All posts by Nathan Hogan

“At the End of the Beforetime” by Mr. Weiss

This was a Facebook post (Facebook is where they keep grownups on the internet) I made on the evening of what now seems like an eon ago: Friday, March 13, 2020, the last day we had school all together for, well, who knows for how long?

Because I am friends with many alums on FB, some of whom are siblings of current students, and my writing sometimes reaches those students, I originally changed student names in this piece, but because this will be published in The Egerian, I have changed them back.

It is remarkable to me how much has changed since that day, even though most of what we have done has been to stay in our houses. This little essay is a reminder of that last day of what used to be our regular lives.

I do not know what the future holds–many challenges but, I believe, a great deal of brightness, as well.

But I do know that I feel lucky that I spent the better part of that last day of the way things used to be with all of you.

Yours,

Mr. Weiss

—————————————————————–

At the End of the Beforetime 

Often, I walk from my car in the faculty parking lot into school singing the last song I played before I shut off the engine. I think this is why my son often walks far enough ahead of me to have plausible deniability of his parentage. 

Yesterday, the song stuck in my throat, as it has the last few days I’ve been singing it. 

I am, apparently, not the only one to well up to “Seven Bridges Road,” written by Steve Young but made famous by the Eagles in 1980. Young wrote the song about, as he put it, “a girl and a road in south Alabama.” He says he wrote a song he “couldn’t believe anyone would relate to, understand, or get” and admits, “I don’t know exactly what the song means.” 

But he knows how it hits people, and acknowledges that, “on another level, the song has something kind of cosmic that registers in the subconscious.” I’ve felt that the past few days, and wondered why. In the car, Dev and I are often in different worlds, me listening to a podcast or music on the car radio while his “parent-canceling headphones” create a bubble around him. We talk more in the afternoon when he usually drives us home, but in the morning, we leave each other to our songs and our thoughts. He was halfway into the building when I turned off the car, wanting to hear the last strains of the a capella five-part harmonies drift off to wherever harmonies go.

I think about the last lines of the song, and once again, my throat and eyes fill up and cut off the words. 

“There are stars in the southern sky,” it promises,”and if ever you decide you should go, there is a taste of time-sweetened honey, down the Seven Bridges Road.”

“Is there anymore?” I ask myself. I think I know what that tastes like–time-sweetened honey. I know it from memories of what seems like a slower world, Jim Croce’s “Lazy days in mid-July. Country Sunday mornings.” Maybe it’s just our memory of youth, when the future was so much bigger and longer than the past, and when we grappled with who we wanted to be rather than grappling with who we have become, but I think it’s more than that.

Time doesn’t seem to sweeten much these days. We hardly have any of it to spare. I wake up in the morning, check my iPad, and Marie asks, “how did the world explode while we were asleep?” Blink. Checks and balances gone. Blink. The NBA season, the Masters, your school, shut down. Blink. Italian doctors making impossible, savage decisions about whom to intubate as patients stack up in the hallways of ICUs in first-rate, first-world hospitals. 

I am old enough to have lived through unsettling times, but nothing like these past few years. The word I hear people use most often to describe the pace of daily life is “assault,” and I wonder if that cosmic thing that Steve Young believed touched something in our subconscious will even make sense to a generation growing up when time itself feels like an assault. 

“I will mourn a little for that,” I think, as I walk toward Rowe Hall. “I will spare a few tears for the loss of the taste of time-sweetened honey.” And I do. Then I swallow hard and scan my phone to enter the building.

Something heavy was in the air as I walked up the stairs toward the history department office on this Friday the 13th, the day before spring break, and maybe the last time I would see my students for a good long while. 

Even by the standards of our frenetic era, change was happening at a dizzying pace. By the end of the school day, we would be informed that we would not be returning to campus until at least two weeks after the break–for at least a month from this day–and an hour after that, Governor Tom Wolf would announce that Pennsylvania would join many other states in closing all schools for two weeks. I would learn that our HS ultimate season would be all but scrapped, and all the school’s sports coaches were issued a stern warning in an all-caps email from our athletic director that they were not to stage informal practices among their teams while we were out, nor encourage them or allow them to take place with our knowledge. “FAILURE TO ABIDE BY THESE POLICIES WILL RESULT IN TERMINATION.” 

And April 13 is an aspirational return date, not a fixed one.  One of my freshmen asked me in class, as we practiced with Zoom, the online-meeting site we will be using for distance learning until we are back in the classroom, “Mr. Weiss, has anything like this ever happened at Shady Side before?” 

“Tyler,” I said, “Nothing like this has ever happened anywhere before, at least not that I can remember. We are,” I told the class, “in uncharted waters.” 

I felt an odd mix of shared emotions–a lightheadness and heavy-heartedness swapping places with each other, and sometimes filling us simultaneously. Some of our students are from China, and have had to make the hard choice between finding a place to stay in the area for the next month or so, as our dorms will be closed to the boarders, who make up almost 15% of our student body, or going home to China. But going home means not coming back this year. Some will stay. Some will get on a plane, and some were still struggling to make up their minds. They are as different from one another as any of my kids, but as a group, they are not given to public emotionality, and they wrestled to contain their sadness and confusion. Tiffany, a sophomore and one of my most dedicated ultimate players, told me she would be going back to Beijing. “I’m sorry you’ll miss our season,” I said, not having learned yet that we really won’t have one. 

She said nothing, but her eyes filled. No tears fell. She nodded and looked into the distance. 

But not every child or every moment was sad. Albert, whom I have known since he was six years old at day camp, is a lovable nerd. When he was little, he seemed oddly old with his khakis pulled up high over a tucked-in polo shirt, cinched tight at the waist, and his ever-present glasses and strangely precise and stilted way of talking. These days, he seems oddly young for all the same reasons, but he is widely adored. Last week, he got a standing ovation as the student council president handed him the little gold cup they give out to the “community member of the week,” one of many special traditions that may be cut short for this remarkable class of 2020. 

Albert greets everyone in the hallway, and he said to me in a sing-song voice as he almost skipped by me, “It’s the End of the Beforetime, Mr. Weiss. The End of the Beforetime!”

He’s right. 

I sat with one of my freshmen, Emily, on a bench in the hallway during a mutual free period. She is a gem–an earnest student, focused and engaged, but still very much a kid. Her eyes are usually wide, and she pays attention to what she sees. “How you doin’, pal?” I asked her.

“A little freaked out,” she said. “It’s weird. A few weeks ago, I had to interview my parents for a class. I asked them about what they remember from 9/11. Do you think my kids will ask me someday, ‘what do you remember about coronavirus?’” 

“They will.” 

And Albert’s phrase came back to me. The End of the Beforetime. 

All generations have it. We don’t even have to mark the dates, because if we were there, that’s when everything changed from the way it was to the way it became. 9/11. The Berlin Wall. JFK. 

Coronavirus. 

I had work to do, I suppose–what teachers usually call work: planning. Papers.

But I couldn’t do it, and I think it’s because I understood my real work was to be with my kids. To talk with them and help them make sense of the ground shifting underneath our feet, but mostly to listen to them. 

I wandered into the student center and chatted with a small group of seniors. There were no big groups of seniors. Many of the seniors were gone. Thursday night was supposed to be their Senior Sleepout, though it was to have been a sleep-in in the gym, followed by an officially authorized senior skip-day. Our kids, like most, want to thumb their noses at The Man, especially in the spring of their last year in high school, but they are too thoroughly conditioned to behave to do it without prior approval. That event, like so many others, had been canceled, but many of the seniors decided to stay home, anyway. 

Of the few that came in, one said to me, “This sucks. I know I usually complain about school, but I love it here. These are my people. Do you think we’ll have our prom? Will we even graduate?” 

“I don’t know,” I told her. “Nobody does. That may be the most unbending reality of the universe, and it’s particularly true now: nobody knows what’s going to happen, and anybody who does is making it up.” She nodded. “Listen,” I went on. “Every one of us–all of the grownups in your life–want you to have these things, and if there is a way you can have those moments, we will do all we can to make sure you get them, but here’s the thing:

“It might be that what’s happening right now is something that sometimes happens: your rites of passage are being replaced with a generation-defining event. That doesn’t mean it’s not sad, but it does mean that it is, in a way, more real, and on some level, generations need them to really grow up. You will not see each other as much this spring as you wanted to, but you will never forget this and you will never forget each other because of it. You will be marked by this event, but I know you: You will find a way to mark it, too. You’ll find a way to carve your initials in it. It may lack the frills and the ceremony, but it will be deeper. And it’s better than a war–trust me.” 

A little later, my last class of the day, my Pittsburgh history class, met. It is mostly seniors, so I didn’t expect many, but three showed up, along with a couple friends who drifted in and out. The schedule had, by now, loosened its grip almost entirely. We were just people, drifting through a transient moment together. I walked them through what I thought the class would look like when we resumed school at a distance, and talked about how challenges like this can bring out the best in us, both in school and in the wider world. 

“I hope,” I said, “that this makes us reconsider some things. Maybe we’ll decide collectively that this era of dismissing experts as namby-pamby, pointy-headed Chicken Littles will come to an end, and we’ll pay attention to science again–start recognizing that what we don’t see in front of us can still hurt us if we’re not smart and willing to make changes. Maybe the slow acceptance by most businesses of things like working from home will speed up, and that would be good for a planet quickly heating up from all of our car exhausts, and might help solve the problem of finding people to take care of our families while we work. Things rarely get better if they don’t change, and times like this force us to change. Maybe we’ll change for the better.” 

One of my seniors, a tall, charming, scholarly guy named Aniket, artfully segued me out of my prattling. “One thing that couldn’t change for the better is the weather, Mr. Weiss. Maybe it’s time to go outside and throw a frisbee.” 

I laughed. They know me better than I know them. There is a time for the musings of an increasingly old man and there is a time to live in the moment and play in the sun. 

“You’re right! Let’s get the frisbee.” 

We walked out into a stiff breeze, and could hear the flag high above us, starched and flapping loudly in the steady wind. “Give me a target,” I asked the kids. 

“The flag pole,” said one. 

“Alright, kids. Into a wind we go low. Lots of inside out. More spin than velocity.” I pivoted to my backhand and my low throw bounced in the wind and missed the big steel pole, rocking in the gusts, by a foot or so. They set off after it. 

As we throw on the quad, a small crowd gathers. Tiffany, Vita, David and Leo wander over to get in a few more throws before going back to China tomorrow (most of the Chinese students adopt Americanized names we can more easily pronounce. I always ask if they want to teach me their Chinese names. Some do. Some don’t. Some try, and often, I fail). Tiffany promises, “We will play a lot of ultimate this summer. We will play whenever we can.” She whips a forehand into a blustery crosswind. It travels flat and far. 

“Maybe while you’re home, you can figure out how to throw that huck without lifting up your pivot foot.” She smiles. It’s an old battle for her. “Think of it,” I say, “as a travel ban.” We both crack up at the flatball pun.

Sayuj, an alum and former frisbee team member, appears out of nowhere. He is among the first in a flood of college students who will come back to the area and, as is their habit, be drawn to campus, trying to figure out what social distancing means for kids yanked from their dorms and classes and plunked back at home a few minutes from their old school and old friends. His sister, Sanjna, is a senior on the girls team. She is here with her boyfriend, Clay. Others gravitate toward us and toward the frisbee. 

Ariella, an eager sophomore player, asks me, “Mr. Weiss, can I cut for a throw?” 

“Go!” I say, and she takes off downwind. I wait for her to cross the brick pathway in the middle of the quad. Giri and Daniel take off with her. I plant my right foot, twist my hips and whip my arm, trying not to lose my balance on the slippery quad as I just saw several of the kids do, laughing with their friends as they assessed the extent of the mud-stains on their clothes. The disc catches a tailwind and sails beyond them all as they try to follow its unpredictable path through the shifting breeze. 

