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Northwestern university's literary magazine: winter, 2013

Dear Readers, Thank you for reading PROMPT. Putting out our print issue is always important for us, because it is our most tangible way of sharing the writing and art of our peers with the Northwestern community as a whole and to showcase the immense talent and creativity that is so present at this school. Writing can be seen as a solitary art-- a stereotype which is oftentimes based in reality. Through PROMPT we hope to create a space where writing can be shared and where isolation can be replaced briefly with collaboration and communication. By reading our magazine, you are expanding our literary and artistic community. I am so lucky to have had the privilege of reading and viewing all of the incredible submissions PROMPT received, and I am so proud of the collection with which you are presented. Happy reading, and I hope that you close the magazine as inspired by it as I am. Yours in creativity, Kathryn Halpern PROMPT Editor-in-Chief

prompt staff
Managing Editor: Kathryn Halpern Fiction Editor: Emma Pardini Poetry Editor: Bryce OTierney Nonfiction Editor: Michael San Gabino Arts Editor: Rachel Shine Webmaster: Shannon Chen Graphic Designer: Antonia Cereijido Publicity and Events Coordinator: Marina Vernovsky Submissions Liason: James Logan
We want to be more than just a literary magazine. Were just as interested in the process of writing as we are in the final product. By providing prompts for our online and print issues as well as our contests, we hope to encourage people to write new stories, poems, non-fiction, and anything in between. We also want to bring writers at Northwestern together through our workshops and other quarterly events. Part of the process of writing is talking about writing. We want to help writers improve their craft by providing a forum to openly discuss their own work and the work of their peers. We want to make writing at Northwestern an overall better experience by publishing a magazine thats interesting to read and fostering an encouraging, fun community for writers.

table of contents
Selections by Ezra Olson... 5 Januray by Emmalee Windle... 10 Indiana is a Wasteland by Emmalee Windle... 11 21st Century Saloon by Corinne White... 12 Flat Business by Peter Tolly... 28 Beneath the Lines by Peter Tolly... 30

Constructed by Bryan Jewell... 14

Untitled by Emily McCall... 22 Let it Snow by Jacqueline Schwartz... 23 Zen. Taken in Wuyuan, China. by Chuyu Tian... 24 How may I sing to thee and worship, O Sun? by Chuyu Tian... 25 Untitled by Tamar Wolinsky... 26 Untitled by Emily McCall... 27

High Heavens by Mariam Gomaa... 32 The Elephants by Mariam Gomaa... 39

by ezra Olson
Note on the Text: It is important that the reader be aware of the process behind the following poem. It is a series of erasures. Erasure denotes a method wherein the poet takes an extant text and deletes portions of its contents so that the remaining words (which still retain their original order) form a poem. Part I is an erasure of Charles Darwins The Origin of Species, specifically chapter three, on the Struggle for Existence. Part II is an erasure of Part I, and Part III is an erasure of Part II. The words and their order are Darwins; their selection, punctuation, and occasional capitalization are my own.

The more remote the cell, the smaller the cell, the colder and stonier the walls of the cellthe more vivid and living is the writer. -Don Delillo, The Artist Naked in a Cage We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence -Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

For A. R. Wallace

I. I am aware it is doubtful what forms are admitted, exquisite, perfected, beautifulwoodpecker and mistletoe; parasite, quadruped, or bird; the structure of the beetle which dives in the breezeeverywhere and in every world. Incipient and external, I produce through feeble efforts, works and knowledge, nothing, in words, of nature, dimly seen. Which round usthese songsters, their eggs or nestlingsthough superabundant, is not at all recurring. I should premise: I, in a sense, being and including life, may be said to live. The edge of life, though, produces a maturity which can sense, tempt, devour and increase

its natural numbers or product

as every whole animal cannot, would not... No. The earth has doubled, and in a few years I will be thirty years old. But this is quite incredible. Less than ten years of exclusion have given no explanation of the old and young,

Hence we exist and I mislead and forget and produce and produce, extremely slow, and the ostrich is believed to fly. But does not. How can a life be produced or destroyed; be produced or become extinct? Would the tree, which lived a seed, be ensured in looking at (to mind, never to forget) its life? Or each face, close together, driven inwards? I recall or suffer this which I have made. I suffer also a piece of ground three feet long and two wide, dug and cleared, where I grow, though fully grown, being allowed to grow, as with the elephant, tiger, birds but we feel stunted, can never compete with native animals. Often we even appear parasitic, worms disproportionably favored and large. In our fields, this troublesome preservation such may enlarge a barren nature enclosed twenty five years with Scotch and two or three birds. Here, see how potent the single, enclosed element is. Hill-tops, years, spacesso close I could not see. But looking closely I browsed, counted, and tried and failed and imagined and searched, wild, southward and northward in a feral state and ever-increasing circles of battle, with varying success. And so, in our ignorance, we invent laws.

