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Byzantium vol. 21
A publication of the winners from Cal Poly’s forty-first annual creative writing contest. C0-Editors: Art Director: Samantha Reynard Meg Archer Allie Harold
The holy city of Byzantium, in William Butler Yeats’ poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” is marked by its riches, by treasures that retain their value long after the creator has passed onto the Grey Havens, past the veil, into that mysterious realm. The theme of this year’s volume of Byzantium plays upon this very concept and presents a classical guardian of treasure: the griffin. Our griffin stands not for gold-enameled urns or timeless frescos; rather, our griffin stands to protect the timeless treasure that is literature. There is a reason that written language is considered the mark of intelligence among species. Words have the capacity to wage wars and fuel fights, but more importantly, words have the power to spread love and change the world. Literature gives us the opportunity to share moments that define us; it gives us the ability to explore what, exactly, it means to be human. We, the editors of Byzantium, have been generously given the opportunity to share with you works that have inspired us, but first, we must thank those who most affected our own literary journey: our families and friends for believing that we have something to say, and the Cal Poly English department for helping us discover how to say it. To every one of the writers and poets who submitted work for consideration this year: thank you for believing that your words can change the world and for having the courage to bare your soul in order to do so. Thank you for offering us your riches. We are honored to exist in the presence of greatness. Never stop writing. The theme of Byzantium Volume 21 focuses on combining a contemporary style with a traditional context. The antique typeface references the hand-drawn character of illuminated manuscripts of the ancient Byzantium Empire, while the sans serif typeface represents a more modern element in design. These two styles combine to create a cohesive design that references two very distinct styles. The use of simplicity and white space was intentionally incorporated into the design in order to allow the literature to stand out as the most important element of the journal. The body text was also designed with that in mind, utilizing a serif typeface with plenty of space between lines to allow for readability. Color choice also relates to the overall theme. The deep red hue is used to represent antique book cloth covers, while the gray is used to add a touch of contemporary style to the design. Using the griffon as a symbol throughout the journal stands as the guardian of treasure—in this case the literature—of the journal. The design and creation of Byzantium Volume 21 has truly been a journey, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work with the English department and be a part of this great tradition.
Samantha Reynard & Meg Archer
Sailing to Byzantium
William Butler Yeats, 1927
That is no country for old men. The young In one another’s arms, birds in the trees — Those dying generations— at their song, The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect. An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress, Nor is there singing school but studying Monuments of its own magnificence; And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire As in the gold mosaic of a wall, Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre, And be the singing-masters of my soul. Consume my heart away; sick with desire And fastened to a dying animal It knows not what it is; and gather me Into the artifice of eternity. Once out of nature I shall never take My bodily form from any natural thing, But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make Of hammered gold and gold enamelling To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; Or set upon a golden bough to sing To lords and ladies of Byzantium Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
Anna K. Bush sea glass 5
21 27 28 31 35 37 41 43 47 51
CIRCLING WESTERN SUNRISE
Kate Malczynski babcia, contraceptives, and spirits 9
FALLING IN LOVE...
I LOVE, PT. II
Jaquelin Sicilia what my father doesn’t know yet 15
MY PARENTS’ WALK-IN CLOSET
SEDUCTION OF A PEPPER
THE LAST AMERICAN TOUR
Jess Zwicker ferryman 59
A LLAMA COVERED IN LIGHTS
101 113 117 127
Kimberly L. Paterson
CHRISTMAS OF 1995
David Liebig brand new bones 71
TO MAKE GODS OF MEN
Aaron Rowley dideon’s journal 81
We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.
–the dead poet’s society
Poetry first place
Anna K. Bush Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.
–percy bysshe shelley
Anna K. Bush
We are here so our voices can be heard, so our lives and our levees can be rebuilt, so we can go home. –Hurricane Katrina Aid Activist
Anna K. Bush has exhibited a keen fascination with the
sonnet form from an early age and continues to experiment with formal poetry during her college career. To her, sonnets pose a particularly intriguing challenge: utilizing a vintage poetic form to resonate with contemporary culture without employing language that is rhyme-led or archaic. Anna cherishes the opportunities she has received to study poetry and relishes the experience of participating in small creative writing seminars. The chance to collaborate with other poets in an environment that is conducive to trust and constructive criticism became an invaluable asset as Anna pursued a BA in English at Cal Poly. Today, this experience continues to enrich her interactions with literature as a first-year graduate student and an aspiring modern poetry scholar. Anna owes the foundation of her life-long love of learning to the unconditional support of her parents, Lloyd and Maureen. In the words of Ella Fitzgerald, “Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong.”
The rain kept us awake, thrumming its nails On our roof. This leaky room has seen too many sleepless afternoons, filling pails with discarded musings. We collect blue sea glass on the rippling shores of our minds and place them in our chipped enamel bowls for quivering posterity; all kinds of wave-etched, lonely people; drifting souls. We lie in repose on the shore, waiting for someone to gather us, too. Who will come for the sea-stricken people? Arching moaning backs, begging the moon to stand still. No one listens to the people who keen By the shore. The moon remains to be seen.
Poetry second place
babcia, contraceptives, and spirits
Kate Malczynski Poetry is man's rebellion against being what he is.
–james branch cabell
babcia, contraceptives, and spirits
Kate Malczynski is a graduating fourth-year English major
with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in Psychology (literature and the mind being undeniably akin to one another). She grew up in Huntington Beach, CA, which breeds both beauty and neuroticism—the perfect recipe for poetry. There, she is surrounded by her incredible, devoted family, whom she simply cannot thank enough for all of their support and love throughout the past four years. Further, she is eternally grateful for the entire English and creative writing department at Cal Poly, whose professors demonstrate immense compassion and intelligence and ultimately inspired Kate to aspire to become a college professor herself. Lastly, she would like to thank the three true loves of her life: Marty, Keeley, and Huckleberry. What more does a girl need than a loving boyfriend, a stunningly beautiful best friend, and a snuggle-hungry mutt?
I In the hopes of raising gerontological awareness and marrying considerably remote generation gaps a fourth-grade teacher asked her students: what do your grandparents believe was the best invention of their time? We all scurried home, practically babies, eager to call our pruning and fossilized forbearers, then fluttered back to class singing the gospel of grand-folk: television! record players! sliced bread! And then my own timid response as told through the wine-lusty lips of my grandmother: Birth control. II (Therein lays the proverbial if-the-kid-doesn’t-get-it-does-it-count conundrum) III This is the real deal, the kobieta from Cook County who provides fried pierogies
POETRY KATE MALCZYNSKI
every Christmas with a side of spicy Kielbasa, a spicy babcia like herself whose Cabernet like a bullhorn wildly offends family this holiday: Oi, how Aunt Susan has been packing on the pounds! So your cousin is out of rehab? Still looks like shit! Are your parents sleeping in the same room now? IV My Polack clan stands, horrified, as our sauced-up matriarch blurs the lines between our dutiful desire to kill her with kindness or just plain kill her. But this is her blood sloshing in my veins as proven by the same broad nose and affinity for salted fare and regard for fine reds— So this Christmas I clink my rounded glass to hers and sweetly exclaim for all those in earshot: Grandma, you bitch.
POETRY BABCIA, CONTRACEPTIVES, AND SPIRITS
Poetry third place
what my father doesn’t know yet
Jaquelin Sicilia A poem begins with a lump in the throat.
what my father doesn’t know yet
No adultery is bloodless. –Natalia Ginzburg
Jaquelin Sicilia is double-majoring in English and Business.
She graduates this spring, but is not happy about it. If she could, she would be a professional student and would take Professor Clark’s advanced poetry writing class during ALL THE QUARTERS. She does all of her own stunts and writes all of her own lines. She wants to teach, write books, erect buildings. She says she likes to look at hands because she thinks that’s where stories come from. Jaquelin is her mother’s favorite poet (despite her overactive imagination; see: this poem) and her father’s favorite athlete. She says that if there is any semblance of greatness in her, she owes it to her family; they are her alpha and omega.
The stillness when the paint peeled from every angle of our home. Walls blotched with dry droplet outlines; dulling wood, pockmarked, embedded with softball seam prints. I remember the warmth you created, worn and carpeted, washed but stained. Back then, you made the beds set the round dining room table— it gripped us in, kept us close. We all had our place. I came back from school to all the renovations. Sitting with you now in new, glossy lounge chairs, we face the street, our backs to a house
that gurgles on its own spit-shine. The sleek, clean surfaces of everything squeak. A plastered exterior bares earth tones against the explosive burgundy leaves that flourish in the earth bed you had built out front. Its shallow-rooted stems tangle, lean heavily on the verge of bloom, about to pop and bleed. Inside, my father lulls into an afternoon nap, arranges his tired body in ivory sheets. Today your eyes are drunk. They drag slowly past the horizon of your cheekbones. Your face, a burnt purple: the frame of an eruption, waiting, holding steady. You smile so wide— the violet specks of a deep merlot at the edge of your cracked lips. A wave of yellow acid mixes with my blood, burns arteries. A hole in my stomach, months old. You lift your glowing face, show me the letters, ask again if I will keep your secret.
POETRY JAQUELIN SICILIA
I imagine him, a worker termite, pale and soft-bodied, a forager who builds black tunnels, eats away at the wood.
POETRY WHAT MY FATHER DOESN’T KNOW YET
Poetry editors’ choices
Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.
There’ s a girl for Adam somewhere, and a son he hopes. And there’s a train ride maybe that could change the course of him, perhaps a wedding day with wedding bells. One day, he might paint the shutters of his father's bedroom window. And maybe someone will look at those eyelids to the morning sun someday, call them beautiful. And that will be plenty for him to be happy. Maybe he’ll mow the lawn someday just to smell grass or take a long walk, around his childhood stomping grounds, and think of kickballs and foursquare courts. Maybe he’ll hold on to those things he learned from them late into his life and when he tells his son those things like a father's advice and that son throws them back at him, like a son will do, he’ll be ready.
I met a young boy this morning. He was blind and alone and asking the empty seat in front of him if it could get him some sugar, and I did and he told me, “Thanks,” and that one day he was going to open a restaurant, a pottery shop, a coffee house and an art gallery and I asked maybe he should start small, and he said “Yeah.” “The art gallery.” And I wanted to believe him. I wanted in my heart to be anxiously waiting for his gallery to show up a few doors down that I might walk into those open doors and take his hand and thank him for the paintings. The ones that he couldn’t see. And I wanted to be his eyes to do so. And run his hands over the canvases and tell him the stories the strokes were making but instead, I cried for him at his own table and he couldn’t see my tears “Today I’m having a tea and bagel,” he said as he ate. “It sure is packed in here.” ››
POETRY ADAM MONKABA
Let me know he knew what was in front of him. When you see people, watch them. Open them like books, blow off the dust and smell their pages. Breathe them into you and you will see little boys will run their hands along the chains of the chain-link fence, like they will forever be able to do so. A father will sing love into his daughter, still too young to remember his words. Leaves will fall on kissing faces. Blowing moments or perhaps making them and the compliments these players share, they will breed, the smiles. And if on that day you see someone that is not particularly good at running, running. If they are slow and overweight sweatband falling over their eyes cheer them on. And take notes on their bravery Link eyes with the hard-time-stricken homeless man, smile and let him know you know he’s there smile so he knows you care ››
And, take mental note of the curbside preachers, with their signs and their anger. Think about their words, but Please, don’t judge them for their delivery. Feel for the girl crying at the mailbox, and be strong for the dying man, still taking piano lessons, thirty days to go because he’s not ready to give up yet Count mustaches, smiles, and given a particularly good vantage point, catalog the freckles Breathe them into you. In this home where face time is a Skype reference and relationships are ended with text messages. Reach out and touch someone with your hand, and use your fingers take hold of them and don’t let go until they have forgotten their next engagement. Wonder about the woman at the restaurant alone. Wonder what her name is. And her favorite color. And feel for her because the world has dealt her this lonely feeding time. Because she knows dinner is more than dining too. ››
POETRY ADAM MONKABA
Thank the Dewey decimal man for cataloging the books. Let him know he is your favorite search engine. Remember the name of your waitress and her emerald green eyes. Compliment the farmer on his avocados and every time you see the sunset, Feast on it like you’re dining with everyone in your hemisphere, and take the moon as dessert. Look for the funny in your grandpa’s jokes, and let every word you say to him be one you could count as your last. Get up before the fisherman and meet him at his river under the bridge behind the oak tree. And watch him wait, lure in the water, pole like a child, knowing every moment could be the first of the war he has come to fight. Celebrate the crazy man flying his key in the lightning storm, his mind still, like yours was in times of fireflies and mason jars. Dance. Dance often. Dance with strangers. Dance poorly with strangers
in the streets of our little city that you might spread joy to its residents. Count the stacks. Climb the rock. Hug the shoemaker. Fall for the girl on the train. Skip. Skip behind new lovers skipping. Let the elderly couple holding hands give you hope. Run your fingers along the lines of their pages, mouth out the words. Be under their hats for a moment; look though their spectacles and access the world. Access their differences. Squint, to see like the person that smiles more than you do. Be the eyes for the blind boy at the café. When you see people, watch them. Look for the love that exists simply in this the world. And when you are living in it,
Live like no one is doing so.__ _
Moonlit pebbles whispering beneath our feet, she laughs beside me, her small hand in mine, beaming, over star-kissed Laurel Lake Lane. Overhead, fireflies flicker, signaling our pause along dark water, white lilies, and I bend to one knee to present her with forever. Like the sun before the moon, her smile sets. Stagnant water glows darker. Crickets crescendo. She says, “If I’d only—” I say, “But you didn’t—” A circle of diamonds falls from my fingers, end over end, further and farther away, and cascades, sighing, into the forsaken, forgotten grass in a splash of dew-honeyed pearls: She flees. Blackened stones screaming beneath her toes, she cries behind me. My small heart is in hers, bleeding, over lamp-lit Circle Road. In the glade, fireflies fade, signifying our stop along white water, dark lilies, and I am left in the present forever.
Ben Rutherford is in fact a happy guy, despite the somewhat
unhappy topics of his poetry. After he graduates in Spring 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in English, Ben plans to pursue a Master of Public Administration with a specialization in healthcare management. In regard to his poetry, he says he likes to write from other people’s perspectives: “It’s interesting to view the world from another’s eyes.” He would like to thank his girlfriend, Amanda, for reading the endless drafts of his poems and stories, and his creative-writing professors—Kevin Clark, Lisa Coffman, and Todd Pierce—for helping him improve his writing. Ben would also like to add that he has never been the victim of a marriage-proposal rejection or a riptide; thus he is indeed a happy guy.
