Saccharin / The Great Wenhua Family / A Brochure for Powdered Faces and Black Dresses

The bike, sleek and glacé, was a gift from her bàba.Made of maraschino cherries, the sugar syrup dripped, coating her hands. The food color dyes her fingers.[…]

Popcorn Machine

Courtney sailed through her mother’s Facebook page hastily and yet steadily. This was the act of an expert browser who had seen every corner of that familiar and cherished page a countless number of times and knew where every mundane click would lead to. She knew how many pictures were posted and where, how many status updates there were, her mother’s favorite music, books, and upcoming events. […]

Mental Colonialism / A Promise of Promise / Clipped Wings

I often wonder of the women before me, what if they were encouraged to soar? What farther heights could we reach? if half our wings were not caged away.[…]

Odessa

One of the mountains of belongings had seemingly collapsed into the negative space, leaving a sloping pile that scattered out several feet on either side. But amongst the avalanche of things, the hill of hard, solid, tangible objects, was something organic.[…]

Writing a Memory Down to Save It

ink is no different from skin, hair, spit and sweat: it bleeds, it weeps, it cakes like peat. And writing a memory down will not save it. […]

Adam’s Apples / LITANY FOR TRANSIT / 12/21/12

on the day the world ends you pray for a portal to open above the teacher’s head, shining deep cosmic blue saying you weren’t wrong, that you deserve better than the ones who say you deserve better than the futures you already predict in cold-handed silence, in the words you read and will read again […]

Overhoard

On nights like this, I’ll watch Hoarders to learn/unlearn empathy (for my mother). I love them, I cry with them, and I think I understand. Sitting criss-crossed in a pile of clothes, I fix ramen, wait (for you) to come home […]

Harth rem ir Estevan is Dead

Harth rem ir Estevan is dead. It is the first time that I have read The Left Hand of Darkness, and I find that I have fallen for the brisk, deep honor of its principal nation, Karhide, and the empirical myth of its glacial world, Winter. In this place that LeGuin has created, an immaculately curated, textured oral tradition sits with craft and tact, unfurling honor clean and easy like butter.[…]

Grave Danger Sonnet

I’ll tell you this: my house burned easy, quick
as locusts gun through fields. The desert hummed
a warning. No, I did not stay. I stick […]

Beautiful Like Us

We’re fourteen years old, with pudgy cheeks, flowered Converse and crooked teeth. It’s the summer before freshman year, and we’re lounging on couches in my living room with our eyes narrowed at the TV screen. My best friend, Lindsey, sighs quietly and says[…]

The Fort Jackson Dam Can Take No More / DICTIONASARUS / Roman Prelude #1

What’s left is
the local newsreels;
the WLTX women staring pixelated […]

School Lunch: Time Zones

The day after he left the city, I fluttered awake feeling gloriously pretty. The night before had been so surreal, so bittersweet, that just thinking about it made me a little dizzy. And he was supposed to call soon. I looked down at my fingers, reminding myself that they had touched him just hours before, and realized that they were shaking.[…]

Girlhood

i am six when i am called fat for the first time.
late spring, snack time at daycare, two oreos on a paper plate.
a still life, if you will: outside the window the peonies are blooming,
so swollen & violent with the fullness of being. i feel overripe,
too soft, like a cosmos-bruised plum from the supermarket clearance […]

Ujjwal Sagar, Nightingale and Nature, Photograph

Nightingale and Nature

A brief idea about “True Love and Nature”: A nightingale had laid three eggs in a nest of a small Christmas plant at my house. Since then, the nightingale cared for all three eggs.[…]

Poem for Graph Paper / Three/One

assignment
unfinished

summer days
spent in the
windowless
science lab […]

To Live

[fiction] Emma Williams woke up at ten o’clock on Saturday morning, darkness flooding her window. She blinked twice. She forgot her dreams. Shouldn’t there be sunlight? she thought to herself. Peering helplessly around her room, she fumbled for her glasses in the dark, stupidly discovering that they could not help her see a thing in the pitch blackness […]

Skins / For Helena

skin(s)
sparks of lust shoot from it
yet with our fingertips
we create a circle of trust
a circle of us
the misunderstanding: […]

Blood Drive

flowery wine-scented air rises from cotton
swabs that have cleaned so many arms.
now they are little litter-poppies
loitering about the needle and syringe […]