I am one bound by a web of occasion. In England, I tried to reach nectar. In England, humble-bees destroy their combs. All over England, I have found the average checks. And, entangled, we chance a view of surrounding forests, trees, seeds: Insect and insect; insects, snails, birds and beasts and trees and a handful of feathers and a parasitethey will generally disappear. They cannot be kept. Habits though, habits and, and structure They, we see, swallow the song of the cockroach. Forms nearly victorious may be deduced, and yetno: the diving escape seems to have produced a range or a power, advantage, over the confines of a constitution that may be exactly the same as its former manner.

If we wished to increase Imagination, Form will probably convince us of our ignorance of all organic. All we can do is keep geometrical, struggle, and to console ourselves with the belief that fear is healthy.

II. I, it is admitted, structure the breeze through words, which, though recurring, may devour the earth. But this is incredible. We Iforget the ostrich, the tree, a face. Recall this ground where we appear, and see the enclosed years. I counted in circles and tried to destroy the average. I found, entangled, we view birds and feathers and disappear, though we swallow song forms and divingescape the confines of ourselves.

III. Words appear; and years, circles, and I, we, birds and feathers disappear

Emmalee windle
The snow fell and clung to the half smoked Cigarettes and half buried bones In the garden. He knew nothing Would grow in the stubborn Midwestern Soil not rich and delicious like Southern Toil but cold and hard and rude Like palms that turn red with blood rushing To the fingertips. There he stood And flicked cigarettes away and Scratched his head and put his hands in their pockets. The dog was buried in a shallow grave. The dirt wouldnt give, wouldnt yield To the piercing point of his spade. The snow melted and ran into the road Muddy, bloody rivers that flow so slow Into viscous puddles on the gravel. The street cleaners came on Thursday morning. They shook their heads. They wagged their fingers. They sat and rolled over and begged for treats. They smoked cigarettes. They collected bones on every street.


Indiana is a Wasteland
Emmalee windle
She is unforgiving in in gray that spills From the top of her head to her brown feet Where corn grows. It wraps stalks around her legs. They climb and stretch their limbs to breasts to feed Their appetites with light. Of which they crave She bends their heads with fog and dries their veins That pulse with the newness of life and burst From the underside of their leaves. They shrink In her damp embrace and unforgiving haze. Here she isher cheeks are washed white from wind Her lips are cracked like ancient branches do She sheds her skin and weeps for she is gray And brown and green for miles but never Pink or red or blue like sunsets. At night, The colors drain and leave behind the black And white in which she dreams of what she lacks.


21st century saloon

corinne white
Locals of Saratoga Wyoming get drunk and play pool at a bar called The Rustic. We were foreigners from fancy schools, kids with summer jobs on the local ranch, unacquainted with cigarette smoke or the way hard Wyoming sky looks like life. It was June but nights are never warm in this state, the cold drills into your bones sharp, no matter how many beers are drunk. The bartender leaves her breasts out like the udder of a cow, gives free shots to men I dont know. We sit on barstools made of fur, and Im embarrassed I dont know what kind one is spilled on and looks like a sheep after rain. The bar, its all men wooly and coarse Unshaven with dark eyes darting around as if they were their cue sticks were shotguns. They hit the pool ball and look at my tanned legs like they wont ever love again. A dog comes out from under the pool table I pet him, but he starts to bark and one of the men yells for him to shut up (or maybe he is talking to me?) I am vertiginous, full of cheap drink in this wooden room of limp French fries and hungry animals.


I came out West to get dirty, my hands strong and weathered like the leather that lines the old vest of this here man. I want to ride wild horses, I tell him but thats not what I meant. He takes me out back, back to a truck with old Mexican blankets and beer cans and when I hear him whimper I wonder, what is a Cowboy? They hunt to eat meat, they hunt to eat me, a hot carcass bloody and wet with old life seeping raw sex like a doe in November Herein lies the lament of the cowgirl in the sand, can anyone at this bar play the guitar?


bryan jewell
Gavins red pick-up rolls through the stop at Shadycrest Drive, and he whips into the long driveway of his old house. The Coulsons rent this house now: a young mother and her two daughters. The trees at the edge of their land tower, looming as untold figures of damage. They are the unmanned sentry posts gatekeeping the small tract of land. Their leaves litter the front and back yards and the screen of the pool. The leaves drop from so high, they fall so far. The bigger they are, the harder they crash. In two weeks, this house wont exist any more. Gavin gets out of the car, and you follow. Doors slam, the tools are plucked from the truck bed. Pat, Gavins dad, pulls the sheets of plywood and bolts to the windows. These bolts can drill through the brick, which is why you got the tools with Gavin in the first place. But their house is old, the brick is worn, eroded from lives lived, a family passed through, now hosting another mother and her girls under its roof. Those years wear stone. Bolts bore easily into that weakness. Hurricanes wipe it out. Plugging in the drill, the whirr of the tool jams conversation. There isnt much to talk about except what might happen and what emergency plans can be made, and back-up plans to the emergency plans, and all of these worst-case scenarios, so putting on our work goggles and drilling the wood into brick and fixing the things weve based our lives in feels good. If not fixing, then softening the blow. And perhaps not good, but distracting. Too early to leave, it was only the first day school was cancelled