We are a recycled generation. I’d rather be Lost or an X, but we’re both those and all that came before them: we’re our ancestors’ trash all thrown into one big heap, left out to spoil beneath the sun like a pile of steaming shit straight out of Ecclesiastes. Sit down, try to paint something new. Try to say something new. Try to play something new. Try to— We can’t even write a poem that’s new: Try to avoid diction metaphors similes form iambics trochaics trochees dactyls—you can’t. Everything you say now has been said before. Purpusslee spell theengs rong—it’s been done before. Break up your words—it’s been done before. Play games w/ language—it’s been done before; it’s been said before; it’s been read before: We are recycled. I wish I could say feeling green’s a good thing, but I feel blue: everything’s a cliché! I wish I could smile walking past circular blue-arrow logos on the sides of trash bins, but a smile is merely a regenerated frown. Everything’s an illusion : everything’s an allusion! As they say, “Poor poor little fly, life is shit, and then you die—” and then its spawn gets caught up in the same old wind and is reborn
like a phoenix: ash to life, life to ash— Struggle, toil, wrestle, fight: all strife for the same sticky end buzzing at us like dangling honeyed paper. It’s World War III, and the past roars like a wave, stretching, oscillating to our feet: The past says, “Make it new”—but how do we do that when “new” is someone else’s idea? Make it “like new” or the oxymoronic “new and improved,” but— Ah!—the centre cannot hold! “Welcome!” to any beast slouching forth to be born, ’cause We are the sequel generation, re-run generation, adaptation generation, the remake generation; we all have circular blue-arrow logos tattooed to our foreheads; they crash against our minds like the tide rips us off our feet and drags us to the deep, and all we can do to survive is swim parallel to the shore.
falling in love with an eighty-fouryear-old poet with an irish-sounding name whom i’ve never met and probably never will
Tonight you are asleep with your wired-haired mutt at the foot of your bed, whose face you once held in your hands as someone captured a moment of quiet dog-on-man love— Were you reciting your poetry to him? Reprimanding him? Or simply telling him how unbelievable it feels to have some creature in your life whose heart silently matches your own. Sometimes I feel between the rain and the Los Angelino assholes I’ll never make it home. Maybe you felt this too, as you contemplated Poe and meditated Dickinson, as I do, lusting after grotesquely charming words and longing for such
Kate Malczynski's second piece was inspired by Galway
Kinnell’s poem, “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps,” which demonstrates the profound love and connection between two people though family ties and pleasant remembrances. As Dr. Kathryn Rummell once stated, “Studying the humanities will make you a better person”—and literature such as Kinnell’s poem is why.
POETRY KATE MALCZYNSKI
dark, dark places of solitude. Now I live alone, and dream of places like Pawtucket where girls become pregnant before their sweet sixteen. Is this what you thought our world would amount to when the cuffs hugged your smooth, papery wrists because you, my God, a poet, sang for equality?
POETRY FALLING IN LOVE...
i love, pt. ii
falling back into familiarity. you, sphinx, as you smile over me. palms placed on either side of my skinny waist, the deliberate slowness of the downward arch, the anticipation of expectation, yet the moment always awash in newness. beads of sweat in between my breasts and in the hollow of your back (the place-markers of our love). how the bruises on my hips are heirlooms inherited from your hands and I remain otherwise unadorned. the near unbearable heat of being fettered to one another by absolute need. the collapse. breathing out into the night all of my old convictions to let them roam and steal away into someone else’s heart while I drift on feeling.
Cate Harkins is a sophomore English major at Cal Poly. She
has had work published in the literary magazine Ghost Town and strives for more print experience. She thanks her friends and family for being her inspiration and sounding board. Poetry is her medium and love.
Memories smell like the rainy days Like cedar and fire and warm blankets Like the wet aftershave left clinging to abandoned wet sweaters. Like the warm hands of someone almost forgotten, save for the rainy days. “Will you remember me when I’m gone?” “Of course.” But “of course” couldn’t be the bulwark to hold back the waves of time which wash the mind smooth. The days stretched on and on and on, becoming years—more years; without a reminder, the mind forgets the sunny days, one blending into another until it is just one day of constant sunlight. The mind forgets the stormy days, pushing away the memories of thunder. Only the rainy days stayed, painted vividly in the mind with the colors of memory. “I love you.”
Alison Rouge is a first-year Art and Design major with a
Photography concentration. She considers writing a kind of art; instead of painting on a canvas, you paint in the mind’s eye. When she’s not taking pictures, painting, drawing, riding her bike, or hanging out in Trinity, she enjoys writing poetry and general fiction, most of which stays in the back of her hard-drive.
Those words were only said on rainy days, when the wet, wet drops created the floating moat around the house and we were so sure we were alone. The cat, Happiness, would lie on our chests, over our hearts, with his warm weight.
POETRY ALISON ROUGE
The cat, Happiness, who disappeared the day you died. I still remember Happiness on those rainy days. I love you, I love you, I love you, is the sound the gutter water makes. The drops landing little kisses all over the ground, my arms and face, are drowned out by the loud remember, remember rumblings of the cars on the street. The scents sneaking up through the doorframe and the cracks of the house smell of memories.
my parents’ walk-in closet
What stays in my mind most strongly about that moment is not my parents and I sitting on the carpet in the closet having a conversation in spurts where no one meets anyone else’s eyes, fabrics for work and pleasure-watching hung up and mute or blind behind protective plastic wraps, or the release of a burden heavy as six years’ silence; no, it is my mother’s arm stretched above her head to reach the shelf, poised and locked into position like a ballerina, my mother who stops looking for her rosary beads after my confession because for one moment taut as the moon’s sighing ache, I see my mother through a curtain of traitor tears as she fails to grasp what I could not control. My father steps in to tell me I am embodying a cliché, and sitting on the ground I am eye-level with my father’s polished shoes and my mother’s heels, neatly set in shelves. They aren’t magical, but I don’t need to click them three times together— beneath the attic’s trapdoor and in this room dim as a cave, in my mother’s love and in my father’s absolution, I am home.
Jess Zwicker is a second-year English major at Cal Poly. She
moved to Thousand Oaks after the Northridge earthquake in 1994 and attended Lang Ranch Elementary School, where she first started writing poetry. She has been writing ever since and has only continued to learn and improve her writing style. One thing that helped her explore the different types of poetry out there was a poetry class at Cal Poly taught by Lisa Coffman. It was a lot of work, but it was a really great experience. Aside from writing, Jess also enjoys playing basketball, reading, hanging out with friends, going to the beach, and surfing the Internet. Jess finds inspiration for her poetry in her family, friends, and everyday life.
seduction of a pepper
Not sex. Not sex, but sexual. –Ralph Black
Slowly, like the swelling of Spring, a gunmetal blade nudges the curve of a pepper suggestively The pepper is unsure, pure, and so completely red it has never known any other color Except red a deep burnt, bleeding yolk The pepper is full of water of nerves Chilled knife against the skin tempting petals of waxy pores and rounded vermillion
Carly Hanzlik is a senior English major from San Diego. She
loves poetry, being outdoors, and reading poetry outdoors. She also loves oldies music, traveling, and experiencing new things and people. Thanks to her wonderful friends and family.
until it breaks. The fruit is something else now,
sliced, hollow, real seeds clink like tiny jewels, firecrackers on a stained glass plate, like dust to speckle brown earth with more of the same coy pepper buds on jade-sprayed stems. Looking at the open pepper in my pink palm, I wonder where its silk skin stops and mine begins.
POETRY CARLY HANZLIK
POETRY SEDUCTION OF A PEPPER
Love like you’ve never been hurt and dance like no one is watching. –Miss Fake Bake
Genoa Aleman is a fourth-year English major. Other than
reading and writing, she enjoys sailing, snowboarding, sunny days at the lake or beach, and traveling. She wrote “Too Cool” for her best friends and little sister, but is always inspired by the strong people she has always been surrounded by. After graduating from Cal Poly, she hopes to teach English in France for a few years.
She’s a Ford girl who can change the oil in her truck while wearing her grandmother’s pearls. Others order OJ with their Grey, she prefers Celtic Cross on the rocks, but only after she drinks an IPA— She played baseball with the boys, would tag them out with a smile. She makes the meatloaf that sticks and grills a steak to juicy perfection. She loves dresses and the contrast of brisk blue polish against the trigger of her Mossberg. Games on a board are fun, Drama is for the theater, Cheating is tolerated in WordsWithFriends. She has fallen with the honeysuckle from “Chevrefoil,” traveled “The Road” with McCarthy and taken in Ginsberg’s “Howl” after watching marathons
of Star Wars and James Bond. She is not a bimbo, but thinks if she was, she would be more than too cool. Story of her life— she fears the one she left was right when he said, “You will never find someone who loves you” As another “just friend” walks away with Miss Fake Bake.
POETRY TOO COOL
POETRY GENOA ALEMAN 48
the last american tour
I wasn’t saying whatever they’re saying I was saying. I’m sorry I said it really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. –John Lennon, apologizing for his “bigger than Jesus” statement
Natalie Maris is a fourth-year English major obsessed with
taking Dr. Clark's poetry classes. She plans on going to graduate school to write more poetry, since she loves it so much. She wants to thank John Lennon for being so crazy, her parents for giving birth to and loving her and, of course, Maggie, whose oddball eccentricities and passion for escaping the house and hiding under cars almost made it impossible to write.
Wake up, John Lennon, and tell me if it was worth it. You sat there in the blue denim armchair that reeked of sweaty cologne, moldy mothballs and rotten food pretending you couldn’t hear the shatter of your shiny records being thrown against the wall as red-faced daughters whimpered in the corner, you leaned your head against the wilting, floral wallpaper, your long hair damp with perspiration, curling at the ends like a slaughtered pig’s tail, your hooded eyes never rose, they were haunted, dead, almost reduced to wet, hot, salty, snotty tears as you stared at a grimy spot on your trousers, your thin lips didn’t smile, didn’t frown, but remained a continuous grim yearning to disconnect, to leave your body and fly back to England where it didn’t matter what you said, your polka dot tie was meant to make people laugh, but it had been hurriedly loosened, distracting your rumpled button-up white shirt that ceased being crisp the moment you were exposed to the flashing bulbs, your endless cigarette of the day rested against your fingers, dainty like a ballerina, the ashes dancing on the tips of your nails before fluttering to your feet, always flickering, never burning out. Was it worth it, you rock star antihero, apologizing to those holy rollers and conservative parents, the hippie children and politicians, authors,
POETRY NATALIE MARIS
doctors, lawyers, students, teachers, reporters, protesters, police officers and, worst yet, your fellow band mates? Tell me, John Lennon, when you finally rise from your deep slumber and think about that dutiful apology, look me in the eyes and tell me it was worth it.
POETRY THE LAST AMERICAN TOUR
Both fiction writing and poetry are able to take us beyond the myriad details of our everyday lives into ways of being that are simultaneously strange and familiar, brand new and as old as time. When writers successfully take us into the lives of their characters, we discover new perspectives, new ideas, new possibilities for how we will live our own lives. And when poets distill for us the nuances of a moment, weaving together words that resonate in our hearts and minds, they create a sacred space that affirms and elevates our own existence. The joy and mystery of fiction and poetry lie in their unique ability to remind us that meaning is not given to us—we make it—and that our deepest truths are present in yet always exceed the facts of our lives.
–carol sebastian curiel
Fiction first place
Jess Zwicker Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
Hard to believe I used to have so much trouble with this, that I couldn’t find the right angle to catch them without slicing into them, not enough to actually cut them in half, but it’s easier now, you’ve just got to flick your wrist the right way and dragging them into your boat with your scythe becomes child’s play. Releaseds, I mean. They stagger along the bridge and you snag the ones in your section. Releaseds are always caked in something gooey and black, like someone mixed cake batter and tar, and it reeks just as bad as the two would together, too sweet and pungent, acrid like burnt sugar but sour, too. Splashes of river water help, but still, if I had to choose one thing about this job I hate, it’s the smell. I think it grows on them like a mold when they get here, but I don’t ask. There’s no point as it’s gone soon enough. I’ve got four in the boat with me now, and their tags all say they’re headed down the waterfall. Honestly, we don’t get as many that can go uptown nowadays. I’m not sure where the tags come from, but I bet the Lord uptown has one of his angel-pets put them on.
Jess Zwicker is a second-year English major at Cal Poly. She
moved to Thousand Oaks after the Northridge earthquake in 1994 and went to Westlake High School, which is where she first started seriously writing short stories. Other things Jess likes besides writing are chess, reading, hanging out with friends, going to the beach, the Internet, eating sushi, and trying new things. One of the things that really sparked her interest in the afterlife and inspired her to write about it was her Hebrew School at Temple Etz Chaim, which she attended after regular school for over a decade. Friends, family, and daily encounters also inspire her writing.
“It’s damn cold in here,” one of the Releaseds grumble. The area around his jaw creaks and clumps fall off, hitting the deck with a soft patter. “You’ll miss it,” I reply, knowing it’s true and knowing he won’t believe me. But the ones who have to go down the waterfall always end up wanting water.
FICTION JESS ZWICKER
“Hold on,” I mutter by rote, and I push us over the edge. There’s always that niggling sense of danger brought on by the free-fall and foam flying everywhere, but it’s not much more than a half-forgotten memory, something easily ignored. A few gasps but no one screams; the only thing they could be afraid of now is falling out. Their worst fear has already happened. We skim down over the falls and hit the bottom drenched. This river is never tame and I have to use the pole part of the scythe to navigate, fighting against the current that wants to pull my boat under. When we reach the other shore no one talks because they’re too busy staring and everyone looks scarlet from the light even with the batter-tar mold. This is the important part: you have to knock them off the boat onto land before they stop being shocked, or else it can get difficult. I can’t see their faces but I can tell you what their expressions would say if I could see them: This can’t be, this can’t happen, not to me, it couldn’t have come to this, this isn’t real, not to me, not to me… It’s what I would think if I saw a land made out of fire, too. The scythe’s long enough so I can hit the first three off with the blunt side on the first sweep, but the last one’s figured it out and he’s backing up from me, cursing me and my scythe and my black cloak and hood but I grab him by the throat, my fingers sinking into the tar coating with a sucking sound, and I throw him onto land so the flames can have him. He’s screaming now, the fires licked off the black tar and it’s gone for the skin he had on underneath. He’s red and covered in exposed muscles and tendons, his face painted with agony and he’s struggling to get back to the water, hands clawing for purchase but everything is hot, hot flames and there’s nothing he can grab to save himself. The inferno doesn’t give up its hold so easily. He’s the one who didn’t believe me. I suppose he does now. I push off and head back up the waterfall in a way only a Ferrier knows how to, this job completed.