One of Your Ceramic Angels Fell from the Mantel, It’s in Pieces

[creative nonfiction] In Philadelphia. I don’t normally carry a backpack, but today, practicality prevails, and my shoulder bag has been replaced by a maroon two-strap from an earlier decade. With it I am wearing a white dress shirt, green cotton pants with an unforgiving elastic waistband […]

American Alien

I am an alien
My eyes, my skin color, my being
Jump out like a wilting wisteria in the midst of
A perfumed garden of pruned, perfect, and pretty pansies […]

A Time for Dying

[fiction] My grandfather’s eyes turn old before he does. We watch them as they yellow—changing from a pure white into an egg yolk, runny and discolored. The way he watches the world around him changes too; he seems to watch now in quiet anticipation […]

This Vision Makes Us Beautiful

we have folded into a day
where we can see any
color we want: royal purple,
recesses of indigo, […]

Letter to the Intelligentsia

In this cage of preconceived notions,
—in the crevices of God’s palm,
You’ve seen me wallow in my sorrows in the cortex
And scream to the heavens of insanity […]

Four from the Graveyard

[creative nonfiction] In China, you are expected to conceal your emotions. Sometimes, it helps to comfort yourself with a fictitious, whimsical story on death, like that of the bone carver. But when you are helpless, lost in the sea of your emotions, there is nothing left to do but to let the waves pull you down […]

Treehouse

[creative nonfiction] The magnolia tree in my front yard blossomed in early March; the branches weighed down with huge white flowers, only a breath away from the ivy-coated ground. My brother and I used to swing from these branches, flipping over them and putting our weight on thinner […]

from a queer man who grew up with whitman

I. “In the stillness his face was inclined towards me, while the moon’s clear beams shone, And his arm lay lightly over my breast—and that night I was happy.”
that night i was happy. and it was not moonlight i saw but instead the orange glow of the lights[…]

The Flow of Madness

[fiction]

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; he stared straight, unblinking, at the obnoxiously white wall. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, as he stared, he began to notice figures forming from the tiny ridges and divots that made up the texture of the wall. He saw a boy with no face and a girl with hair that flowed behind her.

What if there are actually people trapped in the walls, screaming, clawing, trying to get you to notice them?

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; he looked up at the fluorescent lights blaring down onto him. He could feel the buzz of the room—the air—and sometimes he would sit there and taste the fluorescence and exist inside of the fluorescence.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; he thought about how he was broken, and how the city was broken, and how at certain moments this fact was so beautiful that he felt himself being crushed, paralyzed under its weight.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; sitting at his desk, he carried the gray building where he worked. He carried the dullness of the rooms. He carried the white halls, white walls, and white ceilings. He carried the atmosphere, the languor, the tenderness that hung thick in the air. He carried all of it. And yet, if he were only able to carry the weight of his own body, he imagined that he would run out into the streets and let the monstrous immensity of life melt him down into nothing. But the fluorescence was endless.

*     *     *

At the end of the day, he and fifteen other people crowded into an elevator. Sometimes he liked to imagine that all the people would freeze, and he alone would look up and see a crack forming in the ceiling of the elevator. He would stand there and quietly watch it grow and multiply, spreading its legs down the sides of the elevator. He would imagine the lights flickering and the elevator dropping. He would imagine himself becoming unstuck from time.

*     *     *

When they reached the lobby of the grey building, he pushed his way out of the elevator and through the glass doors. Outside, the cold felt wonderful on his skin and his breath made little puffs of smoke in the air in front of him. The sidewalk was littered with people and he had to fight to make it down into the subway station.

Standing in the subway tunnel, waiting for the car to come, he took a step back inside of himself and watched the people around him. He watched beautiful, quiet desperation linger unspoken on their lips, and he watched their numbness leak out and surround each other. The doors of the subway car opened invitingly, and he shuffled on. As he scanned the faces surrounding him, his eyes remained stuck onto the old man sitting across from him. The man had a long white beard, dirty clothes, and a knapsack resting at his feet, but the blue eyes that peeked out beneath the overgrown hair seemed intelligent and perceptive. He stared numbly into those eyes that were sunken into the weathered and defeated face of a life already lived. They were screaming at him— worlds were cracking at their intensity. The wrinkles around the man’s eyes moved up and the man’s white mustache shifted, but he was trapped in those eyes, trying to hear them, trying to become the movement of the subway.