for Ike. We trade books for hammers, pens for plywood, and start surveying potential hazards, drive our trucks, hauling supplies to limit the damage flying in from the Gulf. Limiting damage where necessary. Pat Coulson had been in Texas for a long time. Gavin was one of a long line of Texans. He would be starting freshman year at UT a year from then. The University of Texasjust like his dad. Politics aside, Pat was an aging, white father living just south of Houston; Texans dont come much more conservative than him. He was playing this storm, like most others, you imagine, with a close hand, cards to the vest. The best strategy was defense. This game of hold em couldnt be won, but the losses could be minimized. Windows boarded, Gavin reloads the truck, and the two of you take off. Pat stays backhes still the man of his old house. Gavin takes you back home, and you both start work on 3708 Pin Oak Dr E. There is less to do here, because momPeg is staying home through Ike. All police officers are required to stay and report to work after the hurricane passes; like firefighters, they are the first on call when problems break out in the city. Hours on, the pine trees lining the highway whip by. The skys graynot overcast, but twilight. Nights falling early, bracing for damage, ready to shed the early tears. Ike would make landfall in about ten hours. The rain would start in six. You never know with hurricanes. This drive flies at a breezy two hours, Rusty flying down highway 6 with his three sons. When you evacuated three years ago for Rita, the drive took roughly fifteen hours, about five times the normal drive. But Rita came hot on the heels of


Katrina, only weeks later, and no one on the Gulf Coast was going to fuck with a hurricane after Katrina. Houston took on a quarter million after Katrina. Houston took on a quarter million after Katrina Those numbersthat population growth was uncomfortable and here comes another hurricane three weeks later? Evacuate a city and a half? Highways were reversed for Rita; all roads led away from Houston. It wasnt paranoia, but it was madness. The Bayou City got lucky, though. Rita missed, she went up through Beaumont instead. But Ike was coming for Houston by way of Galveston. It was getting too late to stay. You dont know why they left; one minute, you think youre staying, toughing it out, the next, dad Rustyis picking you up with your brothers and youre on the road to Grandma and Poppys. You didnt know how this decision was made, or who even called for it. Peg was staying. Did all officers stay? Or just the ranking officials, sergeants, lieutenants, captains? Sergeant Peg Jewell slept in her closet that nighta six by twelve foot enclosure. No windows, no doors: its really the most hurricane-proof room in the house. We got to Grandma and Poppys late evening that night, right around six. After dinner the family gathered on recliners in the living room. Other than the couch, no seats of the living room are within arms reach of another. Grandma needed a lot of floor space to navigate her walker. Smooth, spacious, and flat were the ideal conditions for moving the immobile. We gathered around the tv. What to do while waiting for a hurricane other than watch the updates of the storm? The familyGrandma, Poppy, Rusty, his three boys (you, Matt, Adam), Uncle Michael, Aunt Terriwatched the news. Everyone in the Bryan-College Station area that night was either an


evacuee or knew someone that stayed behind but should have left. Nine oclock rolled by, then ten, and the rain came, the farthest reaches of Ike flushing out the weaklings as the eye made its way north. Fast as its winds whip up trees and cars and shatter windows, the calm, sedated eye holds still and steady during episodes of violent destruction on every side. The news reports kept running; the CBS syndicate told of the early damages, the early lives lost. The reporters, backs to the Gulf of Mexico, shouted at their cameras. The cameramen held steady for most of the time, but sometimes a gust would throw them off balance. The reports made sense, but the reporters didnt. They werent weathering the storm, they were confronting it. Challenging a hurricane never seemed a good idea. Waiting for lightning is risking death. Nestled in the backcountry woods of Bryan, Texas, Ike was an isolated nightmare between two and three in the morning. The storm had breached Grandma and Poppys northern country home by then. Pine trees flailed as the winds howled. The rain was three hours old by then. Eventually everyone slept. Literal nightmares to soften the waking Hell that could only be imagined, a hundred miles away. Back in Pearland, the suburb nestled between downtown Houston and Galveston, Sergeant Peg Jewell holed herself in her master bedroom closet, dragging her mattress and flashlight in with her. She didnt fall asleep until Ike had already made landfall and was well on his way north up I-45. The clatters, rattles, and whippings of the hurricane swarmed her red brick house at 3708 Pin Oak Dr E. She was her own and only company. Her ex-husband had whisked away her boys, her neighbors had all evacuated, the power was out. Not even the internet or cable could give comfort. She read a book by


