Category Archives: 2020-2021

“Atlantic” – Caroline Green ’21

“Huuuugo Barringtonnnn!” The syllables were drawn out, like a tired train moaning its way into the station. “What are you doing standing outside o’ my office like this?” 

Ross was practically yelling as he walked towards where I was standing, in front of his office, performing as if there was an audience or a laugh track waiting for him. My feet, my fingers, my stomach were cursing me, but the conviction in my conscience said that I was certain, that I should press on. 

It was a Thursday in late spring around 24 years ago and I decided that I had had enough. I was hardly 30 – he would surely think I was crazy. He would probably not even believe me, and if he did, that might scare me even more. But I had woken up that morning as sure as I ever would be, so I marched, or rather rode the subway, downtown defiantly and found myself waiting outside my boss’s office before the clock had even struck eight. 

The frosted glass doors stared at me coldly, only letting through deceptive outlines of color that made my stomach tense. My feet could not control themselves, stepping forward and backward and raising up and shifting down. My hands, turning pale, were fidgety, and they were never fidgety. My brain was the only part of me that seemed unaware of what I was about to do, and so I continued on. 

“How are you, Ross? How are you doing?” I stuttered. Maybe I wouldn’t be going through with this. https://internexus.edu/published/chapter-18-huckleberry-finn-analysis-essay/51/ famous speeches text argumentative essay ideas for 2014 spend your holiday essay best assignment writing service in uk leading healthy lifestyle essay click https://zacharyelementary.org/presentation/thesis-sentence-in-paragraph/30/ https://www.nationalautismcenter.org/letter/website-for-essays/26/ https://journeysmobilevet.com/edimprove/low-dose-accutane-initial-breakout/26/ circuit breakers and fuses comparison essay http://kanack.org/statement/sea-creatures-essay/26/ thesis sa wika cialis vasculitis a level biology coursework edexcel personal self assessment essay tapeworm pills viagra acelera o cora ao https://scottsdaleartschool.org/checker/argumentative-essay-cell-phones-in-school/33/ sample medical research paper creative writing june holiday enter essays on negotiation skills zen cart viagra hacked buy an essays go to site buy cialis canada pharmacy go cover letter sample harvard law school follow link school in the future essay all roads lead to rome essay You can go away after this, a voice in mind said out of the blue. Away! God, I would like to go away – kiss my 32nd floor apartment in the highrise uptown goodbye and skip town until the money ran out. 

Ross’s stare still hovered on me as he unlocked his office and stepped inside. 

“I actually have something I need to talk to you about,” I blurted out. He gestured to one of the chairs in front of his cruise ship of a desk, and I sat down. 

“What could possibly be on your mind, Barrington?” he responded, his eyes squinting cautiously. 

And from there I launched into the spiel I had rehearsed on the subway, expressing with just enough detail and just enough emotion how I would be quitting – immediately. How I could no longer take being a man of business, and I needed a life change, but primarily how I was just “looking for something new in my life” – the line I had heard in all the movies. No more would I wake up at dawn to respond to lengthy emails, make deals with greedy advertisers, watch the numbers go increasingly and increasingly downward. Journalism was dead. But this job had died long ago for me.

I thought his eyes might burst out of his head. My own head was beginning to rhythmically throb. I glanced out the window onto 5th avenue, wishing I could already be in one of those taxis, off to another world.

“Well I’ll be damned,” Ross said matter-of-factly, picking up a folder with his right hand and sending a call to hold with the other, “I did not expect this one.” I laughed nervously, like a massive boulder had just lifted off my back, but the boulder could come crashing down any moment.

I would have to find somewhere to go, but I could be out of the city by mid-morning. Maybe I’d just get on the commuter rail and take it to the end of the line. Anywhere but here.

“Close the door on the way out, would ya?” Ross added as if we were the best of friends, but I knew what that meant. We all did. I had decided in an instant that I was off to a new adventure, a new place where the pressure that had been building since I came to America couldn’t rule over me, and of course my head was still throbbing.

I galloped out of the office building, wishing I could throw my hands up in the air and scream. A man walking by looked at me oddly, like my father looked at me often back home. “You’ve got to get your life together!” he would scold in his tired voice, “Or else the future will just pass you by, young man!” I had always rolled my eyes and sprinted out the back door. 

I found myself standing in front of Grand Central an hour and thirteen minutes later with a wallet full of cash and a briefcase stuffed haphazardly with clothes. My hands fumbled with my belongings as I passed through the revolving doors into a mass of people, many of them staring at the ceiling, letting their eyes float up and away until they were so lost they nearly collapsed. I remembered the novelty and joy of walking into that atrium for the first time. There was nothing like it.

To the beat of “Attention: Doors Closing”s and exasperated footsteps racing across the monument of a building, I stepped on a train headed for the tip of Long Island and let myself fall into a dream. My mother, my father, my siblings and childhood friends – they all danced around my mind as I slouched into a felt-y train seat. I was drunk on the toxicity of opportunity and chance, and all I wanted was the ocean and the familiar calls of birds.

Shit! How the hell did I forget a toothbrush?! My mind jerked awake. “Excuse me, sir, what stop is next?” I asked the man across the aisle, sitting up in my seat. 

“Montauk, mister,” he and his beard responded. “End of the line in four minutes.” 

I looked around the train to find it mostly deserted. I really was on my way to the end of the line, the end of the world. 

There was a time when I was merely 16, across the Atlantic and deep within an entirely different life, when I reached the end of the world. It was a crisp night, not too unlike this day on Long Island, and the tides were going to be the lowest they had been all year. I woke up in the pre-morning dark, grabbed a thermos of tea, and trekked down to the rocky beach under the stars. The waves were like ink in the starlight and the smell of saltwater filled my nostrils and dried my pale skin, almost shining in the moonlight. I walked on the jagged rocks as far as nature would let me, listening to the waves crash in what was otherwise a silent world. I moved as one with the water and the night sky, and I felt for a second that I was the only person on earth, the only one to exist in the world at this moment. But then I turned to my right, for no apparent reason, and she was there. She was a jumble of shadows and faint light, but she was there nonetheless.

The train coasted to a stop in an ugly and outdated station marked with artificially-silver letters that spelled “Montauk.” I sighed. What was I doing here? Before I could even let myself think about that, a conductor marched down the aisle, signaling for the passengers to exit, and with that I began my stay on the peninsula in the Atlantic.

