Category: Issue

From Issue 18: Waste

Rich Furman

I have watched so much rot before me, and here now, two potential disasters. The pickled Korean cucumbers, the more serious of the two; I will need to build courage.     

I reach toward the back of the refrigerator, and remove a translucent-blue container. Cheese I brought home some months before from Mercado Latino. Queso Oaxaca, half of the strings stripped and eaten, the rest, a disconsolate off-white moon with a glowing, yellow haze. I may be too late. I open the lid, breath in, and am pleased–only mildly pungent–not far from its original form. 

I peel a small thread, from the middle of the broken center to the front, bring it to my lips, taste. Satisfied it represents only a moderate risk, I break off a wedge and fuse it with the slightly stale end of a loaf of French bread, despite there being a new one nearby in the cupboard. A sandwich is born.

I no longer pay for much food in my home–my lover’s primary contribution–but it unnerves me, the progression from vigorous to defective.

There has been so much. Take my knees for example. They have turned my world small. The bodies of four dogs that now linger in ash. The flesh between old friends that has torn and split and bleed. The narrowing of the tarsal-tunnels in my ex-wife’s feet; the pain receptors and neurons that turned it all sour.

But this cheese sandwich–it is evidence. I am a hero. I am an entire search and rescue operation. I will receive a medal. Something like a purple heart. 

 

Rich Furman, PhD, is the author or editor of over 15 books, including a collection of flash nonfiction/prose poems, Compañero (Main Street Rag, 2007). He is professor of social work at University of Washington Tacoma.

From Issue 18: My Parents’ Hands

Ellen Stone

 

I saw the way she pushed them –
flickering like river –
into the mound, turning what
was almost weightless
into substance, flour of air,
pinch of sea, sludge of yeast
she drained, slight foam
from the narrow bowl,
hard plane of her wide palm
pressing on counter, leaning
with her urgent weight, making
something live that was static.
The way her brain flew, fingers
turning dough into baby, white
dusting cabinets, floor, her face
a studied countenance of care.

The manner in which he held a hoe
as if it were a loved thing, what
can be leaned or relied on, his
intention sharp as a pine’s outline
on the ridge over the dark swamp.
Then swung it, swift cuts into dirt,
precise, methodical as a church bell
but sharp enough to kill a helpless
small thing. How he let me help
hammer iron stakes, string line
to make the rows. His hands
that raised the sledge above
our heads & released it over
& over. How I thought life would
always be like this, measured
even in cruelty, even in death.

 

Ellen Stone teaches at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her poems have appeared in Passages North, The Collagist, The Museum of Americana, The Citron Review, and Fifth Wednesday. Ellen’s poetry has been nominated twice for a Pushcart prize, as well as twice for Best of the Net.

From Issue 7: Yellow

WINNER OF THE 2015 “CITIES GONE WRONG” FICTION CONTEST

Yellow

Catherine Flora Con

The night Luke first disappointed his father, the house looked formidable despite its peeling yellow paint.  Already there were sandbags against the door in case the hurricane hit, though it wasn’t supposed to come until Thursday and even then it would just be rain.  He turned the key in the latch and the first thing his father said was, “Lock the door.”

Luke did, and his father jiggled the knob to check it himself.  In the living room, Luke sat on the couch with his elbows on his knees.

“You’re late,” his father said.

“By two minutes,” Luke said.

“No excuses, boy.  We send you to these parties for a reason.”  He took a metal box from its place under the carpet, beneath the couch, and turned the combination.  Inside, dollar bills were lined up in neat stacks, from one-dollar bills all the way up to one-hundred.

Luke watched as he straightened some of the bills.  A breeze threw sand across the floor.  “I was wondering if we could talk about this.”

“About what?”

“My friends were there.”

“You know what I always say.  It’s not personal.  It’s business.”

“Family business,” Luke said.

“Don’t be smart with me.”

Luke’s mother padded down the staircase in her sunny pajamas, her blond hair in rollers.  Around her ankles, sprayed-on tan appeared in marigold stripes.  “I just don’t know what to do with you, Luke honey,” she said, one hand on her hip.  “You just have too many friends.”  She turned to his father.  “Is it even possible to send him to a place where he wouldn’t know anyone?  You should have taken that rich girl’s purse, Allison or Ashley K. or something.”

Luke stiffened.  Allison Krueger had been there.  She was his roommate’s old girlfriend.

His father shook his head.  “You both know this isn’t about friends.”  He turned to Luke.  “So where is the money?”

