of my neck, like angel whispers. I raised my shoulders and giggled. 

Adult Monarchs normally live three to four weeks, but the ones that migrate south are part of a special generation born towards the end of summer, called the Methuselah. They live seven or eight months—about nine times longer than the average lifetime. 

Imagine living for 700 years.

The butterflies, like us, had started their 3,000-mile journey from the United States to Mexico four months prior. In my mind, we were an inter-species diaspora, escaping harsh conditions. Unlike us, however, the Monarchs would only stay until March when they and their progeny returned north, whereas Tree and I would continue onward in our van to Patagonia. We’d lost nearly everything in the Recession—my fancy sales job, Tree’s investment property, our ability to pay rent and stay solvent. Forced to live in our van to make ends meet, we decided to head south of the border where our dollars would go further, and there was less shame in being poor.

Standing in that storm of endangered butterflies ten years ago, Tree and I felt alone in our failures. But the truth is, we were legion; a whole generation in distress. And, now, I’ve read that researchers at Pew are already wondering whether the coronavirus pandemic will become to Gen Z—our daughter’s generation—what the Great Recession was to us, by which they mean a festering wound that hobbles their start in a ruthless race. 

Yet, isn’t what’s coming so much more devastating than that? 


On March 14th, we suddenly found ourselves locked-down with our seven-year old daughter in an apartment on Tenerife, a small Spanish island off the coast of Africa. Within days, she began experiencing night terrors—anxious manifestations from not being allowed outside.

“Mama! Mama!” she shrieked, night after night, thrashing wildly with her eyes open. I rushed into her room to help, to hold her, to tell her it was all going to be alright but, stuck in liminal consciousness, she couldn’t hear or see me. She kicked and screamed and choked, her voice strangled in the fight against an unseen monster.

Even now, on our walks through the city, the invisible boogieman hides on hard surfaces and floats in the air.  

“Stop touching your mask,” I gently scold. 

Unbeknownst to my daughter, the baby of Gen Z, a million people worldwide have already died of the virus while the U.N. warns that the number of people dying from hunger could double this year from the financial fallout of confinement. The boogeyman has presented grownups with a horrifying dilemma: keep the economy open at the risk of spreading disease or keep the economy closed at the risk of mass starvation.  

Again, I’m reminded of the Monarchs. 

Like the Methuselah who journey far to breed in the sanctuaries of the south, my husband and I are raising our daughter abroad where we can afford to give her a better start in life. Geographic arbitrage, it’s called. And, yet, the Monarch’s path has been overbuilt, sprayed with Roundup and stripped of milkweed, just as my daughter’s path has been paved with crisis. There is no escape; fancy terms be damned. In fact, if we could take the long-view of the biblical Methuselah who lived 969 years, we’d see that this current rupture of our “normal” lives is only a preamble for the Second Coming, Yeats' infamous “rough beast” slouching towards Bethlehem to be born: the global food shortages, the mass migrations, the devil that scientists under the current administration are forbidden to name. We talk of “flattening the curve” while the Keeling Curve, the graph that shows the ongoing change in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, continues to rise.

As the Earth gets hotter, conditions favor the spread of infectious disease and the start of new pandemics.

Imagine going extinct.

Over the past 20 years, there’s been an 80 percent total decline in the North American Monarch population. As they teeter on the edge of an extinction tipping point—in which numbers drop too low for the species to recover—scientists warn that habitat loss and human-caused climate change are to blame. In fact, as many as three-quarters of animal species could be extinct within several human lifetimes, imperiling the very systems that keep people alive. 

Holding these thoughts fills me with dread. Like my child, I, too, wake terrorized in the middle of the night, strangled by an invisible monster. If this pandemic has laid bare one thing, it’s that we’ve yoked our survival to the survival of the economy—and this economy will kill us all. How will we Houdini our way out of this existential double-bind?

To anyone paying attention, the answer is obvious: we need systemic change. Super-size-me, carbon-based capitalism isn’t working. So, maybe what I mean to ask is, by what sorcery will we extricate ourselves from this corporate chokehold to do what’s necessary and right by our children before it’s too fucking late?  

The curve is rising.