My first stops were the town drug store, for a toothbrush and a bottle of Coke, and the bed and breakfast I had seen advertised on a poster at the train station. I happily dumped my few belongings in my room that was complete with a four-poster bed and faded florals on every surface imaginable, and I set off without any idea of where I was going or what I would do. But I knew I wanted, needed rather, to see the water. In a tired daze, I walked aimlessly onto the street, searching for the most direct way to the Atlantic.

I knew it was her before she even took a breath; my 16 year old senses were not so adept at remembering to do my chores, but they knew June forwards and backwards. They knew her walk, her whispery voice, her love of the ocean and the wild. And so I never had any doubt that it was her standing 200 meters away, blending into the trees at the edge of the beach.

My senses for the water had not completely deserted me in Montauk, and I soon was standing on a quiet and unpaved street, staring wide-eyed through a gap between houses at the navy blue of the ocean. The water was rough that day; I could see whitecaps peeking out through the waves as far as my eye would go, but sailboats still dotted the horizon. I walked between the houses, not caring if someone chastised me, and saw a small, dilapidated wooden dock floating precariously on the water’s edge.

“Hey – what are you doing here?” a voice shouted from somewhere I couldn’t place. I spun around looking for it, but all I saw was the alleyway between the houses and onto the street. Was someone shouting through a window? I turned back towards the water, considering just making a run for it, and I saw a woman, perched on a tiny fishing boat, staring at me. 

“Sorry – am I not allowed to be here?” What a terrible liar I was.

“I scared you good!” she laughed, “No, I was just messing with you. This ocean is public, as far as I know.” A smile flashed across her face, and what a smile that was! “You’re new in town, huh?”

“Yeah,” I smiled back, “Not exactly from here.” 

But, deep in the depths of my soul, past all of the expectations and pressures and blinding lights, I knew this was the only place I’d ever been from. I wasn’t from the city. Never had been from that hell of a place. Before the scholarship, my parent’s succinct words, the plane rides, and the years of pretending and faking my way through life all for the pile of money I didn’t even want, I was from somewhere not unlike where my feet stood now. The ocean, the trees, the unpaved dirt roads through a place the rest of the world deemed mostly irrelevant were familiar. I was not from New York, not from my job at the paper, not from the uniform sidewalks and grids and subway schedules. Hardly from anywhere, anymore, but maybe here.

“You okay?” her voice brought me back to reality, “You kinda look like you’re about to faint.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine.”

“Hey, you should come down here! You look like a guy who’d enjoy a good, strong boat.” 

I almost chuckled. I couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or not; what she was so grandly gesturing towards was far from grand: a premature infant of a boat probably about four feet across and seven feet long. Its white paint was chipped, and its blue rim was clearly worn down. Nothing like the boats back home. But I smiled anyway. She had an aura about her that commanded my presence, captured the wonder in my heart and pulled it from my chest. 

We sat in the boat, anchored to the little dock, facing each other. I could see her freckles now, how they dotted her face in constellations and stories, like she knew the entire world inside and out. Constellations like the sky that night so long ago…

“Dude! You’re doing it again!” she laughed, brushing her salty hair back from her face. I just looked at her. How the hell did I end up here? In a boat with a beautiful stranger at the tip of Long Island like this?

“I’m Hugo,” a voice, which turned out to be mine, responded. A hand, also mine, reached out to shake hers. 

“Nice to meet you, Hugo,” she shook my hand casually, “I’m May.” 

“Pretty name…”

“Sometimes I like to think so. Wanna go for a ride?” She tossed me a wooden paddle from the dock and started to untie the rope holding us in place. 

“You don’t find it a little weird to be inviting a stranger onto your boat like this?”

“Oh, it’s not my boat. And, should I?” She was back at it, laughing again, her eyes like lightning on a cool summer night at the campground. Back when everything was simpler. When I didn’t even have to care about the money in my bank account, my title at work, the investments I could make. We’d go camping every summer weekend, June and our friends and I, watch the summer storms in awe. Mother Nature at our fingertips, practically reaching out to us. 

“Okay, okay,” I was holding us to the dock myself now, “I’m going to need some more info before I get in a stolen boat with a stranger.” But I could barely finish the sentence. The corners of my lips were no longer my own; they were hers and hers only, and it was her wish that I smile. For a second I didn’t even care that I had quit my job, run away to Long Island, found a random girl and a tiny boat, and was about to drift off into the open ocean with only her and two paddles. I didn’t care. 

And so I looked her in the eyes and pushed us away from the dock with my own bare hands. She looked at me with a twinge of disbelief, but only for a moment. We both grabbed our paddles and began to row along the shoreline.

“So, May, what do you do for a living?” I asked, letting some of my usually-responsible, slightly uptight self shine through, searching for any information to assure myself that I wasn’t stuck in a drifting boat with a murderer.

“God! Why is it always that question? Why not, like, how far do you think the universe actually goes? Or do you think the dirt can hear us?” 

I blinked my eyes, dramatically slow. No one had ever said anything like that to me before – save for one massive exception: another girl with a love for the ocean and a name for a beautiful month.

“Hey – seriously – why do you keep blanking out like that?” 

This time my lips didn’t even answer. We just kept paddling.

I used to go years without remembering that night at the water under the stars. But then I stopped calling my parents, let the disaster of my job rule over me, found it impossible to fall asleep and even harder to wake up. And June and the constellations were my only refuge, my only direction. So, I guess I quit my job and got on a train. For her. Dear lord – I quit my job and got on a train!

“I need to go,” I panted, “Like now.” I looked around frantically, trying to see how far we’d gone.

“What’s wrong? We were just getting started!” But she was looking around too, attempting to turn the boat back towards the dock.

And it all came back to me, all at once, like a million white birds swarming my face and body until I hardly could tell I was even alive. I was standing on the rocks, breathing in the voices of the ocean and each of its crashing waves. She was by the trees, concealed by a veil of benign darkness. The universe, fate was our protector. Until it wasn’t. She joined me on the rocks. She, too, of course, had seen me on the beach, known with complete conviction that I would be there. We relished the darkness. We were safe in the dark, safe in the unknown and the freedom of its secrets. Nothing seemed to matter in the night; we could be more than friends, but still be the rambunctious teenagers the town knew well. There were no strings attached when the only light came from the moon and stars. But the sun does rise. And fate no longer was with me. In fear I bolted, letting tears stream down my face as I ran through the wooded path away from the beach, and I kept running.