Luke took a few crumpled bills from the pocket of his jeans.

His father pursed his lips together like he did when a flight was delayed or his steak was overcooked.  His mouth was a thin line.  “That’s it?”

Luke nodded.

“Tell me, Luke, what is the plan?  Every party we go to, what is it?”

“‘Have some beer, not too much, take the wallets, and get out.’”

His father counted the bills onto coffee table.  “Five, ten, fifteen.  You were supposed to bring three hundred dollars.  Not fifteen.”

His mother picked up the bills to take them to the kitchen, where she would wrap them in tin foil so that ghosts wouldn’t get to them.  This was something the women in Luke’s family had been doing for three generations.  “Fifteen dollars is a start, sweetheart.”

His father looked out at the ocean like it was speaking to him, giving him a go-ahead about what to say next.  “We don’t need a start.  This is tradition.  It was started long ago.”

Luke couldn’t meet his eyes, so he looked down at his hands.  In elementary school, he had longed for veiny hands, like his father’s, because they looked to him like strong, grown-up hands.  Now though, he looked down at them and they did not seem like his own; they looked like the hands of a man he didn’t know.

Money didn’t thrill him.  It was colorless and papery and hard to come by.  He preferred things like a glass water bottle or a pocket knife.  It was surprising how many people carried knives.  The ones he had in his desk drawer reminded him of different things: protection, adventure, resourcefulness.  Some of them had can openers, others you could open with a flick of your thumb.  He always thought maybe he’d sell them, but they weren’t worth that much and besides, if he got rid of one of them he’d have to give them all up, because they belonged together.

Growing up, he sometimes let his red shirts hang on one side of the closet and the blue shirts on the other, but usually he was sure to move them around for each shirt to spend time alongside the others.  And he did his best to wear all of them the same amount throughout the week if he could, although secretly he favored the blue shirt with the thin white stripes.

Always, he’d thought about objects this way.  Once, when he saw a watch left on a piano at a party, he took it because it looked neglected by the pianist.  He gave it as a present to his mother, who was sure to take care of it.  His father examined the leather, the gleaming square-shaped face.  It was worth ten grand at least.  “Very good work, Luke.  This could be used for something.”  But when they took it to the pawn shop, it turned out to be a fake, worth less than ten dollars.

Luke had tried to steal money, really he had.  When he saw a purse sitting on a chair by itself, he usually could find at least fifty dollars.  But it wasn’t the money he wanted as much as the trinkets that came with the bag.  He kept a few key chains in a drawer, and he especially liked the kind that looked like they were from a friend who went on vacation, where they had someone in sunglasses write his name on a grain of rice.  Of course, the key chains didn’t have his name on them, but he had five of them now: Latasha, John, Susanna, Matthew, and Lizzie.

Before Luke disappointed his father, he was at a party.  He stood looking around at the fireplace, at the people, and out the windows.  He was holding a beer but not drinking it, and Allison Krueger’s back was to him.  She was standing near the ping pong table–too near, he thought–in a white dress.  The cloth-covered buttons down her back looked gentle, the flower pin in her hair beckoned him to stay where he was.

The last time they talked, he learned that her parents owned three beach houses, one at Seabrook Island and two at Folly Beach.  Her grandfather had founded a school or something, or maybe he’d founded the yellow school buses?  Luke couldn’t remember.  “You can get one-hundred dollars off of her at least, easy as pie,” his mother had said.  Last summer at a garden party, she’d taken an entire jar of bath salts from the Kruegers’ master bathroom.  But Alison wasn’t like other rich girls.  If he took anything from her, it seemed to him that she would be hurt, not angry, and so he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

In August, before classes started, Allison had come up to their room late one night, out of breath.  She’d sat on Mike’s bed with her knees pulled to her chest.  Berry, the all-girls dorm where she lived, had been an orphanage during the Civil War.  Some claimed it was haunted, and every few months, the fire alarm went off for no reason.  Allison said she’d heard children playing and the sound of a ball being rolled around overhead.  “I know it’s stupid,” she’d said, “but I’m on the fifth floor.  There’s no one above us.”  That was the night Mike broke up with her, and Luke remembered she was crying a little when she said, “Talk to you later, Luke” before she left.

Now, Allison was watching the doubles game.  She was clapping and screaming and grabbing the ball when it bounced off the table, when she spun completely around on her heel, like a figure skater, and saw him.

“Jake!” she exclaimed.