Then the words, “What are you looking at, boy?” came flying through the air toward him and hit him in the chest, shattering the illusion. He quickly lowered his gaze and stared at the dirty floor.

When he reached his apartment complex, he trudged up the flights of stairs to the grey door of his one-room apartment. He turned the handle, shoved open the door, and immediately collapsed on his bed.

*     *     *

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; he couldn’t think of exactly how long he had been awake or what had woken him up. He was only aware of the incessant ticking. The world had narrowed to the red, slow march of the second hand on the clock. Laying in his bed, looking up at the darkness of his ceiling, he felt something inside of him rupture and leak out onto the frozen world. He lunged out of his bed, grabbed the little old-fashioned alarm clock that had stood faithfully by his bedside, and punched it. He saw his knuckles make contact with the glass and he watched a small crack form. He punched it again, and again, and again until the glass lay shattered at his feet and he started to notice a thin trail of blood slithering down his hand and lovingly curling around his wrist. Sometimes he wanted to bleed out and make the world crimson.

*     *     *

From outside his window, he could feel the night’s long skinny fingers curl and beckon to him. It must have been past one in the morning and he had begun to feel that familiar itch that started in his bones—that had started when he was born. Throughout a life made up of empty hours, he clung to the moment of ecstasy when—at the end of the day—he would be able to pull open the door, walk out, and become a part of the night’s circus.

He quickly walked over to his bathroom and washed his arm in the sink. Then, he opened his grey apartment door and bolted down the stairs into the night.

Outside, the air greeted him with the familiar cool darkness of a world not yet trodden. The air was better. It was richer and he could feel it stinging as it entered his lungs creeping downward, seizing his heart. He stood on the sidewalk amongst the lights and the electricity and tried to revel in the feeling of living inside the bleeding organism that was the city.

He called a cab, and, in a few minutes, he was sitting inside, looking out through the window at the spot where he had been standing.

*     *     *

When the cab dropped him off outside of the club, he could already hear the music filling up all of the empty spaces in the world. He stepped into the building and couldn’t even see the floor, only person after sweaty person trying to pulsate along with the music. The name of the game was to get as wrecked as he possibly could: shots, powders, little pills handed off from palm to palm, whatever it would take to make himself stop thinking. He pushed himself to the center of the room and, standing there in the midst of all the colorful people, and the flashing lights, and the deafening music, reality slowly slipped between his fingers, and everyone became one big mass of swirling colors.

In the center of the room, head tilted back, eyes closed, she was just spinning, arms outstretched as if she was trying to absorb the whole world. The neon green lights flitted over her face, slowly lingering on her features where she had an agonizing little smile playing on her lips. She drank in the people around her, trying to suck enough of the room into her lungs to be able to breathe gold for all eternity. Her hair was big and long and dark, and her eyes were a mess of black eyeliner. She looked crazy and wild and beautiful, and bigger than life itself. Here she was frozen. Here she was powerful.

The clock slowed; she tilted her head back, closed her eyes, made her heart stop and for just a second she could feel the night lovingly wrapping its hand around her neck—and everyone stood around her trying to drink in her vivacity, but it was clear she stood absolutely alone.

He liked her. She was the most tragic, pathetic creature he had ever seen. He wanted to consume her. Live inside her. Break her and be crushed under the weight of gravity with her.

The lights soared and the music played. She stopped spinning. She came back to earth. She slowly opened her green eyes, looked directly at him and smiled, a sort of mischievous half smile, and then she began to move toward him.

The people around her weren’t moving. She was holding everyone in the room in her gaze, feeding off of them—off of their red, beating hearts. As she got closer, he looked straight into her green eyes and they stared back, each daring the other to look away. He wanted to. Staring into those eyes, he could feel her everywhere—for just a second, he was raw and formless, and all of the whispers of magic were seeping out of the world around him, out of its pores.

When she reached him, she put her hand on his shoulder, leaned in and whispered slowly pronouncing each word.

“They make you believe that it is going to be beautiful, but the world is not beautiful, the world is not beautiful from your eyes. Look at all of us,” she said motioning around. “A mangled heap of humanity, so desperate to feel something, anything, that we keep groping around in the darkness, bumping into each other and calling it love. Pretending, convincing ourselves that they were what we were really looking for in the darkness.”