She was everything I had ever wanted: a life of happiness and freedom and forever living without even a thought of the ominous future. We were just the right amount of irresponsible together, something our parents despised and we relished and loved more than life itself. But I was chasing the impossible with June; I was chasing my own self letting go of my parents’ dreams, running off as if nothing in the artificial world could possibly matter, as if I was the only one on earth. Each and every time the chance came, I flung myself overboard. I couldn’t do it, so I trudged acquiescently across the ocean and never looked back.

A hand was on my wrist.

“Hugo? Hugo Barrington?” My eyes slowly focused on a sterile, beigey hospital room. A short man in a lab coat pulled his hand away from my arm and instead reached for a plastic clipboard and a pen.

“Where am I?” I mumbled.

He pointed to a painting on the wall where each letter was depicted as an animal. “Can you read that?” 

I read the words “St. Mary’s Montauk,” and he made some marks on his clipboard. 

“You should be good to go,” he tucked the pen into his coat methodically, “You fainted. Dehydration.” 

I nodded my head.

“Oh, but you might want to wait a bit. Someone called and said they needed to see you. They were on their way.” He left the room before I could ask any questions. 

June. Like a fantastical flashing across my mind. My better self would have stayed in that hospital room. Would have waited for her, embraced her in my open arms. Would have admitted my own stupidity, my own fear. 

I stood up, watched the world spin, grabbed my wallet, and got on the first train out of town. 

“Flower in the Sun” – Anonymous

I was going a steady seventy-five miles per hour on a long, winding interstate highway and the sight of it just about made me hit the brakes.

The sign itself was nothing special – the usual “Ohio welcomes you!” and the image a field of flowers too colorful to live within the state’s borders- and that made it all the more offensive to come upon. The sign hadn’t changed since I packed my bags and drove off to New York City, but then again nothing ever really changes in Ohio. 

The moment I was past that sign, the road was straight and dotted with fewer than ten cars for the next eternity. The sameness was suffocating to meit had always beenbut to some it was comforting. My mother liked that. She felt at home in a world where every day would start and end in the same way the day before had and any changes were completely within her control. She was steady like that.

Driving had never been easy for me. The stress of it used to make me so tense that my shoulders would hurt for hours after even the shortest road trip, but right then I was on autopilot. I was experiencing that disconnected relaxed feeling of my conscience hovering just over my body. That was how my entire life felt, in retrospect. 

When I was thirteen, my father and I moved into our girlfriend’s apartment. I remember the exact day because of the rain. Dad had been cursing and swerving as water cascaded down the windshield and I had been floating in the space between reality and daydreams, my conscience hovering over my head like the storm clouds at the edge of the sky. Her name was Lorelei, she had long black hair and pieces of metal stuck in the crevices of her round face. She stood taller than I did at the time and her plunging neckline met me at eye level. I loved her. Dad would whisper “I love you” to her when he thought they were alone, but I was always listening. I knew he was lying, trying to get himself a free apartment and a constant pair of legs to spread. 

I loved Lorelei. Her almond-shaped eyes and yellow nail polish. The way she wore short skirts even when it was under forty and overcast made the butterflies in my stomach do somersaults. 

One night, about a month after that rainy day, Dad took Lorelei out to a local brewpub for the night and I knew it was my chance. I tiptoed into the bathroom we all shared as if they were still there and could hear me. It took me several precious moments of sifting through the bin of hair straighteners and anti-frizz serum and used nail files but I found it. The bottle was slippery and covered in a thin layer of long strands of black hair and beautifully, perfectly yellow. The brand label had chipped off.

I took the bottle with me to my room and sat on my bed, swirling the hair around with my fingers. The lid was stuck and flakes of dried polish flew across the room as I opened it. And then the smell. Sharp and metallic. It made my head spin. The pigment and the fluid were beginning to separate so I used the wand like a whisk until the polish looked like half-melted soft-serve ice cream. 

I pulled the wand out of the bottle and a glob of polish fell to the hardwood floor. I eased myself off the bed and hovered over the yellow splotch on my hands and knees. It looked like molten gold there, seeping into the grains of the floorboards. Her eyes had gold in them. I sank down until the tip of my nose was nearly touching the polish and took a long, deep breath. My head felt like a slowly deflating balloon. I stuck my tongue out and ran it over the polish and the taste was everything and nothing like I had expected. I couldn’t leave it there, so I lapped up the rest of it. I fought back the urge to vomit as I swallowed. It burned a bit in my throat.

I remember the taste, the sharp chemical tang, all these years later and that makes me want to take stock of all the little memories that linger in the back of my mind. I can never be sure the girl that did that was really me or if she was just another being inhabiting my body while I was off in the clouds. 

There was a deer -what was left of a deer- on the shoulder. Its long neck ended abruptly, the end of it flattened like empty yogurt tubes in the garbage of my middle school cafeteria. Its legs were suspended in the air over the round cylinder of a body. The corpse had an expression of shock. It had probably been hit by someone driving the same reckless seventy-five I was, someone whose mind had wandered off as their body went into autopilot. I almost slowed down right then but I didn’t.

Mom always got so emotional at the sight of roadkill. She would shake her head and tell me life was precious. She was always contradicting herself like that. Every part of her had this strange quality of not fitting together quite right. She liked cars, old cars with shiny red paint jobs and tires that had white rings at the center but she was a real lady. I always thought that was why Dad fell for her.

 After it happened, Dad would always say the whole thing was a mistake. Marrying Mom and, though he didn’t say it out loud, having me. But I knew, somehow, he had loved her then. She was beautiful in so many ways. She liked old-fashioned cars and bicycles and put her signature on the breast pocket of all her favorite shirts with silver thread. She used to wear bright red lipstick like the girls in the movies she watched with me. Classic. That’s what she called it all. When the virtuous girl in the long skirt gave the bad boy a chaste kiss on the cheek and taught him how to be sweet, Mom would lean over my shoulder and tell me that was what a good woman does.

I wonder what she would have said about that thirteen-year-old girl licking nail polish off the floor like it was the key to all the secrets of the universe. I have a feeling she wouldn’t understand. She wouldn’t have liked Lorelei much.