“Luke.”

“What?”

“It’s fine,” he said.  “Luke, Jake, they both end with K and E.”

He hadn’t intended for it to be funny, but she laughed with full velocity.  She set her drink down on the ping pong table and threw her head back, closed her eyes for a second.  It was humid, and although they stood near a fan, a few strands of hair clung to her neck.  “I’m so sorry.  Are you going to mountain weekend?”

Luke said he wasn’t sure, he might have to study.

“Well,” she said, “Elliot Landers asked me to be his date, even though–” and here she put her face so close to his that he could smell beer and grassy perfume, “he’s gay.”  Her breath was hot on his cheek.  “Mike is jealous though, I think.”

Luke raised his eyebrows.  “Elliot Landers,” he hazarded, “is really good at theater.”

“Isn’t he?  And last year he was in Equius, so we all got to see him naked.  Anyway, I don’t really care who I go with, as long as it’s someone.”

From where they stood, he could see people gathered around the small pool outside but no one had been pushed in yet, they were just standing around.  The game had turned into beer pong now and Allison was horrible at it.  She wore her purse across her body.  It was small, made of brown leather, and he wondered if she had bought it in Europe over the summer.

He wandered into a den where video game controls were askew on the carpet.  It smelled of burnt popcorn, and he was about to leave when he saw it on the couch.  It looked familiar to him, the edges frayed and the small Fossil logo in the leather.  Where had he seen it before?  He couldn’t place it, but knew that it came from somewhere in his memory.  If it was familiar to him, then it belonged to someone he knew. Well of course it did, he knew everyone here.  Yes, but it really looked like someone’s.  He would much rather take some girl’s purse.  Oh but where would he hide it?  The music was loud, too loud.  He couldn’t concentrate.  He worked better under pressure; would it be easier if there were lots of people around?

It doesn’t matter whose it is, he reminded himself.  Get out, get out.

The leather was soft and well-worn.  He took the wallet mostly because he liked what it looked like, like something that had been passed down from a father to a son.  It fit easily into his back pocket, and he took that as a sign that this was meant to happen, this was the wallet he was supposed to take tonight.  His father would be pleased.

“I was wondering where you went,” Allison said when he entered the kitchen.  “You want some?”  She was eating slivers of chips and putting them in dip.

“I’ll get you some more,” he said.  He felt confident now.  It had been a while since he’d last taken money.  A few months, at least.  He felt like he could do anything.  He opened the pantry and took out two more bags of chips, emptying one of them onto a platter.

He wondered if his mother would wrap the entire wallet in tin foil, or just the bills.  She’d always been delightfully scared of ghosts, and every now and then he saw her watching at the window in the living room at night, before closing the curtains and turning off the lights.

He felt a hand on his shoulder.  It was a guy in a pink polo shirt.  “Did you hear?  I’m not surprised.  Ain’t no such thing as a brotherhood anymore.”

Other people were looking around, turning over couch cushions and peering below chairs.

“Maybe he left it somewhere?  And forgot?” Luke said.  He began looking around uselessly.

Mike came in with a brunette at his elbow.  “Did you find it?” she asked.  “I have to go home soon.”

“Did you have a lot in there?”  Luke said.  He felt his stomach plummet.

“Come to think of it, I only had about fifteen bucks cash.”

In the morning, his father said good morning to Luke in his formal way, then got right down to it:  Evenly spread cream cheese on his bagel.  “Just two drops of cream,” he would say to flight attendants when ordering coffee on airplanes.  But they were always nervous and brought the cream for him to pour himself.  Everything to him was like a performing art – particular, beautiful, and more often than not, practiced until it could be felt.  “The body remembers,” he liked to remind Luke, and the same with stealing.  No motion could be wasted; every action was necessary and lovely at the same time, specific and thoughtful.  Luke waited while his father mixed salsa into scrambled eggs and measured the proper ratio of milk to coffee.

His mother came in and opened the fridge.  “So other than–you know–how was the party?” she asked.  “Sometimes,” she continued, “It’s just harder.  You can’t always know the different factors.  You might be distracted by a girl, or–”

“But you have to stay on course, Luke,” his father said.

His mother put a bowl of strawberries on the table and his father stirred them into his yogurt.  Luke knew that his father had taken the strawberries from the farmer’s market by sliding them off the table as he was talking to the man who worked there.  It was his father who had taught him right from wrong — lying was wrong, honesty was right; greed was wrong, simplicity was right.  And yet when it came to the family, tradition was always right, in the same way that parents tell their children about Santa Claus, and it’s not thought of as wrong.