In the mornings, before we begin our new normal of homeschool and Zoom calls, my daughter sits on her bedroom floor, surrounded by sticks, an empty wine box, and a hot glue gun. When lockdown began, she started mining our recycling bin daily to create something—a three-foot tall sled-dog, an extended family of dragons, a pregnant fairy with a peg leg (the obvious favorite)—from our waste. An alchemist in her underwear, she turns what was base and broken into gold.  

“What are you making this time?” I ask.

“A birdhouse. I’m going to put it on the balcony so I can adopt a little bird but not put her inside a cage, because that makes me sad. Birds should be free,” she explains, without a hint of irony. 

Imagine a sustainable future.

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ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by Allie Zenwirth


I used to get these pangs of want, filled with unnamable desires. You would find me jumping. You would find me erratic. I want to make something. I want to dance with somebody… I want to feel the heat with somebody… yeah... With somebody who loves me. Я хочу. I want… I want… I want… I don’t know… I want…  If you were that stranger at the bar you would ask me, “How do you have so much energy?” and I would say, “I don’t know,” and then  jeté away. 

Now I’m drained, all my juice is gone. Instead of yelling at people to, “Wake up!” I’m alone in a desert of darkness, amputated, stuck on scalding asphalt, bleeding as I push myself forward by my stumps one inch at a time into a never-ending nightmare. Nobody’s home inside me. My voice is deeper and flatter, allowing my new apartment-mate to clock me as trans:

New Apartment Mate: Can I ask you a question?

Allie Zenwirth: Sure

New Apartment mate: Your voice is very thick

Allie Zenwirth:

New Apartment Mate: (winks, gives thumbs up)

I am in a manhole of wanting to die. The lid standing between me and the street weighs 249 lbs (as manhole covers are wont).

My therapist points out that my suicidality is reasonable.* That makes me feel better. 

*he phrases it differently.


In the beginning of 2020, Corona Time, New York was the epicenter. I stayed with my Russian professor in Yonkers for a month, and during one particular dinner, as I talked everyone’s heads off about the Community, I got a text. 

Father: How are you feeling?

I announced: “Guess who just texted me?” I consumed everyone. “That’s a weird text, right? The first time in months: ‘How are you feeling?’ How should I respond?” 

From my father’s perspective, a concern regarding my health was reasonable. About half of the Chasidic community was infected by the virus. He was. My mom was. His brothers were. My mom’s siblings were. 

I had a follow up call with my father who said he’ll call me back, but he never did. However, the virus gave my mom an excuse to talk with me again. We hadn’t spoken in a year.


For a while, her disembodied voice was a grounding presence. She was someone to talk to when I moved back to my room in Jersey City. A windowless basement room in which I couldn’t stand upright, without A/C, and infested with both cockroaches and ants. Housing-wise, things improved when I paid the extra $150 and moved up to the second floor. I was still unemployed, alone, without many friends. 


Throughout my years at Sarah Lawrence College, I would be on the verge of homelessness during the winter breaks when the campus closed, relying on the kindness of strangers. During the break my senior year, January of 2019, I called my mother, asking her if she wanted to get together. Just like the year before, she asked if she could think about it and call me back. After three days, she decided she would be down to meet, but just like the year before, it would need to be in secret. We discussed our options and my mom determined it would be as if we were to have an affair. We would book a hotel room.

The following Wednesday morning, after eating two egg and cheese English Muffins I had gotten from Dunkin’ the night before, I looked out the window of a room in Hotel Le Blu and watched as a woman approached the hotel. She had gained weight. As usual she was wearing body-covering dark-colored clothing and false hair.

My mother entered the hotel and came up the elevator. I found her in the hallway, looking lost. I hugged her as if she were a pillow. Going into the room she put down her bags of Greek yogurt for herself and homemade cookies for me and we sat down on chairs facing each other. She got straight down to what she wanted to tell me.

Mom: I love you.

Me: I love you too.

Mom: I like talking with you on the phone.

Me: I like talking with you too. 

Mom: I know you are well intentioned, but you writing a memoir has been incredibly hurtful to me. I know you think you’re doing it for the right reasons, but I don’t think it’s ok that you expect me to keep talking with you.

Me: Is it because I am writing about you? I could use a pseudonym. 

Mom: Being written about is part of it. You know I’m a private person. 

Me: (nods unsure)

Mom: But...

The real problem? I would be writing negatively about the Community.