I put my hands in my pockets and watch them, stepping back a few feet to remove myself from their orbit–to be an observer. They are like hundreds of groups of kids I have watched in my life of doing this work. The world swirls around them like the wind, pushing them and what they’re chasing in a hundred different directions, but they are beautifully young, so the sun shines on them too, and for the moment, that is all they feel. It reflects off of them, and I am warmed by it. 

I know this for what it is.

A taste of time-sweetened honey. 

At the End of the Beforetime.

“Bandstand” — Giri Viswanathan ’20

The grey haze college level essay help viagra without a prescription see url genuine viagra suppliers tomar viagra es malo case study topics for mba levitra birmingham need help assignment spanish essay grammar checklist go to site right to health care essay 2r hypothesis see url source url https://fotofest.org/solving/thesis-on-investment/5/ follow url cheapest prices for viagra online https://sigma-instruments.com/side-effects-of-viagra-on-young-males-6033/ https://ncappa.org/term/good-argumentative-topics-for-essays/4/ https://rainierfruit.com/ladies-viagra-tablets-in-india/ sample graduate admissions essays cialis fiyatlar 4 tablet parts of thesis manuscript cheap discount viagra https://harvestinghappiness.com/drug/que-es-el-viagra-y-como-se-toma/66/ funny cause and effect essay topics enter site http://myessaywritingservice.com suny college essayВ psychology paper examples get link go of cigarette smoke wafted through the air, curling and dancing as it reached Muddy’s nose. His nostrils flared as he inhaled and his ears perked as the clink of gin bottles subsided. 

Behind the bar, an old man – the bartender– wore a grey waistcoat, his sleeves rolled to reveal dark-hued skin. Taking deliberate steps, he crossed the room towards the empty stage. Clutching for the side stair railing in the dim light, the man climbed to the stage-front of his densely-packed club. His wristwatch struck eleven, and the old man’s eyes drooped. As he unwrapped the microphone cable, he glanced at the crowd gathered before him, weary from long hours scraping for paychecks at the local mills and steelyards. On weekend nights, they flocked inside, desperately trying to forget the demands of the world around them. There wasn’t a single white face amid the crowd, but then again, there rarely were in this part of Chicago.

Muddy perched beside the stage, his right leg pressed firmly against the wall. His Gibson hollow-body guitar was slung loosely across his shoulder with the leather strap his mother had carved for him before he stepped on the train to Chicago.  The flickering tungsten light glimmered across the glossed surface of the body, sanded and fading to a deep ebony. His hand slid across the neck, his palms tingling as he casually felt the grooves of the guitar’s frets. He glanced back down. 

Bolted underneath the strings, a gleaming silver bar wrapped with copper coils contrasted starkly with the worn wood of the guitar. He toyed with a switch on the upper corner of the guitar’s body. Some newfangled electric pickup–powerful and raw. The guitar felt foreign in his hands. He was wary of the audience’s reaction; he didn’t know how they would respond to the emphatic growl of his instrument.

The night before, Muddy had languidly been rehearsing with Rich and Davy in the basement of his Chicago tenement. Smokes was late. He had a drummer and a harmonica player, but he needed his backup guitarist to scratch out a terse chord progression. Smokes was always late, though; he was always running across town, either at the record store, gigging with a friend, or attempting to seduce another woman with his guitar, smooth voice, and slicked hair. Muddy didn’t care much. When Smokes did arrive to play, his urgent licks rattled the thin walls, twanging with characteristic ferocity. That was Smokes’s style: he didn’t play much, but when he did, those listening felt enraptured by his emotiveness. 

Forty-five minutes later, Smokes barged through the front door with a short steel bar and a black box gripped tightly in his hands. A smile stretched across his face.

“Muddy, ya gotta try this,” he panted. “Gimme your guitar”

Muddy warily handed him the instrument.  “Don’t worry, I done this ‘bout a million times now. Learned all about it yesterday.” Muddy was hesitant. When he first came to Chicago six months ago, he had only brought a briefcase, a tweed suit, and his guitar–the one that his mother had bought him at the pawnshop for his 17th birthday. It was all he owned.

Still, Smokes promised it was worth it. “You’ll love the sound this baby makes,” he whispered as he grabbed a screwdriver. It was Smokes that had first taken him in when he arrived, brought him along as his vocalist and rhythm guitarist before he could find any gigs of his own. Muddy felt indebted – for months, he had slept soundly on Smokes’s torn sofa after grueling days at the lumber mill. “Never forget,” his mother would croon as she clutched him underneath the sycamore tree outside the sharecropper’s barn, “to remember them that help you.”  

Slipping the steel bar underneath the strings of his guitar, Smokes fastened it with four screws and threaded the attached cable through the soundhole towards the black box. “An amplifier–it’ll make ya loud. Real loud,” Smokes explained.

At the club, the old man on stage gripped the microphone, using the stand to steady himself. The crowd hushed as the microphone squealed. The man slowly began speaking, his withered voice scraping in the smoky air.

“Ladies and gentleman, from back home in Mississippi” – the crowd chuckled – “Muddy and the Smoke Trails.”

Muddy climbed onto the stage, where Rich and Davy stood waiting for him. Smokes, as usual, raced into the club and jumped onto the bandstand. He winked at Muddy. “Ya ready to show them what tha’ puppy can do?,” he motioned toward the steel bar mounted on Muddy’s guitar: the pickup.

In the basement of Muddy’s apartment last night, when Smokes had plugged the cable into the amplifier, the guitar began to hum. At Smokes’s request, Muddy strummed an open chord on the neck – and jumped at the sound his pawnshop guitar made. 

Suddenly, his guitar, which struggled to be heard above the roar of automobiles and the clatter of house parties, roared and growled. It pierced through the noise of the city, vibrating through the tenement halls. The sound, Muddy observed, came through Smokes’s black box. And it was loud. Overwhelmingly loud.

As the drummer behind him tapped on the hi-hat, Muddy launched into a lick that he’d heard years before in Mississippi. He struck the strings with punctuated force, but unlike the steel twang he expected, his guitar purred and wailed. The clean intonation Muddy was accustomed to was replaced by crackling distortion that scratched through the stale air. He traced the shuffle of the drums, his notes rippling with emotion. Smokes and Davy stood stunned. Outside, windows opened as neighbors stretched to identify the source of that otherworldly sound. 

Muddy strummed the final chord and furrowed his brow. A smile crept like a vine on Smokes’s face and Davy began to applaud enthusiastically, but Muddy dropped his guitar. That sound wasn’t his; that alien growl sounded like a gross perversion of the music he grew up with – the gritty, authentic tone that he played with his friends back home. His mind flashed back to sunsets underneath the farm’s sycamore tree, the strings of his borrowed acoustic guitar twanging in the empty fields. His mother used to sit beside him, her voice quivering as she sang alongside him. She watched as his fingers learned to dance across the fretboard, and she leaned against the bark and sighed as he strummed earthy chord progressions. 

When he decided to come to Chicago to escape the South and establish his name – as a musician away from the arid cotton fields that he’d watched his mother toil in – everyone laughed at him. “Don’t nobody listen to that kind of old blues you’re doin’ now, not in Chicago” his uncle had jeered. 

But before he stepped on the train northward, carrying a patched briefcase in one hand and his guitar in the other, Muddy remembered his mother beckoning him away from the platform. “Don’t you forget ‘bout who you are,” she whispered. “When you go off to that city, remember that you’re my son.” 

As Muddy waited silently on stage, his mind flashed back to his youth – to the painted Mississippi skies and the sycamore tree. When he played the blues, its somber lyrics and steely sound reminded him of his mother, youthful and nurturing. The distortion of the amplifier intrigued him, but every crackling note felt like a betrayal of his childhood.

He glanced out at the audience, buzzing in crisp slacks and fur hats. They looked old-fashioned: honest, hardworking folks. Muddy fiddled with the switch that activated Smokes’s pickup. The crowd hadn’t come late on a weekday night to hear the roar of an electrified guitar. They stood eagerly, listening for the scraping sound of a bottleneck slide striking an acoustic body: something emotional, something authentic, but something familiar. 

After all, Muddy needed their approval. He was establishing a reputation within the South Chicago blues scene, but he wasn’t famous yet. Muddy desperately needed the bar owner to invite the Smoke Trails back; the gig money, combined with his days at the lumber mill, barely managed to cover his rent. He couldn’t judge how the crowd would respond to the distorted snarl of his guitar, and he couldn’t afford to risk their disapproval.

Glancing back at Smokes, Muddy shook his head. “Not today, Smoky,” he called from the corner of his mouth. “It just don’t feel right for the blues.” He flicked the pickup switch off.

As the drummer rattled the hi-hat, the audience swiveled towards the bandstand. The sharp trill of the harmonica pierced the stagnant cigarette smoke. Muddy closed his eyes and internalized the rhythm; his body swayed in response to the bitter chords of his rhythm guitarist. Muddy crooned lyrics, contorting his mouth so that his voice quavered – just like his mother used to do years ago. The verses glided across his tongue, lines about the cotton fields and the Mississippi sun, though Muddy had never worked in the fields like his parents. He sounded authentic, though, and audiences craved it. His voice was hoarse, and as he surveyed the audience, the women who met his gaze longingly followed his grey eyes as he crossed the bandstand.

A woman rushed through the door into the back of the bar, nearly knocking over the boxes of bottled beer stacked against the wooden wall. Her olive eyes searched for Muddy with alarm, a pleading expression on her face. 

Muddy recognized his girlfriend, Alicia, immediately. She didn’t often frequent his gigs, and her rushed entrance concerned him. 

Alicia waved frantically at Muddy, gesturing for him to find her. Muddy, his voice softly lilting the last lines of his song, waited for the cymbal to crash before motioning to Smokes, Rich, and Davy to hold the set. Muddy climbed down from the bandstand and waded across the sea of sweaty bodies and Formica tables towards Alicia. Her ordinarily inquisitive eyes were tinged with concern; her ordinarily seductive expression was crisscrossed with wrinkles. 

“Muddy, Muddy, I need to tell you somethin’,” she gasped. 

“Alicia, what’s the matter, hon?” he replied

“Listen, Muddy, I was at home and the telephone rang for you. It’s about your mama, Muddy” 

The smoke clung to Muddy, dragging him back into the stale swirl. He squinted at Alicia in the hazy light. His expression steeled.

“Alicia, what happened?” His face locked into a grimace. 

“It’s your mama, Muddy. She passed away a few hours ago” For a few moments, Muddy stood stunned, staring at the beer casings behind his girlfriend.

Muddy’s vision distorted from the teardrops in his eyes. His mind raced, flickering to the train station where he last embraced his mother. He remembered the sycamore tree, her aching voice that would sing no more. He remembered her laughter as he scraped a broken bottle across the steel strings of the guitar.

“She was old, Mud. She passed peacefully,” Alicia whispered.

He remembered when his mother used to sing with him when emotion gripped him. She told him to make music from anger and grief, how to channel his disgust and play with ferocity. She taught him how to sing the blues.  Muddy eyed his guitar, leaning on an amplifier stack on the bandstand. Sprinting towards the stage, he slung the body around his neck, plugged the loose cable into the amplifier, and turning to Smokes, he flicked the pickup switch on in a deft motion. 

“Hey, what’s wrong, kid,” Smokes called out to him. 

“Shut up and play,” Muddy retorted.

His mother was gone, and so was her love for the earthen intonation of an acoustic guitar. Swiveling the pickup’s volume control, Muddy fingered the fretboard and strummed. The guitar snarled. And it snarled loudly.

The audience, jarred, faced Muddy with a blank expression. In the far left corner, the bartender removed his hat and clutched it to his chest. The harmonica squealed, the bass drum boomed, and Muddy slid into a gritty, powerful delta blues. Muddy didn’t care what the audience thought, but when Muddy bent his strings and his guitar wailed, the audience watched, spellbound. 

