dreamcatcher

Posted on: January 28, 2013

My dad once told me when you can’t sleep at night, it’s because you’re awake in someone else’s dream. If Jared is dreaming about me, I hope it’s the kind of dream where one person morphs into another, and he’s kissing her and then suddenly it’s me, and he wakes up breathless and damp with sweat.

I’m always awake now. At night I walk around the complex, listening to a whole bunch of nothing. I’ll hop the fence and check on the pool, watch the water bugs paddle around. Some nights, bats swoop down and skim the surface of the water, eating. The lady in 1B leaves her television on all night, and the light flickers through her lace curtains and onto her junky patio with its overflowing ashtrays and dead plants.

In Jared’s dream, I hope he’s falling, and I’m looking down from the top of the cliff.

I moved back in with Dad, for now, but I don’t know how long that’ll last because I can’t stand being around people who feel sorry for me. Like I gave him my part of the rent, and then the next day I called to pay my cell phone bill and they tell me it’s been taken care of. I’m no charity case. I’ve got a new job now, at Movie Gallery, and it doesn’t matter how sleep deprived I act, my manager won’t fire me because I’m the best employee she’s got. Some of those dumbasses who work there couldn’t alphabetize correctly if their lives depended on it, and let’s be real, that’s half the job.

Back when I first met Jared, Laine and I were still working as hostesses at Red Lobster, which we hated. Lobsters are just giant cockroaches that some genius decided to slap with a thirty-dollar price tag. It’s such a scam. God knows Nebraska’s not anywhere near the ocean, so all that crap’s been on trucks for days. I’m way better with movie people than I am with bougie lobster jerks. I think that’s how I knew I’d like Jared. He came in Red Lobster with his mom and some lady who wouldn’t stop laughing this obnoxious helium laugh, and he looked like he just wanted to die, and then I gave him my number on the back of a coupon when he left.

He called like an hour later. We drank a bunch of beer in the WalMart parking lot with his friends, and when they left to get stoned, we went to me and Laine’s place and watched this weird movie about a midget guy who inherits a train station and doesn’t want to make friends, but then falls in love with Patricia Clarkson. When Laine met Jared the next day she got all accusatory, like why didn’t I invite her to go to WalMart too. Jared told me later he figured she was used to thinking of herself as the more beautiful twin, which I guess pretty much explains our entire sibling dynamic from the dawn of time until now.

I don’t really think too much about what I look like, and I’m not just saying that. I always just looked at Laine and figured since we’re technically identical, if she looked good, I probably looked okay. We have the same face. The same body. The same weirdly double-jointed elbows. She just believes in hairdryers and spandex, and I guess I’ve got other shit to do.

Dad never liked Jared, I’ll give him that.

“I don’t know, Natty,” he said to me after meeting him. “He’s a little shifty. Is he nervous about something?”

“He doesn’t really do parents, Dad,” I said.

“That’s only going to fly for another year or two, you know. Like little kids acting like they’re shy? At first it’s cute, but then after a certain point, say twelve or thirteen, it’s just rude.”

“Ok, Dad, I’ll tell him to work on it.”

“Don’t lecture him for me. I’m just observing.”

Of course now it’s all gotten terribly predictable, like I’m living some sort of soap opera. Any day now I’ll develop amnesia and no one will be surprised. After I caught Jared making out with Laine under the shadow of the diving board at the complex pool, Dad gave me the “boys come and go, but sisters last forever” talk. Jared, shocker, insisted Laine was pretending to be me. I said, “Jared, when you’re sleeping with someone, you should know the difference between her and anyone else.” And he just shook his head and went outside to smoke, and when I went to look for him, he was gone.

But I think the best part was when Laine said, “I’m sorry, Natalie, I just don’t know how it happened. This just feels, like, so real. You can understand that, right?”

But I still come out on top. If, right now, at three a.m., as I wander through the parking lot of my old apartment, he is dreaming of me and wakes, he will roll over in bed, and there’s Laine, wearing my face. In the moments between blurry disorientation and awareness, he will find me again. I’m completely unavoidable.

And when Laine wakes up with an unsettled feeling she can’t explain, she’ll go to the kitchen for some water. She’ll glance up at the sliding glass door, and she’ll briefly think it’s her reflection she sees, not her twin.