Talking with my mother in the bowels of my basement room was not all bliss. We would argue in almost hour-long bursts. Strangers would look at me strangely as I broke the silence of the night, making laps around my neighborhood, raising my voice in vehemence. She argued that I wasn’t Paul Revere rousing the colonials, that my memoir was not whistleblowing, that I was sharing with the world a warped version of the Chasidic Community, one driven by hatred and personal grievance. 

I argued that the Chasidic Community was a place where human rights were being violated. 

In August of 2020, when my mother recruited an aunt and an uncle to help refute my claims, when three people telling me that my experience in the Community was my own fault* became too much, I told my mother so. I told her we could continue to speak but I will not be gaslighted. She stopped calling me. 

*My mother will laugh. How predictable: another conversation that I warp and misconstrue. What else is new?


So now here I am in September of 2020, isolated, with a deadness all too familiar. My feelings blend with those of my still-in-Community-self, the mirage of pain I left behind in 2016, when I escaped. An experience I hoped would never return.


In 2011, when I was thirteen, I would sit beside Halberstam, a rabbi who was also a therapist, in the uncomfortable chair besides his desk, waiting. The darkness that had surrounded me since the age of five had turned into a throbbing pain. I was waiting for Halberstam to tell me why. To prescribe me some Advil. 

Like a pediatrician walking into a room saying, “Hi, how are you doing?” who would hear a few symptoms then confidently declare, “So here is what I’m going to do,” Halberstam found the problem: it was my parents. They had been putting “interjections” in my brain, programming me to believe that I deserved to be miserable. He implied that I was abused. I had never liked my parents, but I never realized their terribleness. “Oh boy, poor me.”

Halberstam’s abuse theory was not based on anything I said. I found out later that my mother had been seeing him as a patient as well. He must have based it on what my mother told him during her therapy. Something real. Unwilling and unable to tell me the truth, he turned it into something vague, which turned into “my parents are abusing me.” He didn’t bother to check in and see if that was my lived experience. He didn’t bother to check in and see if that was what made me unable to see anything but bleakness.


In 2014, after my second hospitalization in a psych ward, at sixteen, my mother and I became friends. Prison inmates. My mother shared that she never wanted me to be born. I was grateful she told me as it meant I wasn’t making things up. For a while, that was all that was mentioned of it. Then, in 2020, during the few months we resumed talking, my mother added that she didn’t want to get married either. She described her increasing dread as the wedding date had drawn nearer.


In 2020, when we would be on the phone, I argued that the Community was to blame for her marriage and my birth. The Community made her get married to someone she didn’t know at 18, and made her pump out one kid after the other. But in her mind the fault was her own. She could have decided not to get married and be ostracized. She chose to get married because deep down she wanted to. “We all need connection.” She could have gone on birth control even though she wasn’t allowed to without permission from a judge. She chose to have kids to prove to the world that you can have kids and not love them.


Sister Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) is a novice in training at a nunnery in Novitiate (2017).  She is intimacy repressed to the extent that she can’t bear hearing the object of her desire, Sister Emmanuelle (Rebecca Dyan), read the bible. One night, Sister Emmanuelle wakes up to a knock on her door. She opens it a crack.

Sister Emmanuelle: (whispers) You can’t be here

Sister Cathleen: (inaudible pleading)

Sister Emmanuelle: Okay

They both sit down on the bed nervous. LONG pause.

Sister Cathleen: Do you remember… Do you remember when you asked what I was starving for? I just want to be comforted… please will you just comfort me… please… please will you just… please will you just… please I just want to be comforted… please will you just comfort me... Please… Please… Please… Please will you just comfort me… Please will you just comfort me…

Unable to shut up until she is held, kissed, smothered, and eaten. 

I feel that.

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THE COLLAPSE OF A STAR by Jamie Etheridge

We sit in the van parked on the railroad tracks not knowing if the train is coming, or if you are going. You want to die. You said so and we believe you. Momma cries out, “Bill, please,” over and over and we wait, inhale then hold, for you to decide.

 It was always like that. Random moments of drama; life or death, on the side of the road. That time in Texas in the middle of the worst blizzard in thirty years. The truck’s engine exploded and we were stuck, freezing, as semis whooshed past on the highway and the truck rocked in the aftertow. ‘Bill, please,” she pleaded as the baby cried in her lap and we huddled in the back of the cab, fingers crackling in the cold. 