Before the next party, Luke was in the bathroom of the frat house, drying himself; it had been raining some before he arrived.  He started taking paper towel after paper towel, as if each was a dollar bill or a wallet.  He was so quick, so stealthy!  They piled up beside the sink, dry and unused.  He looked at his grey eyes in the mirror.  He would be brave.

Mike was making the drink, a vat of vodka with lemon slices floating around in it.  Every few minutes he returned to the cooler to pour and mix and stir.  He was trying to impress the brunette who was gazing into her compact mirror.

“This is what it’s like at real southern parties,” he said.  Of course, this wasn’t true.  The people who gathered around cream-colored tablecloths in Charleston courtyards sipped mint juleps from glasses that clinked.

Allison Krueger had hair the color of honey and generous freckles on her nose, the cute kind.  Luke watched her lips purse out to meet the white rim of her cup, and the way her hands danced as she spoke.  He’d wasn’t sure at this point what she talking about, something about what had happened with her and some friends at the beach last summer.  Every word was stretched and cushioned, and her ring with the flower jewel threw light all over the wall as she spoke.

Mike came in with the brunette then, and Allison took Luke’s hand and led him out of the kitchen.  They started dancing.  She was laughing and saying that she loved that song, and suddenly he’d forgotten her name already.  It started with A, that he was sure about.  She was holding the type of little purse that his mother had said to look out for because they usually carried loose bills.  It was sparkly and silver and didn’t appeal to him the way her leather bag had, and he wondered if that would make it easier or harder for him to take it.  After a few songs, the room became more crowded, until she had her cheek pressed up against his.  Then she said she had to go to the bathroom, and he waited for her beside some guys who were throwing shrimp cocktail into each others’ mouths.

She came out of the bathroom with her arms crossed and said, “You really have to be on your toes in this place, you know what I mean?”

He thought for a fleeting second that she had found him out, but she cocked her head towards the bathroom and he assumed there had been some trouble with another girl.

Out on the porch, it was cooler.  Citronella candles were out to keep the mosquitoes away, and it smelled of waxy citrus and of salt from the ocean.  It would be so, so easy to take a few loose bills from that beaded purse she had.  But as she draped her arms over his shoulders, he thought of Spanish moss hanging from the branches of oak trees on campus, frail and quiet.  Her mouth tasted of sugar and vodka, and everything was cast over with a soft yellow light: the porch, her hair, her dress, which was actually white.

He didn’t know how long he’d been awake.  Flakes of paint were falling from the ceiling like the wings of dead moths.  Mike was not in the other bed.  Luke wondered if he’d seen them and left, but more likely he was on a couch downstairs, the floor beside him sticky with beer.

She breathed in and out, in and out beside him.  Her eye makeup had left dark smudges on his pillow.  It would be a better time as any now, since everyone would be asleep.  He got up to leave the room, then saw her silver purse.  She wore braces in her driver’s license photo, pearls in her college ID.  There were a few bills, a lipstick, a key, a picture that was yellowing at the edges.  Her and some guy.  Hey, he wanted to tell him, I have your girl now.  But the guy continued to look back at him with the same confident expression, his arm around her loosely, and Luke wished he could have just a little of what he had.

Walking home with the purse in hand, he passed the other fraternity houses, their letters visible in the pale morning, great oaks sprawled overhead.  He’d counted the bills; they added up to exactly one-hundred dollars.  He’d counted them twice, just as his father had taught him.  His home was in sight when he saw her from a block away, the white dress wrinkled, the blond wisps around her face.  He made no move to hide her purse, but held it at his side, and she looked at it, not comprehending.

“You found it?” she said.

“I took it.”

When she looked at him, he could only open his mouth.

“If you needed money,” she said, “why didn’t you just tell me?”

Would she really have given him money if he’d asked?  He didn’t know what to think.  “It’s not about the money,” he found himself saying.  “It’s just the way we’ve always done things.”  He was surprised to hear he sounded like his father.  What was repetition but trust in something, over and over again, as constant as the tides of the ocean?  Yet even the ocean shifted and changed and blended.

His mother came out onto the porch then.  She had in her hands something balled up and shiny: tin foil.  She didn’t see him, but walked out onto the grass in her bare feet, around to the back of the house.