It’s incredibly powerful, just being alive. For every woman who’s been left for another, I pity you. You have to resort to slashing tires and snapping in public and horrifying ways—stalking the other woman, confronting her in the grocery store or the nail salon. Sending a barrage of threatening and ultimately embarrassing text messages. I don’t have to do any of that. I just have to be awake while they sleep. And I just have to be here when they wake, staring out at them from the other woman’s face, which is, of course, my own.





Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Dot Dannenberg

shriveled peach

Posted on: January 21, 2013

Beth’s virginity was plucked from her at the ripe age of fourteen. The plucker was a senior football star whose basket was already overflowing, but she was too green to see her place in the orchard of high school.
    
Beth became the plucker’s post-practice treat for the duration of football season. She would sit on the bleachers and watch him nurture his talents until the coach sounded his whistle. As sweat consumed the plucker’s jersey, Beth’s underwear became soaked in a different kind of fluid.
When practice ended Beth would dash to the plucker’s SUV and wait for him in the backseat. She would undress from the waist down and hang her dampened panties from his rearview mirror as if it were clothes hanger. When the plucker approached the door she would roll over on her knees and greet him with the fruits of her youth, but by the end of football season he had lost his appetite for her.
    
The plucker’s rejection poisoned Beth’s self-esteem. She tried to understand his change of heart, or whatever organ fueled his decision. Every conclusion planted a seed of insecurity deep within her psyche. The inklings eventually grew into a boundary that barricaded her from positive thoughts.
She tried various forms of self-mutilation to break through the fortress, but the resulting marks only strengthened her hatred for her own reflection. She attacked her malaise with the contents of her parents’ liquor cabinet, but her supply was cut off once they noticed the mysterious disappearance of their peach schnapps.
    
Beth continued her experimentation with alcohol at a party she was invited to by one of the plucker’s teammates. He spent the evening showering her with praise and booze in hopes of recreating the stories he had heard in the locker room. His advances were fruitless until the plucker arrived with another girl on his arm.
    
The teammate led Beth to his parents’ bedroom just as he had intended to do before inviting her to the unsupervised soiree. Aware of what the teammate expected, Beth flopped on the bed and undressed herself like she did in the back of the plucker’s SUV.
The teammate was pleasantly surprised by how easily his scheme was falling into place. He quickly kicked off his jeans and lucky boxers and clumsily climbed on top of Beth like she was a partially deflated raft.
    
As the teammate fumbled around for her entrance, Beth stared at the ceiling and replayed her rendezvous with the plucker on the dimmed plaster with the clarity of a film projector. She could picture the gleam of his perfectly aligned teeth when he opened the car door wearing an ear-to-ear grin. She could smell the excessive amount of body spray he used in lieu of a shower. And she could hear the way he’d call her name as their movements brought him closer to climax.
   
Lost in nostalgia, Beth wrapped her arms and legs around the teammate like a Venus Flytrap. Her tightened grip heightened his arousal, resulting in a premature ending to her fantasy. The teammate tried to pry himself free once he finished, but Beth refused to let go of the first happiness she’d felt since football season.
   
Unable to get a good hold on his shackles, the teammate took a handful of Beth’s tousled hair and pulled it with all of his might. She let out a knee-jerk shriek and thrashed wildly, allowing him to escape. The bedroom door burst open as the teammate tumbled to the floor. The room flooded with curious partygoers who had heard the commotion from downstairs, but Beth was in too much pain to notice their entrance.
   
When Beth regained her senses she found herself surrounded by familiar faces and flashing camera phones, but none of her peers were more recognizable than the plucker. She stared at him as if they were alone in his SUV, hoping to find a hint of remorse or jealousy in his eyes. Pity was the only response he offered.
    
The plucker ushered the others into the hallway in the same way he lead his team to the locker room after practice. He looked Beth in the eyes one last time and shook his head in disappointment as he closed the door. She turned and muffled her rampant sobs with a pillow until the plucker was out of earshot.
    
The teammate smiled as he slid each leg through his denim slacks. He imagined the hoots, hollers and high fives waiting for him downstairs.
   
Beth was on the unfortunate end of the double standard. She would be branded a “whore,” a “slut” or some other derogatory term her male classmates would wear like a badge of pride. Her reputation had finally plunged to the depths of her confidence.
   
By the time the teammate finished dressing, the only movement coming from his parent’s bed were the tears streaming down Beth’s cheeks.
    
“I’m gonna go downstairs now,” he announced to the back of her head. “Feel free to stay as long as you like, but only for like another hour or so. Is that cool?”