When I get back to the bridge there’s another Released waiting for me, thin enough and with the right proportions to be a girl, but again, there’s that awful gunk caked on that makes it hard to tell. She staggers away from me when she sees the boat bobbing against the side of the bridge, and I hook the scythe around her and drag her in. She sits up and looks around without really looking, and this one probably didn’t come here peacefully. She’s still in shock. “I’m here to guide you to where you’re supposed to go,” I say, trying to bring her back to the present, but mostly because if she looks this way I can get a peek at her tag. It’s always under their right eye, which is fine if they’re looking at you but if they’re looking away like this one is, it’s hard to see it. “Oh… Okay. Who are you?” I could point out that it’s not polite to ask someone’s name without offering your own, but she’s in my section for a reason after all. “My name’s Nowhere.” I haven’t explained that, have I? We’re all named after the place we service, and that place is wherever Releaseds felt connected to before they shuffled along this bridge so we could pick them up. Kind of funny, some Ferriers start acting like the Releaseds they’re named for. Makes sense in a crazy kind of way, like a dog and its owner, I guess. There are thousands, millions of black boats floating in this river, ferrying Releaseds over to their destinations. I’ve been here a long time and I still don’t know everyone’s name, just the ones whom I bump into every once in a while or the ones who get famous because the have a ridiculous amount of Releaseds. Some of us have more work than others but it all rotates. I mean, Germany had a lot of work a while back, but now Darfur and a couple others are the ones who deliver like dogs run ragged.
FICTION JESS ZWICKER
You probably guessed it, but I get everyone who has a place they don’t belong to, which is not as much as it probably sounds like. You can belong to a place even if you hate it and it hates you, because even hatred is some kind of tie. “Nowhere?” “Yeah. We’re going to wait for a little longer, see if anyone else needs to come aboard.” This Released’s headed down, but she’s (definitely a she, her voice gives her away) polite. She’d better not be a late-angel. Those are even worse than the ones marked for angelhood right away. The ones due uptown I take in the other direction, towards the Staircase and I have to make sure they start going up okay, and I’d rather push Releaseds into the flames every time because then I wouldn’t have to watch as bits of tar-batter fall off and patches of light shine through, and a hum and whistle shrill enough to give me a headache comes spilling out like the beginning of a song. It’s aggravating, and late-angels are even worse. Mismarked because the angels made a mistake, not that anyone calls it that. Don’t think for a second that just because they’re angels they’re perfect. There’s no such thing as perfect. Not really. Not even the Lord uptown. He makes mistakes, but everyone pretends it was meant to happen. Whatever. He is, by definition, perfect, and everything He does He’s praised for and everyone says Him using the world as His ashtray is a holy miracle. Me, I’d get sick and tired of it—worse, might even start believing them. I’d believe that everything I do is right, and hey, might not do anything at all. Why bother? Sitting back and lazing around would be a miracle, too. But I’m going off-topic, aren’t I? I was trying to explain why there are late-angels. Sometimes they don’t realize they’re meant for better places
until they’re faced with, I have to admit, a pretty bad one. There are really late ones, too, ones who get feathers poking out their backs when we’re a foot away from the other shore and the lights make us look like we’re drenched in our innards. It’s this river that turns everything around, it’s always being wet—my clothes and my body are always weighted down and washed out so I guess my mind just follows suit. It’s easy to get used to the flow, always rocking and things always washed away and ashore so nothing’s stable, especially not in this head of mine. Only stable thing around here is the hand that grips my scythe. “My name’s Pam.” She’s tilting her head at me in a way that might have been endearing if, you know, she wasn’t covered in filth. “Pam, huh? Alright.” This wasn’t looking good. I like it better when they curse, when they beg or scream or rail at me. Kindness was a bad sign. I looked around, hoping someone else would show up here, but my part of the bridge was as lonely as always. “Time to head out. Doesn’t look like we’re going to get any more company.” “A private cruise, then. Doesn’t sound too bad.” “Enjoy it while you can, it’s not a long ride.” I give this advice out to a lot of Releaseds, but no one ever seems to listen. This girl, Pam, is no exception. On the edge of the waterfall I give her the usual warning. It’s a hassle if they fall out. We’re wet again and nearing the inferno when I hear, quietly but distinctly, “No.” I shrug. “This is where you’re slated to be.” She shakes her head vehemently in denial and tar-batter goes flying, pelting the bottom of the boat and pieces of it sticking to my cloak. I brush them off without really thinking about it and steer us closer.
FICTION JESS ZWICKER
Pam reaches out and her hands are claws on my shoulders, trying to shake me. “Stop the boat! We’re not supposed to go there! Stop it, stop–” The prow of my boat nudges the shore and she stops talking in the middle of her sentence. Pam starts shaking, fingertips twitching as her head falls back and her mouth opens so this gargling sound comes out. I can only watch at this point and brace myself; I have to hold on to my hatred for the angels who made this mistake. I know it’s futile, but sometimes it helps. A little. Her back swells and her entire body convulses, bits and pieces of glop flying off everywhere and I break her grip on me and dive for the far end of the boat, covering my face with my arms and wait for it. It doesn’t take long, never does, but it’s still horrible. Turning into an angel’s not supposed to happen in seconds like turning into fuel for the fire does, it’s supposed to take a while—as long as it takes you to climb the Staircase. The more her coating falls off the more light that shines through and the melody is there, throbbing and it’s reverberating the walls of my boat and it’s inside me to keep time with the pulse against my ribcage, and here it comes and oh— It’s like being shot through the eyes with a lightning bolt, and suddenly I know perfection. This is joy, this—this is ecstasy! Everything is shining white, my cloak and my boat are glimmering pearl, and if I strain my ears I can hear the words on the angels’ melody, a sweet song like jasmines wet with dew in the morning. They’re drawing me in and I can almost see their faces, I can almost feel the soft brush and kiss of wings against my forehead, we’re all singing bliss together, together! I know everyone and what they’re thinking because their thoughts are my thoughts, they’re me and I am them, rampant love and abandon!
It’s too much, too much, I can’t stand it! Everything is beautiful, the flames on the shore have frozen and all of the wretched fodder is gazing up sightlessly with tears streaming from their eye sockets, because even if they can’t see it, they know. How could they not? She’s rising uptown, beating the air with her wings and blowing air perfumed with cinnamon, it’s glorious, it’s like, like: It’s as if everything had slid into place and someone’s given you absolute confidence that everything is as it should be, all the pieces are in place and they make a masterpiece da Vinci or Picasso could never dream of making, life’s a cradle and a lullaby and it rocks and rocks to soothe, for here is joy here and everywhere and a blessing on everyone’s lips, Hallelu— Gone. It never takes its time leaving, the light, it never says goodbye, it’s just here and gone in the next second. She’s gone. Goodbye, Pam. With her went the song and the light. It’s like my garb and my boat are trying to cling to it, don’t go, they manage to stay gray for a couple more moments and then fade back to their accustomed black. I fall to my knees, panting, trying to come back to myself, hauling the bits and pieces of who I am out of the foggy chaos in my head. My name is Nowhere, and I am a Ferrier. I say it out loud. “My name is Nowhere, and I am a Ferrier.” It’s something I need to do every time, because it’s one thing to think it but if I can still say it without having my voice shake like a ship in a storm … well, then I know I’m coming back together okay, even if I’m not all the way back to being okay yet. Because I’m not. My hands curl on the deck, just a little, just so I can press my fingers into the wood that’s never seen a speck of paint. It got this color because it’s been wet for so long because I’ve been here so long and it just stayed stained and dark. It’s solid under my hands, and that’s good, that’s good.
FICTION JESS ZWICKER
I’m not wet anymore, and there aren’t any puddles on the deck. I feel dried out. I’m glad I’ve got a boat like this, like a barge but smaller. Low enough in the water so I can dunk my head without getting out, and ahhh, that’s better. I feel more like myself, more like Nowhere. I told you that I hated the smell most about this job, right? Well, I lied. The part I hate most is when this sort of thing happens. I hate it. I. Hate. It. There is joy, sure, but it’s not mine, it’s the angels’ and the Lord’s, and it’s not something I want from them but they give me a taste anyway, “Look at us in our Light and our pleasure and our songs of praises.” Glory in it. For the few scant seconds you have the chance to. And some people want it, some might call this little rant of mine jealousy, but it’s not. It’s a mind-rape, it’s something foreign injected into me through the eyes and it’s not mine, they take me from my contention and they force me to feel and behave in a way I don’t want to. It’s insincere warmth is what it is, they take me out of the dankness and give me warmth only to kick me back down to the river, and I don’t need to be with people like that. I don’t want to be with people who play like that with others. I’m better off here, bringing Releaseds to where they need to go, because even if the work’s wet and dank and dark, it’s my work and there’s a purpose to it. I said some Ferriers are like the Releaseds of their names. I’m not. Besides, this is better than mindlessness and namelessness and singing all day, if you ask me. I steer my boat back towards the waterfall. Hallelujah.
Fiction second place
brand new bones
David Liebig Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
brand new bones
At one point in time, a skeleton, a soldier, and a monkey sat together on the curb. Redding, the skeleton, was wondering why the hell his bones didn’t glow in the dark, concluding you can never trust anything you buy to do what it says on the package. He untied his left sneaker and tied it again for no particular reason. Matt, the army guy to his right, farted and smiled proudly in anticipation of the inevitable reaction. Redding’s mom and dad, who watched funky movies where the actors spoke French so you had to read the words at the bottom and thought they were pretty cool because of it, would never have let their son leave the house wearing camo fatigues and a sunblasted Supersoaker slung overshoulder. Mom and Dad might have allowed it had they known war had nothing to do with killing—not yet. So far, war meant nothing of reddened skin blown off the faces of white sons with bluish guns. “Fricken Matt!” the monkey complained, plugging her nose. “That’s nasty,” Redding added and stood up. He might not have said anything if Katherine hadn’t. Matt laughed. “I think next year I’ll be a skunk so I can go around dropping bombs and just say it’s part of the costume.” He inhaled and wafted the smell into his nostrils jesterly with both hands. “You’re disgusting,” Kat said, rising to her feet. “Let’s go.”
David Liebig thinks everything you need to know is in the
story. He wrote this one for the children, who have so much to teach their parents.
FICTION DAVID LIEBIG
She and Redding started down the block. “What? Everybody loves their own flavor.” Matt giggled, not far behind.
“Yessir!” Edna played, smiling. “One for you,”—she tossed Matt a raisin box—“one for you,”—handed one to Kat—“and one for you.” Old Lady Edna dropped one of her treats into the skeleton’s bag—as if making an offering to Death. “Thank you,” Kat said. “Now, don’t go blowing the heads off of just anybody,” Edna told our young soldier. “I won’t,” Matt said. “Just the bad guys.” They continued to follow the road.
FICTION BRAND NEW BONES
Now, in the intercourse of Summer and her Fall, which later gives birth to bastard rains, Halloween had arrived on the so-far coldest day. Suburbia wore a blanket of molding mulberry leaves. Our three carried on from house to house, collecting whatever treats each had to offer. The neighborhood had many hills, and the kids’ calves began to ache. But they kept walking, cresting the rising concrete as it rolled in like the waves of time to hint at some final, higher prominence. “There’s that old lady Edna’s house,” affirmed Redding as their march halted before an unlit abode with neglected hedges and warty gourds displayed. “We should skip that dinosaur,” Matt said. “Last year she gave out raisins.” “I like raisins,” Kat said as she crossed the dying lawn. “Well, what if she’s asleep?” Matt tried, but the monkey was already knocking on the door. A light flickered to life in the window. Sounds of careful movements made their way to the other side of the door. Slowly, it opened. “Trick or treat!” Matt, Kat, and Redding sang. The door’s ponderous retreat revealed a woman with kind, cataract eyes, silver hair that ended where her neck began, and a whole bowl of individual Sun Maid packs. “Don’t shoot!” she said, throwing a broomstick of an arm into the air. Matt, behind the others, had raised his squirt gun and was taking steady, squinted aim. “Give us the grapes and no one gets hurt!”
There were other children out, collecting their own tax of taffy or chocolate-covered thing. Some said hi to our three. Some wore cool costumes. All had candy on their minds and Eden in their eyes. On this day, tomorrow’s children tried on roles of the adult world. Here a surgeon, there a clown. It was a parade of shapeshifters that would one day be forced to settle on a single, unchanging form. Our soldier was ready to show that thing that made his candy sack so much heavier than those of his friends. He said, “Your guys’ bags pretty full?” The monkey nodded. The skeleton nodded. “Let’s go down to the church at the end of this street and hang out,” Matt said. There was no objection. These three often sought refuge from boredom at that quiet, white castle, and they’d already gathered enough sweets to last a few weeks. Matt lugged his bag over the shoulder with no gun and led their way down to a well-lit parking lot—churches always leave their lights on. None of the three actually attended Sundays, but they knew through experience this was a place they could go at night and not get
FICTION DAVID LIEBIG
bothered or too freaked out. “You think the door’s unlocked?” Matt asked as they neared the house of worship. “I don’t know,” Katherine said shakily. “We’ve never gone inside before,” said Redding. “I know,” Matt replied. “But it’s Halloween!”
“I don’t think we should be in here,” the creature said. “We should go soon.” “Don’t be such babies! You guys need to relax. Geez,” said Matt. “You guys drive me to the drink.” These were someone else’s words, but he borrowed them—and they fit. Matt pulled the can of Budweiser out of his bag. “What is that?” Kat asked, dropping Redding’s arm. “Just something I thought we could try.” “Where did you get it?” Redding asked.
FICTION BRAND NEW BONES
The chapel was dead empty. Orderly pews disseminated from one ornately fashioned altar topped by that triumphant lowercase “t”. The low light, which seemed to divide all things of color into mere shades of black and white, agreed with the vacuous silence. The three kids, momentarily respecting that silence, drew to the head of the scene. Katherine—cold, frightened, or both—clung to Redding’s arm. The image of them walking down the aisle together was not lost on the boy, and he wondered if she felt the same gravity. Redding’s eyes, lustless and adoring, slid down the length of Kat’s straw-colored hair bridled by a monkey-eared headband. His eyes fell to her two-dimensional torso, her meatless thighs enwrapped in brown tights, her matching Converse All Stars tightly laced. No intentions sprung from the delicate shapes, but Redding thought she looked pretty cool in her costume. Momentarily, he thought of Edna and the fragile limb she had raised in surrender at her door. It had been skinny—but not like Katherine’s, whose bones still held a promise. Edna’s arms were as thin as the pole upon which they perhaps raised a flag half-staff in honor of some other who had worn the costume Matt was wearing. Perhaps he had rushed into the night as bravely as Matt charged the dark church now. Matt reached the mouth of the center aisle and took a seat at the foremost pew. The four-legged creature Redding and Kat arrived a few strides behind. They didn’t sit.