Where Mom was sharp and strict, Lorelei was soft and uninterested. I had loved both of them once but feelings like that didn’t age well. What happened to Mom was her own fault and she deserved it but what happened to Loreleiwhat I did to herit shouldn’t have happened at all. 

That was why I had to be there. I was traveling down the long road to retribution and Loudonville, Ohio and the exit was on the left. 

When Mom was caught and put away, Dad wanted to move. He wanted to pack up and drive until the mere idea of her was gone, far off in distance like a dot on the horizon. He was like that, always wanting things he could never have. Instead, we packed up and drove down the block to Lorelei’s apartment. 

I didn’t see that building as I drove through downtown. It had been old when we moved in and it must have been ancient when they finally tore it down. The new building was a sleek office space and it stuck out like a sore thumb among the old brick buildings with boarded-up windows and the old pharmacy that looked closed but somehow wasn’t. The building that was once a laundromat was now home to another one of those fast-food chains that seemed to be everywhere now. 

Most families left after Mom developed a habit of destroying every beautiful thing she touched. They had gathered outside the courtroom with signs saying she was evil and would burn in hell and screamed in defiance when the judge said she wouldn’t die. Months later, when they realized no collection of signatures would send my mother to the chair, they did what Dad wanted to do but couldn’t, they drove until “Mrs. Dahmer” was a distant memory.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw it was still there. The tiny shop was still painted that eclectic combination of teal and faded orange and the door was propped open slightly. White block letters spelling out “L & E Flower Shop” were scribbled in an arch directly on the display window. I pulled over into a parking space directly in front. I felt a tiny flicker of disappointment at the apparent lack of business but I chose to ignore it. 

I didn’t bother with the parking meter. I slipped through the opening in the door and was hit with the intense odor. The small space was packed from floor to ceiling with endless bouquets. A large bunch of pinks and yellows caught my eye but, as I moved towards it, I noticed the rotten edges of the petals. It didn’t take me long to realize they were all like thatstems beginning to droop and colors fading away to brown. 

“Welcome.”

I turned and saw the small wrinkled woman behind the cash register. Although I’d never been there before I could tell she had been the owner since before I was even born. The sweater she was wearing was an alarming shade of yellow and covered in large white puffs of lint.

“You need help finding anything, dear?” She said it more like a statement than a question.

“I’m fine, thank you,” I said, drawing out the “k” sound in that condescending way customers at Rite Aid always did. I had a thought then that I should have felt bad about that but, of course, I didn’t. 

The woman’s lips formed a thin line of disapproval. I turned back to the pitiful selection and grabbed a small bouquet of red roses. The petals were not the most vivid and lively but I begrudgingly accepted that it was the best I could get. I held the bouquet up so that the woman could see it.

“Twenty-five dollars,” she said.

I gave her a rolled-up ten-dollar bill. She repeated herself. I pretended not to hear.

The air had a bit more chill to it and a parking ticket flapped in the wind, held down just barely by the wipers. I took the small yellow sheet and folded it up into a thin rectangle. I leaned down and wedged the ticket into the crevice where the street met the curb. The plastic that held the bouquet together made small crackling noises as I set it down in the passenger seat. I buckled it in and pulled the belt tight so that the stems bent like a person’s legs would. I pulled the car out of the space and pressed down hard on the gas. 

I remember what Lorelei said when she found me, laying on the floor next to a half-empty bottle of nail polish

“Fran, what’s going on here?”

“I just had a little,” I said. “I left plenty for you, don’t worry.”

“Oh,” she smiled. “Can I see them?”

The room was silent for a moment. She was looking at my bare nails and I was looking at her. The light from the hallway fanned out around her and she looked like the painting of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic church Mom used to drive me to every Sunday. She was the religion, the polish the communion, and I the faithful believer.

She opened her mouth but I stopped her.

“I didn’t paint my nails, I never paint my nails.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You can’t sit still for long enough. I used to be like that too.”

“It doesn’t taste like how I thought it would.”

“Honey that isn’t funny and you know better,” Lorelei said, though her voice lacked conviction and had that high-pitched tone of concern.

I couldn’t help myself; I laughed.

She stood there, frozen as if she was afraid of coming any closer as if the madness was contagious. 

Three years later as I watched the life drain from her body I wondered if it could have ended any other way. The blood on my hands and the way her body twitched and her blank stare and my steady heartbeat. I thought I knew what it was going to feel like. It was everything and nothing like I had expected all at the same time. My knees buckled and, suddenly, I was right there with her. She was still breathing and her eyes looked panicked when our gazes met. My hands seemed to move without my permission. I reached over to where the knife had been and pushed down against the wound. I didn’t know much about fixing things like that but I thought that maybe I was trying. 

I was losing her. 

Her chest rising, falling, rising – sinking in.

Lorelei was gone and I was still there and everything was all wrong. Violent sobs ripped through my body. I wrapped myself around her like a blanket and watered her with my tears. She looked so fragile and young and scared. 

The memory brought tears to my eyes as I made my way across the grass, weaving between the headstones with the bouquet clenched tightly in my hand. Her headstone is small; it has her name and life and a blank space where a quote should have been – Dad couldn’t afford one. As far as anyone knew, she had no real family, the funeral was just me, Dad, and the detective “working our case.” Underneath her headstone there is nothing. They never found her body, I made sure of that. I knew no one else would understand – they would think I was crazy like Mom but I wasn’t. 

I set the bouquet down in front of the stone. I was probably the first person to bring her flowers. It shouldn’t have been like that. Her patch of grass should have been covered in roses. I sat down – Mom used to scold me for walking over graves, she called it “disrespectful” but, I figured it didn’t count because Lorelei wasn’t really there – I was sitting on a pile of dirt and, under that, an empty coffin. 

Dad didn’t cry that day. It made no sense to me how he could say he loved Lorelei and stand there over her grave with that blank expression. The detectives thought it was suspicious and so did the people in the town. He was deemed guilty before the trial even started. When they put him away, people gathered outside the courtroom to cheer. Rumors that he had been involved in my mother’s hobby began to gain traction. They were never able to prove anything, but when did that ever matter? 