She didn’t acknowledge his generosity.

“Oh, and…thanks.”

Or his gratitude.
   
Beth continued playing dead once the door closed. She laid still and reflected on her heartbreaking forays into womanhood. The expectations she cultivated from movies and magazines were a lie. She didn’t feel glamorous like Holly Golightly or empowered like Marilyn Monroe. She felt worthless.    She thought about her remaining three years of grade school. All of the whispers. All of the nicknames. All of the unwanted sexual advances. Then, she thought of a solution.
  
The teammate found Beth in his parent’s bathtub the following morning. She was nude and lying alongside a crimson stain that flowed from her left wrist to the drain. Sitting on a table next to the porcelain tub was his father’s straight razor, an empty cup that reeked of cheap vodka and a ceramic plate filled with dehydrated rosebuds, lavender stems and a lonely shriveled peach. 




Photograph by: Whitney Ott

Written by: Mark Killian

now for then

Posted on: January 14, 2013

She was sobbing. It was otherwise quiet now that the yelling had stopped. I glanced up at her, but became distracted by the bowl of clementines set in front of me. I remember the nostalgia that used to overwhelm me at the sight or taste of clementines, but now they were just a bowl of clementines. I stood there staring and wondered how it had come to this.
           
I was aware my memory was flawed.  The first year was flawed by passion and its attendant haze typical in the first months of sex and shameless flirtations.  The banality of habit and ritual returned in the subsequent years, collapsing the months into what felt like a massless blur of days.  Yet, the summers always stood out vividly.

I, like generations of my family, was born and raised in Kings County.  I was a loyalist, and had never found occasion or desire to step outside the five boroughs.  My father was a shoe repairman or a cobbler, as he would have it, just like his father had been and his father before him and so on and so forth.  We would often have lengthy discourses about the propriety of using modern-day industrial glues on certain leathers and the lost art of cordwaining—these conversations were almost always soliloquies.  I began working part-time as a shoe salesman at an Allen Edmonds boutique store when I went off to college in the city, well aware that I had failed to escape the destiny of my predecessors.

She was the proverbial city girl, raised in a West Village brownstone by a Wall Street lawyer father and an art director mother.  Her family, and therefore she, was never wanting, which afforded them the luxury of sating a wanderlust she had caught early in her privileged life.  She was well-traveled by the time she went off to college, but ironically, she lacked the escapist urge characteristic of girls her age and settled with Columbia University.  She was a dancer and she was infinitely interesting.

She was the girl on my morning commute.  The girl I had admired at a distance and who had been a constant distraction from whatever book I happened to be reading at the time.  If she ever noticed me in those first few weeks, she gave no indication of it.  No, our love affair began as a solitary endeavor.  Reveries of our encounter played out in my mind, and my heart rate jumped at the thought.  My face would flush from embarrassment as I jostled from my daydreams.  Maybe it was the quiet romance of The Great Gatsby, which I was rereading, but I became convinced that we were fated to be together. 

The reality was far less literary, but only in hindsight.  We chatted that first time, about what I can’t recall, until the train pulled into her stop in Morningside Heights.  We had passed my stop twenty minutes prior, but it didn’t matter.  It went on like that for several weeks before I gathered the courage to ask her on a proper date.  She smiled broadly and nodded.  Even Fitzgerald couldn’t have written a narrative more beautiful. 

I was invited to her family’s ancestral home in Florida that first summer.  There were no beaches or theme parks, only a citrus grove.  The grove, which had been in the family since the turn of the twentieth century, was once famed for producing the sweetest clementines in Florida and was a wellspring for the family fortune.  That fortune, along with most of the property, was largely lost in the Great Depression.  But the vestiges of the citrus grove and the plantation-style home remained in the family as a source of financial strain until her father was able to save it with the early success of his law practice.  The burden of maintaining an unsustainable grove persisted, but her father refused to relinquish his childhood memories for the sake of stability.  It became their summer home where they would spend six weeks every year.  It was their annual trip to Florida that she would anticipate the most—not Italy or Fiji or India, but Florida.