“My dad’s got a million of them in the fridge,” Matt said. “I thought he wouldn’t miss just one.” Redding set himself on the finished wood. Katherine sat next to him. Their eyes had begun to compensate for the low light; more and more colors were discernable every minute. Matt cracked open the beer and took a gulp. He passed the can to Redding, who took a less-confident swallow. “What’s it taste like?” the monkey asked. Redding handed her the can. Delicately, she sipped. “Feeling drunk yet?” Matt said. “How do you know when you are?” Katherine wondered. “I think you laugh a lot,” Redding said. “Yeah. And when you try to walk, you fall down.” The three passed the single beer back and forth, taking increasingly bold drinks. It was emptied after a few passes. Matt placed the empty can on his head and tried to keep it balanced there. It fell and clanked against the bench as it dropped to the floor. Redding, Katherine, and Matt choked out a laugh.
FICTION DAVID LIEBIG
“I think I’m feeling it,” our soldier said. He stood up and walked to an abnormally large birdbath that stood before the altar. “I’m thirsty,” he said. Forming a cup with his fingers, Matt brought handfuls of the water to his mouth. “I think that’s holy water,” Redding said. “Great. Now I’m God.” Matt continued to drink. “No. I don’t think you’re supposed to drink that,” Kat said. “Why not?” “Because you don’t.” With his back to his friends, Matt continued to drink from the basin—not to prove that he was right in doing so, but to prove that he didn’t care. Kat, who had latched onto Redding again, said, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” “Yeah. Let’s get out of here,” Redding agreed. Matt turned and wiped water from his face with the back of his hand. Suddenly, he threw up his plastic firearm and pointed it at the others. Redding, whose bones didn’t glow, was already dead. But Kat started to cry. This brought Redding to his feet. He grabbed his monkey by the paw and led her out of the church and onto the street. “Oh, come on!” Matt called after them.
“Thanks,” Redding said. Matt joined them on the curb. He reached into his own bag—the monkey, who had begun to calm down, looked nervously for the soldier’s hands—and produced a Caramel Apple Pop. The monkey’s favorite. He handed it to her. She took the pop and wiped wetness from her eyes. “Sorry,” he said. The monkey stood up. The skeleton stood. The soldier stood. And then the three convened for the exchange kids will have every day until stolen by age: “Where are we going?” “I don’t know. But let’s go.”
FICTION BRAND NEW BONES
The skeleton and the monkey sat on the curb beyond the lit-up parking spaces, casting shadows greater than themselves into the street. The soldier came slowly from behind, carrying all three of their candy bags. “You guys forgot these,” he said solemnly.
Fiction third place
Aaron Rowley Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.
The journal was propped up against the wall, rising out of the garbage that had spilled from the dumpster. It was worn and bound by a string that looked as though it would break if it were nudged. It was thin and fraying, dry and angular, like it had spent years growing parched beneath the sun. The knot was tight and compact, appearing only as a small bulge amongst the haphazard fray of the string. The knot, however, didn’t look as though it was intended to keep people from opening the journal, for the string itself was loose and larger than the circumference of the journal. Jarod Dideon stood with his arms crossed against his chest, one of his fingers tracing the outline of his own lips as he contemplated what to do next. It was a peculiar evening. He had come to work right after school, as he always did, and slaved away amidst the grease vapor and smoke. On any other night, Jarod Dideon would have waited anxiously for the clock to strike 6PM, watching the hands, which wiggled and undulated like noodles as they refracted through the violently hot air of the grills. After clocking out and gathering his belongings, he would burst through the side door of the restaurant into the alleyway where he took out the trash, letting the cool evening air paint him with comfort. But tonight was slow. The grills were unusually empty and the fryers strangely inactive. Jarod Dideon wondered if he had forgotten about some holiday, and that maybe the town had stayed indoors to cook a nice meal and sit around a table with family and friends. Whatever the case, he relished the easy pace. That is not to say he enjoyed the evening. That, he had determined long ago, would be impossible. The nature of his job
Aaron Rowley is a third-year Biomedical Engineering major
who doesn’t yet know what he wants to do with his life but finds that very exciting. Aaron thanks his friends and family for putting up with him, and his dog Sydney for being his devoted snuggle-buddy.
FICTION AARON ROWLEY
was laborious and dangerous. Molten oil, sharp knives, greasy surfaces, muggy kitchens, dirty floors, leaking containers, marinades, salt, sugar, grief. Work was a gauntlet. He had to fight to avoid injury, and he couldn’t even remember the last time he’d come home without a scratch or burn. Jarod Dideon knew he wasn’t the only one who shared the hatred for the job. All of his coworkers smoked cigarettes. And not in the way that cowboys did in western flicks, how they leaned against the side of a building, watching people pass by through squinted eyes, taking slow drags and letting the smoke rise and spill over the edges of their hats, like they owned the land, like what they say goes, like they’d win a duel even with a slow draw. And not in the way that women from black and white movies did: lying on their side, their dresses hiked up to their thighs, their exhalations silent as they watched with piercingly sultry eyes. Not like any of that. No, they found something to sit on that was far enough from the building, usually a fire hydrant or chair they had pulled out some time ago, one that just stayed there because of its frequent use. It was a ten-minute break. Neck rubbing, wringing hands, wiping sweat, taking a drag of the cigarette, but letting out the smoke through a sigh. It was more like that, more addiction than style. And he hated the way people smelled after a smoke. It had this weird metallic smell, like a handful of pennies, only it gave him a headache. Or maybe it was the fryers. The fryers were generally the cause of all his anguish. He even lost a mole once. A splash from the fryer burned it clean off. All he had left was a small smudge of pale scar tissue. On his breaks, Jarod Dideon would walk to a small patch of grass that was in between the restaurant and the parking lot, and he would sit on an electrical box. The buzz of the electricity would vibrate the box. It reminded him of the quarter foot-massage chairs that were at the fairgrounds every summer, the ones with the big metal plates that shook so fast it tickled. And the hum of the box changed the way his breathing sounded, like how speaking into a fan made a voice sound robotic. On one break, he even started talking to himself, saying things he thought
any normal self-aware robot would say, like “does not compute” or “prepare to die, human.” He laughed to himself, not realizing that an old woman who was walking towards the restaurant decidedly changed her direction after noticing he was an employee. But the night was strange. He didn’t even take a break. And despite the lack of customers his shift went by fast. He took his time leaving, and even nodded goodbye to one of the other chefs as he strolled to the side door. The sunset was exceptional that night, and he wondered if it always looked that way from the alleyway. He stopped at the end of the alley and watched as the clouds floated in and out of vivid hues. Jarod Dideon was just about to begin his walk home when he noticed the journal. It was lying against the building in a pile of rubbish, but something about it was distinct. It was cracked and faded, most likely made of leather, but it was so raw, so real. It looked like a book his father had pulled out of his grandmother’s attic after she passed away. He remembered how the pages had cracked like potato chips when his father opened them, and how the ink had been smeared and illegible. Jarod Dideon had crouched down, and with perhaps more delicacy than he had ever used, picked up the journal. He looked it over a few times. The spine. Both covers. The dying string. It looked positively ancient. And it was heavy, as though it had mistakenly been used as a brick for the building but now had fallen out. After opening the front cover, and looking briefly at the first bit of writing, he closed it and placed it back against the wall. Now he was standing there, thinking deeply. He felt guilty. What he had read seemed to be a dedication of some sort. Dione, I still listen for you amid the leaves. He wasn’t sure what it was, but the writing seemed passionately personal. The words resonated with him as he read. Something about the small handwriting, and the placement of the words on the page, made the writing seem fresh. He even thought he
FICTION DIDEON’S JOURNAL
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could still hear the scratching of the pen tip on the paper, as though what was pressed in the pages of the journal was more than just ink. Dione, I still listen for you amid the leaves. Maybe it was the name. At first glance he read it as Diane, but noticed that he faltered over the word, and upon going back to read it again noticed that what he thought was an a was distinctly an o. What a strange name, he had thought. He wondered if it was a pet name, like baby, or honey, or snookums. Dione. And the writing, that dedication, or whatever it was, was so specific. So secret. Jarod Dideon thought he could hear the agony of lovers’ separation. He’d never even been in love, but he figured if he could, he would write something like that for someone he lost. Dione, I still listen for you amid the leaves. It was the intimacy that got him. Jarod Dideon felt as though he was violating something or someone. He had placed the journal against the wall just how he found it, but he couldn’t leave. He wasn’t sure if the words were beautiful or haunting, or maybe both, but he remained in the alley, which of course was bizarre, because on any other night he’d be halfway home by now. What was the journal doing here anyway? He was pretty sure the restaurant employees were the only ones who frequented this dumpster. Or maybe rats. Or the occasional wanderer. But even then, why would someone carry this journal with them? It seemed so important, to him at least. How could someone not realize they had dropped it? Could someone have actually thrown it away? What was written on the rest of the pages? Jarod Dideon was torn. He felt as though it was the right thing to do, to leave it. Yet he wanted to take it, he wanted to sit down against the alley wall, all orange and pink under the sky, and read. He wanted to know. He let out an immense sigh, and as if nature were watching, the trash surrounding the journal blew away. If the evening had been any less strange, he would have known that a breeze had brushed the garbage away. But he was sure of it, so very sure of it, that it was his own breath, that he had spent too much time brooding and speculating about the
journal that his lungs, out of exhaustion, had expelled his air as a gust. He had blown the garbage, he was sure. Oh, hell, he thought. Jarod Dideon picked up the journal. He removed the string and placed it into his pocket, then opened the journal, carefully, as his dad had done in his grandmother’s attic. The cover was heavy and sturdy, despite its old age. He stared for a moment. Dione, I still listen for you amid the leaves. It was less shocking now. Perhaps he had overreacted. Maybe work had gotten to him, and in his drained state he had assigned a world of feelings and intent to that short sentence, given it a purpose when possibly there may have been none. He looked skyward, at the colors, which were slowly dimming. It was too gradual to truly notice; the colors slowly dissociated into a darker gray, the way some songs just faded into silence. He looked back down at the journal. He drew his pointer finger along the top corner of the page, waiting for the edge to catch on his skin so he could turn it. Even the texture of the pages was a testament to the age of the journal; they were soft and fibrous, more like cloth than paper. Eventually, the page caught, and he flipped the page. Jarod Dideon widened his eyes to take in what he saw. The pages were absolutely covered with writing. The handwriting was a perfectionist’s chicken-scratch. The words were small and crammed together, new words almost entirely indistinguishable due to their proximity. But each letter was perfect in its execution. They were uniform. Each letter the same height, each line incredibly straight. The author had made use of the blankness of the pages, filling it entirely with impeccably measured writing. It was as if the author had been a scribe, and this was their masterpiece, a beautifully linear transcription of some great work. Or perhaps a concisely constructed writing to someone they cared deeply about. He turned more pages. There seemed to be chapters, or something of the sort. Passages were separated by dates that were centered at the top of the pages. He continued to flip through the pages, watching as the
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near-solid blocks of text passed by, only to discover that the journal was not complete. The journal was only about two-thirds full. For whatever reason, the author had not been able to fill the pages. The blank pages were reflecting the waning light of the evening; they were a pale blue, faint but still illuminated. He almost thought they were glowing. Jarod Dideon flipped back through the writing. It was too dark to read now, and he was curious as to what it said. He thought up half-sincere justifications as to why he needed to take the journal. It was going to be moist that night; the dew would surely ruin the pages. What if there was an address, or a phone number, or some way of identifying the author? He could return this treasure to them. But mostly, and he knew this as he slipped the journal into his backpack, he wanted to read it. He had only made it a few blocks when he realized how cold it was. He usually left earlier, making it inside just before the night could really bite at him. Jarod stopped at a bus stop, deciding that it was worth a buck to save himself from shivers. He sat down at the bus stop and placed his backpack next to him. What was it about this journal that had sparked such an intense curiosity? Fog was rolling in from the ocean, rounding the corners like viscous phantom tentacles. A streetlight buzzed to life, filtering through the mist, illuminating Jarod in a subtle orange glow. He unzipped his backpack, ready to place the journal inside in an effort to resist the temptation to read more, but was stopped. There, amongst his schoolbooks, receipts, and gum wrappers, was his Bible. He had left it there after his last Bible study session a few days ago and had since forgotten it. He pulled it out from the mess and set it on the bench next to the journal. The Bible had lost some of its color; the brown had faded a little. Maybe it had been there longer than he thought. The sides of the pages were painted a reflective gold, the way nearly all the Bibles he had ever seen had been. He was sure there was some reason for it, most likely tradi-
tional, but he always thought it to be a bit strange. He remembered one time he had found a book with gold pages, and his friend seemed to be offended. “That isn’t right,” she had said, as if the Bible were the only thing allowed to have gold pages. Jarod thought about the factory where the paint had been created. He imagined some worker, perhaps on an assembly line or simply standing somewhere monitoring a machine, and what they thought the paint would be used for. If they were anything like Jarod, they were probably thinking about getting off work. Who cared where the paint went anyway? Jarod struggled to understand why his friend took offense to the pages. Maybe she knew something he didn’t. Maybe there was a priest standing outside of the factory, blessing every can as they were shipped off to some publishing company for the sole purpose of gracing the Bible with their reflectivity. Jarod thought about the passages he had read in Sunday School. He couldn’t remember all of them, and in that moment, he was not interested in resurrecting those memories; he left the Bible closed. The journal was a little smaller than his Bible, but clearly older. It was funny actually, seeing the two next to each other like that. The Bible as a piece of writing had surely been around far longer than this journal, yet it looked modern in comparison. The journal looked like a relic. He imagined the authors of the Bible, probably men wearing little clothing, using ancient utensils to record their beliefs, and yet their words were now printed by machines and manufactured industrially. This journal was handwritten and authentic. Something about that made it more intimate. In that moment, Jarod was drawn to the journal in a powerful way. Ironically, he hadn’t felt such a strong urge to read someone’s writing since he had had a firm belief in the Bible. He still considered himself Christian, just not an avid reader. “What brings you here?” a voice came from the fog. Jarod tensed up, startled. He had been so focused on the juxtaposition of the books that he had not even noticed that a man was sitting next to him.