I stopped trying to hold the tears back, tasting salt as some ran over my lips. The bouquet looked so pathetic there, propped up against her headstone, the rotting petals blocking the first few letters of her name. I wrapped my arms around my knees and was still for a moment, watching as an ant crawled slowly up the side of the stone. I leaned forward, tracing its movements with my index finger until I caught up with it. I let the tip of my finger hover over the ant’s body. I sighed and pressed down hard. 

“I’m sorry,” I said. 

It wasn’t enough.

“Being Elusive Through Skill” – Grace Uhlman ’21

“You need to shut up right this second, the kids are going to hear you!” Her shrill voice echoed through the now empty house, the pungent scent of chicken pot-pie, her rainy day special, wafting through the kitchen. The familiar tension consumed the couple, wrapping its suffocating tendrils between their cold glares and untrusting stances. Eyebrows furrowing, the once-unnoticable lines that only appeared when she laughed now carved stark lines that ran deep into her sallow and tired expression. She was exhausted. He was exhausted. But the kids couldn’t know. He would pick up his pillow and throw blanket from the couch early each morning, placing them back on his untouched side of the bed before the kids were downstairs for breakfast before school. She would wipe her red rimmed, mascara laden eyes as she stared back at herself in the mirror, watching the woman with empty eyes and a bright smile stare back at her. What started as an occasional disagreement between the once happy couple escalated into complete avoidance of one-another, knowing the loud and draining consequences of potential interactions. Disrupting the facedown between the two spouses, the oven timer rang, lonely without the company of laughing children or echoes of “I love you”. Knowing the kids must have heard the timer, the two automatically plastered on a shiny smile, like some sort of Pavlonian response, and silently took their place at the kitchen table. 

Being elusive through daringness 

Whipping her head around, she spotted her brother cloaked in the fog of the evening, coming ever nearer her with his long strides and determined expression. Breath hitching, she pumped her arms as fast as they would go, glancing down to her soggy, grass stained socks, praying she didn’t slip on the grass, wet from the rainstorm earlier that evening. Gasping for air as she urged her body to go faster, she spotted the line of tall shrubs that stood proud before a 3-foot drop off onto the gravel driveway. Her mind whirring, calculating the risk of the jump, she continued bounding forward with leaping strides, attempting to evade the reach of her brother’s advancing hand. With great fervor, she continued forward, to the confusion of her brother, and took one final, impulsive step before launching herself into the air. Arms flailing, the gravel driveway that was once blocked by the intimidating shrubs neared at a frightening rate, until the soles of her socks skidded across the slippery pebbles of their driveway. Twisting around, she faced his brother who had stopped on the other side of the shrubs. They were quiet for a moment. She could practically see the gears turning in her brother’s head, trying to figure out how to tag him before dinner would be called. As if she had planned it, the two siblings heard the oven timer go off, indicating that their game of tag was over. Smirking at her brother, she sauntered into the house, greeted by the warm smell of chicken pot-pie. Darting through the cottage-like, North-Eastern style home, she evaded her younger brother’s grasp yet again, giggling as she skidded into the dining room for dinner. 

Being elusive through cleverness 

The remnants of the cold chicken pot-pie sat on the dull granite countertop, as he sat back in his chair, plotting. His parents had left the kitchen table earlier, separately of course, after another meal filled with awkward, forced conversation. His younger siblings, who were now both exhausted from their game of tag in which he refused to participate, never seemed to notice this practically palpable tension between their parents. Now he, his two younger siblings, and Great-Aunt Tilly remained at the kitchen table. The siblings shared a knowing look; whoever remained at the table last with Great-Aunt Tilly would be stuck there for the next 45 minutes, listening to her gripe about her osteoarthritis and have to dutifully accept her never-ending critiques of whatever her seemingly senile mind brewed up. Racking his brain for a new way to avoid her, he went through all of his previous tactics that he took a remarkable amount of pride in. Of course, the classic homework excuse is generally applicable, but not guaranteed to be effective. Feigning sickness would almost undoubtedly excuse him from the situation, but could only be used sparingly before raising concern or suspicion. His other personal favorite was helping one of his younger siblings with their homework. Depending on who annoyed him less that day, he would save himself and whomever he chose that particular day. But today was different. Great-Aunt Tilly had surpassed her typical glass of wine and was nearing her third glass. This meant she would be feeling extra chatty about her favorite subject: the faults of everyone around her. With this in mind, he knew that coming up with a foolproof escape plan was imperative. Tossing around various ideas that all had faults, he found himself stumbling upon a potential contender. It was risky- and that’s exactly what he needed. Catching the uneasy eyes of his siblings, he winked, before clearing his throat. Great-Aunt Tilly slowly turned around, her slightly hazy eyes narrowing as she smirked, brewing up a new insult regarding his laziness or perhaps a jab at his below average grades. As she opened her mouth to begin her slightly slurred rant, he expertly cut her off. “Great-Aunt Tilly,” he queried, feigning innocence “why is it that our parents seem to be a bit… off? I don’t know how to describe it, but it almost feels as if they don’t lov-” 

“Quiet boy!” 

She quickly silenced him, to his utter glee, which he masked with a confused face and head tilt. Her typically low and nasally voice was a few octaves higher and louder than usual. Face flushed, she looked between the two younger siblings, searching their expressions to see if they caught on to what their brother almost revealed. With a huff, she quickly dismissed the three, shooting an uncertain glare at the oldest. Bidding a goodnight with her typical flourish of her hand, the two youngest set off through the dimly lit house, the oldest straying a bit longer.

Placing her lipstick stained wine glass in the sink, he said his final goodnight, turned around, and trudged to his room in the attic with twinkling eyes, but a tug in his heart.

“Crumble” – Grace Uhlman ’21

The back alleyway between La Gourmandine and the apartment building perpetually smelled of stale baguettes. Between the time the sun rises and 9:00 am, all of the burnt loaves have been tossed into the 2nd dumpster to the right, on top of the discarded flour bags from the day before. Rifling through the scrapped baked goods as Lugh did every other god-forsaken day, he heard a disapproving voice echoing around him, bouncing off the graffiti-ridden brick walls.

“Lugh, not again.” Grimacing slightly, the haggard man turned around to face the owner of the familiar voice.

“Hey, Leo! How are you doin’?” A bright smile accompanied the high-pitched greeting, spoken a bit too quickly. Leonardo glanced around, hesitating before sighing and placing his cigarette and lighter away in his weathered pants pocket. Grabbing his yellowed chef’s hat off his head, he held it close to his apron that displayed the stains of his gourmet creations. Scratching his balding head and closing his eyes for a moment, Leo huffed and took a heavy step toward Lugh. 