The idyllic greens and oranges and yellows were a startling contrast to the gray of the only city I had ever known and loved.  The first days were disconcerting, but I soon became enthralled by the early morning walks through the grove, a fresh cup of coffee in one hand, her in the other.  There were late afternoon picnics with wine and a basket full of freshly-picked clementines, when she would reminisce about her childhood.  Though she had spent the majority of her life in the city, the setting of her stories was almost always Florida and I remember realizing that I knew very little about her childhood in any other context.  We made love, isolated among the trees and we would doze off in the shade, her face pressed against my chest with only a layer of sweat separating us.  Eventually, the prickling of the Florida heat would get the best of us, and we would meander back to the house and join her parents for dinner.  And so it went for six weeks every summer at that clich├ęd pace that often accompanies pastoral life.  Back in the city, we carried on our individual and sometimes joint existences.

She was yelling again.  I was still too distracted by the bowl of clementines to listen to the content of, what I presume was a verbal assault of anger, sorrow, and regret.  I deliberated on the appropriateness of eating a clementine at that moment.  I looked at her, then beyond her through the window I was facing and at the rooftop landing on the neighboring building.  A view of the skyline was visible and the early evening lights were flickering on and I was reminded why I loved the city so much.  Clementines would be my only reminder of Florida and those summers.  I wondered when I had stopped caring.




Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: James Mo

irises

Posted on: January 7, 2013

Mallory stands with her arms folded over her chest, gazing out the window into the rain. Streaks of water blur the panes so that the lawn is just a rich green pond. She pulls both her lips between her teeth, biting them gently as her brow furrows and the fingers of her right hand stroke her chin. She is alone in the kitchen, her left hand resting on the back of a chair at the dining table. The only light shines from the copper oven hood, interrupting the blue-gray hue falling into the room through the windows. Raindrops on glass cast speckled shadows across the hardwood floors, her cable knit cardigan, and the table. Her breath is inaudible as well as infrequent, shallow and soft. When she releases her lips, they are swollen just slightly and she closes her eyes.

She has not been to church in two months. The questions posted on her wall prompted her to deactivate her Facebook account because she did not want to answer and did not know what to say. Mallory found it bitterly amusing that the only people asking questions were church members to whom she only smiled and said hello. The ones whose attention she actually wanted were silent, distant; this formed a disgusting film across her tongue. They were the ones to whom she poured out her soul, revealed her darkest secrets, and shared her doubting questions. Unfortunately, the devout turned out to be quite shallow, wishing only to receive the positive aspects of Jesus-following and wanting nothing to do with the deep challenges of discipleship.

The closer Mallory drew herself toward Christ, the more displaced she felt in the company of other people. Spiritual devotion was the root of her depression and made her feel utterly alone. Every morning she began with meditation and prayer, followed by a close reading of one of the gospels to analyze the attitude and actions of her savior. How did he treat the poor? Whom did he chastise most? What was the “good news” really? Whenever Mallory had the opportunity to interact with those affiliated with the Christian faith, she immediately blossomed and shared her most recent theological ponderings only to realize within moments how disinterested these Christians were. Why did she seem so strange to the only community in which she could possibly belong?
                                                                  
Mallory lies on the couch in the living room, her right hand resting across her face. Duchess, a shepherd mix, curls up across her master’s feet with her chin resting on the edge of the couch cushion and her face writ with what could be concern. Mallory begins to feel pathetic as the rain stops and sunlight filters into the room. “All right,” she says with a sigh and hops up, Duchess popping her head up and tilting her head to the side, wondering what’s to happen next. Mallory smiles, bends down to kiss Duchess atop her head, and makes her way for the front door.

After harness, leash, and rain boots are in place, Mallory and Duchess walk out onto the front porch. Everything is wet and shines with sun, prompting Mallory to take a deep breath as Duchess leads them down the steps and toward the sidewalk. It is a serene neighborhood with live oaks that create canopies over the streets, names engraved on mailboxes, and toys scattered across front yards. Mom did always say that depression is a luxury. Mallory recognizes how silly her grief must seem in light of the good that she does possess.

Duchess, fond of monkey grass, dips her head to let the strands caress her face as they walk by. Mallory pulls out her phone to check her horoscope. “Libra. Cosmic storms bring distress to the periphery of your life. But it soon will pass despite the heartache you’re currently experiencing.” Dead on, as usual. Mallory looks up and tightens her grip on the leash as Duchess tries to leap forward toward a cat sitting in a driveway, swishing its tail back and forth with annoyance. Mallory leads them on and Duchess groans, wanting to play with or murder the feline. Not clear which.