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“Oh…uh, the bus?” Jarod replied, more a question than a statement. In all honesty, it was the journal that brought him there. Had he not spent so much time in the alley, pondering over whether or not to leave it, he would have been nearly home. Dione. A cool breeze passed over his face. It was getting dark, and cold. The bus would be there soon. “I see,” the man replied dryly. “I’ve been coming to this stop ever Thursday for the past six months and I’ve never seen you here. I figured I’d ask,” he said. He was wearing a grey suit, the edges of which seemed to blur in the fog-filtered light. Jarod nodded politely. The man shifted away slightly, as if to suggest that their conversation was over. Jarod gazed back down to the journal. There was simply no way to know whom the journal belonged to, not from what he had read so far anyway. And although he still felt invasive for reading it, he thought it would be a greater disservice to the author to not try and return it. He reached down and grabbed the journal, grazing the edge of his Bible as he moved. With the same wary manner from the alley, he flipped open the cover and turned past the dedication. He flipped through the pages to the back cover. No signature. He turned to the second entry. Never have I found more peace than when I relinquished my prior beliefs. Finally coming to my own conclusions was powerfully liberating. I had always been formed rather than free. Never will I forget that night beneath the canvas of the cosmos, feeling so small, so improbable. The gods had lost their ubiquity; replaced by factors without intent. The hole in my life had been filled, the search for meaning, for purpose, vanquished; replaced now by the unmistakable freedom to choose and to seek, to make meaning my own. I was a conscious, inspired being, on a planet that was merely an afterthought in the scope of chance, made of the same molecules as my friends, my family, my earth, my clouds, my neighboring stars. Small, but unequivocally connected to the infinity of our universe.
Jarod placed the journal in his lap. The content of the journal was surprising. Not only was this person describing a revelation of personal philosophy but they were doing it in a recognizable way. He looked to his Bible. He couldn’t pinpoint his first memory of being religious, but he knew that he had been raised in that environment. His memories of his youth just sort of phased into his recent past where his memories were more distinct. But when exactly he made the transition to being a Christian was difficult to determine. The one thing that was constant in his experience with religion was the way people spoke about faith. There was always this joy, this intense feeling of rapture and oneness with existence. To Jarod, the supposition was that these sentiments were God-inspired. They were emotions that he associated with being connected to a creator – something unique to his faith. How, then, had this passage sounded so similar in tone to religious testimonials? Those words carried an unmistakable power that resonated within him. “Pardon me for interrupting, but what is that you have there?” the man interjected. Jarod looked up from the journal. The man was looking over curiously. “Oh, just a journal,” Jarod said, still not fully pulled from his own thoughts. “Do you write much?” “Oh,” Jarod said, closing the journal. “It isn’t mine. I sort of … well, found it.” “Ahh,” the man said, looking strangely relaxed, “do you know who wrote it?” “No, there’s no signature or anything.” “I see,” the man said, scooting a bit closer, “you feel comfortable reading it?” Jarod was thankful for the darkness, for he could feel himself blush. “Oh, I’m not reading it,” he said frenetically. “I’m just trying to see if I
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can figure out who it belongs to, honestly. I would hope someone would do the same for me.” “Oh, I’m not judging you. I understand that curiosity. Perhaps the author intended it to be read,” the man said though a serene smile. “Yeah, I’d like to think so.” Jarod smiled. The man was comforting. “So which is better, huh?” “Pardon?” “Which is a better read?” the man asked, nodding towards the Bible. “Oh…” “Only joking, I don’t mean to offend.” “I’m not offended. The truth is I was actually just making that sort of comparison in my head.” “Interesting.” The man nodded, crossing his legs. “In what way?” “Well, something about this writing really struck a chord in me. I mean, on the one hand I have my Bible, something that I’ve used to interpret my life and quite honestly has given me a lot of joy. But this journal…I don’t even know the author but the effect it has already had on me…” “That’s the beauty of writing, isn’t it?” the man finished for him. “I suppose. The writing, even in this brief paragraph, is fundamentally opposed to what I’m used to,” Jarod said, stealing a quick glance down at his Bible, “and part of me feels almost…guilty, for finding what it said so attractive.” “Why guilty?” “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I just feel like that shouldn’t make me happy.” “It made you happy?”
“In a way, yeah. It was just so honest. Something about that honesty is very reassuring.” The man sat up a little straighter. Jarod peered over at him. He was staring into the fog. “And where do you suppose this guilt comes from? It seems peculiar that something as simple as a well-written passage would cause you to feel guilty.” Jarod looked at the man quizzically. This man had taken a sudden interest in Jarod’s well-being, at least in regard to his reaction towards the journal. “I guess I’m not sure where that comes from.” “Interesting…you feel guilty without reason.” “No, I mean,” Jarod stammered, “I think I know where it comes from. But it’s more than just the guilt. If I feel guilty about something that I don’t think I need to feel guilty about, and I choose to address where that comes from, I may have to rethink a lot of things.” “Scary, is it?” “Yes.” “But why?” Jarod took a deep breath. The fog was thicker now. He could feel it tickle its way through his nose and into his lungs. He remembered a vacation he took as a child. He was standing on the side of a mountain; his parents were holding his hand, and his face was wrapped with a scarf, which Jarod had tried to pull off. “Don’t take that off, Jarod,” his parents had said. “It’s too cold.” But Jarod had wanted to feel it. He struggled a bit more. “Jarod, do as we say.” “You’ll only get sick.” “Jarod, behave.” Jarod had managed to slip free of his parents’ hands and pull the scarf from his face. In that moment, so fleeting that few could say
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it existed, Jarod felt the sharpness of the air. It stung at his face, immobilizing his cheeks. The frigid air entered his lungs, instantly cooling his entire core. His parents, partly out of frustration and partly out of concern, were upon him an instant to return the scarf to his mouth. But something about that experience stuck. It wasn’t necessarily pleasant, but neither was it terrible. It just simply was. “I guess it isn’t scary. It’s just different. I don’t know…I guess I’m just not used to different,” Jarod said. He looked over at the man, who adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose. “I don’t mean to pry,” the man said, a faint smile on his face, “but I am somewhat of an advocate for education. For learning, all forms of it. And this journal seems to be a great opportunity. I’ll leave it at that. I cannot say whether or not you should ascribe to all the beliefs or believe every word of it. I wish only that you … well, you know,” the man waved quirkily towards his own wide eyes, “read it.” “It’s just a journal.” “Ah, but it’s more than that,” the man said, raising a finger. “It’s a vessel of communication. It’s a little glimpse of truth, born of our experiences or of some imaginary landscape. It’s a little piece of...” The man stopped, motioning around to the fog. Jarod couldn’t help but grin at the man’s honest, albeit bizarre, enthusiasm. “I wish I shared the same conviction as you,” Jarod said. “What would you do if that journal really spoke to you?” the man asked suddenly. “Let’s say you read that, and you are just thrilled by it.” “Well…” Jarod said, looking down at his Bible. “I’m asking you.” Jarod looked up at the man, who was staring into the fog. Jarod thought about the journal. “I guess I’ve never thought about something like that…”
“Can I ask you something else, then?” “Sure.” “Do you feel the fog right now?” “Yes,” Jarod said quietly, unsure of why the man was asking such a question. “It’s a bit cold though, isn’t it?” “Yeah, I’m starting to feel it more now.” “But it’s soothing, the way it just sort of passes over you, tiny little particles dabbling on your skin, tickling you almost.” Jarod nodded, noticing now how each droplet felt on his face. The man continued slowly, “Sometimes I close my eyes and pretend that they just pass right through me, and I try to make myself feel them coming out the back of my head.” He took a deep breath. Jarod smiled. What an interesting man this gray-suited stranger was. “Can you feel that as well?” the man asked. “The fog?” “The way it passes through you.” Jarod took a moment to focus on the fog, trying to notice if he could indeed feel the way the water passed through his body. “Yeah, I can imagine that.” “I’m not asking if you can imagine that,” the man replied. Jarod was still for a moment, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t feel it. “Not really. I think I could if I tried.” “I’d really like to hear how you feel it. Nobody can expect to feel the same thing, not literally at least. The only understanding we can have of each other is through expression, be it conversation or,” the man pointed to the journal, “writing.”
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Jarod remembered the way the fog had reminded him of his vacation. “I’ll have to get back to you on that then,” Jarod said. The roar of an engine permeated the fog. The bus was near. “Oh, I’m quite sorry,” the man said. “I don’t mean to pester you with all this nonsense. You may read whatever you like. I think sometimes I am a little overzealous about such things. In all honesty I just appreciate your putting up with my verbosity.” “Don’t worry about it,” Jarod said, watching as two headlights appeared like brilliant eyes in the distance. “That’s the bus,” the man said. “Will you do me a favor?” Jarod nodded, rising from the bench and picking up his backpack. “Will you read me something from the journal? Just … flip to a random page.” Jarod thought for a moment. It was somewhat of a bizarre request, but Jarod understood the desire. He cracked the spine and turned to a page somewhere in the middle. It appeared to be a poem, which in the usual neat handwriting spanned the pages. “It’s here, in these words, In the curve of the ink. Which self-righteous and royal Do dastardly think, Is nothing but hogsplattering, battering, disdainful beliefs. So what of these letters, these phrases, these thoughts? Nothing, at times, But, BUT, BUT, BUT, BUT. Their being is laden with rain-speckled beauty,
wholehearted agreements, and contrarily, disagreements. They are potent and kind, and at times rather rushed, but at the end of it, there’s solace, and wisdom… all hushed.” “Thank you,” the man said when Jarod had finished. “You’re quite welcome,” Jarod replied. The bus pulled up to the curb. Jarod climbed inside and found a seat. He closed the journal and placed it on his lap. He didn’t know much about writing, but he liked how strange that poem was. It was different from the stuff he’d read in school, and he appreciated it for being so unstructured, almost frantic in the way the words were placed about the page. The bus began to move, pulling away from the curb and into the fog. Jarod looked around the bus and noticed that the gray-suited man was not inside. He looked outside and saw him disappearing down a pathway, his suit blending into the mist. How peculiar, Jarod thought. Why would the man wait at a bus stop just to walk home? Jarod’s backpack shifted as the bus drove away, almost spilling the contents. Jarod was just about to zip up the backpack, but instead decided to check inside to make sure everything was all right, that everything was there… He had left his Bible on the bus stop bench. Panicking, he turned around, looking outside, watching helplessly as the bus stop evaporated. What would he do now? He tried to read a passage every night before going to bed. He liked having a passage to think about as he slept. Something to interpret, something to think deeply about. Letting out a deep sigh, Jarod Dideon looked down at his lap. The journal looked fragile in the motion of the bus, so he held it still. He clenched the journal like he’d clench his Bible, feeling the cover vibrate as the bus jostled over potholes. He flipped open to the first page.
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Dione, I still listen for you amid the leaves. Maybe the gray-suited man was right. Maybe the author wanted this journal to be read. Maybe the author wanted someone to think. Slowly, he ran his fingertips along the pages, feeling the scars of weather and neglect, the cover still bumping, still beating, like a heartbeat.
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Fiction editors’ choices
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
a llama covered in lights
“It has been hard,” Ben said, seemingly years ago now, “understanding what has been happening to me.” I couldn’t look at him. I only stared at the popcorn ceiling. Mrs. Engelbaum’s escaped parrot chirped outside, pleading for a cracker and an invitation inside. “Polly want a cracker,” he whistled again, swinging with the scraggly, winter-frozen branches. Mrs. Engelbaum was ecstatic when he learned to say that. She’d told everyone in the neighborhood. Ben thought she was cruel for caging—“imprisoning” as he said—such a majestic bird. For months, he’d rant and rave about her selfishness and how he would turn her in to PETA. But Mrs. Engelbaum loved that thing. As soon as he escaped, she would chase him down and wait at the bottom of the tree he chirped in for hours. She hasn’t pursued him today, though. And I think today he might actually want to come in, though neighbors had been letting him in for the night so he didn’t freeze to death, then letting him out again in the morning to get back home. She just got tired of waiting for the damn bird. A withering sigh whimpers from the skinny heap of bones hiding in my brother’s skin. A claw-like hand swings his empty drinking glass against the night table we’d carved our names into when I first learned how to spell.
Alicia Freeman catapulted into this world on November
18, 1988 in Truckee, CA. Though California-born, Alicia grew up in Carson City, NV, with her older sister Brittany and devoted parents Michael and Sarah. After graduating from high school in 2007 and facing college rejection, she took two years off and lived in Tahoma, CA, a small town on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. Then she discovered the pastoral beauty of SLO and Cal Poly, which ultimately made her decide to pursue college again. She hopes to one day become a writer or work in an English-related trade in a cubicle decorated with pictures of her cats.
FICTION ALICIA FREEMAN
Clang. Clang. Clang. His new way of asking for water without the pain of speech. Eight days ago we were talking like real people. “Did you ever read The Metamorphosis?” he’d asked as he munched on a saltine cracker, the only thing he’d eaten in two weeks. I shook my head, avoiding looking at him. “No. I was supposed to, but then you got sick.” He grinned ghoulishly, his cheeks sunken in and his lips chapped with scabs. “Ooh, guilt trip.” I grinned as well, looking up to see how he looked as a skeleton smirking. “I didn’t like the idea of someone turning into a cockroach.” “It was more of a beetle, actually.” “Like that’s different?” He shrugged. “You’re right, you’re right. It’s not that different. I guess I just never understood why, when he first discovered he was a bug, he only thought of his job and not of the severity of the situation.” “Dying people shouldn’t use the word ‘severity’ and have a conversation about The Metamorphosis.” I shrunk into the purple beanbag chair Mom had bought me in the fifth grade. He chuckled. “I guess so.” I could never imagine my brother turning into a cockroach. I wouldn’t be able to deal with it. What sister could? What sister could take care of a huge cockroach brother? That’s when you call the exterminator, I think. “Thirsty,” Ben mumbles, no longer clanging the glass. “Please.” I rise, again, from the beanbag chair, taking his glass tenderly and brushing the last bit of hair he has left off his pallid forehead. His pale, pale, green eyes, cavernous and clouded with sickness, stare into mine.