Alison still stood before him.  He’d taken the ring because it was beautiful, like colored glass washed over by the ocean, smooth and bright.  Someday, somehow, he would explain that, but not now.  He took it out of his pocket and held it out to her, like a peace offering, and he thought of how his father would be waiting for him in the living room, sitting in a patch of morning sun.

 

Catherine Flora Con holds an MFA in fiction from Boston University, where she is the Creative Writing Program Coordinator.  She is currently at work on a novel filled with music and mischief.

From Issue 16: The Disposal of Mormon Garments

Dayna Patterson

This ritual, for me, used to entail careful cutting, excising the horizontal line over knee and navel, the compass’s V over the right breast, the square’s L over the left, four white rounds of cloth with their holy symbols I’d hold between tweezers and carefully burn over the sink, rinsing down cinders and wiping away scorch marks on porcelain.

Their sacred bits stripped, I ripped the remaining cloth to rags, perfect for soaking up lemon oil polish on the piano and bookshelves.

V — — L

I remember putting them on the first time—I was 21, prepping for a mission to Montreal. All missionaries go through the temple before they’re sent to distant lands, armored, so to speak, in garments. In a dressing room of the Logan Temple, after the washing and anointing ordinance, I pulled on the bottoms, slipped the top over my head. I chose dry silk fabric, felt its soft caress beneath my dress on chest and legs. I loved its cool, soft touch, like a slip sewn into my clothes, whisper on skin. It felt secret and sexy, yet virtuous, good. I embraced my newly bizarre faith, what I’d seen in the temple wholly alien. The clothes, the prayers, the hand gestures. Tokens and signs and shields. Garments were easy compared to the rest. The rest clung like sunburn.

V — — L

I remember removing them off for the last time. I’d taken a sabbatical from church attendance, and the months stretched, unraveling any desire I had to return.

Why am I still wearing these? I asked myself.

A 12 years’ habit, I answered.

I didn’t have any other underwear, had to go to the store—What is my size?—to buy a package—Should I choose white? Bikini cut or briefs? What fabric do I like? Spandex? Cotton? After an hour of painful deliberation, a package in pastels—not white, but not a loud red or black or striped. No lace or frills. Cotton Hanes for Her. Size 7, I guessed, not bikini cut or square, but not spinsterly, either. So many, too many choices emanating from one.

V — — L

For months, I felt naked under my clothes, wore a tank top under my blouse, leggings beneath my jeans. When I’d forget to don a camisole, I felt exposed, cold, too much air on my midriff instead of a garment top’s insulating hug. I realized some of my shirts were semi-transparent, which hadn’t mattered with garments. They’d lent a layer of substance to any shirt. Rather than downsizing my wardrobe, I bought undershirts in every conceivable color.

V — — L

I remember the stories I heard in church—bullets deflected, burns absorbed—by the power of garments worn by faithful members. But for me, faithless, they’ve lost all magic. The care, ritual, mysticism, respect I’ve shed. I empty the bin beside my bed, bag the dry silk, maternity tops, cotton bottoms cleaned and packed here four years ago in case . . .

They smell of must. I slip them in a plastic garbage sack like the carcasses of doves, all feather and rot, bodies devoid of spark. I toss them in the dumpster’s dark.

 

 

Dayna Patterson was raised in northern Utah, fed by the faith of her ancestors, who emigrated from Manchester, England, in 1855 to be part of  the Mormon exodus to the West. She is Editor-in-Chief of Psaltery & Lyre, Poetry Editor for Exponent II Magazine, and a Consulting Editor for Bellingham Review. daynapatterson.com

From Issue 16: The Visitor

Brittany Ackerman

Duncan Leeds used to go to my school, but transferred when his dad got a promotion and his mom wanted a house in Wellington Gardens, a house that had an elevator and a trampoline in addition to the standard two stories and a pool for Florida mansions.  Wellington was thirty minutes away from where I lived in Boca Raton, and in Florida time, that was a whole other world.  He was my first real boyfriend, even though we only saw each other on weekends.

“I love you,” Duncan said on the phone.  It was late, past eleven o’clock on a school night, and we both spoke in low voices.  “Do you love me?”

“Yes,” I said, immediately uncertain of what “love” even was.  Did I know?  Did I want to be in love at age fifteen?  I couldn’t even drive yet without an adult in the car.  In a year, we’d both have cars, and we could meet up in the middle of the night if we wanted to instead of talking on the dumb phone, and maybe then we’d be able to be in love, real love, because we could be ourselves, and not these immature versions of kids who want more than they have.