flashlight. She eventually fell asleep between two and three in the morning. The next morning, Sunday, the sun rose. The coast was empty save for scattered wood, fences, walls, roofs obliterated. The roads were empty of human life and cars, littered with shredded vegetation and shards of glass, trash never properly disposed of. Now that Ike had passed and was hurtling through East Texas, Rusty collected his boys, said bye to his parents and brother Michael, and made the return trip to Houston. When Rusty turned his sons into Oakbrook, your subdivision, the damage was as it was elsewhere: fences fallen, roof shingles strewn, trees ravaged and ripped through the yards; a general mess, but a fortunate amount still intact. Not all the neighborhoods were so lucky, especially out east. Peg was out working, keeping the peace. You get out with your brothers, and survey the preliminary damage. Uncle Mike will be by later to give a proper assessment, and then after that, he will certify it with Farmers. Hes handled your familys insurance with Terri as long as youve heard these insurance terms thrown around, but hes also an uncle, so hes there to help. To give advice at the very least, even when a deal cant be cut for his ex-sister-in-law. Peg gets home later that night, and she hugs each of her boys. You hug her back; its more curious that she is safe after staying behind than the fact that you, Matt, and Adam are safe after leaving. You and Gavin reunite. Peg hugs Gavin too, but its not a reunion- he helped Peg in the hours she was alone. They found a nest, a baby bird abandoned. She tells you later that Gavin had to snap its neck. There was nothing left for it. T That night, the neighborhood resumes as it would after a hurricane: neighbors out in their yards, firing up their grills. Without power, all the meat has to be cooked. Lights are scarce,


and its dark by seve. But actually darktheres no alternative to sun except flashlights. Beer flows. Sipping Bud Light Limes, running through everyones yards, now fenceless, the tattered wood and broken bricks are reasons to cry, but not to die. You and Gavin run back and forth between your houses, running through yards, transporting supplies, food, beer between yards, houses, loved ones. The sun went down, and the week ahead is open. School is cancelled across all of Houston. Reconstruction starts tomorrow. Michael and Poppy both come out to Pearland the next day. Still overcast, you haul the rotted wood of the backyard fence across the yard, out to the curb where everyone else has piled their fallen fences. Michael snaps pictures. He tells you everything about the roof damage and what the fence was worth since Peg is gone at work. The figures of the appraisal mean nothing, but theyre registered anyway. Poppy surveys the yard, assesses the fence situation and leaves for Home Depot. Gavin, traipsing in and out of your house, settles when Poppy returns in midafternoon. The gray begins to clear, and the sun beats down. It couldnt stay away forever. The work begins. First, our foundation is laid and measured. We dig holes for the fence posts first. The heat ratchets, but nothing is dry yet. The ground is soft for digging. Another break, you suppose. Gimme summa dat Ph.D, Gavin jokes. Youre clueless, but without missing a beat, he clarifies: Post-hole Digger. Its a clamp that wedges into the ground and scrapes dirt, forming a perfect hole for the fence posts as we drop them four feet into the ground. We mix our own concrete as the sunlight fades, and drop it in with the posts after night has fallen. This was all timed perfectly, Poppy orchestrating the concrete the dry overnight. No time wasted, no daylight wasted. Construction to resume tomorrow.


The next day begins at 8:00 am. Poppy arrives with his usual 20 oz Coke and fried pie in hand, probably lemon. Not quite the breakfast of champions, but the breakfast of an old man who wont quit. By nine were swinging hammers, our posts securely stuck in the ground. We drop the wood planks according to the strings we stretched from the first post to the last the night before. Thats how Poppy works: a line from here to there. No nonsense, no frills; a triple-bolstered fence, six feet tall, just like the last one. This wood is new, yellow. Theres a freshness that escapes as we saw it, nail it, fix it to the backyard reconstrucing the identity of your home. The sun hangs white and merciless, shifting in the sky. Its only Poppy, Gavin, you. Matt and Adam pitch in occasionally, but what would you expect from a high school freshman and a fifth grader? They support, but cant really help. The team of three is efficient anyway. Rusty was there last night, but not today. 3708 isnt his house anymore, so, logically, it follows. But his dad is here. The logic starts to fray. Nails, boards, hours pound by. Shirts come on and off, lunch passes, mid-afternoon haze settles. The grass is crunchy now, dead and yellow just like the wood. Brittle crunches call out our presence as we cross the yard, new wood cut, ready to be positioned, measured, lined, hammered. Over and over again. This fence, and the space its filling, has a questionable existence. Hurricane season winds down past midSeptember, but theres always next year. The absence of the fence was felt, but not entirely missed. Running through yards, cutting corners, seeing the unrestricted space was fleeting and transitory, but liberating. After its built, a fence is a false sense of protection. It cant stop a car, it cant stop a hurricane. Six-foot privacy fences only stop you from seeing your neighbors on


the other side. But it had to be done. For no other reason, this fence stands and will continue to stand as a reminder to those at 3708. You think about yourself, straddled on those planks half-built, the fence half-erected, half-way to the end of it, sweating as the sun sets red and gold velvet across the sky. Squinting into the sun, wiping the sweat off your brow, you think about the atom being split. The nucleus. An explosion. The wood, chopped, split, and set, another plank to make a fence. How many atoms make up a fence post? What makes the carbon so pliable, able to bend, then shatter, broken, fractured? What is a nucleus. Exit stage left, you and Gavin, senior year to re-start after an extra week of summer. September seems too late for summer, like fall should start since school is starting. But its the cruelest month of Texas heat. Because fall should be starting. But its not. Its hurricane season, and Ike has come and gone, and now its time to rebuild, to pick up the pieces one last time. The fence is the final proof that you cared about this family, this place you once called home.