“Lugh what have I told you, man? You can’t keep living like this. She wouldn’t have wanted you to have ended up like this.” The plastered smile on Lugh’s face cracked slightly, eyes dulling but maintaining his grin. 

“Leo, I’m fine. Look, I have converted to living the simple life and there is nothing wrong with that. I think these days it’s called living minimally.” The heavy Irish accent held a reassuring tone, his efforts futile as he tried desperately to convince his old friend that he was, in fact, fine. Leo, of course, did not buy this. Lugh saw the familiar glint in Leo’s eyes, the same shine that he saw when he got denied from his top choice culinary school almost 50 years ago. The same glint when he told Lugh that his mother, who had raised Lugh like her own son, had stage III cancer. It was that glossy sheen that momentarily wiped away the weathered parchment color of Leo’s glassy eyes. Ignoring the crumbling pull that tore Lugh’s chest, the feeling of rotting from the inside out, Lugh broke eye contact with Leo, cowardly hiding from his pointed gaze. Shoving down the visions from that night, the ones that Leo never failed to bring up, Lugh continued rambling on. “Also, the bread isn’t all for me. It’s for my frien- the birds. I’m just giving back to the community.” Lugh continuously babbled, just as curious as Leo to hear what blasphemous words would end up coming out. Lugh’s face contorted into an unnatural beam as he rambled, deformed as if an inexperienced artist attempted to sculpt a face but was missing very crucial lessons in anatomy. Lugh was gone again, like clockwork, at any mention of his past. Leo was yet again simply another voice lost in the vortex of Lugh’s mind, dragging him back to the night when everything changed.

That dark November evening had carried a merciless chill. The family was leaving from dinner, and it was much later than the couple had anticipated. The kids had begged him endlessly for dessert, and how could Lugh possibly say no? Their brown eyes glimmered with hope and mischief as they tilted their faces up to him, cheeks stained the youthful shade of blush, the color only ever replicated with a glass too many of wine after adolescence. Lugh could practically see the visions of decadent chocolatey goodness swirling in their clear, shining eyes. He, of course, succumbed to their pleas and his wife looked at him with disapproving adoration, before calling the waiter over to order the chocolate ice cream. 

The kids were falling asleep as they sluggishly dragged their feet to the minivan, Lugh’s wife having to bait them to the car with some of the chalky mints that she snagged from the restaurant’s jar. Their family piled in, securing their seatbelts with a sure clink. Before long, the giggles that danced playfully in his ears gave way to steady breathing with the rhythmic whistle of air that was gently pushed from their button noses. Their mouths were coated in the sticky, pungent candy, and the smell of sickly sweet peppermint dangled in the air of the car, their deep breaths of childhood slumber encircling the family of four. The roads were empty and the moon winked above with the knowledge of the universe. The soft murmur of the kid’s breaths, his wife’s long dark hair swirled around the car in the moonlight, under the spell of the wind. Lugh knew he was tired as well, he could tell by the way his eyes glazed and how his mouth hung slack, tongue dropping unknowingly from the roof of his mouth. He registered the lights of the 18-wheeler approaching him with fury. Within seconds, the moon was ripped from its place in the sky above and was thrown carelessly to the sky below. The car danced nonchalantly in the wind to the rhythm of the crickets. As quickly as it began, however, it stopped. The car ceased its haunting screams and the moon returned to its rightful place in the sky above. The air felt charged. Lugh could not feel his body. He thought as though he had become a drifting waif, purposeless, and disconnected. It was such a freeing feeling, unbound from the restraints of reality. He was content in his nonchalant bliss. But it was what he smelled that tore him from his dissociative euphoria. The crude aroma of deteriorating metal. The stinging stench of rubber on asphalt. Each inhalation brought Lugh back down from his delirium, back to his unforgiving world where he lived and where he felt. It was then, for the first time in his life that Lugh felt the dampening weight of utter silence. 

Lugh’s eyes shone like those of a racehorse stuck in the back of a trailer. Leonardo saw the unspoken events play like a tape in the back of Lugh’s mind. Lugh heard the distant calls of Leonardo as he abruptly turned from him and wandered away. This always happened when Leonardo brought them up. Leonardo always hoped one day reminding Lugh of what he had and what he lost would spark a flurry of passion and a newfound purpose, not letting the death of his family hinder his capacity to live. Regardless of Leonardo’s hopes, this day had not yet come, and based on Lugh’s slack jaw, improvement was far from the picture.  

* * *

The hum of the city buzzed monotonously around Lugh as he wandered around in a delirium. People passed in slow motion as he walked against the flow of traffic along the wide sidewalk. Faces riddled with pity gazed upon him like a mother would regard a scruffy cat on the back porch. Others held their noses high, scrunching their pointed faces as he ambled past, occasionally tripping over his torn shoes. Most kept their line of vision directly in front of them, walking with a false sense of purpose and importance, intentionally ignoring the poor man’s existence. He continued along, swaying with each aimless step, to a backroad that was much less densely populated by the bustle of people. A greasy man, perhaps a lawyer with questionable morals, approached Leo with the look of disgust. In his arms, he carried three battered suitcases, a cup of steaming coffee, and a slice of pizza with cheese dripping menacingly off the slack crust. His leather shoes, scuffed from years of wear, were clearly too large. With one exceptionally passionate step, the man’s shoe caught on a divot in the sidewalk and he went crashing down. Lugh, for the first time since earlier that morning, was snapped back to the world around him. Papers scattered around Lugh’s feet before drifting carelessly up and away. The man was shrieking colorful curses with great fervor as he watched his work float up in the sky. Lugh debated helping him but decided against it after another woman had handed him a few sheets of his lost papers and ended up getting the stack thrown at her. The steaming face of his cheese pizza stuck securely to the parasitic pavement, attracting the attention of some pigeons. Just as Lugh was about to mindlessly turn away from this character, he heard a pained coo. Whipping his head around, he saw the short man had carelessly kicked a pigeon as he went to pick up some papers around the pizza. Lugh felt his face burn a deep crimson as his body tensed up to the point of discomfort. Lugh did not care about this though. He only saw the limp of the injured bird, calling out to him for assistance. His ears rang so loudly he could feel the vibrations, pushing him forward, toward the poor creature. 