The chords rattled underneath Muddy’s fingers as the guitar shrieked in agony and wailed in grief. Muddy danced across the neck, spitting his grief into punctuated, quivering phrases. As his steeled expression relaxed, salty tears dripped from red eyes onto the ebony frame of his guitar. The confined barroom quaked as Muddy attacked the guitar. Muddy howled with his guitar, and the audience began to shuffle in time. 

For Muddy, each bend resembled the wail of his mother as she picked cotton in Mississippi. Every slide felt like the blues she sang under the sycamore tree, every tremble like her voice at dusk. 

As the final chords reverberated in the club, the audience roared in approval. Tears streaming down his face, Muddy threw his guitar onto the bandstand and leap off the stage. Smokes and Alicia called after him as he sprinted out of the back entrance, but Muddy ignored their cries and raced onto the empty South Chicago street. 

Droplets of rain fell lightly, glistening in the moonlight. As he sprinted across the pavement, Muddy’s tears were indistinguishable from the raindrop. The swirling fog of the urban night reached out to him, swirling and enveloping his hunched form. Muddy’s silent rage muffled the horns of automobiles and the sirens of police cars. 

From the back entrance of the club, Smokes peered through the fog. He only saw glimpses of a silhouetted figure disappearing into the Chicago night. 

Works Consulted:

Millard, Andre. “Electric Guitar.” In St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2013. Accessed 1 Nov. 2019.

Muddy Waters.” St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture Online, Gale, 2013. Gale In Context: U.S. History. Accessed 1 Nov. 2019.

Port, Ian S. The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock n Roll. Simon & Schuster, 2019.

Tolinski, Brad, and Alan di Perna. Play It Loud: The Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar. New York, NY: Doubleday, 2016.

“Heat Lightning” — Lucie Green ’19

It was just the two of us on a hot summer night. We sat on the porch, talking about who-knows-what when you said you saw something.

“Well, what did you see?” I asked.

“It was a flash,” you replied. “Over there, near those clouds.”

“Lightning?”

“Must’ve been, I suppose.”

The subject died as quickly as it had come up, and we were back to talking about our families and our problems and the things that didn’t really seem to matter.

“There! I saw it again,” you interrupted. “By the horizon. It cut through those purple mountains off that way.”

“Which way?” I asked.

You pointed west, to where the last slice of the sun was sinking away. I stared across the flat landscape, waiting. The sky was a dull blue, splashed with fading rays of orange and pink.

“Doesn’t seem like it’s gonna rain,” I said.

“You never know, especially out here.”

“I like the rain. It’s peaceful.”

“Well, I wouldn’t really call thunderstorms peaceful. More angry, if you ask me.”

I looked over and met your calculating gaze. “I wasn’t talking about thunder. I don’t like thunder.”

“Why not?”

“With thunder comes lightning. Isn’t that right?”

You smiled at me and shook your head slightly. The two of us fell silent, back to watching the swollen gray of the distant clouds. It was darker when I finally saw it; the crackling bolts of light that tangled together for mere milliseconds, illuminating the outline of the mountains.

“Holy crap!” I shouted.

“What do you think it is?”

“It’s heat lightning,” I said. “You know, lightning without thunder.”

“Lightning without thunder?” You looked doubtful.

“What else would it be?”

“I don’t know. I mean, where’s the thunder?”

“Wherever thunder goes to die, I guess.”

You looked over at me and started laughing. “Where thunder goes to die…” you repeated. “Damn. How do you come up with shit like that?”

I shrugged, not quite understanding what was so funny.

“So…you don’t like thunder because you don’t like lightning?” you asked.

“I’m scared of lightning,” I said.

You burst out laughing again. “You know the chances of getting hit by lightning are like one in 300,000? And that 90 percent of people survive, even if they do get hit?”

A shiver ran through us both and you stopped laughing immediately. I turned toward you and in the reflection of your eyes, I saw you in the forest, swollen gray clouds spitting down on the earth, the ground shaking with each crash of thunder. I saw the terror in your eyes because you were one in 300,000, you were not part of the 90 percent, and just like that, my world of hot summer nights and purple mountains came crashing down. I reached toward you and realized you were no longer there, that you had never been there, that you had left me once again, and given yourself to the lightning with no thunder.

“Blue Moon” — Giri Viswanathan ’20

Later that night, the rain started to fall in spurts and drizzles. The moon shone from behind the clouds, its light bouncing off the damp asphalt in front of the house. The line of cars stretched down the street, down to where the retirees had slept at ten o’clock. From the house in front with the picket fence, illegally-purchased fireworks streaked from the backyard into the suburban night, crackling and flaring as they danced upward.

A man stumbled through the front door, his fingers wrapped tightly around a Blue Moon. Steadying himself on the porch railing, he slipped on his sneakers and turned around. Two kids walked cautiously behind him. The older one met his bleary-eyed gaze with an expression of disgust. 

“Dad, are you good?” He squinted upwards at his father’s bloodshot eyes.

The man lifted his hand from the railing and waved. 

“Wha…whaddya mean. I’m alright.” he muttered.

“Are you sure?” The older kid knew better from health class.

The man leaned in. His voice was a hoarse whisper.

“Yes, goddamnit, I…I’mm, don’t worry about me,” he mumbled. 

His heels scraped as he shuffled down towards the white sedan parked at the front of the house. He tugged at the locked handle of the driver’s seat and fumbled in his pocket for the key. His older son glanced worriedly at his brother and huddled beside him in the backseat. The man surveyed them in silence for a moment through the rear-view mirror. He rolled down a window to throw the Blue Moon onto the front lawn. 

A dense silence blanketed the car as they drove. The older child slid into the middle seat and surveyed the curve of the narrow road ahead. The car jerked down the hill as the man applied the brakes. As they approached the thoroughfare that night, the younger brother closed his eyes and lay his head on the older child’s lap. The car skimmed along the highway, its headlights glimmering in the raindrops. 

Alone on the narrow highway, confidence bloomed inside the man. He shifted his weight onto the acceleration pedal. The car snapped as it raced down the freeway.

“Dad, slow down!” the older child screamed. His brother remained asleep.

“Don…don’t worry kiddo,” the man shouted. Saliva foamed at the corner of his mouth. In the distance, the older boy glimpsed a pair of headlights. 

“Dad, I’m not kidding. You need to stop now!.” The car rumbled as it drifted leftward, sliding over the concrete hump between the lanes. The older child heard a scraping sound as the car dragged a golden cone beneath it. The lights grew brighter.

The man threw his hands from the steering wheel and shielded his eyes from the headlights of the oncoming truck. “Ugh, I can’t see,” he spat.

The older child heard the crunch of metal as the truck slammed into the left side of the sedan. Glass shards pierced his abdomen.

The younger boy was only awake for a moment. 

“Her Eyes Matcher Her Nail Polish” — Daniel Xu ’20

I felt fingers seize my forearm, and I knew that sleep wouldn’t take me that night. I shook the grip loose, it was never hard for me to do so, and curled into the fetal position. They always started gentle. They would caress my cheek, stroke my hair; they would read my mind, push my buttons. I clenched my eyes shut until flashing lights appeared inside my eyelids. I wanted to imagine, to pretend, to delude myself so desperately that nothing was there, but I knew it wasn’t true. I knew it wasn’t true when I found my curtains torn off their rings; I knew it wasn’t true when I found myself locked out of my bathroom; I knew it wasn’t true when I came home from work and found myself overpowered by natural gas fumes. And I knew it wasn’t true because I was going to find myself the next morning with rips in my clothing and have to throw away another t-shirt.

The hands decided against the forearm and instead began with my hair, brushing it over and over as I counted six seven eight nine ten fingers running through it. Had I a pair of scissors then, I could have taken care of the problem no sweat (I was due for a haircut anyways), but instead I had to resist the compelling urge to tear my scalp out. Not like it wouldn’t have mattered; I’d be left with a bloody pillow and they’d move on to the next toy in the playground that I’d become. I held my breath and counted sheep. One two three. Fourteen fifteen. Sixty-eight. Three-hundred and ninety-two. When they first appeared, I would get to the thousands before I’d give up and succumb to uncontrollable weeping; all the while the hands played piano on top of me. Sleep become a luxury resource. 

Several weeks after the hands first appeared, Miranda from work had offered me a pouch of dried herbs. “I can tell you haven’t been getting sleep; zombie isn’t a great look on you,” she chuckled in the breakroom. Over her shoulder, fingers pushed down the lever for the water cooler, leading liquid to spill onto the carpet. We both heard it; she didn’t care.

“How’s this supposed to help?”

“Brew yourself a mug of it before bed. It always did the trick for my mom.”

I took her offering with the vague hope that this would allow me some willful ignorance at night. It certainly was a better option than NyQuil. The tea took on a dark color and stained the inside of my mug orange. It tasted both bitter and sour, like someone had the bright idea of mixing grass with orange juice. The aftertaste lingered, and I pictured the orange stain spreading its way to the back of my throat. In spite of its oddities, it had worked beautifully. I was able to stuff myself into a box, lock the door, and swallow the key. I was concerned though; the box had been getting smaller and smaller and I knew that soon enough it would be too small to fit into. Starting last month, I had been brewing two mugs every night to keep the same effect that only one mug used to have.

As the hands layered the three strands of my hair one over the other, left over middle, right over left, middle over right, I tried to ignore the increasingly harder-to-ignore thought that I was taking too long to fall asleep it shouldn’t be that long and what am I going to do when the tea is never enough and why do I always feel dizzy during the day and why did I wake up on my couch last night and—

I woke up still on the same train of thought, unaware that I had already reached the next station. At the same time, I became aware that I didn’t feel anything. Nothing. Nothing rubbing on my legs; nothing tugging at my clothes; nothing pinching at my skin; no nails skipping off the back of my neck; those fucking nails that I knew the exact shade of, a shade that I had personally bought and applied to the nails’ owner. Former owner. Whatever the fuck that thing was surely wasn’t her. I kept my eyes shut and held my breath again, terrified that any slight movement would draw their attention back to me. What time was it? There wasn’t any sunlight peeking through my eyelids, but did I leave the curtains open or closed last night? Was it still ‘last night’? Did something just—

***

I stumbled across the cracked and stained sidewalk, failing to find any of my bearings, which had long since spilled onto the ground and rolled away from me. I was alone, but the night hadn’t begun that way. No, the night had begun with anticipation, begun in excitement for what was to come that evening, but also for what was to come for the greater future. As we prepared for a night out, we talked about a great number of things. We mentioned the anxieties in our lives, which we then promptly discarded, because on that night, they didn’t matter. We talked about work and about how within the year we would ditch the transitory jobs we both loathed and finally do what we wanted. Maybe it wouldn’t have been true the day after, but on that night, it sure as hell was. Best of all? No. Fucking. Floating. Hands. As I braided her hair, I mentioned how I had always envied it. It was just that perfect shade of auburn that would ignite and blaze under illumination. In response, she pointed out my hands. They have perfect proportions, she said, both in relation to each other and the rest of my body. Her fingers grazed over the backsides of my hands as she held them, and she mentioned how my perfect my skin was. I chuckled, because who really cared about someone’s hands? 

While the comment didn’t mean much to me at the time, it did remind of what I had prepared for her. I completed the braid and took the moment while she inspected it in the mirror, which she did to her satisfaction and gratefulness, to present to her my gift. In my palm I held a bottle of nail polish, that year’s annual offering to her health and her love. We had chanced upon it while passing through shops on a previous outing, to which she had declared a wistful longing for it. We had left it alone, finding the price tag to be overreaching at the time. Now, seeing it in my hands, she brightened with delight, and I responded in kind as I applied it onto her nails. Once it was done, she brought them under the light, and the deep emerald gleamed as it sat on her fingertips. That night, everything was right, and she was everything. It was the easy conclusion to come to, and the only one that seemed natural. 