But Duncan seemed happy.  He seemed okay.  He seemed to believe that this was it, this was love and we had it.

“I wish you went to my school,” He said after a long pause.

“Me too,” I answered in solidarity.

“Maybe you could shadow me for a day, and if you like it, you can transfer too.  It’s private, so you don’t have to live here or anything.”

“It’s so far away though,” I said, picking at my nail polish, flicking red chips all over my white bedspread, collecting them in a pile that I would dispose of when we got off the phone.

“But next year you’ll be able to drive yourself to school, so it won’t matter.  You’ll like driving.  It’ll be fun.  And maybe you can sleepover, if we ask my mom or something, like downstairs in the basement, or you can have my bed and I’ll go down there, or, I don’t know, something like that.”

“Yeah,” I said, my thoughts drifting off to what would happen after high school though, if I’d be the same person, if I wanted to be someone else, what would happen if this was it, if Duncan and I would have kids of our own someday who fell in love or thought they knew what love could be.

It was arranged for me to visit Wellington Christian High School and skip a day of my own classes.  I had to beg my mom for this, even though I didn’t really want to go, and it took days of arguing for it to finally happen.  I told her that my school was making me materialistic because all the girls had purses instead of backpacks.  I told her I wouldn’t mind the longer drive to school in the morning, that it would actually help me practice driving because it’d be the same route everyday.  In the end, she knew it was because of Duncan, but she let me go anyway because I think she really believed in our love.

“You play a cat and mouse game with him,” she said the night before my visit.

“What do you mean?” I asked, lying on the floor of the library room in our house.  She hated when I did this.  First, because she couldn’t see me when she was on the computer playing her puzzles, and second because she didn’t think it was safe even though it wasn’t dangerous at all.  Sometimes parents worry for absolutely nothing, and the floor thing was definitely one of those things.

“When you like him, he runs, and when he chases after you, you run.  Cat.  Mouse,” as she spoke, pieces of her virtual puzzle clicked into place.  She always had the volume up way too high.  Sometimes if she couldn’t sleep, I could hear the pieces clicking, clicking, even up in my bedroom on the second floor with the door closed.  I’d call the house phone just to be annoying and tell her to lower the volume.  “Don’t call so late,” she’d say, as if I didn’t live there.

“That’s not true,” I said in response to her remark.  I pictured Tom and Jerry chasing each other through various scenarios, and I remembered that Tom always goes after Jerry.  The cat always goes after the mouse.  I so desperately hoped I was the mouse in the situation with Duncan, and then I realized I probably was since he asked me to consider transferring schools, but then I also recognized that maybe I was the cat since I agreed to try out Wellington Christian.

I wanted to be in love, and maybe that’s why Duncan was so appealing at first.  He asked me out by slipping a note in my locker.  He wanted an answer by the end of the day.  I never had a class with him, but I said yes and we started dating.  And then he left after Christmas break.  Even though we did long-distance, he was so available, so willing, so uninterested in anything except the hypothetical future.  We didn’t have to worry about how any of us would get there.  Maybe we were just in love with love, with the kind of love that didn’t have to exist because no one ever talked about it.  We said it at the mall into our Nokia phones, we wrote it on the back of our hands, we called it the “L” word so it remained a small and easy thing.

“Do you have to wear anything special?” My mom asked.

“No,” I said.  “But I think I want to wear jeans since everyone will be in uniform.”

“Is that allowed?”

“I’m the visitor.  I can wear anything.  And I want to look nice.”

“I don’t know if jeans are nice.”

“Oh my God!” I said and rolled myself up, off the carpet.

With traffic, it took thirty-seven minutes to get up to Wellignton.  Duncan was waiting for me at the end of the carpool line when my mom dropped me off.  I begged her to let me drive so I’d look cool when I showed up, but she said I would go too fast since I was so excited.  I didn’t want to argue with her because then she’d know I was basically doing this all for a boy, so I smiled when I got out of the car and ran to hug Duncan.

“We can’t really, hug, or anything here,” Duncan said, detaching my body from his.

“Oh, ‘cause it’s like, super Christian here,” I said back.

“Not super, but, well, yeah,” Duncan shrugged and waited for me to be upset.  But I wanted him to think I was really down to earth, go with the flow.  I turned around and waved at my mom, who said she’d be waiting at the Wellington Green Mall, reading the paper and doing the crossword puzzle with her cell phone on loud in case I needed to escape.  I told myself it was just one day, a few hours really, and then I could break-up with Duncan and date someone else, or no one, or whatever.  I didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore if I was unsure of it, and even though I wasn’t sure if I was unsure, I took that as a no anyway.