The FBI mailed out wanted posters. Later, when I finally got the files: thick black lines redacting my childhood alongside the names of the agents who’d tracked you. I found facsimiles of your face, eyes front, turned to the left, turned to the right, and your aliases, pages and pages of them. You were always a good storyteller, a natural whipsaw with a lie. 

There were pills and booze and cons. And days when you could hardly get out of the bed in whatever cheap motel and whatever cheap town we’d drifted to, and Momma had to scratch out breakfast, lunch and dinner for us on the $10 she had hidden in her wallet.

There were joys. You driving us through the looming hush of the redwoods of northern California, explaining how the dinosaurs scratched their bellies against the Cretaceous bark. Or the sound of your cowboy boots crunching on the gravel as we followed you to the edge of a cliff in the Cherokee National Forest, your smile wide as the vista over the valley below. 

The melancholy of Willie Nelson singing about angels flying too close and your voice, melodic and on key, despondent as a star in an empty universe. 

I can still smell the smoke from your Winston King trailing out the open window as we children slept folded against each other like paper bags. The infinite hours, days, weeks, months and years we cruised I-10, each mile bringing us closer to, or taking us further away from, what you couldn’t face. 

Then the time in Vegas when you disappeared for two or maybe three days, I can’t remember. We ate cereal and milk and watched endless episodes of Knight Rider and Three’s Company on the small, staticky TV in the motel room. We knew you’d come back. We hoped you’d come back rich or at least with enough money to buy food. 

You almost died in Arkansas. 

Why do they call it that? I always think of the ark of the Covenant and the followers of Moses. Here are some rules to follow: Never tell anyone your real name (I didn’t know mine until I was nine years old.) Help your mother take care of the little ones. Always stay close in case we have to leave in a hurry. Don’t sass your father or you’ll get a slap. One day when I’m gone, you’ll be sorry. 

I’m sorry, Daddy. 

The heart attack came on so swiftly that your face turned blue with the pain, and your eyes, already bulging, bugged out and scared us all. The nitroglycerin pills weren’t working and Momma called the ambulance and they took forever to come. Seven children left behind in the motel room, too terrified to talk, hungry and squabbling over the television because at least that was something we could control. They airlifted you to Tulsa and Momma said there would be an operation. They would slit open your heart, chip away at the blockages the way miners dig for gold. 

But in the night you stripped the IV from your arm, ripped out the catheter, painting the ICU floor and walls with your blood until they called security and Momma, and she flew to the hospital with your clothes and boots. We woke up in the morning with you in the bed, in the motel room, smoking, your skin like drain water after a fierce storm. We knew nothing and yet understood that everything, everything, was wrong.

You said you dreamed you would die on that table, an open heart at 5am and so you kept it closed. The doctor yelled after you that you wouldn’t live to see tomorrow. 365 tomorrows are what you got instead.  

After that you wouldn’t leave the South but circled in a meandering loop between Florida, Georgia and Alabama, between your parents, her parents and other relatives. Life being relative, we knew by then. We stayed close to ‘home’ in case something happened. 

Only you were our home, the blazing, burning sun of our universe and when you collapsed finally, sinking in upon yourself, the morphine dimming the light in your eyes, the doctor shaking his head slowly from the doorway, our world went dark. And like planets long orbiting a dying star, we were freed to float away, off into the silent, empty universe, or to collapse ourselves into the hole at the center of the world. 