She paused for a few seconds and then continued almost grimacing at each vowel, “It’s because we’re all so bored.” Then she stepped back from him and a slow grin spread across her face. “But you can hear it: the violins have started up; the curtain is rising.”

*     *     *

That night, they climbed to the top of the skyscraper and, on the roof, blended in with the night. The glorious world of breathless delusion that she had created was beginning to thaw around them, making everything seem sparkly and blurry. They sat down on the ledge, their feet touching. When he looked down, he saw all the tiny bright people moving in rhythm, but when he looked up, there was only the endless black sky staring back. She turned toward him and placed her thighs around his body, so he was holding her in the air. Then she kissed him, but it was only out of a desperation to find something in the secrets that are supposed to be held between lips. After a few blinking moments, she turned toward the night and screamed. She screamed and screamed and screamed and somewhere in the middle, he joined her until they were completely hollow inside.

*     *     *

In the following months by her side, he saw a world where people only talk in riddles and set fire to relics. There were so many different parties in warehouses, under bridges, in tunnels, so many different little pills, that when he closed his eyes, he would see her laughing under the haze of red smoke. Her and the city. Her and the night. Her breath on his neck and the lights whirling past them. Her mouth hovering just above his, coming closer and closer. Her bitter, beautiful, piercing laugh as she looked up at the dark. Her hands clasping his face. Spinning around and around in a whirlpool of her, lust, love and ecstasy. They would get kicked out of clubs and kiss on the muddy ground. They would get into fights and dance on tables. They would allow themselves to be at the mercy of the next wave of sweet, sweet poison—though at times the dizzying world would collapse around them and they would exist in some perfect, still place outside of consciousness.

Then she was gone.

*     *     *

So he went on living. Days passed at the office that he could never remember making the conscious decision to go to, and nights passed in a grey jumble of lights. The clubs got louder, the drinks stronger, and the drugs more intense, but it didn’t work the way it used to—all it did was make his frustration greater. Conniving little bitch, he thought to himself over and over. He hated her. He hated himself. He hated the sun that continued to shine cheerily in his face as summer came. He hated how transparent people laughed at transparent things. He hated how he did nothing but complain about this to himself as he became more and more transparent at each passing moment.

*     *     *

He met a girl whose name was Kathryn and something about her was therapeutic. She would laugh a lot and twist her hair with her fingers. And he would press his cold lips onto hers and feel her skin. Whenever he was with her, he found himself craving shadowy solitude where the walls always agreed with him. Though, whenever she was gone, he needed her flesh, her body, her warmth.

*     *     *

Tick tock, tick tock; sometimes when he was sitting on the subway during his commute after work, he liked to make up stories for the faces that he saw pass him. One day, he noticed a girl sitting at the end of the car. She was resting her head on her elbow and was tapping out the music playing from her earbuds onto the railing with her index finger.

Existence, existence, existence; he found that he could slow down time. Her finger tapped the railing once. He heard her heartbeat. He felt a breeze. He saw everyone in the car, heard their voices, and felt them aching for one another. He smiled to himself at the irony of this and laughed, hitting the back of his head against the window.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; the girl’s finger tapped the railing again and everything became slanted. The colors started to bleed and run together. His vision slid in and out of focus. He glanced up at the top of the car and noticed a crack forming. He felt a low rumbling move through the earth and saw the crack grow and multiply spreading out across the circular ceiling. He looked around and noticed water flowing underneath the doors and slowly trickling in through the windows.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; he sat there on the hard seat of the subway and laughed to himself in his own rosy hollowness. The water was increasing now. It was flowing in through every crevice in the insignificant subway car, threatening to drown them all. Suddenly, there was a bright light and a jolt in his reality and the ceiling split open. The car flooded with gushing water and the people became suspended in a sickly, sweet world of shadows. The girl’s finger continued to tap the story of it onto the railing.

*     *     *

He had murdered time, slit its throat, and taken its place.

*     *     *

As he walked out into the splendid city, he was a god. He existed, mangled, in the walls of the city. And he loved—as he had always loved—the glorious feeling of living inside of the bleeding, breathing masterpiece of human depravity. He could finally hear the violin notes crying out in the air—and he was ready to burn. He looked around him: the world was getting faster, his heartbeat was getting louder, everyone’s heartbeat was getting louder. He felt a swelling in his veins threatening to explode. One heartbeat, two heartbeats, three heartbeats. He grabbed the guy walking next to him on the sidewalk and punched him. The man’s head whipped back and his body hit the ground with a thud. He got on top of the man and punched him again—this was the resurrection. He punched the man again. The mist had cleared, and he was all alone: an angel rising from the ashes. He punched him again and again and again, and underneath the weight of his own body, he could feel the man’s jaw break.