Emily McCall



Let it snow

let it snow

Jaqueline Schwartz


Zen. Taken in Wuyuan, China.

Chuyu Tian


How may I sing to thee and worship, O Sun?

Chuyu Tian

un#tled (14)


Tamar Wolinsky



Emily McCall



beneath the lines

peter tolly
One outing in November, I went walking. A trail led away from camp and narrowed between pines, so eager, so emerald in the fading cover. They stood poised, their shoulders wanting snow. Even the grasses, pale and hollow, liven in the breath of winter, bouncing in its easy blow. Being tucked against the cold as the sun sinks riles that warmth within. But the earth knows. Soon it will be tucked in snow. The trail in the pine row halts ahead at some clearcuta strip of forest mowed decades ago to hang power lines, growth kept down lest it encroach. I approach.


The cut runs up to the right and down to the left. Evergreens line each side, and brown grasses churn within like a rapids, leaning tantric in the wind pushed up against the hill, straining, watching the lines over head. On every fourth or fifth knoll, a frame of iron lifts the wire and passes it down the row. They stand as scaffold giants, mute, immutable, and cold, like the sentries at a boundary eons and eons old, still at their posts. Alive though, for dusky sky makes their soulsblue like graphite, and gold. Charged with what, I do not know, but this is as far as Ill go.


Flat Business
peter tolly
The feeling is fleeting, like forgetting a dream. Indeed the most current media and the meander of late night talks in the reeds of the bog out back remind me that its beyond my brain to look at the night sky and truly see. I can think hard, lay on the gas and speed, and between the fifth and god knows which gear theres a momentary stall ere the mind realizes its down an alley it should not be. Electric trails swirled to form a hazed and erring thought, two arrows converging, angles balanced in planes that cannot be. Look, before its crumpled and tossed into that well. Graphics and models train us to hang on. See this black hole funnel? Just bump it up one more dimension and thats it. I could cast a shadow of a cube upon this sheet and its right vertices would be rendered askew, but still you know its perfect in 3D. Point to God. No, were trapped in touch and hear and see, in this middle realm, this flat land where the minds the only release. The sky appears so full and wet with ink its hard to see its empty. Theres beauty in the fat green leaf, but its empty too. Its molecules lay a thin frame for the cosmos to imbue. What do you call a solid? Probability allows that every vibrant atom in the hand of a statue could wave in synchronic motion. It just never will. Truth is more like slipping in the shower.


Only in that disorientation with your skull on the tiles, eye-balls perfectly aligned with the gently rippling curtain can you understand how the universe is like an expanding balloon with the beginning of time at its center, and youre at the edge in the present, embedded in the stretching latex, eyes forced to look down the plane of it.


High Heaven
by Mariam gomaa
They say that on the last day God will turn to every man and judge him, except a select few. They say that God will turn to the sick, the disfigured, the disabled, that he will turn and apologize for wronging them, for having created them and left them at the mercy of cruel men. But on that day, He will have mercy on them. He will guide them to the highest heaven. And sometimes I wonder whether I would take that half-life in turn, not for Gods highest heaven, but for his apology. *** My parents didnt always like me less than my older sister. When I was younger, strangers would stop my mother to tell her how much they admired my beautiful green eyes and sandy hair, as though they were not simply given to me. Pia, my sister, would be beside me, dark haired, dark eyed, and somber. I wonder if it was then that she learned self-pity, if it was then that she began to understand that being pitied gave you more power than being beautiful. I am the free spirit, the disorganized lover of risk, and she pretends to be the timid, calm, sympathetic soul. And now they believe her. When she breaks a cup or burns the cookies or forgets to do her homework, she tells them its my fault, that I pushed her or turned off the timer, or distracted her from her schoolwork. To Pia, I deserve to be labeled as the saboteur because I was once the center of attention, a title she has quickly attained.


I often wonder whether she remembers being friends, and spending the summer outside in the trees and in the grass. I would follow her lead, pretending to be a monkey swinging through the Amazon, or wearing a frilly dress to be the princess of her highness the queen. But then something changed and I wasnt invited on these otherworldly excursions. Perhaps it was when being outdoors became cumbersome to her, when I became too little to understand that pleasing your parents meant a new kind of pretend. I dont quite recall when Pia began to eat to get attention, but I remember hearing her retch into the toilet every week or so when she would overdo it. She ate and ate morning and night. Sometimes she would cry crocodile tears if she wasnt allowed a second helping, or third. No one thought it strange or sick. Sometimes your sister is fat. And that was that. For a long time, that was that. As I grew taller, Pia grew wider and wore her heaviness like an ill-fitting puffer coat. Eating was no longer a ploy for love and sympathy; it was a habit, a habit that my parents never criticized (or let me criticize) for fear of damaging her self-esteem. Guys, Pia has no friends, I want to tell my parents after my first day of high school. Shes a senior and she has no friends. I can feel the pity rising in my throat like bile. I cant tell them. She would want me to tell. Weeks later, I begin to notice the increasing frequency of Pias retching; the pounds that begin to disappear by way of the toilet. I call it bulimia. I think she is finally acknowledging her weight, while simultaneously hoping that I will always be a little thinner. I keep her bulimia a secret. Until I wake up to hear her screaming in the