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To see him again—tall, lean, crinkling eyes, thin lips tugged into a smile, always dry from working outside high up in the trees, a ‘tree doctor,’ he called himself—my stomach drops like it did when we first met at seventeen, him walking into the shoe store where I worked, later returning to ask me out, the first time picked up by a boy meeting my parents and we strolled the boardwalk in and out of circles of lamppost light, illuminating, fingers intertwined, his large hands enveloping, and now two decades later on the street corner in front of his parked work truck, white instead of black like the one he bought when we were together, so big he hoisted me up at the used car dealership, chuckling, the first truck I ever drove, perched and squinting out too-dark tinted windows, picking him up downtown at the end of his serving shift when his tip money was stolen out of his locker, a weekend job to save cash for our daydreamed trip to Belize, we catch up—his wife’s new hospital job, high daycare costs for his kids (I don’t reveal I know about his wife and kids from curious social media searches over the years), and my recent engagement (I keep the ring hidden under my gloves, he doesn’t ask)—then reminisce, his downcast embarrassment when his car ran out of gas on our third date, trekking the highway shoulder together carrying a red plastic gas can, the stocking I made for his first Christmas celebration, having renounced his mother’s religion just before we met, his name sewed in bold block white felt letters like the ones from my own  childhood, eating soggy sandwiches under flat-bottom clouds in Saskatchewan during a cross-country drive, slurping warm chicken noodle soup on New Year’s Eve while he sprawled under a navy blanket on the couch sick with shingles, how I watched the X-Files through outstretched fingers covering my face curled beside him, always seeking his protection, stuck at the top of Blackcomb mountain, scared on a double-black diamond run in my stiff snowboard and boots, him holding me and coaxing me down, stripping mint-green paint from an old dresser, a thrift store find, sanding it bare and refinishing in hazelnut, something hearty and new, a dresser I still use, and now our belly laughter deep and full, talking over each other, words tumbling, so we don’t notice the crisp November air but shove hands deeper into pockets and step closer, my chattering teeth overlooked, work appointments ignored, my chest tightening as he removes his work helmet, tousling greying hair, and then a pause—his lowered voice asking, “Why did we break up again?”— and we remembered me leaning against the kitchen counter while he paced the grey speckled tiles, looking everywhere but at me, voice cracking, that after nearly nine years he didn’t want to settle down, he wasn’t ready, not in his mid-twenties, reasons now evaporated, and then for years, out-of-the-blue phone calls, dinners and concerts, pinkies linked, new boyfriends compared, each time wondering if this was it, hopeful, surprised at details he remembered about me that even I forgot, his memories a tether, getting tattoos, two colorful swallows on his chest facing each other, the crest of a blue wave on the inside of my left ankle, ebb and flow of tides, permanent reminders, and yet another night together, entangled and familiar, falling asleep as always with one leg draped over his, bodies warm and clinging together with sweat, hot breath in my neck, after he hosted a going away get-together before I moved away for grad school, grilling burgers for my friends, and I remember not our first kiss, but the one when I first knew, outside his sister’s apartment door, his back against the wall, me leaning in on tiptoes, him pulling me close, the weight of his clasped hands behind my back, the taste of cigarettes, and now we gaze at each other across a long silence, and when we hug goodbye, we each hold tight before letting go.

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Because I didn’t want to pay for a hotel. Because I could afford to pay for a hotel, but it seemed like a waste. Because, as much as I enjoy sleeping in and then being lazy and watching TV in bed, I wanted to get up and moving and on the road as soon as possible. Because I’d paid for and slept in a hotel the night before, and I’d do so again the night after, and I thought a night in my car would both save me a little money and make me appreciate the nights when I did get a hotel.
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LOW VISIBILITY by Jillian Luft

We’re in a blizzard, the sheer white of it haloing our Nissan Maxima as we careen across the northeast interstate, miles and miles away from the tropical green swelter of our backyard, the cicada buzz of Florida. Starting somewhere in New Jersey, the weather blots out the roads, swallows exit signs, engulfs my parents, younger brother and me in its silent magic. Our burgundy sedan skidding slightly as our mouths open in unison to the light falling soundlessly outside. For the first time in our lives, we feel like the lucky ones. Sole witnesses to a quiet miracle, a record-breaking weather event. This is a real indoor thrill ride, an attraction the likes of Mickey Mouse and company have never seen. Stay off the roads, the voice within the radio warns. Black ice and low visibility. And that poetic caution just encourages us further. As we pass rest areas and off-ramps, a collective thrill electrifies our innards. We’re probably the only car on the road, my mother brags. Mom’s body, nearly healthy, can now journey distances. Untethered from her bed and hospital rooms, she craves the foreign frozen white she’d once seen as a child. And now it falls endlessly. A gift.

The warm air streaming through the vents smells like burnt Doritos. I layer the tiny worlds of pop songs playing on the radio over the large natural one zooming by outside and everything seems to matter more. I press my face against the window, the cool against my cheek as close as I’ve come to touching snow. I don’t even need to, I think. This is enough. My family and I cozy in our puffy jackets, the nylon squealing with our every breath, the vast and beautiful emptiness of the landscape moving past us, the vastness of this moment. 