It was approaching the end of the excursion, but certainly not the end of the night. Empty glasses that numbered more than I was able to count on my fingers sat on our table. Alone, I stared at the brick wall of the trendy bistro, content to wait until she returned from the bathroom. I fidgeted with the box in my hands, smaller than my palm, and ran through the script in my head. It wasn’t very long, only five words: 

‘Jess, will you be mine?’ 

I repeated in my mind it as I pictured myself getting down on one knee in front of her. I repeated it as I pictured myself opening the box and slipping the ring that we had picked out together onto her finger. I repeated it as I pictured her flashing that smile of hers and pulling me into a kiss. A buzz, which caused the table and the glasses to vibrate, removed me from my reverie. Glancing down, her phone, which she had left resting face-up on the table, had received a text message. Funny. I didn’t remember allowing anyone else except me to call Jess ‘babe,’ or to ask the questions that the whore who texted her did, or to send those kinds of photos that the slut who texted her did. Jess, what the fuck did you—

***

I woke up to sunlight bleeding through my eyes, confirming that I had, in fact, left the curtains open the previous night. The heavy comforter, whose warmth and weight I usually found reassuring, stifled me, and I threw it off the bed as I sat up. The winter air, which had permeated inside of the apartment, nipped at my legs and caused goosebumps to form. I turned toward my window so that all of my body was caught under the sunshine that came through it and sat there, baking in its radiance. I would have been content to sit there all day, had I not been compelled by parchness and the taste of death inside my mouth to drink some water.

Gingerly stepping out of my bed, I rubbed my eyes and let loose a series of yawns as I moved toward the kitchen. I plucked one of the glasses out of the sink, ignoring the rest of the cutlery and plates that sat in it, and rinsed out the glass once before letting the tap fill it. I idled around the sink, enjoying the rejuvenating quality of the water. 

I wasn’t in any hurry to go or be anywhere. But then I was, because I saw the hands. Saw them picking at scraps of cloth that sat in a pile next to the couch. They were unblemished, perfectly smooth and clean. Under the frosty winter morning, they adopted a rosy hue, and as they moved about, their slender fingers would curl and unfold in a wave in the same exact she would when her hands were cold and she wanted me to hold them. They ended a couple of inches below the wrist, in a clean slice. The inside of the slice reminded me of a slice of bologna, not gruesome at all. She would have laughed at that, but I found it especially unsettling, as if someone popped the hands off of her like a magnet. However, what truly made me want to claw my own eyes out were, lying on the tip of the hands, pristinely painted emerald fingernails. The nails taunted me; they beamed under light and seemed to glow in the dark, ensuring that I would never forget about the hands for too long. That shade of green would go on to become a permanent stain in my mind; I couldn’t seem to avoid it. My shampoo bottle was emerald. Miranda’s new favorite top was emerald. My thoughts were emerald. Even when my eyes were shut, it would fade in and out like a photo slideshow. 

The hands worked methodically, rearranging the scraps of cloth like a jigsaw puzzle. Before long, the hands were able to lay them out into a vestige of the dress that it once was; the dress that I had had worn on that night and hadn’t worn since.

***

‘Traitorous bitch’ became the phrase of the night after she returned. Questions turned to accusations, and accusations turned to grievances. Grievances turned into shouting, and shouting turned into thrown objects and broken glasses. She handed out sad excuses like candy from a white van; one after another, they came: “She didn’t mean it that way, you know how she is,” and “Did you even look at the photo?” It didn’t matter. The veil had already been lifted, and I knew her for the snake she was. Forced out of the restaurant and into the street, we continued, where, underneath a blinding lamppost in an alley, I laid hands on her. 

It had only been a slight shove, a release of the anguish and betrayal that stirred inside of me, but slight was more than enough to accomplish what had happened. She stumbled and fell back, her head colliding with lamppost. I didn’t need to check on her after she slid to the ground; the wet sound made by her head meeting the steel beam told enough. In her unmoving state, skin glowing under the beam of light and her emerald nails shining, I noted her resemblance to a porcelain doll: delicate, beautiful, and devoid of any life. I knelt down to stare at her face, brushing away with my hand loose strands of hair that had fallen over it. Only cold, unseeing eyes stared back. I planted my lips on her forehead and kept them there as I held her, letting a moment of eternity pass before I stood up and stumbled back into the street.

I wandered my way home sometime before morning arrived and threw off my dress and shoes. Bracing myself against the wall, I shuffled my way to the bedroom and collapsed into bed, where I didn’t leave for the next twenty-four hours. When I emerged from my room afterward, I found a cold mug of hot cocoa that I didn’t make and a pair of hands that weren’t mine sitting on my coffee table.

***

Watching the hands reassemble my mangled dress, whose current state I couldn’t even remember was caused by my doing or theirs, made my water taste of despair and I emptied the glass into the sink. I realized something felt off about the previous night; they only either left me alone or tormented me the entire night. Why go half & half? I tugged at the braid that I didn’t do. It was definitely there. Beyond that, however, nothing else seemed to have been done to me. The thought didn’t inspire reassurance. I looked over my body, searching for any scratches or marks, but there were none to be found. My clothes came next, and I examined them for any holes or tears. Nothing either.

Having laid out the dress in the shape that it once was, the hands reached into one of the pockets on its frontside where a conspicuous lump was still present and pulled out a palm-sized, velvet box. I didn’t even realize I had kept it with me. They raised the box into the air, ensuring that I knew they held it, and promptly released it into the TV. The box struck its stand and bounced off it onto the carpet. Its impact didn’t do any immediate damage, but it was enough to knock the TV off balance and send it colliding with the coffee table. It shattered as it fell, and fragments of glass combined with splinters as it cleaved a corner off of the coffee table.

The hands were getting impatient. For a year they made their desire clear and for a year I neglected them. For a year I had left alone what I meant to say to her, left it buried and forgotten within the scraps of my dress. I stepped around the counter into the living room and lifted a piece of the coffee table to grab at the box beneath. Keeping it in one palm, my fingertips ran over the velvet surface, picking up the dust it had accumulated sitting unattended. As I undid the clasp for the lid, the words came more easily now than I ever thought they would, slipping between my lips almost casually.

“Will you be mine?”

The hands—her hands—slipped out from the corners of my vision where they had darted after the spectacle and approached, palms up and outstretched. I slipped the ring, an elegant silver band, onto her finger and placed my own hands into hers. I ran my own fingertips over the glossy viridian nails, wondering how she possibly thought that mine could ever compare to hers. Her hands gently tugged, and I followed her to the center of the living room. There, stepping around, over, and into the pile of wreckage on the floor that no longer mattered between us, splinters of wood and fragments of glass that I couldn’t care less about digging into my feet, under the resplendence of the sun that ignited our intertwined hands, just as we should have on that night, we danced.

“Dinosaur Days” — Giri Viswanathan ’20

When I was younger, I used to walk with beasts. They dwarfed me, heaving across the ground, scales striped and ruby. Sometimes, they roared. The two roared at each other, and occasionally at me, though they mostly ignored me when I was there. When they roared, and fought, and scratched, I scampered up the stairs on fours into my room on the left-hand side of the upstairs landing. The floors vibrated, buzzing with thumping and clawing and primal rage. 

After a few minutes, the front door would creak open and slam shut. One would storm out of the house–I remember seeing his troubled face as he raced into the fading evening light. No matter where he went, he would always return by the next morning, waiting with orange juice and pancakes when I woke up the next morning. Sometimes, he would slide a sugary wafer across the table with a wink.

The staircase squealed as the other paraded toward the dim landing, bellowing as saltwater streamed from her scaled snout. 

The lock clicked on the room across from me. Her groaning behind the door faded into a faint scratching of her forelimbs against the wall. Silence blanketed the house like fog rolling after a summer rain.

On the stair in front of the window, I would perch with Jimmy clutched in the folds of my right palm. For those hours, nobody bothered me. I was all alone, and as I swung down the staircase and skipped across the laminate floor, I felt free. Gripping the edge of the acrylic tables, I glanced around, ensuring that the creatures had left. A family portrait often lay angled on the floor beneath the island; skillets filled with rice and vegetables littered the stovetop.

I climbed onto the surface of the kitchen island. It was the tallest part of the house that I could clamber up, and standing on top of it, my braided hair nearly skimmed the ceiling. Curling my fingers into gnarled claws, I raised my head to the sky and roared softly into the dying light.   

Early on Sunday mornings, I remember that the two dinosaurs–a leathered maiasaura and a high-strung oviraptor–and I would venture through St. James’ park in Westminster. I hugged Jimmy tightly to my pink raincoat, his soft fur stained and his seams beginning to unravel. The two behind me growled softly, and as we walked beneath oak trees glistening with dew and rainfall, their murmurs fell silent before the morning cry of the finches. At this hour, we were accompanied on these strolls by the occasional stray dog; rarely did we encounter anything else.

During one of our Sunday strolls in early August, I felt particularly exhausted. Hard specks clung to my eyes. I rubbed them wearily. Last night, as on the nights earlier that week, I slept lightly. Quiet had blanketed the house, but the stomping and the thumping, the growling and the wailing pierced the thin walls of my bedroom. While they roared, though they left me alone, allowing me to spend the night reading about ancient worlds filled with prehistoric creatures. My latest check-out from the library, an illustrated youth Encyclopedia of Paleontology, perched precariously on the ash nightstand. As I flipped through its pages, my index finger crawled across vivid renderings of the dinosaurs, of the allosaurus, the parasaurolophus, the velociraptor, and the triceratops roaming in the landscape of my imagination. 

Sketched in colored ink, in jungles and woodlands, I traced a maisaura huddled protectively over her nest, one of few species in the Cretacious who passionately loved her children, her eggs, and what they, encased in amniotic fluid, could be. I learned how to identify the allosaurus by the ridge over his eye, just like Jimmy’s, and the protruding spines of the stegosaurus. Rarely could I understand the dense blocks of text, but I remember turning the creased pages, my eyes poring over mysterious creatures in strange lands. By the faint lamplight in the heavy quiet of the house, my eyes burned with exhaustion as I read into the night. 

Now, in the early morning, I began to realize that I should have slept earlier. Though my eyes burned, I held my arms close and raced ahead of the gigantic creatures. Beneath the grey haze of the clouds, leaves drifted from oak trees in muted tones. Painted in red, yellow, orange, and brown, the leaves left splotches of color wherever they landed. They looked the same in my books, too. Behind me, tails swaying as they walked, Maisaura and Oviraptor glanced at the damp asphalt. For the rest of the day, both of them would be gone, though I could not imagine what they did for those long hours. Sometimes, I spent them reading some more; other times, I played with Jimmy or I went to school. These mornings were the only time we spent together, when the roaring, the scratching, and the snarling ceased for a while.

Ahead, a man was tugging on a steel chain, lifting a metallic curtain from his small booth. At this hour on a Sunday morning, I think he was the only other person we saw at St. James’. He stepped into the small enclosure and flipped switches placed inside. “Soft-Serve Ice Cream,” spelled in tungsten lights, glowed above his booth.  We saw him often on these morning adventures, the two dinosaurs and I.

I was tired, and complaining to the two beside me, the sweet texture of ice cream sounded appealing. Maisaura approached him, weary but dignified. He gazed at the dinosaur and cheerfully asked, “how may I help you?,” in a sing-songy voice that sounded as if he belonged inside the television shows I watched. 