bathroom one night. She is slumped over the toilet, spewing bloody vomit. She catches my eyes. Hers are full of fear. My mother drives her to the hospital while I sit in the back seat cradling Pia as she weeps and screams in agony at the pain taking over her abdomen. She doesnt pull away. We are kids again, and curled together in the backseat on the way to some family adventure. In the emergency ward, they give Pia pain medication through an IV and pull some of her blood for testing. I sit in an unforgiving, plastic chair brought into the room because my mother is occupying the chair meant for significant visitors. After hours in the emergency room, she is admitted as a patient. Crohns disease is an autoimmune disease that destroys the digestive system, the doctor explains. Only the digestive system. I cant help but think its her own fault. I look at my sister, lying on the hospital bed and wonder how shell manage to never eat again. I leave the hospital thinking Pia will forgive me for the wrongs I have done to her in my life, including the ones shes made up. I even agree to my parents suggestion that we all partake in her special diet, which consists of almost nothing. It is the essence of misery, but I eat it because I remember her face that night. I forgo grains and meat in favor of the raw vegetables and homemade yogurt Pia has been condemned to eat. I swallow them without grimacing. I try to forget that food can come in deliciously processed packages. I practice smiling at the table to encourage Pia, to pretend that we are not eating like rabbits, to let her know that I support her effort to be well. It replaces my old scowl of distaste. At this table there is no overeating to disgust me. Two weeks later, Pia has lost 20 pounds and we are back in the emergency room. As you may remember from last time, Crohns flares


up when you eat things that your body cant handle. Theres no treatment, but we can prevent more damage from occurring to your digestive system by having you come in every week for an IV treatment of a medicine called Remicaid. It will allow you to eat normally again. Pia looks at doctor calmly and says, I havent eaten anything except what the holistic care nutritionist told me to eat. Im not interested in taking any medication. I already told you I would rather take this holistic approach. I did not know medicine was an option. I feel my eyes bulge, and the blood rise in my cheeks. YOU WHAT? I find myself screaming at her. We have been eating like rabbits. Pia looks at me scathingly, This is none of your business. The doctor shrugs. Pia is eighteen. No one can change that. That night, I catch Pia in the kitchen, sitting on the floor, her face illuminated by the light from the open freezer, shining with ecstasy. In her lap is a box of popsicles. I watch her eat every single one. In the morning, I eat cereal with milk. My father walks in and sees the bowl. The cereal, like every packaged food, is forbidden. He is furious, flipping the bowl over, shattering it and splashing milk across the kitchen. How dare you eat that in front of your sister? How dare you eat that when she cant? He roars, his face inches from mine. I blink at him. She eats popsicles and pretzels and candy at night when no one can see her. My cheek stings when he slaps me. No one speaks to me when I stop the diet completely. My father is as sorrowful as ever, crying anytime he sees her, and my mother is a raging hurricane, glaring at me for


surviving the genetic odds. And all the while, she is watching. Her eyes follow the food she cannot eat, the muscular legs that carry me on long runs she cannot endure, the entirety of my physical presence that has suddenly surpassed her. But I am done feeling sorry. Pia is no longer the girl who would welcome me to her room and let me sleep beside her, under the cool comfort of her gaze, away from the demons lingering beneath my bed. She is someone entirely different, overtaken by a parasitic manifestation of my parents dreams and nightmares, a salvation, a reason to finally ask for mercy. At night, Pia still sneaks forbidden food, but no one will believe it. I watch her from the stairwell as she opens the fridge to illuminate the kitchen slightly while she scurries and rummages around in the cabinets. I know she is buying the food herself because my parents only buy what is on the diet sheet. Every few weeks she is in the emergency room for painkillers because she is having a flare. The doctors know she isnt eating well. They give each other looks I recognize. I have seen those looks in the mirror. They try to convince her to take the medicine, but Pia wont have it. She is happy. She is happy and thin. Thinner than I am. Much thinner. Her height only emphasizes her new figure. She looks like a model, underfed and malnourished. She is proud. I see her stand in front of the mirror for hours, smiling, lifting her shirt to admire the stomach that has depleted, pinching the thighs that no longer touch. I loathe her. When my father finally catches her eating in the ray of refrigerator light, he blames me. He thinks it is my food, that I have done this to her. She is dying he says. But arent we all? At school, Pia is finally getting noticed for the weight