This memory I trust because of the comfort it offers--the illusion of a comfortable family, bonded through adventure, united through endearing naivete. It’s everything after the snow melts and the trees disrupt the sky and the mountains choke the horizon and the Man and the Woman and their Boy and their Girl greet us from the front of their smalltown New York home that eludes me, that blurs at the edges like a lucid dream. We meet this family through a sick neighbor of ours, an older woman dying of breast cancer. It is the Man’s mother. Every month or so, the Man and his family fly down to Florida to visit the ailing woman and her husband. When she eventually dies, we get closer to the Man and his family. Well, it’s mostly the Man and Mom that become close, soft murmurs in living rooms, secret jokes exchanged, exaggerated laughter over telephone lines. Illness connects people, I guess. The whiff of death like pheromones. The last name of the Man literally means “fair one.” Synonymous with snow.

It is the Man’s idea that we make the trek up north and explore his roots. Most memories from this vacation are faint but pleasant: day trips to a dairy farm and abattoir, hikes across rocky streams, rollicking down unpaved roads in the center seat of the Man’s big truck, safely wedged between him and Mom while the trees grow taller and thicker, snagging us in their spidery canopy. My dad follows close behind in the Maxima. I catch his face in the rear view but can’t tell what his mouth is doing.

Other memories are visceral reels of film unspooling in my brain. So vivid and surreal that I wonder what’s been erased, replaced and edited and for what narrative purpose. For instance, the boys at the bottom of the hill. We view them from across the road, standing in their makeshift tool shed, the gaping maw of the open garage. The Boy, the eldest of us four, asks them to play. They answer back with spit and cussing and dark curls threatening and rosy mouths sneering. The slightly bigger one wields a hatchet, says he can cut us up. Says his parents aren’t home. Says we better start running. And then, inexplicably, these dark and curly child demons are chasing us through the graveyard that snakes along the Boy and Girl’s property. With hatchet in hand, the bigger one sprints, intent on violence. The smaller one appears to be walking on all fours. My feet scramble over the homes of the buried, the Girl with the name of a poisonous tree pulling at my hand, her golden ponytail fleeing from her neck in panic. We run and run, zigzagging through the names of the dead. I think of the monstrous men from horror movies who chase children with weapons that maim, that slaughter. There’s a fence, wooden rungs just tall enough for us to clamber over. And we do with gelatinous knees and oily palms. The Girl presses on my shoulders, pulls me down onto the icy earth behind a large tree. The Boy and my brother are there too, crouching and speaking loudly with frightened eyes despite the controlled clench of their rounded jaws. The Boy puts his index finger to his lips to calm and soothe us. His hair is spiky blades of grass that do not waver. I think I’m in love. The boys from the garage do not jump over the fence. Their profanity fades, the thud of their sneakers on hallowed earth vanish. Breathless, we head back to the house. Our parents have been there the entire time. Drinking wine and talking about that TV show where everybody knows your name. No one mentions the bone-aching terror we just experienced. We were just playing, we say as we enter the indoor warmth, removing our shoes and gloves, our outerwear. The adults nod dumbly, their glasses empty.

But it is the last night of our trip that plays in eerie soft focus and slow motion, unvarnished by time. The events recounted are impossible to confirm. The Boy has since died and he was the source. The Girl and I nestle in sleeping bags on the Boy’s bedroom floor. My brother rests on the bottom bunk and the Boy perches at the top. The wood creaks beneath our tiny bodies with the ginger movements of the adults downstairs. The smell of pine and flannel mix with the herbal and gamey scents leftover from dinner. Like a miniature sun, the boy’s night light burns, casting us all in slabs of shadow, as he tells us what he saw. His eyes raised to the ceiling, his voice  small and hesitant as if it’s his own weighty confession. I can feel him growing older and wearier as his words grow brighter in the fiery orange light. Each utterance sparks and singes, then quickly turns to ash. Sometimes, I get confused and think I saw what he did, too. My mother and the Man sharing a furtive kiss, mouths briefly touching as the kitchen faucet runs, an undried dish in my mother’s manicured hand. The Man holding my mother’s face like a jewel to the light of the moon through the bay window. Deer meat from the Man’s early morning hunt thawing on the counter. 

No one says anything except the Girl who asks what it means. No one answers her because we already know. Like the graveyard chase, we never speak of this again. I don’t recall sleeping.