Maiasaura grumbled, a deep, guttural groan. She turned to Oviraptor, whose eyes flared in discontent. He howled at Maiasaura, his teeth gnashing; his feathered plumage bright in the morning sun. The asphalt vibrated as Maisaura screeched. The man stood inside his booth, turning dials and peering out at us with his eyebrows furrowed. I didn’t often know what they clashed about, why they screeched and howled and yelped. They never touched each other, though. Oviraptor’s tail would beat against walls and his legs would scrape the ground, but never would he lay a claw on Maiasaura. Their words hurdled above my head, and I didn’t care to piece them together. Every night, as if a ritual, they roared at each other. Yet, they insisted on accompanying me on these Sunday ventures through St. James’ Park, where they would walk together, in silence burdened by thought and exhaustion. 

Oviraptor turned his head towards the gravel adjacent to the walkway. I giggled as he nuzzled my rain cap with his forelimb.

Maiasaura turned back to the man inside the booth. The man smiled and handed her a sugar cone underneath a swirled, airy cream. Maiasaura delicately reached for the cone and placed the ice cream in my palm. 

Would Jimmy like one? 

I didn’t think he could eat. His mouth was sewn shut, after all. Even I knew that.

Sometimes, the two just didn’t make sense. As I licked the swirled side of the cone, I glimpsed Oviraptor out of the corner of my eye. His rough scaling shifted colors slightly depending on how he felt. Ordinarily, I could decipher his body language with relative ease; as he became flustered or sentimental, his scales glowed a deep crimson. 

As he peered at the ice cream and back to Maiasaura and me, though, his head cocked to one side, though, I peered at him with a furrowed brow. I wasn’t sure whether it was my lack of sleep, but I was almost certain that his scales appeared more subdued. The colors cooled, from a vivid red to a richer, burned purple. He squinted at me through gold-specked eyes, but when I met his gaze, he mouthed a toothy grin. I wasn’t quite sure what I found in those eyes, whether it was peace, loneliness, or grief. For a second, the tear ducts flanking the sides of his eyes dilated before rapidly closing. I grinned at him, pretending I didn’t notice.

Maiasaura turned away from the ice cream shop and glanced at the clock ticking inside the small parlor. Her hindlimbs raked the grass behind her. She gestured at me while murmuring to Oviraptor, words flying above my head. I moved towards her, and she nuzzled me between her snout and wrapped her front limbs around me. She gazed once more at the clock and hurriedly left, trotting down an adjacent pathway toward the Business District. 

Oviraptor clutched me in his feathered arms until Maiasaura merged into the crowd of professionals just beginning to leave their homes. Now, with just the two of us, Oviraptor and I continued walking down the tree-lined pathway. He towered above me protectively as we crossed an empty street, my white sandals scraping against the road as I skipped.

As the sun became visible over the treeline, golden light glowed across an empty grass clearing before us. My eyes were still heavy, but the ice cream had given me an unexpected surge of energy. I glanced above my shoulder at the tall man walking beside me.

“Dad, can we play dinosaurs?”

As we stepped onto the moist grass, he sighed and looked toward me. 

“Sure, Luce. Let’s go!”

At school, I loved to play dinosaurs. I loved to spend hours in the library, reading about the different species: their diets, their shapes, their lives in a world so foreign and fantastic. I loved to jump around the playground, flying like a pterosaur or sprinting as fast as I could like an ornithomimus. When I played dinosaur, I became powerful. I felt free.

But everyone else made fun of me when I talked about dinosaurs. I heard whispers and flickers of rumor about me. When they saw me with my books, they began to laugh and point. When I explained to them how oviraptor had been misnamed–that, instead of being an egg-stealing dinosaur, it was actually fiercely protective of its young–they all snorted at me. “If you like dinosaurs so much, why don’t you go marry one?” some shouted. “Dinosaurs are for boys like us, not for girls like you,” others chirped. “It’s okay, sweetie. They’re all dead anyway,” the teachers chimed in.

Alone, with Dad at dawn, nobody else was here to mock us. His expression was weighty, burdened by deep thought. Still, though, his lips curled into a smirk as he exclaimed, “I’m the T-Rex and I’m coming to get you!”

I burst into laughter as I took off across the empty field. Birds fled into the air as I sprinted in loops across the grass, my pursuer close on my tail. His hands were curled and tucked toward his sweatshirt, his claws flickering as his boots thudded across the damp surface. I imagined his tail extended behind him, balancing the dinosaur’s gait as he trotted along the uneven surface. I pumped my arms faster; my legs began to burn. But I had to keep going. Right now, we were dinosaurs, and if I got caught, I would be eaten.

Behind me, the T-Rex was getting closer. In a desperate bid to stay alive, I dropped Jimmy on the grass; I could move faster with less weight, after all. Dad reached his arms wide, roared, and in one swooping motion, picked me up from the ground. Wrapping his arms around me, he spun me in circles above the ground. I was his dinner now, but I couldn’t help from chuckling as we twirled dizzily in the morning haze.

Puffing in exhaustion, Dad set me down and, laughing, stretched out in the middle of the field. I ran over to pick up Jimmy, his eyes crookedly stitched onto thin fabric. Dad called my name. “Lucy,” he shouted, “come over here.”

I found a dry patch next to him, and he placed a hand around my shoulder. I leaned into the soft fabric of his sweatshirt. His breathing was more ragged now, but steady. 

“Lucy, I wanted to tell you something now, so you aren’t scared,” His voice was quiet as he spoke.

“What’s happening, Dad?” The world grew quiet, damp and heavy like a wet towel.

“You know, your Mom and me, I…I don’t know what’s happening” “What do you mean, Dad” “I don’t think it’s working out, Luce. I just can’t deal with her anymore.”

No, no, no. A knot formed in my stomach. My hands shivered in fear.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to see each other as much, Luce.” His nostrils flared and his scales flushed in different hues. He bared his teeth as he spoke to me.

“I’m going to be living somewhere else, Luce. For all of us, I think it’s better that I move out.” His voice became coarser, more garbled, like when I couldn’t understand him or Maiasaura. I blinked, and his tail skimmed the surface of the grass behind him. 

A groan escaped Oviraptor’s throat. He kept murmuring, but the words flew over my head. His scales glowed a rich crimson. 

Later that night, Oviraptor and Maiasaura roared once again. As the house shook, I peeked around a corner to the kitchen, where our family portrait lay shattered underneath the kitchen island. When Oviraptor stomped towards the door, I sprinted up the staircase. With a wink of his eye and a somber smile at me, Oviraptor slammed the door shut behind him. That night, unlike the nights before, he left for a long time. He didn’t come back the next morning. 

“Plagued” — Sanjna Narayan ’20

Eleanor’s mother, Sibyl, was the first in all of Bristol to show any symptoms. Her return from the marketplace with her husband Isaac had been the beginning of the changes; within 3 days she was bedridden, and soon after she was on the verge of death. The family was too afraid to go near her. They had heard of the horror stories in Crimea – people screaming in the streets, in too much pain to even see clearly. Sibyl’s symptoms were comparable to those stories; she moaned with pain as the bumps rose all over her body, swelling to the size of the eggs that the chickens in the field would lay. Everard, Eleanor’s dear little brother, could not help crying as he watched those disgusting mounds of flesh continuously popping on Sibyl’s skin, leaking pus and blood until it seemed that she could not possibly have any fluid left in her body. 

“What is wrong with mother?!” Everard would shriek over and over again, tears streaming down his face, “What is wrong with her? What is wrong with her?” Isaac and Eleanor could never respond. They would simply wrap him in their arms while masking their own terror, praying to God that the crying would stop and the illness would go away. Eleanor could do nothing but stare at her mother while she died; she watched as Isaac swept his tears away while muttering a prayer for Sybil’s soul, running his fingers through her hair one last time.

Sybil’s bedroom had been quarantined after her death. The man with the bird mask who had appeared at the door a few days after had told Eleanor that they could not go near her mother’s corpse. 

“God is angry at Sybil,” he had said, “and if you go near her, God will be angry at you too.” Isaac, Eleanor, and Everard had not questioned this. They could not question the man who came to their house and spoke of the will of God. If He so commanded it, so it should be. The man’s black robe and black gloves and the tiny holes where his eyes bulged from his masked face frightened them. From his white mask protruded a long, beak-like structure that looked as though it had been sharpened. Looking at this man was like looking at the Devil himself. He looked like one of the creatures that would appear in Everard’s nighttime terrors. The man also told them about miasma, about how Eleanor’s mother was now surrounded by bad air, which the rest of the family would die from breathing in. The man stuffed his mask with rosemary and sage and bits of dried flowers. This, he said, would keep him safe from that bad air. Eleanor could only imagine the scents wafting together, the sweet herbs interspersed with the bits of rotting flesh and the mixture of blood, pus, and tears on the ground. She shuddered at the thought. The masked man took Sybil away.

Isaac was next. He began talking in his sleep, supposedly to Sybil, but this soon evolved into a fast-paced conversations with any inanimate object in the house. He would gaze at the supper table while recounting how his day had been; he would murmur Sybil’s name under his breath with his head stuffed into the bed-pillows. Everard brought him stew, the one he liked, made from the potatoes grown out back. Isaac, however, could not eat the meal without it coming back up in a matter of minutes. 

“My head hurts,” he told them, “and my body hurts and my heart hurts and just about everything hurts.” 

“Eat your stew, father,” they would always respond without fail, “you need to grow stronger. We need you to grow stronger.” The bumps that infected Sybil never appeared on Isaac’s skin, but his vomit soon turned red, leaving the dank, metallic stench of his blood all over the house floors. Knowing that God was angry at him too, he crawled to Sybil’s deathbed and awaited the same fate. He called for Everard and Eleanor one last time, but they could not approach: Everard was frightened of God’s punishment and Eleanor was too cautious of inhaling the miasma. Sybil’s name was on the verge of Isaac’s tongue as he took his last breath. The children watched in horror as Isaac’s chest stopped moving, and his eyes lost their shine. They huddled together on the other side of the house, Eleanor whispering under her breath that everything was going to be alright, everything was going to be just fine, as she held her brother in her arms. She knew that she was in charge now – that she was now responsible for the rest of her and her brother’s lives. Together they wept and wept until their eyes were dry and red, Everard praying for a miracle and Eleanor cursing her God for forcing such a cruel fate upon them. A masked man came by again, a different one this time, and told Everard and Eleanor that he could not take the body. There was too much sickness in the air – one body was not important enough to carry away. So Isaac was left to decompose in the thick wool sheets of the bed.

It was after Isaac’s death that Eleanor and Everard faced a new decision. Sitting Everard down at the supper table, Eleanor gave him their last bit of bread before she began talking.

“My dear brother,” she began, “our mother and father are gone-” 

“I know!” Everard responded, tears already welling in his eyes, “do you think that I don’t know?” 

“Listen to me,” she gazed into his dull blue eyes, “we are on our own. The air here is not safe. If we want to survive, we will have to leave Mother and Father behind. I need you to pack whatever items you will need. I will pack whatever food we have left – make sure that you have everything you need. We will never be coming back home. We can never come back home.” 

“But I don’t want to leave…”

“We must. I am so sorry, Everard. I am so sorry. Please know that we simply must.”

“All right,” he whispered, looking down, “I will be back soon.” Glancing back at Isaac, Everard packed his items, and holding hands, the siblings retreated out through the front door. 

Eleanor and Everard winced as the stones and rocks on the ground dug into their bare feet, walking towards what they hoped was a different fate. Eleanor had never been this hungry, exhausted, or hopeless in all fifteen years of her life. Life before the sickness seemed so far away. How pretty the sun had been, and the flowers on the street and the colors of the leaves. The people singing and dancing on the street had filled the world with melodies, surrounding her with an enchanting feeling of pure happiness.  They had been a normal family at that point, as normal as families can be. Sybil and Isaac cared for Eleanor and Everard, they bathed them and fed them and helped them with the games they would create out of sticks and mud and rocks. Nothing bad in the world could have touched Eleanor at that point – she had always been happy to help her mother prepare supper and hem her dresses while Everard learned to chop wood. They were a happy family who believed that God was smiling down on them.