The people around him were colors and he saw hungry eyes scanning him. C’mon, he thought. “C’mon,” he dared the onlookers forward. Eventually, someone pulled him off of the man and the next thing he could see were shoes surrounding him as he laid on the pavement looking up into the dark sky. The first foot that hit his gut morphed his body into fire. Looking at the faces of the people around him, he could see that the curtains in their eyes had come down and now they only felt hunger and saw through red.

He noticed that he could see his own blood on the street. How strange it is, he thought, to see what was once inside of you, now running down the landscape, turning the world crimson.

He laughed.

*     *     *

They met on the roof of the club where they had first seen each other and the silence that laid there had been waiting for him since the beginning of time. Together, they walked over to the edge of the roof and looked down.

“When I first met you, you were so filled with rage.” She savored rage on her tongue. “I could feel it.” She turned and a slow smile crept across her face. “I mean, I could really feel it. I saw you warm from across the room. Your own heart pumping red through your body. Heat dripping down from your fingertips, aching for everything you have ever loved. I wanted you to make me angry.”

She stopped and took a breath. “I know you. I see the strange madness growing in your mind. I see how you drown yourself in the flaws of the deranged just so you can breathe. She paused.”

He could see her in such painful clarity as he watched a breeze hit her face and lift her hair up. The dark eyelashes covering her green eyes shifted upwards and her lips pursed. She looked crazy and wild and beautiful.

Then she continued. “The new year comes and I feel restless. I feel myself yearning for a reality larger than life. I need the immensity of it to wash over me, strike me to the ground, melt me into nothing, make me supine, saturated to my last edges. I need to break out of this illusion.

Standing there, on the edge of the world—where they had always known they would end up—they were gods far separated from everything else, destined to reside in the clouds forever, replaying this moment until the sun consumed itself. The hand on the clock slowed, her chest rose, and the wind made her hair fly around her face. She was a silhouette at the top of a building.

The sky was purple, she was magic, and this world was going to end.

*     *     *

In her mind, one hundred fires. The last inhuman dance between her and time staring each other down preparing for battle. So she confronted existence; the grey world had always sensed her breathing. Her hand went up, and they circled each other, their fingers so close to touching, colliding, shattering universes—and she didn’t flinch when she fell—in her mind, she had done it a thousand times. The man followed.

Their shadows live on, playing out on the walls.

 

Emily Matuska is a seventeen-year-old living in Carson City, NV. She is an extremely academically-oriented person and is currently third in her senior year class. She has always loved English and literature, and her favorite writing explores the darker and more unnerving sides of the human psyche. Emily hopes to pursue English and creative writing in college. The reason Emily loves to read and write is that she craves the ethereal beauty of language and, through her own writing, she strives to capture this lyrical quality in words to create a world that is raw and painful and alive.

Garden of Remembrance

[flash prose]

Monday.

There is a stranger at my door. He won’t stop knocking, won’t stop peering through the windows. He swears that he once knew me. I could remember, he says, if I’d just look at him. I shut the blinds.

*     *     *

Tuesday.

There are no longer any mirrors in my house. Those reflections tell a story in my handwriting, one that I don’t remember making. There is a tension in my veins. I think my sense of self is losing circulation. Pinpricks tingle in my head, itching to crawl out.

Maybe my memory fell asleep.

*     *     *

Wednesday.

I catch a glimpse of the person at the door. He is still waiting for an answer, sleeping under my welcome mat each night. He’s tall, slender, and deliberate, just like a boy I used to know. For a moment, there is something familiar in his silhouette. But as the nighttime swallows his shadow, my train of thought leaves without me. I can’t help but feel as if I’ve forgotten something. Maybe I’ve just misplaced my keys.

*     *     *

Thursday.

I hear that knocking in my dreams. Even in sleep, I don’t open the door. My memory of him is a pill burrowed in my throat. It’s always present, never moving—something I know I must have taken but just can’t seem to swallow.

*     *     *

Friday.