“Is this it?” his bloodshot eyes ask. “Will I die like this?” “Cold water?” I ask him. He sinks back into the crowd of naked pillows behind him, affirming my question. There were once pillowcases on those pillows, but after various accidents and coughing spells, they all went in the wash, also leaving him with ratty Spiderman sheets from our childhood. And when it gets into the wash, I never seem to keep up with it. I hope to God he doesn’t have an accident. We don’t have any more clean sheets. On the small TV set on the dresser right across from him, Rent plays on for the fifth time today. He took to watching movies about people dying in his last weeks but seems to enjoy Rent most. I think just to complain about it. Last week, we lay in bed together making fun of it. “I definitely was not dancing and singing when I found out I had AIDS.” He had grimaced while picking at a scab on his arm to appear uninterested. I had slapped his hand to make him stop. “You are not some kind of musical bohemian.” “I used to be a bohemian.” “Not a musical one.” He had leaned into me, falling into my arms and snuggling with my shoulder. “Neither am I a drag queen.” I ran my finger down the trail of his thin shoulder. “You’d make a beautiful one.” He’d laughed. “Nancy said that, too.” He hasn’t laughed since then without coughing up clots of blood. His laughter will never be full again.
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I flee out the door for his cold water. The old wood floors creak, echoing through the empty house with the anticipation of Death’s visit. I shiver, goosebumps racing up my arms. Once upon a time, the warmth of Dad’s French toast bloomed throughout the house. Ben and I lay together those days, as we did last week, and slept away our Sundays. Now, our poor house stands deserted of the family warmth it once knew. Mom and Dad went down to Florida, leaving us to die here. Of course, Ben had died to them long ago. They buried him in the forgotten corner of the backyard when the baseball coach kicked him off the team for being a “fucking fag.” He didn’t say that to my parents, though. He was much more politically correct when he talked to them. But to me, as I stood alone in the hallway of my high school putting up our theater show posters, the coach snuck up on me and told me that once the whole town knew about Ben’s sickness. People walk by and stare in, especially since the hospital sent him home. The town has never seen a little gay boy with AIDS before, especially not one that they knew and grew up with. He’s no Freddie Mercury. He’s no Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. He’s the young man who used to paint the holiday window murals on all the stores. You know the ones, the hokey Santa selling bedroom sets at half price at Rick’s Furniture Warehouse. I dig into the freezer, pulling out the ice tray and twisting it to break out some ice. Then, I pull out the cool Brita water filter from the fridge, pouring the water over the crackling ice. In the freezer as I put the ice tray back, I see an old Cherry Garcia tub sitting in the back, untouched since the last time Ben had tried to eat it. One of the chunks of deliciousness had gotten stuck in his throat because he was too weak to swallow it. Since then he hasn’t eaten, though he wasn’t really eating before. In the hospital, he stopped altogether as a sign of protest. Still, his stomach bloats like the starving African children you see on TV, who (some of them at least) are dying the same way he is.
Through the kitchen window outside, Donny Green kicks over one of Mr. Frank’s lit-up reindeer. Last year, the little shit and his idiot friends drove all over Mr. Frank’s lawn and destroyed his decorations and yard. Donny also stole my bike in seventh grade and threw eggs at Ben as he walked home from school. “Is it just me,” Ben’s hushed voice inquired just days ago (how many, I’m not sure), “or does that reindeer on Mr. Frank’s lawn kind of look like a llama?” I had been sitting across the room, unwilling to look at the skeleton he had become. “Oh … well, you know Mr. Frank.” “Apparently, he’s a pedophile.” He chuckled. “Mom always hated him.” “Mom always hated everyone.” Mr. Frank moved to our neighborhood shortly before Dad kicked Ben out. We had gotten a neon yellow paper on our door telling us a sex offender had moved into our neighborhood. Ben had grabbed it off the door and held it up. “Better watch out, Val. We have a sex offender in our midst.” Donny Green rode by just then on his bike, his mullet in full swing. I think he had a crush on me then because he rode by fairly often. “Are they going to put up one of those for you, gay boy?” He stopped, leaning on his handlebars. Ben rolled his eyes. “Are they going to put up one of those for you, masochistic idiot?” Donny stared at him for a moment, then rebuffed. “Don’t call me an idiot!” “But I can call you masochistic?” Silence.
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“Oh right, your pea-sized brain doesn’t know what that means.” “Shut up.” He straightened. “Valerie, do you want to see a movie Friday night?” I raised my eyebrow. “No, Donny. I have plans.” “Doing what?” “That’s none of your business.” “It should be my business.” Ben took me by the arm. “We’re going inside now, Donny. Why don’t you go push down children or kick puppies or something?” Outside, Donny lit a cigarette and looked toward the house. He waved. I waved back minutely and made my way up the stairs again. As I re-enter the room, Ben whimpers. It still smells of piss and Ben’s stink from not showering. The smell always reinvigorates itself when I leave and come back. I guess you just get used to it. He whimpers again, beckoning me closer to him. “Don’t leave,” he says, barely speaking at all. “I won’t, babe,” I answer, dripping some water down his throat. “I won’t.” He reaches for my hand and clutches it like he’ll never touch a hand again. Once when I was four, our parents took us to the zoo. Ben was in his lion-tamer phase then and insisted we go. Staring at the lazy lions, I grasped his hand so hard for fear of being eaten that I swore I could break it. Right now, he feels so fragile that I know I could shatter his hand into little pieces. He looks at me, wanting to say something, but not having the strength. He points instead at the TV as the Rent drag queen dances around singing that song I really don’t like.
“Nancy,” he is saying. Ben and Nancy fell in love a couple years after he left home. He went to LA and met her at a gay bar where she was performing. He said she was the most beautiful man he had ever seen. After that, they were smitten. They spent every moment together. Ben would travel with her across the state, across the country, as she donned her blooming blonde wig and fake tits. “She didn’t want to be a woman,” he told me after she had died. “She just liked being a man dressed as a woman.” “Why do you always call him ‘she’ then?” I had asked. It was before he found out about his own HIV. We were shopping for groceries, making small talk about his deceased drag-queen boyfriend. “I don’t know.” He shrugged. “She liked that, I guess.” Nancy found out she had AIDS and died from it a couple years before Ben knew he was infected. He took care of her, as I take care of him now. He said he never got tested because he didn’t want to take away from her sickness, from her own death. It didn’t really matter anyway. In this game of disease, nothing really matters. “I always wanted to be thirty,” he said in the hospital months ago. “I thought that was the time when you fall in love and settle down and live like a grown up.” I was reading an old People at the time, detailing Brad and Jennifer’s breakup in the eyes of the past. “You were in love once though.” He waved the statement away with his hand. “Yeah, but Nancy died. We didn’t get to be grown-ups together.” I had sighed, looking at him. His cheeks were fuller then, and his eyes hadn’t yet turned into caverns carved into his face with darkness. “Neither did we, I said.”
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I had always dreamed of growing old with my brother. Not in some creepy incestuous way, but just in the family way. Us both getting married, having kids, being aunt and uncle respectively, going to dinner together, raving about our son or daughter’s school successes, discussing what to do with our parents when they got old and senile. That was always something I waited for and looked forward to (well, besides my parents getting old and senile). Once we grew up and had actual, full lives, our bond would grow as strong as it was when we played with Aladdin action figures together and sang along to “A Whole New World.” Sure, that dream was distorted a little when he came out, but I still imagined it. I hung out with him and Nancy as often as I could, though my parents hated it. I imagined going to Ben and Nancy’s house to visit them, my children racing around their backyard. But my children will never know either of them. Soon enough, I won’t know him anymore. I’ll just remember him dying in his bed with Spiderman sheets, just a photo imprint of the man I used to know. No, not the man. The boy. He never got to be a man. You know, somehow I felt when we were older we would completely and truly know ourselves, and thus would be able to give ourselves to each other as siblings just as completely and truly. Somehow, I thought life worked that way. But we will never get the chance to share a drink together with our significant others, or celebrate his son or daughter’s graduation (I think he and Nancy would have adopted if they’d had the chance), or bitch about our bosses. That has been stolen from us. His breathing became shallow, and a coughing fit came up his throat. I raced for a Kleenex and held it out to him. Wetness splattered out of his mouth into my hand as his frail body shook violently. The earthquake ceased, and he fell back, exhausted. I avoided looking at the Kleenex to see what color the wetness was. His eyes closed against this world he found himself in. He had become a fragile, skeletal misrepresentation of himself that had to wear diapers
FICTION ALICIA FREEMAN
because he couldn’t make it to the bathroom fast enough. My brother— the handsome, insightful, funny brother I used to know—has withered away to this. I don’t know how I’ll live again when he’s finally gone. Even if he’s just lying there waiting for Death to fully enter the room, he’s there, he’s here. We used to be so close. We were best friends. I never imagined I would have to go on without him. I never imagined I would be sitting here right now in a beanbag chair pleading with God or Muhammad or whomever to let him hang on just a little longer. To let me keep him for just a little bit more. “When I die,” he said, so, so long ago, “I want you to invite all the drag queens I knew. I want them to parade through this prejudiced fucking town and make everyone uncomfortable. I want one to hit on Donny Green.” “What a dream,” I had answered, tucking him in to his hospital bed. He smiled, because he could smile then. “That’s what I want. I want this town to know I’ve died.” I don’t know if I can do it though. Right now, we’re ghosts holed up in this house. We’re haunted spectacles for the passers-by. “You know, the man in there has AIDS,” they’d say to their friends. “He’s dying in there.” “How sad,” the friends would answer. Then Donny Green would ride by and curse at them or throw eggs. Ben opened his eyes and looked at me more clearly than he had in days. I am the only one who is going to remember him right now lying on Spiderman sheets and looking out the window at a llama covered in lights, even though my heart aches too much to look at him. “I am tired,” he said, barely.
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I took a deep breath, grasping his thin hand in mine again. “Me, too.” He lifted up his comforter and motioned for me to get under the blanket with him. I crawled in without a moment of hesitation, snuggling up to him like I always used to. He wrapped his arm around me the best way he could, and we lay there, letting our breathing even out to that sleepy medium. Lying with him, I see him as he used to be when he was a real person. When he would come into the room with his head held high and his dark hair combed perfectly. His green eyes would shine and twinkle as his smile, wider than one would think a human mouth could manage, illuminated his expressive face. Light would enter with him even when it was gloomy outside. He was so full of life and hope. But I know now that hope is only an appealing cliché and being “full of life” means nothing when someone sees you with all of it sucked out. I wished so badly he would live. I wished so badly I would be able to keep him for the rest of my life. But I can’t. Just like he couldn’t keep Nancy. There are things in life you just can’t do anything about. “I love you,” he whispered, barely breathing. “I love you, too,” I whispered back. And just for this moment, he isn’t dying of AIDS anymore. My parents never kicked him out. He never got infected. I never believed that my hope and love could cure him. We were just little again with that smell of Dad’s French toast wafting up from downstairs. He remains the strongest, most wonderful person that I have ever known and is still my hero, my living, breathing hero, for just this moment. It has been hard, you said, to understand what has been happening to me. This time I did look at you—I could look at you just so I could recall your last smile to me before you died.
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Christmas of 1995
Kimberly L. Paterson
Kimberly L. Paterson, as a senior English major and
Linguistics minor, writes by the creed that all the beauty, emotion and meaning in life can be found in the minute details of a single, finite moment – if you look closely enough. In commemorating the moments of her life, this autobiographical piece is dedicated to Nana, whose spirit of encouragement is still with Kimberly, and to her Bear, whose strength teaches her daily how to know herself.
When I see you, you remind me of Christmas 1995. The packages are under the tree, the ornaments hanging, subdivided by our favorites, and my sister and I are making up dances to old Christmas carols. It is almost as if we have forgotten Christmas of ’93. That year there was no fire in our pellet stove even though the air was too warm for snow and too cold to forget the fireplace. The hot air had carried over from inland and wafted out onto the desert valley. It caught an updraft that left the sagebrush rustling in the cold underneath. There were thunderclouds, I think, against the pale sky, but Dad didn’t notice. He was too busy picking up the shirt Mom had left on the floor, running over the pain he must have felt. She pointed a finger at him; her lips pursed and told him she was leaving. He had forgotten the fireplace, but it didn’t matter. I wore socks to bed that night, but my feet were still cold under the covers. My sister and I cried ourselves to sleep, my brother stifled his anger against his pillow and cursed my mother under his breath. Her presents lay unclaimed and untouchable under the tree for a week until Dad picked them up and placed them in the back of the closet. But Christmas of ’95, there were no presents from Mom under the tree—just Dad, Santa and our brother—Mom had sold hers three weeks earlier to pay for drugs so she could forget that it ever happened. We mailed ours off to her a week earlier. And my sister and I danced with smiles in our long underwear and borrowed Daddy’s tees. We hadn’t forgotten. We always remembered.
FICTION KIMBERLY L. PATERSON
It struck me as you rolled over asleep, your hand thrown across your face, and your lips puckering gently as you inhale. You are Christmas of ’95. You are the stockings hung, the weeks of anticipation filled with present shakings and Christmas caroling. You are the three feet of snow that fell and melted and refilled the creek behind our house. You are the joy I felt building a fort alongside that creek and pretending it was a moat that no man could cross. You were the springtime, the summer, the fall that cycled around our house in the desert. You were the snowfall after the storm. I realized that every tear I cried the night my mother vanished from my life, you kissed away fifteen years later. You have seen every scar that painted my skin, every pain and insecurity that I shoved down into my heart and wrote down in the silence—all of it. And like the day after, when the sky cooled and the first snowflake fell on a cold house, you stood by and took each crystal in like treasure and welcomed in the release that the desert sky needed. You are the year that refused to cover over and forget her absence even when you knew you were screaming out into the void and waiting for an echo. You never left, you never gave up. And when I see you, I see that moment of joy and dejected triumph: the Christmas I remember most, not because it was perfect and whole, but the way it was and persevered. We knew that we weren’t broken even though our hearts were missing her. We didn’t have the answers, but we had each other. You stood by and held my hand as the sky erupted and the world below was buried with the white flakes of the past. And you never left, you never gave up, you never forgot. Christmas of 1995 was sad and empty, but filled with a momentary peace. And as I sit and feel the bricks I carry press down against my back, and as I see you, asleep and dreaming, the world doesn’t seem so broken. Maybe it is, but it doesn’t matter. The good will always come with the bad, but at least I know that even when all the pieces of me seem juxtaposed and misplaced, you will be standing there to help me make sense of it. And there is joy there too. I can see our Christmases
to come, a house, a home, a family, two kids in long-johns and a dog howling along to Jingle Bells when I look at you. You are the hope I find in people, strong and resolute. And you are the weight of my past lifted up and shoveled off the front porch, the presents taken out the closet and handed back to the emptiness that has finally come home. You are all these things and none of them, but you remind me so much of happiness amongst sadness, comfort amongst despair. I take you back with me to each Christmas and you and I stare long into the eyes of my past until you become so indistinguishable against the fond memories I cling to. When you hold me as I cry and bleed over the history that never disappears, you endear yourself to every memory and I hold you closer. You hold the weight of my childhood against my cheek as you wipe away a tear, reminding me that I am not broken, that I am not forgotten like the cold hearth. I was never lost amongst the memories, I was the memories and you loved them. You are Christmas of ’95 and every one yet to come, and you live each one with me whether it is the past, the present or the future, not a day passes that I don’t thank God for you. You are a miracle and a light, and the best present and decoration I could ever set against my past.