On the ride back to Florida, I spy on my mother in the side view mirror. She’s upset because the cassette she bought at the mall is warped and my dad is driving too fast. Her mouth is a firm terracotta. She wears sunglasses and stares straight ahead because there’s nothing left for her to see. Decades later, I find a poem she wrote during this time in her journal. It’s on a random page near the back in careful blue lettering. The first line: “He’s moved your heart again and/the moon casts a shadow/over a grave.” I flashback to that house on the hill bordering the resting place of the dead. I never consider that this poem could be about my father.

The last stanza reads unfinished: “Does he dream your dream?/Are you just a memory?/Only you aren’t what he remembers.” I try to parse each line and insert myself into the shared dream of my mother and the Man. The dream of not being forgotten or misremembered, of time staying sweet and static, the present incapable of defiling the past. I cling to the Boy’s remembrance, his glimpse into this shared dream. I imbue it with vibrant color and detail as if it belonged to me.

My mother ejects her tape, meets my eyes, and limply waves. I raise my hand before skating my fingers along the passenger window, thick clear lines cutting through the mist. The shapes recede as the pane fogs over. Messages unseen.

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C by Lisa Lerma Weber

It was another sweltering summer night in our godforsaken little town, the odor of cow dung and hay heavy in the air. My maroon Ford Escort was sitting in a dimly lit corner of the McDonald's parking lot, a bunch of misfits standing around it, trying to figure out what trouble to get into. You and I were lying in the trunk next to a pile of scratched and scuffed skateboards. I turned towards you and smiled. You smiled back. You were always smiling, something I liked about you. We leaned into each other, our lips meeting for a brief moment. There was no tongue involved and you didn't grope me, just gently placed your hand on my hip. We didn't feel any way about each other, didn't need to. We were just high on youth and rebellion. You were probably high on something else, too.         

There was no exchange of awkward words after the kiss. You just gave me that sweet, childish smile of yours before everyone yanked us out of the trunk so we could move on to a party spot hidden in the dark outskirts of town, where only the stars could watch us consume all the beer we could get our misbehaving hands on.

That same summer, you walked to my house in the middle of the night. B and I were sitting on his skateboard, our sweaty backs against the stucco exterior wall of my garage. We quietly talked about everything and nothing, the crickets chirping along with us. Then you appeared out of the darkness, rounding the corner of the deserted street, your eyelids drooping, a crooked smile on your face.

"Dude, where'd you come from? How did you even get here?" B asked.

"I don't know," you said.

The three of us laughed our asses off, high on something or another, the moment perfect in its imperfect splendor. We talked for a while, the words spilling out of our young, urgent mouths. It was about 1:00 in the morning when we all walked down the quiet street and I watched you both continue across the empty dirt lot towards town; B, tall and thin, his shoulders slightly hunched, and you short, your head lowered. I stood there for a while as you became shadows in the distance, then I walked back to my house, picturing you wandering around town, concentrating on the ground in front of you because you were so faded.

Three summers after that night outside my garage, my sister called me at work to tell me the news. I walked out the sliding doors and sat down on a cold concrete bench in front of the store. The sun was too bright, the sound of passing conversations and laughter too loud. I thought about the shy kiss we shared in the trunk of my car. I thought about you wandering the streets in the middle of  the night, not knowing how you ended up at my house. I thought about that mischievous, little boy smile that never seemed to leave your face. Then I cried, people staring at me as the tears and snot fell faster than I could mop them with the sleeve of my dress shirt.

I went back home for the funeral. Afterwards, a bunch of us got together for a house party. We drank and smoked as we shared the details of our post-high school lives. Later in the evening, a few of us gathered and shared memories of you, desperately trying to navigate our collective grief. At one point, B became overwhelmed.

"Fuck, I can't do this," he said as he stormed out of the room.

I was sitting on a medical bed that had been stuffed into the room, probably after it's occupant had passed. S was sitting next to me, our hands touching. When everyone else walked out, he and I turned towards each other and kissed. We made out for a while, our hands all over each other in the darkness, both of us wanting to feel the heat of life, to escape the icy grip of sorrow. 

As night turned into early morning, we all kind of fell apart, drinking until we could no longer stand. I stumbled around a few bodies on the floor towards an open spot on one of the sofas. I fell onto the soft cushions and closed my swollen, red eyes. I thought of your smiling face before slipping into the oblivion of sleep.