The flowers were gone now, the leaves were all brown. Even the sun seemed to be less vivid than before. The dancing people were now twitching on the ground, the happiness and positivity draining out of the world along with their lives.  Eleanor wanted to find the necklace her mother had always worn, the one with the tiny cross on it that she had always adored, and snap it into tiny pieces. She wanted the church that they used to attend on the Lord’s Day to burn down in flames. She wanted to find this God and curse Him for what He had done. She had tentatively believed in the faith before, but now she swore herself against it. 

Everard grew paler and paler as the days went on. He was always the more emotional one – he could not deny giving a piece of his bread to the woman dying on the street or touching the hand of the man lying in his torn rags on the ground. Eleanor would always warn him about the bad air.

“If you get too close to those people,” she would say, “then you will join Mother and Father.”

“Mother and Father are in a better place,” he would scream back, “I don’t care if I get the disease!”

“Did you not hear what the masked man said?”

“I heard what he said. And I want it! I want the disease! Can’t you see that God gave Mother and Father the illness because He loves them? The masked man was wrong; He does not hate us. We are just going to join Him sooner than we thought. Let me get the disease. Then I can be with Mother and Father again.” Eleanor stood, dumbfounded, in front of her little brother. What was she supposed to say to that? Eleanor knew that his faith blinded him from reality. Inevitably, Everard went down the same road as Sybil and Isaac. The next weeks were torturous for Eleanor – shock filled every inch of her body as her little brother embraced the disease, embraced death. Finally, Everard got what he wanted. Eleanor took a minute to examine his body, little and sweet, with wisps of blond hair falling over his closed eyes before she turned away. Running away had been the wrong choice, she realized. She needed to go back home.

The door of the house creaked as she approached it; the vines on the walls made the handle almost impossible to find. She shuddered as she entered, the cold air creeping down her spine, chilling her down to the bone. She knew she had the illness. It could not have been avoided. She had taken every precaution to avoid the miasma: she had left Everard at the moment of his death, she had not gone near any of the infected, she had collected the few flowers still growing on the trodden grass-path and kept them near her nose. She had done everything she knew to do, but it hadn’t even mattered. Maybe God was mad at her, she thought. Maybe this was His punishment. 

The room was completely silent. Eleanor was completely alone. Holding her breath as she walked, the crackling of the pebbles under her feet was the only noise she could hear. The uncontrollable feeling of dread washed over her; the memories and pain returned to her in full force. This was the house where she had watched her dear younger brother come to life. This was the house where her father had put her on his lap while he sang to her. This was the house where her mother prepared daily supper – the savory aroma of potatoes making Eleanor’s mouth water. This room was where they always prepared their Sunday clothes, heading off to that vile church every morning. Eleanor grimaced at the thought now – how much time had they wasted in that ‘House of God’? That house of lies? Everything was different now, everything had changed. Eleanor knew that the moment she looked up from the floor she would be met with the sight she had been dreading since she decided to return.

Her father’s rotting corpse watching her from the sheets of the bed was her only company. His eyes seemed to follow her around the small house, one almost perfectly intact and the other in the middle of decaying, surrounded by flies and maggots and worms. Eleanor could not take it anymore. The eyes followed her, and the stench of decaying flesh and rotting vomit was driving her mad. Knowing that she was infected, she dragged the corpse outside, gently laying Isaac on the grass outside of their front door. Hesitating for a minute, Eleanor grabbed the spade standing by the wall and began to dig. The process was slow; she was not strong anymore. She dug quietly, the spade hitting the wet soil was the only sound she could hear. The digging continued, she dug and dug and dug until she could not take it anymore and then she set the spade down. Stepping back, Eleanor gazed into the chasm in the ground, dragging Isaac’s arm until he was lying somewhat naturally in it. Singing a quiet prayer, just for Isaac, she covered his grave with soil. 

The skin on her face felt dry, as if there was something growing on it. The bumps on her legs made her nauseous, so she had covered them as soon as they first appeared. She had done nothing but stare as her right arm slowly turned crisp and black over the weeks, from the tip of her middle finger to the middle of her forearm. She knew what was coming. Taking a shaky breath, she picked up the spade and began digging again, watching the world rise above her as she sank into the ground.

Works Consulted

Black Death.” Gale World History Online Collection, Gale, 2019. Gale In Context: World History. Accessed 25 Oct. 2019.

Davis, Dan. “Most Common Names in 13th Century England.” Dan Davis Author, 14 Mar. 2016. Accessed 27 Oct. 2019. 

Howard, Jenny. “Plague, Explained.” National Geographic, 20 Aug. 2019. Accessed 27 Oct. 2019. 

Murrell, Daniel. “The Plague.” Healthline. Accessed 31 Oct. 2019. 

Ray, C. Clairborne. “Can You Contract Plague from a Corpse?New York Times, 18 June 2012. Accessed 27 Oct. 2019. 

Travis, John. “Model Explains Bubonic Plague’s Persistence.Science News, vol. 158, no. 17, 2000, pp. 262–262. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Oct. 2019.

White, Frances. “Why Did Doctors during the Black Death Wear ‘Beak Masks’?History Answers, 2 June 2014. Accessed 31 Oct. 2019. 

“Safe Haven” — Isabella Cavagna ’19

Jenna woke up, her head pounding. She checked the alarm clock next to the bed, 4:45am. She looked over at the man in the bed. She could see his hand, the small indent and tan line on his left ring finger, and surprisingly enough, she felt guilty. She never felt guilty, but this time with Eddy was different. The feeling surrounded her, the pitch-black of the early morning only made her feel more trapped. She got up, escaping the overpowering emotions that pulled at her from that empty and cold bed. She wandered around the house blindly. Jenna eventually found her way downstairs and into the kitchen. She poured herself a glass of water and sat down on a stool. She thought over the events of the previous night.

She had been having a bad day until she met Eddy at a bar. He was tall and charming, and the indent on his left ring finger only meant one thing: he was exactly what she was looking for, married and unattainable. Her mom had given her yet another lecture about finding a job, or finishing college, or interning at the family business. Her mom had said, “You need some purpose in your life , Jennifer. You can’t keep floating about, wasting away your youth.” Her mom would be in town the next day and ordered Jenna to meet for lunch. She suspected her mom had a new boyfriend to introduce. Eddy had been a nice distraction from the sour mood her mom had put her in. He talked about himself a lot, his achievements and successes, his two beautiful children. “Separated,” he had said, “but not divorced…yet.” He added the “yet” in a way that Jenna just knew he was lying. She played the part of a pair of listening ears and was secretly thankful the conversation never ventured close to her personal life.

She got up, feeling her body buzzing, restless. As she walked back upstairs she looked at the family portraits in the hallway. She smiled slightly, as she looked at the family of four standing outside the beautiful family house. Two young girls stood in front of two smiling parents outside a gorgeous white home. Jenna could feel the sticky summer heat and hear Nancy giggle as their dad swung her around his shoulders. She could smell the fresh fruit her mom had cut up and placed into a bowl. She could taste the sweetness of the lemonade with too much sugar that Nancy had, without a doubt, poured in when no one was looking. Jenna shook her head suddenly, remembering where she was. Sometimes when she was least expecting it, memories like this would completely engulf her and make her long for better times. She continued upstairs, but still felt unready to go back to sleep. When she walked back into the bedroom she made a detour and stopped outside a tall brown door. Jenna pushed the door open slowly and immediately felt the plush carpet underneath her feet. The closet was perfectly organized from top to bottom—not a single thing was out of place. Organized closets always made Jenna feel satisfied.

Jenna could remember when she was younger her mom would sit her down on the vanity in her closet. She was always so busy, working long hours and flying away on business trips for months at a time, that Jenna would jump at a chance to spend time with her. She’d watch her mom try on different outfits and then stare in the mirror. Her mom would sometimes push the skin on her face upward in the giant floor length mirror, temporarily erasing the barely visible wrinkle lines on her face. Up to five outfits were put in the “no” pile, which was usually a clump on the floor that the nanny would wash and hang later. Once Nancy, Jenna’s younger sister, turned three, she too would come and watch the show. Both Nancy and Jenna would stare at their mom in awe as she got ready for the day. After Nancy died, the ritual soon ended. The business trips got longer and more frequent and the door to the closet would be locked in the morning. From the rows of various white shirts, to the vibrant rainbow of colors found in the scarves hanging on hooks, Jenna could still remember every detail about her mom’s closet.

This closet was organized so perfectly that Jenna couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. She sat on the floor and thought about what she would wear to meet her mom later that day. If she was too casual she’d never hear the end of how much of a “slob” she looked like, but if she dressed to try and impress her mom she’d get endless remarks of how inappropriate the outfit was and how dressing right is the key to making first impressions. She wanted to irk her mother as well as please her…an almost impossible task, but Jenna had many years of trial and error. She grabbed an expensive-looking white sweater that still had the tag on. She ripped it off and slipped the sweater on. She then rifled through a dresser drawer and pulled out a couple pairs of jeans. She tried each one on until she found a pair that looked well-worn. She slipped them on and felt satisfied as they fit perfectly. She carefully took the clothes off, folded them neatly, and placed them on a small chair. She walked back to the bed and pulled the covers back over her. She set her alarm for a few more hours.

Jenna woke up a second time, to the soft buzzing of her phone under her arm. She turned off the alarm and glanced over at Eddy, who was fast asleep. She sighed happily. There was no guilt this time. She had to get her day started though, so she got up, oriented herself with the room, and then found her way to the bathroom. She showered then brushed her teeth and hair. She rifled around through some drawers until she pulled out an excessive amount of make-up and began putting it on. Once she was finished she tucked it away neatly back into its original spot. She then headed for that closet, her safe-haven.

The familiar soft rug under her feet made her scrunch her toes in happiness and hug her towel closer to herself. She flicked on the lights and looked at the miniature room. She made her way over to the chair and slipped on the clothes she had set out earlier. It was almost as if they fit even better this time, hugging her body in all the right places. The outfit was perfect, casual but expensive. Her mom couldn’t say anything but she still wouldn’t like it.

Ever since that dull, humid day, that made her black dress stick to her skin, Jenna was perfectly aware of her clothing. She sat next to her mom, waiting as their distant relatives and friends stood up and, one-by-one, walked over to the casket in the ground and dropped some wildflowers inside. Nancy always loved wildflowers, picking them from the yard and street corners and making little bouquets for her friends. Jenna hadn’t noticed that she had begun crying until she felt the cool tears slide down her cheeks. They almost blessed her with a temporary relief from the humidity. Finally, it was their turn to pay their respects. As Jenna and her mother stood and walked through the aisle of strangers, Jenna glanced down at her father’s empty seat. She had understood, even then at 15, that her father’s chair would never be filled again. In five short months he had moved on with his life, maybe, eventually, starting a new family to replace this broken one. Jenna clutched her own handful of flowers and walked up to the enormous hole in the ground. She slowly dropped the flowers inside and turned away quickly as the tears began to rush down her face. She looked up toward her mom for comfort. Her mother was calm. Distant. She examined Jenna’s tear smudged face and sweaty appearance without sympathy. “Wipe your face now darling. Your makeup is running.” Jenna quickly wiped her tears away. “Also, next time please wear something better looking. I buy you all these nice things and you choose to wear this ratty dress you’ve had for three years. People will think I can’t dress my one remaining daughter.” Her mom held her head high and walked back to her seat. Jenna couldn’t hold it back anymore. She sobbed loudly and rushed away from the crowd and her mother, leaving her to sit between two empty seats.