On this day, I am able to forget. I’m too busy digging tunnels in my backyard, ripping bones and teeth from the ground. When the letters start arriving, people asking where I’ve gone, I tell them I am building dinosaurs.

*     *     *

Saturday.

Through the peephole, the stranger lurks. The glass melts his face into a fishbowl, distorted to fit my point of view. He tells me to stop digging up the past, that everyone knows erosion can’t be reversed. He says that time is sandpaper on old wounds, and scar tissue is what we’re made of. This is healing, and I need to learn to let dead things rot. I laugh and laugh, but he doesn’t get the joke.

*     *     *

I can’t remember what day it is.

The boy has gotten into my house. Did I let him in? Has he been here before?

I don’t remember when he stopped being a stranger.

“Why are you here?” I finally ask. “Why do you keep coming back?”

Now, it is his turn to laugh. He says to let him go, then. Fossils can’t move, this isn’t Jurassic Park. You can’t resurrect joy or crucify pain. He tells me I don’t deserve to play god.

I tell him he is knocking at a graveyard.

 

Ephie Hauck lives in Nashville, TN. She won second place in the 2018 Belmont University Poetry Contest and was a semifinalist in the Nashville Youth Poet Laureate competition twice. She loves writing poetry and fiction, and has not been previously published.

Seven Confessions

1.

My childhood ended when the dog arrived.

*     *     *

2.

It was late August. The stream of freedom inspired by the beginning of summer had mellowed to a trickle, and we stuck our tongues out in hopes to catch a drop. My younger sisters and I would wallow in the shallow end of our pool, and when we were sure that the grown ups were busy inside and couldn’t use our proceeding actions as a story to entertain guests at the dinner table, we took off our camp tie-dyed tank tops, wound them tightly around our legs, and floundered around pretending to be mermaids. When our parents used to barbecue, we sat at a different table from them. It was two feet shorter and came with red, rounded plastic chairs that had no sharp edges. The three of us used to argue who got to sit at the head of the table. My mother laughed every time.

“It’s square,” she said.

But when it was humid and the days overstayed their welcome into night, you could argue about anything. And then we got the dog.

*     *     *

3.

The first thing it attacked was my dolls. I came up to my room and found that Veterinarian Barbie was missing her hair, Pilot Barbie was missing her legs, Fashion Model Barbie was missing her head, and babysitter Barbie was just missing. I stood examining the vet’s bald scalp, muddy crocs seeping stains onto the pink carpet, when I glanced up to see the culprit lurking in the corner. It had a German Shepherd snout, with teeth so long they didn’t all fit in its mouth, and a Newfoundland body, big and buff with curled fur matted down by the darkness in its eyes. It breathed like my mother’s yoga teacher told her to, like it was trying to fill the room with its presence. It raised a claw towards me. I dropped my collection of decapitated dolls and raced screaming down the hallway.

Later, when I had a new lock installed on my door, I sat and packaged all the Barbies into a cardboard box that I put onto the second-highest shelf on my closet. I had to stand on my blue chair to do it. My mother said not to stand on chairs, but I’d stopped listening to her all the time. I told myself that I could play with them if I wanted to. It was just that they were slobbery and gross now, and no longer as fun.

Sometimes, in the following days, I’d feel the urge to play again, but then I remembered the chewing marks on plastic limbs and I wondered if kids would laugh if they knew I entertained myself with broken toys.

I never touched that box again.

*     *     *

4.

I was the only one the dog hated. It ignored my sisters and was at peace with my parents. But yesterday, it ate my shoes, the ones that had fairies on the sides. When my mom took me to the shoe store, I picked out sandals, tiny gold ones with rhinestones decorating the part of the shoe that goes between your big toe and pointer toe. It hurt a little to have something wedged in there, but I liked the way it made my foot look like it was a flower with petals of jewels. My mother didn’t want to buy them. She said they looked too old, what about the flip-flops instead? I said I wanted these.

*     *     *

5.

I couldn’t go into the backyard anymore because that is where the dog is. I couldn’t go to our pool anymore because the pool is in the backyard. Instead, I went to the park. There were a bunch of kids my age there. The girls wore their hair in high ponytails, and when they talked to me, they look at their painted nails instead off into my eyes. They said I could hang out with them, if I wanted. There were boys there, too. Generally, girls and boys were like salt and pepper, kept in different containers. Now, we were sprinkled together. The boys didn’t talk much, just sat with their hats put on backwards. My mother didn’t like that. I wondered if my new friends liked me.