I think back to that hot summer night in the McDonald's parking lot; you and I lying in my skateboard filled trunk. If only I'd taken your face in my hands, looked you in the eyes, and told you it would all be ok. But at the time, I was still trying to convince myself of that. I didn't know about the fear and pain that was slowly poisoning you. You hid it so well, your smile like a star in our lonely desert sky.

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It’s that time of year when California burns. It will peak in the Fall when the shadows begin to grow longer. There was a lightning storm across the Bay Area last night and fires today and ash falling from the gray sky. My knee is torn up from skating but I’m restless tonight so I cruise the neighborhood inhaling the poison air. 

Once the fire had torn through my parents’ neighborhood, we tried to return but the cops had all the roads closed. My stepdad knew a way through an orchard. We came upon the house and it still stood. The land was black and smoldering in places. There were two deer trapped between our fence and the fire line. Twisted limbs, charred skin, organs exposed. My stepdad and I dug two graves and buried them together in silence at dusk. 


I had Bobby cut the sleeves off my Ceremony long sleeve in his apartment on a day I couldn’t stop crying. We bought snacks from the dollar store and watched Nightmare on Elm Street 3. Passing me the joint he asked what was the matter. I said, “Everything.”


I’ve been reading about Catholic saints and the desert fathers. The Shobogenzo is on my nightstand, and I understand none of it. I've read it twice. I pray, I speak to my dead friends, I sit cross-legged on the hardwood floor, I think of my father swaying from his noose like a metronome. 


It’s the violence, my mother told me once, that my blood has collectively faced. It’s the drugs. It’s the gutshot my great-grandfather took and his daughter's lethal abortion in an alley off Market Street. It’s the fact that it becomes a list. Categorical. I did not believe how violent lives, violent deaths, could be transmitted through cells. Mom told me I had a weak imagination and placed her cigarette on the edge of the table to watch the ash collect and fall. 


My father once said I kept him alive and I wonder what changed that. He told me once he would never go back to prison. Six years ago he was looking down the barrel of a 25 year bid. He kept his word. 


I go entire days without laughing, without cracking a smile, without moving my mouth at all. Not even to eat. Only rubbing my tongue in the space where a tooth got kicked out.


I can see the stadium lights of my high school from the backyard. My ex-girlfriend’s parents live up the street. 


Last night I was taking out the trash and the orange cat who hangs out in my wheel well was laying in the driveway. He was dead, it was obvious in how not alive he looked. I didn’t know if he belonged to any of the neighbors so I knocked on doors but no one answered. I grabbed an old shirt from my closet and draped it over his body, muttering something I remembered from Catechism: ...and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety.


After I read the Gucci Mane book I texted Juice: Guwop prolific as fuck. He said What? The Young Thug song? And I said Nah man, Gucci Mane, East Atlanta Santa. Juice believes the real Gucci is dead, and the sober and healthy Gucci is a replacement, a replicant. I ate an Adderall and took a sip of my diet coke, tonguing the hole in my mouth where that tooth used to be.


I had to get out of bed. It was my dead friend’s birthday and some of us agreed to have dinner, but I didn’t want to go. One year ago I had my hands around his neck, trying to keep him from hemorrhaging when he got stabbed in the throat. I lost. His frantic eyes searched but couldn’t focus. I told him it was okay and that we’d look after his family. He died and I left before the ambulance arrived.

I got dressed and ate some more Adderall and pocketed a Klonopin and nicotine patches. I thought of shards of glass in the blades of grass. I thought of cumming on lusty lady death. 


I’m just so bored of everything. Nothing surprises me anymore, even when it does. I clip my toenails and gather them to place inside an empty diet coke can. I ejaculate indiscriminately on my socks. I sit slouched in NA meetings and feel grateful for absolutely nothing.


I was watching my mom’s house for a few days during the week in the middle of August. I took the days off work so I could hang out with the pets and get stoned. She lives out in the country on about five acres of pasture at the bottom of a valley, with my stepdad who is there for her and always comes home at night. 

There was a thud at the window and Mila barked and ran to the door. I got off the couch to see what it was. Outside the window, a tiny bird lay on the ground, its tiny beak opening and closing. I knew it was going to die but felt panicked like I had to do something. I couldn’t just wait it out. I scooped the bird into my hands and submerged it in my dog's bucket of water. I can’t say if dying the other way would have been better. The corpse floated to the top.

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