shes lost. She thinks it is because she is beautiful. I dont have the heart to tell her that awe can also be a sign of horror. She has been hiding her illness from the other students. I want to make a public announcement, so they will not envy her. It is almost time for prom. Pia, feeling reincarnated, is hoping to be asked this year. I am asked instead. You cant go! Pia is furious. My parents agree. But why? Because no one asked you? Its because youre so fucking weird, Pia! You are so fucking messed up. Its all you! You are doing it to yourself! How dare you? my mother interjects. Your sister is sick! my father glares at me. I am dying, she says with a subtle smirk. Let your sister go with Ryan, my mother says, pretending it is a natural suggestion. He asked me. I am crying. But I will never have another prom and I might never get married or live long enough to go on a date, Pia says, sniffling and staring at me, so tears begin to well in her eyes. Then get someone to feel sorry enough to go with you! Her eyes harden as she squints at me through the tears. I have gone too far. I dont call Ryan to explain. I wait at the door for him, and when he arrives, I am not in a dress. My hair is unwashed, my face is bare, and I am wearing pajamas. Beside me is Pia, wearing my dress and my shoes, beaming. Ryan looks at me, horror creeping across his face, distorting his features. I can see him trying to suppress it. I dont feel well. Do you mind if you take Pia instead? Im really sorry, I say, biting my tongue.


Ryan nods without speaking. I never tell him the truth. That night while she dances and drinks and sleeps in my place, I am filled with hatred. I cannot forget the menace born in her eyes. Her soul is clouded by her eternal suffering. I wipe away the forgiveness that has tainted mine. I start strategically placing forbidden foods around the house. Pia cannot resist. I know the fat girl still lives inside her. I offer to cook dinner, so my parents think I am past the phase where I am rebelling against her illness. I disguise the forbidden food as the diet food. I will not forget that girl. I feed her, filling her soul with secret joy. And I wait for her body to revolt. I am by her side as the hospital visits become more frequent. Bimonthly trips to the ER become weekly, then biweekly until she is admitted. There is no more escaping. With the medicine, no food is forbidden. She takes it. She has fallen, and the suffering is wiped from her soul. But the price is steep. She will be here for some time. My parents are indebted to me. I look at them, standing beside her, gaunt and barely living, her hair matted against her cheek, and I smile. Sorrow is at the heart of every family reunion. This was her doing, not mine. It makes my heart soar in a way I havent felt for so long.


the Elephants
by Mariam gomaa
Aria was standing in front of Los Elefantes, staring at the too thin legs of the creatures and the precariously positioned obelisks on their backs, gaping at the intricate balance that was at once both mesmerizing and disconcerting. He had been there for several minutes while Ellebe perused the rest of the surrealist gallery. The other museum visitors moved past and around him, but he did not notice anything but the legs, those brittle spider-like legs distorting space. Hey, Ellebe said, suddenly beside him, Arent you going to look at anything else? Did you get a chance to see the one with the clocks? The Persistence of Memory? he asked. I guess. Im not really sure what its called. Ill show it to you. He half-heartedly followed her across the room, turning back slightly to glimpse the weightless creatures one last time. Yeah, its called The Persistence of Memory, he told Ellebe. It was nothing in comparison. Aria wondered how one of Dalis paintings could move him, while the other left him uninspired and listless. It was his idea to go to the Museum of Modern Art. He, a member, was there so frequently that the museum felt


like a second home safe, yet public enough to be an acceptable location for a first date with Ellebe. She wanted to walk through every gallery in the museum, since it was her first time visiting. Aria obliged. He knew how to guide her from wing to wing, spanning every level before moving to the next. As they walked, he gestured and talked, sharing his knowledge of each work, knowledge he had acquired through years of overhearing docents on their tours of the museum. Aria rarely ventured into the surrealist gallery on his visits, choosing instead to peruse the impressionist gallery and the rotating collection of photographs on display. There was something there that unsettled him. He couldnt quite fathom the beauty of disfiguring the physical world, and did not believe in freeing his unconscious through paintings of dreams. Until Los Elefantes. Standing beside Ellebe in front of The Persistence of Memory, Aria heard a sudden cry coming from behind him. He turned. A man stood hunched in front of the painting, weeping grotesquely. A woman beside him attempted to quiet him. There, there, Tony. Its okay, she whispered soothingly. The mans sobs did not subside, but rose. Aria was staring. The other museum guests moved away, turning their heads and pretending they could not see or hear the source of hysteria. Eeeeeh, the man cried and cried in his heavy voice. He didnt speak. The woman beside him continued whispering, I know, Tony. Its beautiful and sad. I know.


It was to no avail. She could not stop his cries. A security guard walked over to the woman and the man. Maam, hes going to have to stop crying or Im going to have to ask you to leave. Im sorry, sir. He just doesnt understand. He just needs a minute. The security guard stepped back to his corner of the room and picked up his walkie-talkie. Aria could not hear what was being said, but soon several more security guards arrived. Together, they escorted the wailing man out of the gallery. Aria saw the man turn to the painting, his arms held by the guards, the womans hand on his back. He felt bile rise in his throat and realized that Ellebes hand was in his own. Come on, Aria. We should go. Her face was twisted in an expression he could not read. He let her lead him out and into the street where he retched violently. His insides heaved as he emptied the contents of his stomach while Ellebe watched sympathetically. His eyes were glazed as she led him to a nearby restaurant. Aria vaguely heard Ellebe ask for a table and order a glass of water for each of them, but all he could think of was the man wailing in front of the shadow elephants facing one another in their phantom reality. What was it that he saw? Feeling okay? Not really. Why dont you go to the bathroom and wash your


face while we wait for our table? Aria made his way to the bathroom. He didnt look in the mirror as he splashed his face with water and swished the vomit from his mouth. At the table, Ellebe was waiting. The man had not disturbed her the same way. When Aria sat across from her, his face was noticeably less agitated. She reached for his hand. I feel better, he said to her earnest face.