“I understand,” I said and smiled.  “Where do I sign in?”

Duncan led me to the office where the secretary had a nametag waiting for me.  No one had inquired about my religious background, but I began to feel uncomfortable around so many crosses and plaques stating that Jesus was the answer to all my problems.  I was never forced to go to temple or pray or anything, but I still considered myself Jewish.  My mom was Jewish, and my dad, so it was really deep, down in there in my blood.  But I didn’t know most of the Torah stories.  I couldn’t have told you anything about Judaism other than you get eight presents on Hanukkah.

Duncan’s classroom looked like the rooms at my school, but there seemed to be fewer students.  My classes had 25-30 kids per class, where here I only counted fifteen.  There were nine girls and six boys, including Duncan.  Some of the boys gave him a hard time for me being there, but I knew it was just because they thought I was pretty and probably wished I were their girlfriend and not Duncan’s.

The morning started off with the pledge of allegiance, followed by a whole minute of silent prayer, finished with an “Amen,” from everyone.  I tried to stand up and sit down at the right parts, but felt jumbled and out of place.  Also my jeans were really tight and bugging the crap out of me every time I moved.  I should have worn a dress.  The class schedule was normal.  They had Science, History, English, Math, and then lunch.  I was most nervous for lunch because I didn’t want to have to talk to any of the girls.  The whole morning they eyed me up and down and gave me weird looks.  I understood though; I was treading on their territory.  Duncan was really cute and they all probably wanted to date him.  They must have hated me for being his girlfriend.  I tried to tell them with my eyes that it wouldn’t be much longer, that they could have him, soon.

After we ate our dry, turkey sandwiches, Duncan dragged me to the tennis courts so we could be alone.  He kissed me, hard, with a lot of tongue, more than ever before.

“I thought we couldn’t do this,” I said, backing away a bit.

“No one’s here,” he said, pulling me back.

We kissed for a few minutes until I felt his boner through his khaki pants.

“You really need to get a digital camera so you can send me pics of your tits,” he said, grabbing my boobs over my shirt.

“Stop!” I laughed, even though I liked the attention.

“You know, all my friends are jealous of me,” Duncan said.

“I know,” I said.

“I can’t wait until we can be alone like this all the time.”

“Me too,” I said.

I looked out beyond the tennis courts, past the school’s courtyard and offices, out into the Wellington scenery of trees and dirt roads and nowhereness.  I didn’t want to be here.  I missed Boca.  Wellington was a wasteland for the religious youth.  I had no place here.  I belonged at a mall or an extravagant restaurant.  But I didn’t want to let him down, let my mom down.  I didn’t want anyone to know that I wanted to try things, like sex and weed and maybe pills and maybe date an older guy or kiss a stranger at a party or even just go to a party and not have to answer to anyone.  I felt like everyone just wanted me to do the right thing, and I didn’t want to do that.

When the bell rang, Duncan told me we’d have to separate until the end of the day.  The last two periods were religious study and personal reflection.  The class would be divided by sex; girls with one teacher, boys with another.  My stomach dropped.

The boys stayed in Duncan’s original homeroom class, while the girls went across the hall and a few doors down to another room.  The girls were arranging the desks in a circle and I pulled a desk to complete it and sat down.  The teacher read us some bible verses and then told us a story about the woman at the well.  I tried not to pay attention and bit my cuticles down instead, but I heard her talk about this woman who was a prostitute, a whore, who came to the well and had a conversation with Jesus.  He ministered to her and accepted her, despite her character, and even wanted her to fetch him a drink of water, which was like, crazy apparently.  I liked how the teacher told the story.  The room was so relaxed, I almost wanted to lie down and sleep.  I felt comfortable, like every girl in the room was accepting of everyone in the world, but for real because they believed in something greater than themselves.  I wondered if Jesus would love me if he knew me, if he could love me like he loved the girls in the room, and if I could ever believe that it was possible to be loved that much by anyone.

The teacher asked the group of girls what they thought about stereotypes and judging others before getting to know them.  Most girls gave generic answers about how that’s bad and we should love everyone as we love ourselves and as Jesus loves us, but one girl, Samantha, brought me up.