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to make gods of men
Out across the crescent of the bay, towers of silver steel jutted from the earth, and round their lofty crowns, black schools of traffic swarmed beneath the amber sky. Out upon the wild, dark water of the bay, a great fleet of windmill sails spun round and round in quick, imperfect unison, providing all the power needed to light the sky come nightfall. And closer, upon the cliff line, above the rocky shore, stood the silhouette of a perfectly naked man. The orange sun swung near upon the brink, casting shadows long and dark and deep. If anyone —man or woman—were to see this lone figure staring out upon the vast and indomitable sea, one would think him the ideal form and shape. For if some God, truer still in form, molded life from Heaven’s heights, then here he was, the Adam, the atom, the primeval nucleus of being. No man nor woman, none, would challenge this figure’s fine perfection—not even to consider that what is seen as perfect through the eyes of Man may well be imperfect in the eyes of its maker. With a hiss of air heard even over the roiling wind, a flier descended from its journey through the stratosphere and landed softly upon the manicured parking lawn. Its four jet propellers pressed the grass flat until they slowed to a standstill. A man and a woman, neither of them properly dressed for the coming cold, exited the rising doors. The doors descended and locked themselves as the two figures made their way west along the path that diverged upon the cliff. The man’s agespotted left hand clutched at something in his pocket. He was neither handsome nor hideous; he was what he’d been given, and his head had grown gray. But the woman—the woman, who bundled her arms
Brandon Smith began writing his first novel in the fourth
grade. It has been a stubborn brainchild, evolving as Brandon’s writing has advanced throughout the years. The first complete draft, titled Before Corruption, was finally written during his high school senior year. Alas, four years later it’s still developing. But whilst it continues its long saga, baking in the ovens of imagination, Brandon has been at work writing several short stories and two new novels: an apocalypse-in-progress novel and a second that he hopes will become part of a series to be entitled The Elysium Chronicles. Today, Brandon’s biggest inspirations are J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, and Gene Wolfe. Outside the world of words, Brandon is an avid photographer working on growing his business, which he currently calls B.S. Smith Photography. He is also something of a popcorn connoisseur, but that’s just an aside. He will graduate from Cal Poly in December 2011.
FICTION BRANDON SMITH
against herself as the wind whipped her dress and shawl wildly about her delicate form—possessed a figure most women would envy and would scorn from lack of self-content. If a God really dwelled in the high Heaven, then she could be His Eve—and no one would challenge her fine perfection: None, but God Himself. Over the droning wind, their voices rose; the old man’s neck swelled with veins strained from shouting, but the woman’s remained perfectly smooth and pale, though her voice reached (at least) the very same decibel as his. Is that the man you’ve come looking for? she asked, looking toward the naked man standing at the brink of the sea. Yes, he said. Are you sure of it? Yes, I’m sure. Is he naked? Oh, please don’t tell me he’s naked! He must be so cold. It appears he is. Why wouldn’t you like him to be? You, being a woman? She briefly looked out upon the naked man and her face made no lustful twists, no change occurred in her perfect lips, no deep stare set itself upon that distant figure. I have no opinion on that, she said. Then act as if you do. You mean—? Yes. But, Bernard, aren’t we married? Something like that, he said. Oh, I don’t feel good about this. What are we here to do? The man, Bernard, ignored this comment, his lips curled into a frown and his forehead half-furled, darkening the eyes beneath his heavy eyebrows.
Oh, why must we do this? she repeated. Whatever you’re doing, it’s vile, I can tell. It’s not vile, Bernard said. It’s . . . business. I don’t want to watch. Whatever it is, I don’t want to watch. Then you don’t have to. In fact, it may be best if you don’t. It will make things easier. For me and for you. Either way, I must do this. You could never understand how important this is. But is it really? Yes. But I thought that only the things we decide to make important are important, she said. Isn’t that right? Didn’t you say that, long ago? You could have just decided not to make it important. I could have, but then I wouldn’t be able to be rid of—all this. All my mistakes. Right now, this is the most important thing. You’re going to kill him, aren’t you? Yes. Oh, Bernard! You mustn’t! Why? What has he ever done to you? He’s done nothing, Bernard said sharply. He’s just … existed for far too long. It’s my mistake. This is so cruel! she said. Her screams drowned out the wind, covered them in alarm, and yet the naked man did not stir. He did not even seem to hear it. How can you do this? she cried. Bernard turned and grabbed her by the collar of her blouse and yelled, You’re a piece of work! You weren’t made for this! I didn’t make you for this! What’s wrong with you? Why do you have these fears, these emotions? This,
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this right here, is why I must do what I’ve set out to do. I’ve killed God. Buried Him in all this—this shit. It’s time I dug Him up again. Bernard clutched then at his chest and paused in his stride. He shook his head, rubbed his chest, and continued onward. I don’t understand! she said. I don’t— And you shouldn’t, he said. He breathed heavily. Just remain silent and don’t say a word. Just remain silent and look at him as if you love him. For, if situations were different, you would. But— Swear to me, he demanded. I won’t! Then—Bernard coughed—Then don’t say a word. Swear to me! She nodded. Her lips pursed and her eyes drooped in sadness, but no tears came. On her mouth again were written the words I don’t understand, but no sound came forth to give them value. At last they reached the naked man, who stood there so like a statue at the precipice of the sea that it was a wonder he wasn’t one. Bernard came up to his left, and the woman remained behind, twisting her shawl round and round. Hello, Lazarus, Bernard said. Hello, Doctor, Lazarus said. What is so significant about the sea, created you, created me? The sea did not create you, Lazarus. Nor did it create me. Ash to ash, dust to dust, remember? Water only sustains that which already lives. Lazarus continued to look upon the sea, the orange sky, the golden water, the white towers in the far distance glowing faintly in the growing dusk.
Who is she? Lazarus asked. He did not look backward at her. That is of no importance. And yet she is. Yes, she is, Bernard said. She exists. She is existent. The rest is of no importance. Lazarus’s eyes shifted toward Bernard, though his head did not turn. You know, Doctor, he said, that I have never experienced thirst. I have never brought a glass of water to my lips—never felt the need. In fact, I quite fear water. I quite fear the sea. Then why do you look upon it the way you do? asked the woman. I must say, I, too, fear it. Bernard glared at her. He mouthed, Not a word. She looked back apologetically. Now the naked man turned. He had not a scar or imperfection on him. He looked at the woman, his emotions unreadable. There is a certain … pride in facing one’s fears, he said. I’m sure you know all about pride, Bernard said. I’m sorry, Doctor—but what do you mean? Why, look at you, Lazarus. You’re naked as the day you were brought into this world. But was I? Lazarus asked. As of late, I’ve wondered and pondered and I’ve come to think—I feel, how should I say . . . different. Why, that’s because you are different, Lazarus. Now, tell me why it is you’re naked. I woke up this way, said Lazarus.
FICTION TO MAKE GODS OF MEN
FICTION BRANDON SMITH
So you were clothed before you went to sleep? Whyever were you sleeping? I’d given you a job to do. Not sleep, he said. I was made unconscious. Unconscious? You? Yes. And did they take it from you? The ring? You know, that was Cassondra’s diamond ring. You couldn’t even deliver it to the safe for me. They did take it. I’m sorry. Bernard ran his hand through his thinning hair and then clutched his chest again. He grimaced. Who were they? he asked after several moments of labored breathing. Did you get a look at their faces? I did, but I couldn’t describe them to you, Lazarus said. It’s all rather fuzzy. Perfect, Bernard said. Do you know which way they made off? They headed north. I couldn’t tell you if they sustained that direction, however. They disappeared over those hills. He nodded to the north, where great grassy mountain-hills dipped their feet into the raging ocean. Is there anything else you can tell me? They took my flier, if that helps any. That helps lots. Bernard proceeded to run his fingers through the dark hair on the back of Lazarus’s head. What are you doing, Doctor? Just … checking on something. Making sure you’re healthy.
At last Bernard’s fingers stopped. He peered closer. He’d found something. He took a small metal rod from his pocket—a data pen, it’s called—and shoved it through the back of Lazarus’s skull. Moments later he forced the rod back out. What did you do? Just retrieved some vital data, Bernard said softly. What do you mean? Don’t you know by now what you are? Bernard asked. Lazarus stared. He looked over at the woman, who stood behind both of them with a look of confusion upon her brow. You’re an android, said Bernard. One of many. Can’t you see? I made you. After all these years, haven’t you wondered? Yes, of course you have. You said you feel different. You see? Indeed, you are. Lazarus did not speak. There are only two of you left, Bernard said. His brow grew heavy, his face serious. It ends today. I stop playing God. I stop making gods of men. No man can fill those shoes. After all these years, I’ve learned it. It simply isn’t the way this world was intended to be run. Are you—going to kill me? Lazarus asked. Yes, I am. But don’t worry. Though you carry with you emotions, you don’t carry with you pain, or a soul. You won’t know anything of the end, just as your whole life has been made up of nothing but numbers and basic animal emotions. Fear, pleasure, calculation. It’s all you are. The wind howled all around them, and the orange glow atop the horizon was now naught but a candle flame. Is there anything you wish to say, before the end? I know you’d like to fight me, that you’d like to resist, but when I retrieved the data from you,
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it disabled your aggressive functions. I couldn’t have you escape. That would be bad for business. Lazarus bowed his head. He looked at himself, in awe, perhaps, that he hadn’t realized that, in all his perfection, he’d never been wholly human. Imperfect in the eyes of his maker. You’ve given me a good life, Doctor, he said. Bernard nodded. And that was all. A glint of silver steel flashed from the old man’s pocket; a blast of blue erupted through the android’s chest and forehead. His body collapsed out over the water and was gone. Seconds later a flash flew out upon the waves and dissipated like a dying star. The woman shrieked when this happened and began to back away. Did you watch that? Bernard asked. I told you it would be best if you didn’t watch that. It makes the rest that much harder. He pointed the pistol at her. She ducked her head in terror and her cries filled the air. Not even the wicked wind could drown them out. I’ve tried so hard to please you! she cried. All those nights in bed, all those suppers on the table— Yes, you tried; I’ll give you that, said Bernard. But you, who are not fully human, will never please me like you did before I remade you. Goodbye, Cassondra. I loved you once. But your memory is haunting me in this ghost. A third flash whipped out, this time upon the woman. It careened past her like lightning after passing through her core. And yet she was not finished. In her last seconds, Bernard grabbed her round the waist, dragged her to the precipice, and with all his might, heaved her out upon the water.
He fired one last shot, and in a bubbling flash of white fire, she hit the wild ocean, and was gone. Bernard looked down at the small silver rod in his hand. A pained smile crossed his face for a moment, followed by a frown. So this is how God feels when he tends to his flock, he said. He clutched his chest and slowly walked back to the flier.
FICTION TO MAKE GODS OF MEN
Joel’s fingers tapped rhythmically on the cold glass window. It was damp with condensation. The room in which he sat was a comfortable sixty-five degrees. It was, in fact, always kept at a comfortable sixty-five degrees – Dr. Grey made sure of that. It kept his clients feeling calm. Secure. That’s what he called them, too – clients. Not patients. Not nut jobs. Clients. Outside were office buildings and trees. Gray, faceless structures with uniform rectangular windows. Brown, limp-looking bark with a few stubborn leaves clinging here and there. Everything was being drenched in a heavy torrent of cold September rain. Joel’s eyes were fixed resolutely on a painting hanging on the wall opposite him. Soft blues and gentle greens – nothing to evoke strong emotions. He heard the doctor enter the room and take a seat on a chair nearby. He heard the whoosh of the chair as it adjusted to accommodate the considerable weight of its new burden. Still, his eyes stared, and his fingers tapped. The doctor cleared his throat, professionally, and spoke: “Joel, great to see you again. How have you been?”
Sam Thorn is a fourth-year English major/Music minor, set
to be unleashed into the real world in June. He writes fiction, poetry and music, and collects and attempts to play anything with strings on it. He can't get enough of live music, and when he moves away he will sorely miss all of San Luis Obispo's coffee shops and street corners that offer it so generously. He sends out his thanks to Todd Pierce, Kevin Clark, Lisa Coffman, and Jay Gummerman for all of their tips and tricks that have helped him improve his writing in the last four years, and to his girlfriend Miche for always sticking by him through the (often painful) writing/ living/loving process!
Joel heard the rain against the window getting harder – maybe hail now. Maybe not. He heard Dr. Grey shuffle some papers on his desk, awkwardly. The doctor tried again. “Have you been listening to any new music lately, Joel?” Joel gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head. He had never been good at small talk. Or, rather, he had never seen the point to it, so he had never bothered to learn how to be good at it.
FICTION SAM THORN
He was a tall boy for his age, but his smooth, round face showed that he was still, nonetheless, a boy. His clothes were ones that might be found on any other sixteen-year-old, and they hung loosely from his body. His hair was a dark, charcoal black. Joel felt out of place in the doctor’s office. The Westerbaums were not the kind of people who saw shrinks. There were only three Westerbaums left, but they had recently had bad fortune with money. Mr. Westerbaum had died four years prior of a brain tumor; his wife, a nurse, had been working double shifts at Washington General Hospital ever since. Mrs. Westerbaum was not a cruel woman, by any means – only a practical one. Her adage regarding her children’s wellbeing was a simple one: if she couldn’t see what was wrong, then it didn’t need treating. But this was different. Joel’s ophthalmologist had strongly recommended psychiatric attention as an accompaniment to his eye surgeries; Mrs. Westerbaum had consented, somewhat begrudgingly. Dr. Grey had been able to make room for Joel for sixty minutes, twice a month. Now, the two of them spent every other Wednesday sitting together awkwardly, listening to the rain. Therapy. Even before the diagnosis, Joel had been a quiet boy. He preferred to keep things to himself. He didn’t see the point – as so many boys his age did – of besting other people’s opinions with his own; he knew what he knew, and that was enough to satisfy him. Ever since the diagnosis, though, he’d virtually become mute. Today, when he spoke to break the silence, his voice came out croaky and bitter. It hadn’t been used for more than a few words in almost three months. “That painting’s shit. You know that, right?” Dr. Grey chuckled softly, then quickly redressed the laugh with a cough. “I don’t know the first thing about art,” he replied, with a straight, earnest face. “If you were the artist, what would you have done differently?” Joel paused. When he spoke, his words were slow and deliberate: “Well, I’d probably start by painting something that wasn’t so…shit.”