Jenna walked downstairs and entered the kitchen. As she passed through the hallway she looked at the family photos again. This time she only felt sadness. This was just a reminder of a time that was. As she placed her purse over her shoulder and walked out of the house, she could hear Eddy stumbling around in his room, calling out her name. She quickly walked down the front walkway and over to her car. As she pulled out of the long driveway that led to Eddy’s house, she began to wonder what had happened to tear that family apart. Eddy’s daughters were so young, his wife was so beautiful, and Eddy was so happy in the portrait. She began driving away from another, but different broken home, but as she did so she saw a white convertible roll by on the opposite side in the road. Inside were the two girls from the photo, and the same woman, almost unrecognizable with the defeated expression on her face. In the back was a pile of suitcases, each looking filled to the last inch. Jenna slowed down as they passed each other. The two women made eye contact, as if looking into each other’s eyes was all it took to understand each other. Jenna could see her reflection in this woman, with her pain etched onto her face. Jenna nodded slightly and sped up, leaving that house forever. She promised herself that if she did ever have her own family, she would do everything in her power to keep them together, safe and happy.

“Ash and Soot” — Clay Patterson ’20

The ashes seemed to float on the wind of this cold February afternoon, creating a grey cloud that loomed ominously over Berlin’s residents.  Fritz could not discern the difference between the snow and the ash; it all looked the same to him.  Fritz Lubitsch stared at the ruins of the Reichstag pensively from the only window inside his cramped apartment. Arson had leveled the intricately carved stone which now crumbled and cracked like Fritz’s faith in his country.  He had no illusions as to what had caused the fire.  He, unlike many Germans, saw through the mirage of the Nazi party.  In the four weeks since Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor, Fritz resolved that he would leave Germany.  He had always seen the Nazis an incorruptible force of destruction, ready and willing to burn whatever they could.  Fritz proved this to himself when he read Hitler’s biography Mein Kampf; the Fuhrer wrote, or rambled rather, with no order or cohesion.  But this could be forgiven.  But Fritz could not forgive Hitler’s ignorance; the idea that Jews were somehow inferior to the “Aryan” was preposterous and Fritz would give it no heed. Though he was not himself Jewish, having never opened the Torah or stepped foot inside a temple, Fritz’s mother, whom he loved dearly, was. She was a sweet, kind woman with no superior or equal.          

Fritz stepped away from the small window, hoping to put these thoughts out of his head, as he packed his measly collection of clothes and notebooks into a ratty old briefcase.  His newest film had just premiered in France and Vienna, and he preferred to focus on his successes rather than Germany’s deterioration as he prepared to leave a country that fell to pieces all around him. Though Fritz always considered making more serious films he had always enjoyed comedies; ever since he was a little boy he always enjoyed taking a trip to the cinema especially if it was for a Charlie Chaplin picture.  Fritz was a man who preferred to laugh rather than think seriously about a problem.  

The smoky smell of ash wafted through the open window as Fritz emptied the contents of his joyless living space and hurriedly crammed his things into his bag.  As he leafed through a notebook full of diagrams for shots and script ideas for his next picture he felt a surge of unease, greater than what he had already felt for the past four weeks, roll over him and hold him tightly.  Then there was a knock on his door.  Fritz jumped to his feet and stepped cautiously toward the noise.  Again, a knock echoed throughout the thin wallpapered confines of the room.  Fritz reached cautiously towards the handle and grasped it in his palm, he could feel the vibrations moving through the wood, to the handle, and into his hand, rattling his bones.  

Fritz opened the door to find a tall blonde boy, no more than 17 or 18 years old, standing in his doorway.  Though he was young, his piercing blue eyes were cold and hardened by hatred. 

“Come with me,” the boy said.  So Fritz followed, not confident in his ability to evade the young Nazi in front of him.  Each click of the boy’s bootheel against the cobblestone pounded more terror into Fritz’s heart as he followed the young nazi to a black Wanderer waiting outside his apartment.  When the boy opened the car door for Fritz, Fritz saw what almost appeared to be a smile inch across the boy’s face.  For a moment the swirling ash didn’t seem as dense as it had and Fritz attempted to return the gesture. He met the boy’s gaze, but Fritz was only greeted with the boy’s unflinching blue eyes.  Fritz crammed himself in the back of the Wanderer and allowed his mind to drift in directions that he seldom permitted.  He began to imagine for the first time what these thugs might want with him.  He predicted that it had something to do with his newest film, which was hardly friendly to the Nazi sensibility.  It was a fictionalization of the Hitlerputsch, a satirical take on the whole affair, that pointed to Fritz’s opinion that Germany’s new Fuhrer was nothing more than a sociopath, more concerned with power than his nation’s well being.  Fritz had never been above poking the bear, so to speak, but never had he poked such a terrifying one.  A uniformed Nazi officer had approached Fritz’s door no more than two weeks prior and told him that his new film would likely be banned.  To which Fritz responded, “If you think you can ban a Fritz Lubitsch picture in Germany, go ahead and try.”  He felt pretty good about that up until now.

The black Wanderer approached the Ministry of Propaganda, a towering tan structure that preferred hard corners and rigid edges over soft rounded architecture.  Fritz let himself out of the car.  He trekked ahead towards two tall imposing gates that hid a man whom Fritz truly did not wish to see.  He was ushered into the building by two more Nazi soldiers,  who were taller and more intimidating than the last.  Fritz’s snow soaked shoes squealed on the immaculate marble floor as he quickly shambled down the hall.  His mind had stopped ambling and had begun to sprint, terrified by thoughts of what results this meeting may yield.  The two Nazis stopped Fritz outside a pair of doors that seemed bigger than all the rest, and told him to wait there patiently.  Twenty minutes later Fritz heard a voice call from within the chamber. 

“Come in!!!” the voice said.

Fritz opened the door gingerly, revealing a small man hidden behind a desk much too large for him.  Fritz found it supremely amusing that the “master race” consisted of such miniature individuals.  This dark haired man could be no taller than five foot four, in Fritz’s estimation.  As he walked closer, the face of Joseph Goebbels became clear and petrified him. Fritz now recognized that Goebbels, though threatening, was a silly looking man.  He was dark haired with a large forehead and eyebrows that rested too far down on his face.  His mouth seemed to fall in a perpetual frown and his nose was thin, long, and in Fritz’s eyes looked more like a phallus than a nose.  

“Please, Mr. Lubitsch, have a seat.  We have very urgent matters to discuss and not much time to discuss them,” Goebells said to Fritz.

Fritz took a seat and replied,  “Very pleased to finally meet you Minister.”

“Please, do away with the niceties Mr. Lubitsch. I see no point in upholding any formality as I expect we will be seeing each other quite often for quite some time.”

This puzzled Fritz; he had not expected Goebbels to be such a seemingly friendly man.  “May I ask why you’ve called upon me today…”, Fritz did not know how the Minister wanted to be addressed.

“Joseph,” Goebels interjected.  

“Joseph?” Fritz said, finishing his question.

“Well, as I’m sure you know, we here at the ministry of propaganda have banned your newest film, Party in the Beer Hall.  Though I’m sure you understand why we were forced to make such a decision, I thought it may be best to explain myself.”

Fritz’s mind raced frenetically, sure there could be some greater purpose to this meeting beyond his being reprimanded.  Fritz’s eyes darted around the room; every flag, banner and armband made certain Fritz knew that he was unwelcome here.  Fritz looked to Goebbels, hoping to grasp any clue as to how Goebels felt or what he wanted.  But Goebbels had the eyes of a gambler; they were black and did not betray an ounce of his emotions or intentions.

“Your film, Mr. Lubitsch, was undeniably quite funny, but it was simultaneously quite inflammatory.  It is our sincere desire that the people remain un-inflamed, and so we have made it our duty to see this desire through.”

Fritz began to fidget with his hands as his knee began to jerk up and down beneath the desk.  His heart rate doubled, pounding against his chest like a battering ram against a castle’s walls.  “It is a noble desire, keeping the people under control.  I’m not sure it is realistic, but I understand that is the duty of the powerful.”

“Do not insult me!” Goebbels snapped, nearly jumping out of his chair.  His eyes shifted and he breathed deeply. Once he had settled into a calmer tone, he spoke again.  “Mr. Lubitsch, we are aware of your sentiments.  We know you are a communist and have a staunch distrust of us and our politics.  But that is no matter.  Your film will remain banned, Mr. Lubitsch.”

Fritz interjected, unwilling to roll over so easily.  “Joseph, please pardon my forwardness but I think you may have misread the film.  It is certainly a vague film, and I apologize for any confusion.  I wanted to present the Nazi’s as a new, lighthearted, government, that will bring happiness and joy back to the German people.”

Goebbels’s brow furrowed and his eyes darkened.  “Mr. Lubistch, your film made a mockery of the Nazi party and Hitler will not stand for such blatant disrespect.”  Fritz resolved to stop speaking until Goebbels was finished.  He had clearly upset the Minister very deeply and did not wish to put himself in any more danger than he was already in.  “As disrespectful as it was, and it was disrespectful; your film was undeniably well made”.  Fritz sensed a shift in Goebbel’s tone and he did not like it.  “I have a proposition Mr. Lubitsch”.  Here it was; this was why Goebbels had wanted to see Fritz.  “Your film never existed; every copy of film that it has been printed on will be burned and you will never speak of it for as long as you live.  In exchange for your cooperation in our redaction efforts, I am prepared to offer you the opportunity to make a new film.  A German film.  A film that will demonstrate the might and majesty of the German Reich.”  Fritz’s unease was intensified ten-fold by the words Goebbels said next. “Now there is one slight issue with my proposition.  Your mother, she is a Jew, is she not?”

Fritz froze.  His heart stopped beating.  He was humiliated.  Goebbells knew his deepest most dangerous secret. Fritz had suffered countless indignities because of that secret and expected he would suffer many more now that Goebbels knew.  Fritz remembered when in grade school a group of boys had tormented him because he was smaller and weaker than they were. On a particularly chilly December afternoon, the boys caught Fritz on his walk home from school and pulled down his trousers.  He remembered how he shriveled in the cold, and the boys laughed until they noticed that he had been circumcised.  The strongest of the three boys slammed a meaty fist into Fritz’s cheek, faster than he was able to cover himself.  He laid in the cold, half naked, spitting out a single tooth followed by what seemed like a gallon of blood.  “Stay where you are, Juden,” the boy snarled at him.

This felt worse than that.  Fritz stared back at Goebbels unable to answer him.  “True or not, I suppose it is no matter” Goebbels said, saving Fritz from admitting the truth. “We decide who is Jewish” Goebbels added, laughing cheerily.  Fritz laughed along with him, not because he found any amusement in the comment, but because it seemed like the polite reaction.  Fritz had never been one to abide by politeness but he enjoyed laughing.  Goebbel’s laugh was a warm and inviting thing, and Fritz attached himself to it because laughter was the only familiar thing he could find as he sat in this pristine, high-ceilinged office.  It was as grand as a cathedral and as intimidating as a castle.  “So Mr. Lubitsch, have we  come to an arrangement?” Goebbels asked, the laughter ending instantly.  

“This is quite a bit to take in, Joseph,” Fritz stuttered.

“Take your time.  It is certainly a tricky thing I ask.  But before you answer, consider for a moment, how much,” he paused menacingly for a moment, his eyes narrowing and his face hardening into a grimace “discomfort this arrangement will spare both our parties.”

Goebbels had not said it outright, but Fritz had seen enough films to know that this was a threat.  Fritz was not a man who was accustomed to threats, so he did not endure the weight of them particularly well.  Goebbels on the other hand, Fritz could tell, was very adept at threatening his enemies, and by the depraved look of him fully willing to deliver on his promises.  “I think this would indeed be advantageous to us both,” Fritz said. “I accept your proposition”.  

“WUNDERBAR!!!” said Goebbels letting out a shriek offensive to Fritz’s ears.  “I shall let the Fuhrer know at once, and we shall begin filming your next picture whenever you are ready.  Of course you must allow me to see the script before shooting, but these are details for another time and place.  For right now, allow me to congratulate you and recognize your wise decision.  How do you like your whiskey, Mr. Lubitsch?” Goebbels said pulling out a lavish crystal container and swirling the golden brown liquid within.