“Her for example,” Samantha said and pointed to me.  “I didn’t know what to think when I heard she’d be coming here for the day.  But she’s been so quiet and respectful of our school.  She really belongs here.  And Duncan is one of the best guys I know, so she has to be great if he likes her.”

I couldn’t believe she was saying all this to a teacher.  My teachers didn’t even care if I showed up to class, let alone knew anything about my personal life.

“How do you like it here so far?” the teacher asked me.

“Everyone’s been so nice,” I said, which was true.  I felt a shift, like maybe I had the wrong idea.  Everyone was nice, a lot nicer than at my school.  Maybe if I went to school here, I’d be popular because boys like me and I know about fashion and everyone was already jealous of me, jealous in a good way, a positive way.

“Do you think you’ll transfer here?” Samantha asked and smiled.

“I hope so,” I said.

“Let’s all join hands,” the teacher said.  “And you too,” she directed her voice at me.  I nodded and offered my hands to the two girls next to me.  “Let us pray that Brittany find the strength to leave behind her old school and the courage to try Wellington Christian and know that she will be loved and supported by you, our Lord Jesus, and that you may bestow her the wisdom to know what choice is right to make and instill that choice deep in her heart.  Let us do your work, good Lord, and keep our hearts focused on you.  Lift me up so that I may guide these wonderful girls and bless me with your spirit that I may stay in your word.  We adore you, Lord Jesus, and we will follow you forever and ever.  Amen.”

Duncan gave me a hug goodbye, but we couldn’t kiss because the other kids were around, some teachers too.  The one that prayed for me smiled and waved as I got in my mom’s car, the driver’s side this time.  She let me drive home and I wasn’t sure if it was because she knew how important it was to me or if she was just tired and wanted me to drive.  I didn’t speak to her as I drove away from Wellington Christian and watched the school disappear into the dust and dirt and palm trees and trailer trash neighborhood and strip malls until we were finally on State Road 441, a long a desolate road that led back to Boca.

I never spoke to Duncan again after that day.  It was like we said goodbye without having to.  The kiss we shared on the tennis courts burned in me for a long time until I fell in love again and again, forever and ever, with so many others.

After a few minutes of driving, my mom finally asked me how it went and I told her I loved the school and wanted to transfer and she laughed and told me I couldn’t go to a Christian school because I was Jewish.

“I’m not that Jewish,” I said.

“I don’t understand you!”

“You don’t have to understand me, you just have to love me like God loves me!”

She stayed quiet and looked out the window, mad.

“The whole class prayed for me!” I yelled and all of a sudden there was a noise.  Something shattered.  The window, the passenger window fell into my mom’s lap and she screamed.  I swerved and she screamed more and I pulled over and stopped the car and we both got out.  She started crying and her arm was bleeding and I pushed the OnStar button and it called them and they said they were coming and we waited.

I asked my mom if she was okay and I don’t remember what she said.  I just remember her picking glass off her clothes, the way she shook her head in disbelief, disappointment.

“I’m sorry,” I kept saying, like a chant, a prayer of my own, asking for her forgiveness, for the way I was, for the way I would be the rest of my life; impulsive, indecisive, and wanting the wrong things.

Roadside assistance said it was a temperature fluctuation that caused the window to break, but the temperature changes all the time in Florida, rain to burning sunshine, humidity to random windy chills.  My mom guessed it might have been a tiny pebble that was caught in a lawn mower, got spit out onto 441, faster than the eye could see.  Maybe it was God that shattered our window.  Maybe it was Jesus Christ.  Maybe it was just a rock flying through the sky that happened to hit us.  But I wanted it to be more.

 

Brittany Ackerman is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University’s MFA program in Creative Writing.  She currently lives in Los Angeles with her forthcoming collection of essays entitled, The Perpetual Motion Machine, to be released by Red Hen Press in the fall of 2018.

From Issue 16: Winter Solstice

Noorulain Noor

The moon, only a half-arc wafer,
and the darkness discordant
with rush hour traffic.
This throng of lonely souls,
in accidental communion with each other,
their heartbreak heavier than night.
Together, we wear a shroud of invisibility
under the same barren stretch of sky,
inching along the same patch of road
amidst the sinusoidal symmetry of hills —
sentinels of many other sorrows.

 

Noorulain Noor is a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and a two time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her poetry has appeared in Spillway, Sugar Mule, Santa Clara Review, Muzzle and other journals. Raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Noorulain now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her poetry explores themes of identity, multiculturalism, and the immigrant experience.