*     *     *

6.

We had the Johnsons over for dinner. When Mom set up the kids table, I saw that the dog had plopped itself right at the head, great big tongue sticking out like the horror it is. I told mother I’d sit at the grownup table, if I had to. Except, I didn’t call it the grownup table, because that word wasn’t very sophisticated. I called it, “the other table,” as if it were perfectly accessible to me, as if its chairs with sharp right edges with no round to be found were meant for me to sit in. My younger sisters looked up at me, their eyes dipping at the edges.

My mother said, in a voice soft enough to lure the mermaids that we used to be, “Why?” But couldn’t she see that the dog was right there? I was too big to squeeze into the little table, and too small for my mother to understand. Even though it was almost fall, the days cooler and cooler, I felt like I was wearing six overcoats on the beach, sweaty and bulky, out of place. I stood in between the two tables, suspended, staring the dog straight in the eye, until my mother sighed and made room for me at the adult’s table.

*     *     *

7.

There was never any dog.

 

Vivian Parkin DeRosa is a writer from the Jersey Shore. Her work has been recognized by the YoungArts Foundation and the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, and it has appeared in Poets Reading the News, The Huffington Post, and the Louisville Review. She blogs at vivianparkinderosa.com and is currently writing a novel. In her free time, she enjoys knitting and watching competitive reality shows.

Blurred Faces

[flash prose]

When you first open your eyes, all you can see is the brightness. You don’t know what it is, but you feel your stubby fingers reach for that light. Pale clouds of cream dot your vision as you squirm, your back brushing against a fur blanket. You feel tender hands wrap delicately around your torso, its sensitive warmth spreading across your skin, and pull your small form away from that security. The pale clouds stitch together into a quilt of color, and you blink frantically to focus.

Later, you recognize the splash of pure white as your mother’s dazzling smile and the black spots as your father’s stubble, scratching you whenever he kissed you on the cheek. From your mother’s playful peek-a-boos, you realize the swinging blues as your mother’s sapphire earrings, and from your father’s fluttering hand butterflies, you make out the shimmering silver band as your father’s platinum wedding band.

When your vision finally allows you to observe your mother’s face, you admire how her dark eyelashes shiver in delight when she laughs, how the edges of her eyes crinkle when you try to talk, bubbles of spit blooming around your mouth that you think is gross, but your mother coos and calls it adorable. It takes you longer to recognize your father. Maybe it was the way his dark beard climbs up half his face or how his mess of brown hair curls to hide his otherwise striking green eyes. You like to tangle your hands in those curls, swishing them and watching its chaotic dance. The boisterous laugh you emit makes your father undeniably happy, and you wonder how a grown man could make such a high-pitched sound.

You dream of the colors you were finally able to explore, darting through lush forests, chattering with toucans and waltzing with peacocks. You race through meadows of wheat and watch as their beige arms extend endlessly towards the sky. You lie on the damp grass of your backyard, gazing towards the magenta sunset. You watch as the sky becomes a canvas and the sun its artist, painting a transitory masterpiece. You scrawl across untouched papers with your tools of creation, the colors you mix brilliantly dashing in a curved formation, a fragile butterfly, mid-flap, struggling to escape the paper’s incessant restraint.

One night you startle awake, grabbing for anything that will sustain your presence in reality. You breathe, telling yourself it was just a dream. But even with the lights on, you can no longer see the paper cranes you hung off your ceiling, only fuzzy dots of pink, blue, and purple, splashes of color that had once been your stunning creations. When your mother comes to check on you, you feel hot tears run down your face. No matter how hard you squint, you can no longer make out the deep dimples you used to poke affectionately at, nor the light brown freckles you used to count one by one.

You’re a kaleidoscopic butterfly, made to admire Mother Earth yet forced to endure a life surrounded by blurred faces, ones whose features you used to know so well, now only a thin mist—an illusion—drifting in and out of your sight.

 

Christine Zang lives in Palo Alto, California and is a junior at Henry M. Gunn High School. She has been writing casually since sixth grade. “Blurred Faces” was inspired by a conversation she had with a friend. They were talking about what it would be like to suddenly lose the ability to see and how the perception of the world would change.