“What is wrong with you? He didn’t do anything to you and you still kicked him! You should be ashamed of yourself. Hurting innocent animals with no regard for any other living creature except your worthless self!” Lugh boomed, eyes flashing emotionally as the man stared at him, gaping. Clearly the lawyer had not expected to elicit such a visceral reaction from the bumbling old man for kicking a measly pigeon. Gingerly scooping the animal in his withered arms, Lugh gave the man the nastiest glare he could produce, met with a hesitant jeer from the lawyer, before turning away with the little bird in a protective embrace.

* * *

Lugh woke up on the corner on a street he did not recognize. Steam plumed in front of him, and the urgent commands of construction workers beneath the surface of the concrete jungle let him know that he had not been on this side of the city before. Head pounding, Lugh sat up and heard his body creak and groan in protest. Weakly wiping the side of his mouth, he took in his surroundings. What day is it? Not that it mattered, but he still wanted to know. It seemed to be the morning again. The little bird must’ve flown away after he nurtured it back to health with words of solace and a warm embrace. He finally saved it. Smiling gently to himself, he stuck his hand in his frayed coat pocket. Finding the stale loaf that he had managed to grab before Leonardo had stepped outside, Lugh held it up to his nose and took a tentative whiff. It smelled fresh enough, tainted slightly by the burnt edges that held an aroma of bitterness. He couldn’t have been out for long if it was still this crisp, presumably it was the next day. Ripping a small chunk with a satisfying tug, Lugh was quickly greeted by his friends.

“Giving back to the community” he mumbled with a grin, tossing some crumbs on the ground to ease the unseeing gaze of the pigeons. They pecked gratefully, and soon enough the loaf was gone and he was encapsulated in a coat of feathers. Their sporadic coos of content and the occasional ruffle of their wings comforted the old man as he lay back, succumbing to the timeless space of dreams.

The sound of wings brushed the air, creating a numbing quality around him. It was in the same way that white noise shivers just below the surface, turning the world from discontinuous bursts of commotion into an unceasing moment in time. When it begins, the droning tone is overwhelming, obtrusive. As time marches ceaselessly, however, it fades into comfort and becomes imperceptible, blocking the enduring tendrils of silence for a moment. That silence, that weighted, pressurized silence had become a reminder of the temporary nature of the world for Lugh. He had heard it that night. The deadened air that left him completely and wholly alone. It was him surrounded by the lifeless silence, where he was all too connected with the reality of his solitude. Unlike the detaching release of sleep, a suspension of consciousness, silence connected him entirely to his forlorn life. His friends, his kind yet unreliable friends, were able to provide a remedy to his suffering for at least a few moments. They swirled around him, allowing their glossy wings and harmonious coos to lure Lugh from his Hell. However, these beautiful moments were just that: moments. Before long, it would return. As sure as the sun sets each night, as sure as the seasons’ change, it was sure that the silence would creep back, entangling Lugh to the point of suffocation. But just before he thought he couldn’t hold on any longer, his friends would swoop in, freeing him of his captor. This is how Lugh woke from his blissful rest- entranced by the soft whispers of wings coaxing the air around him into quiet song. It was that time, the time when the crumbs had been thoroughly pecked and the wings sufficiently rested, that his friends departed. Lugh no longer blamed them for leaving. He learned that this was the way of the world. Comfort gives way to distress. Companionship gives way to solitude. Noise gives way to silence. His friends would begin leaving, one by one, in a steady trickle. The flaps of their wings bidding him noisy farewell, presenting him with a gift in return for the meal. And soon, much too soon, the last of the pigeons would vanish into the sky above. Gazing up into the hazy clouds, the kind that makes you forget the sun is just behind, Lugh settled into himself, accepting his fate with his head hung. They always left. They always do.

Not So Breaking News – Marnie McCormick ’22

“Well folks, if this had happened a year ago I probably would have been surprised, but considering the shitstorm that was 2020, I’m not entirely shocked. It appears that aliens have begun taking over Chicago. Unlike the alien scare of 2020, this one could not possibly be hidden by the government, like some channels claimed. 

Taking a look at the scene, these extraterrestrials do not appear to be friendly. They have destroyed the city skyline, leaving everything in ruin except for The Bean… for some reason… I’ve heard people say Chicago was a dangerous city, but I doubt alien invasions are what they had in mind.

The question remains: Who are these aliens, and what do they want? Well folks, I’m going to find that out. In a NC News exclusive, I am going to get an exclusive with an alien.” As the reporter begins to walk closer to the scene the camera does not follow. “C’mon Jerry, I need you to film me make history here!” The camera moves up and down, clearly indicating a sigh before following the reporter into the chaos.

A quiet, “I don’t get paid enough for this” can be heard from behind the camera at home, but the reporter doesn’t notice as the alien mechanisms dance around the city, grabbing random citizens just feet away from him. 

“Let’s see if we can hear the opinions of some folks on the scene! Excuse me miss, what are your thoughts about the incoming alien invasi- oh. Ok well she’s dead.” The camera shutters at the sight of the human corpse before continuing to follow the reporter. The reporter makes his way up to one of the legs of the robotic alien machines. “Excuse me alien, what brings you to Eart- woah.” Through a shaky camera it is seen that the reporter has been picked up by one of the claws of the machine. “Alien life form, what business do you have here on earth?” The reporter, unfazed, holds the microphone close to the alien controlling the robot, anticipating a response.

“Z̴̨̪͠Ḷ̷̋̑o̶̼̾̈́̓͜͝r̸̯̮̤̓̃̐B̷̭͋̌̎̄ ̴̙̠͓͇͌̈́͠s̴̪̙͓̟͘n̵̫̐́e̷̳͋̾́̚ͅK̴̢̜̟̅͐L̶̗̿͆̚ ̴̦̮͘͝͠S̸̡̧͓͐o̸̡͓͖̩̊̅̒̄U̴͖̪̦̿C̵͓̮̜̈́͗ḣ̶̻̪̪̉̄ ̶̝̟͖̠͌̐̊̂Ź̶͉̝͎̱̇Ő̷̭͉̣̬͌́Ó̶̯͓͈̈͐̔P̵̟̤͝”

“…Oh, you don’t speak English. Well I guess I should have expected that. Anyway that’s all the time WE HAVE here folks! Back to you Diana with the weather.”