Good, she smiled gently. So tell me a little about yourself. Hanna told me youre an architect. He wanted to laugh. He hadnt done anything remotely related to architecture in his life. He thought about going along with her idea of him. That seems like such a great job, the perfect combination of art and science. I would just love to be an architect, but you cant have everything. Aria looked intently at her forehead, just between her eyes. She leaned in closer. You know, being a secretary is nice and everything, but I wish I could be more creative with my job. Aria was creative. Although he was not an architect, he was, at one point, an engineer. His day-to-day job involved building digital models of prosthetic limbs. In his office there were monitors on every wall projecting his masterpieces, the


replications of bone and marrow that he created. But all I end up doing is answering the phone to schedule appointments and meetings or getting coffee. Its so exhausting. Aria carefully looked past her shoulder every now and then at the revolving glass door. It turned and turned with monotonous regularity, in tune to Ellebes speech. And everyone is always getting my name wrong. How hard is it to say Ella-be? Everyones always trying to say El-be like elbow or something. Aria had created elbows and knees and femurs before. She was not like an elbow with its fine curvature and refined flexibility. She was not so remarkable. I would love to see some of your work someday. Have you designed any buildings here in New York? Well, um, no, he replied, surprised that hed even been given an opportunity to reply. I actually Oh, well, thats okay. I dont really mind. I am not a big fan of looking at buildings anyway. Aria couldnt imagine that she would be a fan of looking at limbs either. He examined her lips as she prattled on, wondered whether they were something he could make. He had never transgressed from bone, and it was a long time since he had designed anything at all.


A few days ago he wondered the same thing about eyes. What a task! To recreate rods and cones and a visual cortex that could detect light. His client was blind. Aria asked him about it. Would you ever want someone to create eyes so you could see again? Dan turned to him incredulously. Are you crazy? No, Im just wondering. Dont you want to be able to do things yourself? Aria thought Dan would feel the same way as his clients with prosthetics. They were grateful to bathe and dress alone, to not need him. Dan only looked uncomfortable. Although he spent time around these limbless, sightless individuals, Aria had not been able to bring himself to take on a mentally incapacitated client. He could not do it yet. He could not dream of recreating the brain. It reminded him too much of Ava. Ellebe was still talking, wildly gesturing and periodically running her fingers through her hair in an effort to woo him. He forgot to care. His mind was still in the museum and at work, wandering between corridors and galleries, always returning to Los Elfantes. They cut out and severed her brain. She was twentythree. Meningitis they said. A bacterial infection of the brain that spread a snaking purple rash around her wrists, her waist, her neck. She was undoubtedly not the same fair-skinned beauty.


Her once dark, thick hair was shorn away in places where they had gouged her cranium to let out some fluid, some pus from the parasite that had taken over. The pale, sickly face was not her own. The hands that were once slender and beautiful were bloated with fluid from the IVs that dripped into her blood and kept her only just alive. When he saw her, he could not help but weep. She gave him no sign of recognition. He sat on the edge of the bed, cradling her patched head. In his hand was a trimmer. He sheared away the rest of her hair as she giggled mirthlessly, not knowing the cause of her laughter. Ava was always laughing at what seemed to be a little secret she kept to herself. The laughter only ended when she did. She laughed and laughed herself into oblivion on the hospital bed, in that hospital gown. Ava, he said suddenly. What was that you called me? Nothing, Aria lied. Ava, his sister. He signed the papers the doctors handed him, sent her away to a group home where someone would take her instead of him. There would be others like her, they reassured him. She will be fine. In his apartment, he drank himself to sleep, her disyllabic name on his tongue. It may have been weeks since he had gone to work, but he couldnt tell. Hed lost the time, and remembered it only when he received a call telling him he was let go, that his leave of absence was far beyond his designation. It was long overdue. Are you even listening to me? Ellebe interrupted.


Uh. Im sorry. I asked you if you could show me a blueprint, since your buildings arent here in New York. Aria laughed Avas laugh. Ive been trying to tell you; Im not an architect. Well, then what do you do? she smiled thinly in an attempt to mask her disappointment. I work in a group home. A what? I take care of disabled people. I help them shower and cook and wash laundry. Sometimes I have to bathe them myself or change their sheets because theyve urinated. That kind of thing. Aria didnt feel like mentioning that he was an engineer by profession. It seemed too far from his life in the same way as this cafe, where they were sitting idly when there were more pressing realities. A remnant of her twisted expression from the museum reappeared. Thats a disgusting joke, she snarled, standing up. Aria felt no spark of indignation. He gazed passively at the hairs between her eyebrows, saying nothing. She turned. He blinked and saw only her legs, long and lithe, making their way to the door.



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