“Neat” Fritz muttered, barely audible.  He needed a drink to numb his brain, and he was sure Goebbels’ whiskey was the best available in Germany.  Goebbels fixed the drink, toasted Fritz’s newest achievement, and drank.  Goebbels’ whiskey was gone within seconds as Fritz gingerly sipped his.  The drink was vile; Fritz would rather have drank piss he told himself, yet he drank the whiskey anyways.  Fritz left the Ministers office after shaking hands and telling him that he looked forward to the relationship going forward.  Fritz stepped outside the intimidating gates of the Ministry and back onto the streets of Berlin, but something had changed since he had arrived.  The ash was denser and darker.  Thick black soot interfused with the air blocked his throat and choked his lungs.  Fritz couldn’t breathe properly again until the party was destroyed and some semblance of calm returned to his life.  Grief still plagued him, but the soot and ash dissipated from Berlin’s streets.  He escaped any serious legal repercussions, but he had breathed in more ash and soot than he cared to admit to anyone, including himself.                                                   

Works Consulted:

Boissoneault, Lorraine. “The True Story of the Reichstag Fire and the Nazi Rise to Power.Smithsonian, 21 Feb. 2017. Accessed 12 Nov. 2019.

McGilligan, Patrick. “Fritz Lang the Nature of the Beast.” Washington Post, 1997. Accessed 12 Nov. 2019.

The Rise of Hitler: Hitler’s Book Mein Kampf.The History Place. Accessed 12 Nov. 2019.

Werner, Gösta. “Fritz Lang and Goebbels: Myth and Facts.” Film Quarterly. Accessed 12 Nov. 2019.

“The Intervention” (Excerpt) — Ariel Rockman ’19

(Lights up on a room with chairs set up in a circle, like an intervention. There is an empty seat next to CLAIRE for HARRY. JILL, CLAIRE, and PAUL all sit in the circle. HARRY enters, confused).

HARRY: What’s this? (pause) Dad, why are you here?

JILL: (sternly) You should sit down.

HARRY: I haven’t done anything wrong, have I?

(PAUL angrily kicks at a chair leg)

PAUL: Just sit down!

HARRY: Not until I know what’s going on.

CLAIRE: (eyes moist) You should’ve told me! I could’ve helped…

HARRY: I-I–

PAUL: (almost yelling) Do you have any idea how upset your Mother is? She’s at home, crying. She’s been crying ever since we found out.

HARRY: How did you find out?

JILL: I told them. I know it breaks protocol, but we’re all concerned. The dean knows as well. She will be speaking to you after this.

HARRY: (quietly) I never wanted this to happen…I tried so hard to stop, but…I just didn’t want anyone to find out.

PAUL: How were you planning to do that? Huh? Lie to us whenever we talked to you on the phone, when you came home for Thanksgiving? Were you planning to lie to us at Christmas?

HARRY: I…it’s been going on for years.

PAUL: Years?!

HARRY: At first it was only for fun, but then…then it became something I needed everyday. I don’t think I can live without it.

(CLAIRE walks up to HARRY and gently takes his arm).

CLAIRE: (gently) This will all be better soon. We all care about you and we’re gonna support you through this.

HARRY: I don’t need your help.

PAUL: No. We’re going to fix this.

JILL: The dean is being very supportive, Harry. She says to take all the time you need.

CLAIRE: Don’t you know you’re not supposed to try these things?

HARRY: I tried to stop at first. I tried so hard. But you don’t understand how much it hurts if I go even one day without it.

PAUL: You’re gonna start––

HARRY: And I don’t want to stop…it makes me feel so good.

CLAIRE: You have to stop. For all of us.

JILL: If you want to graduate, you have to make a change.

HARRY: But I need it!

JILL: You can’t continue doing this. Not if you want to stay at this university.

(HARRY looks at JILL and glares)

HARRY: This is my decision! It’s my life!

(PAUL kicks the leg of a chair again. CLAIRE tries to pull HARRY towards the circle).

CLAIRE: Please sit down.

(HARRY reluctantly lets CLAIRE lead him to the empty seat next to her).

JILL: (placatingly) This isn’t going to be easy––

HARRY: No! I don’t want to do this. Leave me alone!

(PAUL stands up with a stomp and strides over to HARRY, pointing his finger at HARRY’s face).

PAUL: You need to explain yourself right now!

HARRY: I…I––

PAUL: NOW!

HARRY: (quiet, but determined) I want to be a poet.

(CLAIRE visibly gasps in horror. PAUL stumbles back into his chair and puts his head in his hands).

HARRY: (his voice getting stronger) I want to write sonnets. (CLAIRE gasps) And love poems. (CLAIRE muffles a scream) And haikus. (CLAIRE doubles over in her chair as if in pain)

(CLAIRE stands up in horror)

CLAIRE: What happened? Are you being blackmailed into doing this? Whoever is making you do this…we’ll…we’ll go to the police and––

HARRY: (trying to justify) Whenever I start writing, I just can’t stop. The words run around in my head, and it’s all I can think about. The first time I wrote a poem it was like I found this inner voice inside myself…and I felt fulfilled.

PAUL: (to himself, anguished) Oh what did I do wrong? Is this because I never gave you the puppy you wanted?

HARRY: Have you ever heard a sonnet? The iambic pentameter sounds like a beating heart and as you listen to it the blood pumps in your veins faster and faster faster and you feel like flying!

PAUL: (angry, waving his fist in the air) I did not save for 18 years so you could write poetry.

CLAIRE: (wailing in agony) What’s wrong with you?! No one in their right mind would want to be a poet.

PAUL: You’ll study poetry over my dead body!

HARRY: (nervously) I also want to study moral philosophy.

(CLAIRE moans in despair and anguish).

JILL: Now just to be clear, Harry, yesterday you refused to declare a major and demanded that you be allowed to study…these things.

(HARRY nods bodly).

PAUL: You refused to declare?! I didn’t realize you actually refused!! What kind of deadbeat––

CLAIRE: You can’t STUDY that! What happened to being an engineer??

(CLAIRE leans over to feel HARRY’s forehead).

CLAIRE: You don’t feel warm…I always thought you were joking about wanting to be a poet. All those times I caught you writing, I thought you were just trying to impress me.

HARRY: I need it. If I stop writing…my hands get shaky and my head hurts and I feel like throwing up.

PAUL: (sputtering) I will not tolerate this immature, whimsical, irresponsible––

CLAIRE: (almost hysterical) You need to see a doctor! Normal people don’t do this.

JILL: We’re all very concerned. (pause) You can’t just create your own major. Poetry is not an academic option at this school.

PAUL: If you think I’m gonna let you ruin your life––

HARRY: It wouldn’t ruin my life––

PAUL: You’re gonna be some burnout on the streets…no house, no savings….ruined!

(CLAIRE sinks from her chair to her knees and reaches her arms above her head, like cursing to a God).

CLAIRE: Why would you want to study poetry? And philosophy?

HARRY (defensively): Where would the world be without Shakespeare? Without Socrates or Aristotle? What about John Locke, huh? You’re all in favor of democracy, aren’t you? Who do you think inspired our founding fathers?

PAUL: Shakespeare was a raving lunatic. And he had absolutely no influence on my life other than turning my son into a deadbeat!

(BEAT)

HARRY: (to Claire) Don’t you like the poems I write you?

CLAIRE: Yes, of course, but…you can’t do that for a living!

HARRY: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” That’s Shakespeare. What about the sonnet Romeo and Juliet speak together when they first meet? How else would you depict true love?

(CLAIRE collapses on the floor and moans loudly in despair. HARRY gets up and helps her get back to her chair. HARRY sits down and crosses his arms).

HARRY: (angrily) Thou art more lovely but less temperate. (beat) Think of the news! Where would we be without journalism or publications or books or––

JILL: In terms of career options, Harry, yours will be very limited––

PAUL: (to himself) More like nonexistent.

JILL: And you will regret making this decision. Previous humanities majors had a very hard time finding employment. Some of them had to go to community college and get a two-year degree in something practical before anyone hired them.

HARRY: (quietly, determined) I can get a job.

(HARRY stands up and walks out of the circle). HARRY: (vowing, full of confidence) I will get a job! The world needs philosophers and poets.

JILL: Not anymore.

PAUL: This is ridiculous. Harry, you’re becoming an engineer. That’s what you always planned to do. Now, I’m not leaving until you get some sense into your head.

HARRY: (very upset) Before math and science, and even law and order, there was writing. Look on ancient cave walls and see the pictures that were intended to convey meaning. There was writing before physical writing! For thousands of years, we have told each other stories to explain the world and express our humanity. How can you say that’s all worthless? Don’t stand there and tell me there is no beauty or use in poetry. We’d be lost without it!

PAUL: (greater force than HARRY) Stop being so damn dramatic!

(Everyone pauses. Eventually, CLAIRE composes herself and looks at HARRY accusingly).

CLAIRE: (stiffly) Anthony is a computer science major.

HARRY: (surprised) Who’s Anthony?

CLAIRE: I like him. He has his life together.

(CLAIRE stands and stomps over to HARRY. She is very close).

CLAIRE: And until this morning, I thought you had your life together too!

HARRY: I do have my life together. I know exactly who I am and what I want to do.

CLAIRE: (Like this is the worst thing in the world) You’ll be a joke.

(CLAIRE takes HARRY’s hands in hers. She goes down on her knees and looks up at him pleadingly).

CLAIRE: Please don’t do this. For me.

HARRY: (Like a man going off to war) I have to. Someone has to. If no one went into writing, our society would be lost.

(CLAIRE flings his hands away and collapses on the ground. Her eyes are teary).

CLAIRE: You told me you were gonna be an engineer.

HARRY: I LIED!

(CLAIRE puts her forehead to the floor and moans loudly, like she is grieving at the foot of someone’s grave).

CLAIRE: You said you had everything planned out. Don’t you remember how hard we worked to make sure we went to the same college? And all this time…

HARRY: Nothing’s changed.

(CLAIRE gets up and turns away. She can’t bear to look at HARRY. It is too painful).

CLAIRE: Everything’s changed. (sadly) All this time you were planning to do something like this and you never told me.

HARRY: I did. You just didn’t take me seriously.

(CLAIRE stomps towards HARRY suddenly and puts her face close to his menacingly).

CLAIRE: I took you as seriously as anyone would! No one in their right mind would do what you’re doing. And you won’t change, not even for me.

HARRY: (cowering) I’m sorry…

(CLAIRE holds onto HARRY’S shoulders for dear life).

CLAIRE: No, you’re not.

(JILL stands and has to physically tear CLAIRE away from HARRY. CLAIRE resists and there is a struggle until CLAIRE is ripped away and thrown into the middle of the circle. JILL stands between CLAIRE and HARRY and puts her arms out like a wall between them).

JILL: Now is not the time for––

(CLAIRE runs towards HARRY and shoves JILL out of her way and tries to cling to HARRY again. JILL restrains her with difficulty. PAUL can’t bear to look and turns his head away in shame).

CLAIRE: (wailing, screaming) I won’t give up! (to HARRY). Can’t you try? For all of us?

HARRY: I have to do this.

CLAIRE: You’re so selfish!

HARRY: Think about what a world without writing would look like!

CLAIRE: Don’t talk to me! (Beat). I can’t…I just…can’t.

(CLAIRE walks towards the door and says without turning around, mostly to herself).

CLAIRE: You’ve ruined everything!

(CLAIRE turns her head to the ceiling like wailing to a vengeful God).

CLAIRE: (emotional, wailing) Everything!

(CLAIRE exits. HARRY stands shocked. End Excerpt).