“Sweetheart” – Emma Gardner ’23

She toddles down the sidewalk, little pig tails bobbing with their pink bows. Sticky hand in a firm, weathered one. Her grandmother, walking strong and steady despite her browning, wrinkled skin. 

She skips down the sidewalk, thin ponytail bouncing up and down. Grandma tries to keep up, a little unsteady, knees wobbling. Childish excitement “Come on Grandma!” “I’m coming, sweetheart!”

She runs down the sidewalk, hair long and curly, tucked behind her ears. Grandma with her walker, she toddles now. Girl rushes ahead, excited to see her friends. She smiles back at grandma.

She walks down the sidewalk, pin straight hair. Face in her phone, ignoring grandma. In a wheelchair, rolling slowly. “Wait up, sweetheart!” “Ok”

Hospital bed, firm hand in a frail hand. Sad, tears, beeps decay, then stop. “I wish I could talk to you, Grandma.” Me too, me too, sweetheart.

“Pretty Young Thing” – Bridget Onest ’21

The house had been empty for years. Kids used to get high in the fancy master bedroom and leave crumpled beer cans on the dusty loveseat in the foyer. They found her there during one of their Friday night rages. Their minds so clouded by the buzz of cheap beer and stolen weed that they didn’t quite realize she was dead. Her sunken eyes were still brilliant blue and she had one of those long thin noses most girls paid for. They tugged at the neckline of her nightgown and made drunken guesses as to her exact size. Her long, dull hair took lumps of gray flesh along with it as they pulled at it playfully. Maggots wiggled out of the cavities of her ears, got tangled in her chain earrings, and squirmed lazily.

“Obsessive” – Bridget Onest ’21

The string lights are on that awful flashing mode. It is a nonstop blink blink blink god my eyes. The blankets are wrapped in a hypnotizing spiral and falling off the left corner of the mattress. There are shoes scattered across the floor. Mom always said move the shoes move them there could be a fire you could trip and then you’re dead and it won’t be quick. The curtains are black but thin and everyone can see inside stay away from the windows someone is watching you. There are those little rugs Mom calls scruffy that feel like sandpaper against your heels. The rugs shouldn’t slide when you walk across them because Mom put those weird sticky patches on the bottoms so you wouldn’t slip but they never worked and walking across them makes your legs shake because if you go any faster you’ll fall back against your head and your blood will seep into the dark wooden floorboards and Mom will have to clean it and it will be your fault. The desk is a mess. It’s always a mess and you have to be careful if you move anything it’s all just one big landslide of pens and papers and garbage and you can’t let this room get any more disorganized but it will anyway and it will be your fault. The green on the walls is like cartoon vomit and the paint is uneven and bumpy like boiling flesh and you can’t touch it you’re going to be sick. The bookshelf is too big and crowded with thick hardcover novels and it’s not screwed into the wall like the Ikea ad said it should be and it looks like it might fall at any given moment, leaning forward awkwardly with its long lanky frame like a six-foot tall high school boy with a wicked metabolism. You have to leave but the door is jammed. It’s always jammed and covered in scratches from the cat trying to get in but you gotta get out or you’re going to lose it again.

“Counting Cars” – Caroline Green ’21

They met in grad school. He, a scientific researcher, and she, a lab tech. Same age, same face (their friends liked to joke), same life. They moved in together after a year – on the anniversary of meeting each other. Soon they adopted a puppy, and then they were destined to get married, so he proposed on a cruise (the puppy was staying with friends) and they got married a year later. The ceremony was nice enough. There were cocktails and dances, pretty dresses and pretty friends. 

“What’s that?” he asked one day, four of five years after they were married. She was holding a small, cardboard box – turning it over and over in her hands. 

“Balloons.” 

“Shit.”

The puppy was no longer a puppy anymore. He had taken to dragging his paws as his nails clicked along the floor. Almost narcoleptic, a snooty friend had mentioned. He rested his golden face on his paws, collapsed in the corner.

They walked out of their townhouse together. Marched their feet down the front steps, through the walkway, out to the sidewalk of the little street. The road was quiet. No sounds but their own feet walking. The dog had come to the window, watching.

The street was short; they soon made it to the intersection. Cars meandered along in a countable quantity, and he followed the blue ones with his eyes until they disappeared around the corner. She stared at the ground, counting the cracks in the pavement.

“It was always going to happen,” she said.

He just stared at her, his mind both blank and racing. Maybe in your mind, he thought. But in his, no, it was not always going to happen. It was her version of destiny: finding and tracking the humanity-ending meteor, erasing it from the international projections, making it her weapon. It was her version of destiny to hide in that lab tech position, even fall in love without changing her mind. She had pulled him into her sinister mind. In return he got to name the giant rock. And they got the puppy.

They had walked quite a few blocks, politely greeting others on the road. She would wave. He’d nod. At home, their dog had settled back down in his corner, although they couldn’t tell from so many blocks away. He closed his eyes. Went to sleep.

It was best to die outside, they’d compromised the day after the wedding. Better to go through it in the midst of others. They passed another road, waving and nodding to the elderly couple gardening on the corner.

“How can you possibly be okay with this-” he whispered.

She interjected succinctly. “Shut up.” 

They ducked into a pine tree grove, the last one left in the neighborhood, cradled themselves in the low-hanging branches. She pulled the box out of her bag and looked at him, her eyes glossy. She held up three fingers, then two, then one. 

Darkness.

“Midnight Snack” – Caroline Green ’21

The glossy plastic bag was sealed with a twist-tie. Easy. It would only take a few drops, Michael had said. Just drip, drip, and done. I undid the cap in my pocket, twisting my right-hand fingers carefully around the precious little bottle, its chips and dents only noticeable to my sweaty grip. The bread looked at me; it knew that it wouldn’t be at fault. The plump thing opened perfectly! Hardly a crinkle. Clear liquid, that glorious poison, fell peacefully onto the top slice, then I sealed my bread friend, put him back on the shelf where he wanted to be. Twist-ties! Michael would be thrilled. The “twenty-four hour” signs in the store windows flashed as I sauntered into the parking lot. The bar down the road was bustling. I unlocked the pickup truck, climbed into its front seat. And waited.