Joel heard Dr. Grey give a long, protracted, doctor’s sigh before reclining in his chair. The doctor took a pen from his shirt pocket and rolled it back and forth between his thumb and forefinger. The look on his face told Joel he was grappling with what to say next. When the doctor spoke again, he had dropped any pretense of joviality, and his voice was now candid and calm. “Joel, let’s talk about your diagnosis. You have every right to be afraid. You must have plenty of questions. But you’re going to have to ask them before we can figure out the solutions.” The boy’s face conceded nothing. It was drawn, taught, unrevealing of the thoughts that lay behind it. He had recently noticed how skilled the doctors were at avoiding words like “disease” and “problem.” Instead, they used terms like “complication” and “solution.” Not obstacles to be feared – just puzzles to be solved. His mother did it too, sometimes, when she told stories about her patients at the dinner table. “Joel.” Dr. Grey leaned forward in his chair, and Joel heard it creak under his weight. The windows clanged louder – definitely hail now. “Joel, adjusting to a new lifestyle – it’s never easy on anyone. A lot will change. A lot of those changes will be rough. But the sooner we anticipate them, the smoother the transition will be. We can start by getting you a Braille tutor as soon as possible. That’d be a great first step. What do you think?” Joel shrugged. Talking circles around his disease made him uneasy. He might have had an easier time accepting it if they had told him that he’d be blind by tomorrow; then, at least, he could have known what to expect. But the nature of his condition was a cruel one. His doctors couldn’t predict how fast the illness would progress. The only thing they knew for certain was that it would eventually render him completely sightless. His peripheral vision would be the first to go, and gradually,
FICTION SAM THORN
the darkness would close in. He would spend months, maybe years, of his life watching the world lose its color around him. Towards the end, people would simply be dark, faceless shapes. Eventually, everything would be black. And every second that passed brought him closer to that inevitable darkness. The rest of the session was tense. Joel answered the doctor’s encouraging questions only with the distracted “mmhms” and “uh-uhs” that had become his primary means of discourse in the last three months. At four o’clock, he could tell that the doctor was relieved to let him go. “Well, that should do it for today,” said the doctor. The boy nodded without a word, slung his backpack loosely over one shoulder, and began to leave the room. “Joel,” started the doctor. Joel paused at the door. “You can’t run from this…” The doctor’s words hung awkwardly in the air, as if he were trying to think of something more positive to add but couldn’t settle on the right words. Instead, he simply held out his large hand for the boy to shake. Joel took it limply, averting the doctor’s gaze, and left the room. He dodged a cheerful “goodbye” from the doctor’s secretary and thrust open the office door. His feet clanged down the hard metal staircase to the street, and he darted through the downpour towards his car.
Driving was something Joel would miss sorely. He had only passed his test a year before, and now it was to be revoked. A taste of adolescent freedom, snatched away before he’d had the chance to appreciate it. He was required to meet with an optometrist on the first of every month to assess how far his condition had progressed. If his vision was still acceptable, the doctor would recommend that he be given a provisional license for another month. If it had deteriorated too much, his license would be invalidated, with no room for debate. Nonetheless, all of the neighbors who recognized his battered navy blue Civic on the streets already made a point to avoid the car by at least twenty feet. After ten minutes or so, the paved city streets gave way to a muddy dirt path. Joel pulled into the driveway and killed the gas. The wipers came to an awkward halt, splayed out halfway across the windshield. In one swift movement, Joel thrust the car door open, hoisted his backpack above his head, and made a dash for the front door. The Westerbaums hadn’t always been as financially strapped as they were now. Their home – the sole remnant of their former wealth – was a great, sprawling Victorian-style thing set in the outskirts of Montpelier, Vermont, right where the houses met the woods. The roof rose in sharp peaks here and there and was covered in its entirety by dark, red-brown shingles. The house was bordered on all sides by a broad pinewood veranda, which expanded into a wide, sheltered porch in the back. The wood was decaying on its underside, and the banisters to the stairs had rotted away entirely. None of the neighbors let their cats wander anywhere near the house; there were almost certainly raccoons living beneath the woodwork. Four years earlier, in the final throes of his illness – which had been accompanied by both paranoia and delirium – the late Mr. Westerbaum had purchased the house on a whim, in the hopes that a woodland environment would prove beneficial for his health. Upon arrival, his health had proven too weak to allow him free roam of the house and
Joel drove home with the wipers on high. After each broad swipe came a new wave of water in retort, in such a rhythmic manner that it seemed like the two forces might continue in this way forever. His mind drifted back to the shrink’s office. He knew Dr. Grey meant well, but he was growing tired of their meetings. His disease was a physical one, not a mental one. Pure science. There was no need to waste his time and his mother’s money paying a man to ask him questions – even if he did have a doctorate.
its grounds, so he had been confined to a single bed in a small guest bedroom on the first floor. The room had a single window from which a tiny portion of the garden and the forest behind it could be viewed. His children had visited him at first, when his temper was still relatively tame. They had begun to avoid the room after his mind had started to slip, when he had begun threatening them with silly things – plastic knives, and the sort. Mrs. Westerbaum had assured them that it was just the paranoia talking, but the feeling had stuck with them. Eventually, the only time anyone visited the room was to bring Mr. Westerbaum his meals, three times a day. One morning, when Joel had ventured into the room with his father’s breakfast, he had found him stiff on his side in bed, eyes fixed on something in the distance outside the open window. Joel scaled the stairs in two large steps and swung open the front door. A slender white cane hung just inside the doorway, amid a collection of heavy coats and hats. He brushed past it and entered the kitchen, where he found a note from his mother on the counter next to the stove. He scanned the note and from it gleaned that she would be with a patient all night – one of the older ones, on his way out – and was sorry, but she’d have to miss dinner again. The words “money for food – get something healthy!” were scrawled at the bottom, with an arrow that pointed to a box of half-eaten Hawaiian pizza to the right. Nick was home. Joel grabbed a slice and found his brother on the back porch, hunched on an old wooden bench in front of a low table. His legs were tapping restlessly on the floor underneath a coarse blue blanket. His eyes were level with the table, focused intently on his fingers, which were deftly pulling apart a dense wad of dark green weed and laying it carefully on a sheet of cigarette paper. Dead leaves had fallen to the ground around him, and a few had collected inside the hood of his sweatshirt. Behind him in the garden, the rainwater was accumulating at a spot where the earth sank slightly, and had formed a small pond. There was
FICTION SAM THORN
no barrier segregating the garden from the forest that lay beyond it – there was simply the house, an overgrown tangle of thick green grass, and then the massive expanse of dark, wild forest. Before moving to the house, the Westerbaums had lived their entire lives in the city. In four years, Joel had never once ventured into the forest. “Gonna share this with me?” Nick asked, glancing up from his work. Joel shrugged his indifference and collapsed into a garden chair to Nick’s left. Joel’s brother Nick was a mixture of immense potential and apathy. He was seven years older than Joel, with the same dark black hair and a perpetual half-smile. Nick was an enigma to most of the adult world. As a kid, he had been polite, quick-witted and well-spoken. At one point he been an aspiring vet; at another, an amateur lighting designer. Now, at twentythree, it was clear that he would never be either of those things; his childhood ambitions had simply never matured from fantasy into reality. Mrs. Westerbaum didn’t have the heart to ask him to leave home, so, year after year, he had become more and more comfortable with just being there. “How was the shrink?” Nick picked up the joint, licked it shut, and ran a black lighter from one end to the next. “Same as always. Lots of questions.” Joel stared out into the trees beyond the garden. A thick layer of evening mist was blowing between them, alternately revealing and obscuring their trunks. “Hey, Brightside, look at it this way,” Nick wagged the joint at Joel, “you’ll be able to get this stuff via pre-scrip-tion!” He drew out each syllable, as if the word indicated that Joel had won some kind of prize. Nick held the joint to his lips, lit it, and inhaled. He held the smoke in his lungs. “That’s a myth, dumbass. They have other drugs that you take for it now – eye drops and all that,” said Joel, taking the joint from Nick’s outstretched hand. He took a short hit and passed the joint back, suppressing a cough the best he could.
FICTION SAM THORN
“That’s too bad,” said Nick. He opened his mouth as if he were going to say more, but closed it again quickly. Conversations had been like that with everybody, recently – stunted, disjointed, and pointless. Joel knew that it was on everybody’s minds, but nobody would mention it by name. His mother was always working. His brother was always stoned. Joel couldn’t tear his mind away from the forest. He wondered if his father, in his last days, had regretted living his life confined in the city. Just like for his father, there would come a day when Joel would be incapable of ever finding out what that great, woodsy expanse looked like from within. This was a fact, and it was only fully dawning on him now. One era of his life was coming to an end, and he felt a sudden, pressing conviction that he could waste no more time. “If Mom gets home, tell her I went to bed early,” Joel said, more to the expanse of green before him than to his brother, and rose from his chair. Nick nodded in assent from behind a cloud of thick grey smoke.
He set off – slowly, cautiously at first – trampling the stringy grass underfoot. He passed an overturned stone fountain and descended a bluff. The grass under his feet was becoming more fertile, more untamed with every step he took towards the forest. Weeds became interspersed with the grass, then small shrubs began to appear around them. Each step he took was more confident, more firmly planted than the last. Joel soon found himself navigating skinny saplings, which gave way to modest birches, and finally the great, verdant oaks that he had set eyes on from the house… By the time Mrs. Westerbaum arrived home from work, Joel was somewhere in the middle of the great unknown.
Joel opened his eyes. His window was open, and he could feel a light nocturnal breeze drafting in from the half-darkness. His first thought was that it was early – four thirty, maybe five. He could tell from the stillness: that calm, dead, inexorable silence, broken only by the rattling of his father’s bamboo wind chimes on the porch and the gentle, ever-present patter of rain on the roof. He stole out of his room and padded into the kitchen, where he filled a backpack with bread, cheese, and bottled water from the refrigerator. He eased the door to the porch open and stood for a moment in the doorway. The morning was cold, and a few stars were still clinging to the heavens. The rain had all but stopped, and the sky was dawning clear with a touch of pink.
Samantha Reynard loves language. This should probably
be expected from the six-year-old who recited Sleeping Beauty to her parents in department stores, the same eight-year-old who read her grandmother’s emails over her shoulder as she typed and kindly offered corrections. This love brought her to Cal Poly, where she will graduate with an English BA, German and Spanish minors, and a Technical Communications certificate and will take her on to study professional writing, whatever that means. She would not be here, graduating and publishing Byzantium, without the support of her co-editor, her family, her friends, and the irreplaceable faculty found in Cal Poly’s gem of an English department. She would like in particular to thank her parents, both of whom she doesn’t acknowledge often enough, Melody DeMeritt, who introduced her to professional writing, Dustin Stegner, who has been a constant source of challenge and support, and her dog Bandit.
The Art Director
Allie Harold is a native Oregonian from Portland who has
been fortunate to have the opportunity to live in the beautiful San Luis Obispo for the past four years. She loves being in the outdoors, learning about botany and plant sciences, music, riding her bike in the sunshine and snowboarding. Her love for art and attention to detail inspired her to apply to Cal Poly and to become a very involved member in the Department of Art and Design. After visiting San Luis Obispo, she was convinced it was the perfect college environment for her to thrive. She will be graduating in the spring with a BFA in Art and Design with a concentration in Graphic Design. As an aspiring graphic designer, she hopes to move back to Portland and pursue her dream job in editorial or print design. Allie would like to thank her family for being so supportive throughout her college experience (especially her Mom for giving her the idea to apply to Cal Poly), as well as her friends. They are the best.
Meg Archer dreams of one day having a career writing fiction, but until then, plans on paying the bills by using her English and Psychology skills for a job in editing or film production. She hails from the frigid tundra of Oregon, but prefers the California sunshine. Meg loves the letter E, reading far past her bedtime, and spending her days (and nights) with the people she loves. Sometimes, while pretending her life is a musical, she will break into song and dance in public. David Sedaris changed her life. She would like to thank her professors—particularly Dr. Stegner and Dr. Campbell —for inspiring her, her family for their patience and understanding, and her friends for their constant support, even though she has clearly gone insane. Meg thinks that her Co-Editor, Sam, might be the most dedicated woman she has ever met, and is honored to have had the chance to work with her.
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts
Donations & Support
Aubrea Felch Barbara & Vance Trube Bill Fitzhenry Black Horse Espresso Debbie Tuson Foster’s Freeze Kathryn Rummell & the English Executive Committee Kevin Clark LoverSpeak poets & attendees Mary Kay Harrington Mary LaPorte Muzio’s Deli Nancy & Kevin Archer Nancy & Darrell Reynard President Jeffrey Armstrong Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Susan Bratcher, Kathy Severn & Cassandra Sherburne The Knowltons The Natural Café The Novel Experience Yogurt Creations
Department of English Senior Project Advisor
Department of Art and Design Advisor
Creative Writing Contest Judges
Poetry David Kann Dustin Stegner Leslie St. John Fiction Brad Campbell Claudia Coleman Carol Curiel
The Cal Poly English Club Byzantium
It is the education which gives man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgements, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought.
-John Henry Cardinal Newman
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Byzantium Volume 21 was designed by Allie Harold and edited by Samantha Reynard and Meg Archer in the Spring of 2011. The text is set in various weights and sizes of FF Scala, which was designed by Martin Majoor and belongs to the Berlin-based FontShop International Type Foundry. The typeface was designed over twenty years ago and released to the public in 1991. Although FF Scala was first designed solely as a serif typeface, it was later accompanied by a sans serif typeface to complete a handsome pair. The display typeface used belongs to the Historical Allsorts Collection, which is a historical revival designed by Hoefler & Frere-Jones Type Foundry. One thousand copies of Byzantium Volume 21 were printed by McNaughton and Gunn in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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