Mallory opens the mailbox and retrieves a few damp letters from within. A bill, a coupon for Bed, Bath and Beyond, and then some handwritten correspondences that upset her at first glance. Once inside, she removes the leash and Duchess trots away, leaving Mallory to stare at the first letter with apprehension. She tears it open, pulls out a card depicting an illustration of a blue bird sitting on a branch. Inside it reads:


Dear Mallory,

You are missed dearly at church. We hope that you are well and will return soon. Let us know if you require assistance or prayer.

Kind Regards,
Stacey Merit
Outreach Coordinator



Mallory blows through her nose and smirks with a slight shake of her head. Well good, my absence gave Stacey something to do. She drops the one, retrieves another. This time the card depicts an illustration of a floral arrangement reminiscent of Thomas Kinkade and unfortunately reminds Mallory of her father. THINKING OF YOU is typed inside followed by signatures of women in the church book club Mallory attended a couple of times. She can’t sneer at them, fond of those ladies that are mostly twenty years her senior.

The last letter turns out to be a tithe statement, indicating the amount of money she gave to the church over the past year. She folds it up and slides it into one of the pockets of her cardigan, stepping out of her boots and making her way to the master bedroom beyond the kitchen. Duchess gnaws happily on a bone at the foot of the bed, grinding her teeth against its nearly tattered surface. Mallory walks into the bathroom and recalls her errand prior to the rain, to arrange the line of irises lying across the vanity. Their yellow tongues make her laugh and her heart hurt.




Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Natasha Akery

baby, let's play house

Posted on: January 1, 2013

It’s fifth grade, the year my mother takes me back-to-school shopping at K-Mart because I’ve outgrown everything. Mom buys me Husky jeans, a jungle print polo, a chambray shirt that’s too tight to button, which I wear as a jacket. This is before “childhood obesity” enters anyone’s lexicon, when adults are pretending this is a phase I’ll outgrow, and kids are doling out punishment in their own way.

At lunch we sit boy-girl-boy-girl and are discouraged from talking. Across from me is the new kid, Billy Carrollton, with his stupid gopher teeth and his oily black hair that he slicks back and combs into place. Billy is mean as a snake. He mixes his food together on his lunch tray and purposefully bubbles his milk over by blowing into it.

Mrs. Cook, our teacher, hates everyone in the whole fifth grade, except me.

“Mrs. Cook,” I tattle at afternoon recess, “Billy was doing disgusting things with his food.”

She studies me. Mrs. Cook is older than most teachers. She wears orthopedic shoes. I stare at their laces while she considers my claim.

“Thank you, Dorothy, I’ll take care of it,” she says.

The next day in the cafeteria, Billy kicks my shins and calls me ugly. 

“What’s it like to be the fattest girl in America?” he hisses.

I'm burning, but I spit back, “Your hair’s so greasy, you look like Elvis.”

At home that night, my skinny sister’s eyes seem to linger on me a little too long while I’m changing into my nightgown. I finish dressing in the bathroom, the door locked.

The next morning, I shower with the lights out. The mirror is as dark as a solid wall. For breakfast, I eat oatmeal with the little dinosaur eggs in it and feel nothing.

At recess, the popular girls are back in the woods playing house, kicking apart little trails of pine straw to make hallways and rooms, bartering with acorns, cradling and crooning over pine cone children. I’m leaning against a tree near Carly Ruth’s house, hoping she’ll let me be the maid again. Billy jumps down off the top of the monkey bars.

He has green stuff stuck in his gopher teeth, but his hair doesn’t look as gelled as the day before.

“Hey Dorothy, I wanted to say—”

“Don’t talk to me.”

“I just wanted to say sorry. You know I didn’t mean it. My mom says I need to make friends, since I’m new and all.”

“Whatever.”

“There’s something in the woods back there I wanna show you—for your house.”

“I don’t have a house.”

“Well, you can take it to Brittany’s house or Carly Ruth’s. Come on.”

“Are you going?” Carly Ruth asks, her hand on the hip of her Mudd jeans. “’Cause I need where you’re standing for my new porch.”

We walk to the back of the woods, where the fence divides school property from Holly Hills, the dark little housing subdivision I pass through on the way to school each day.

“Are we even supposed to be back here?” I say. “If you get me in trouble—“

“It’s fine,” Billy says. “Me and Taylor go back here all the time and Cook doesn’t say anything.”

“Okay—”

“It’s right over here. Close your eyes for the surprise!”

He turns his back and starts searching for something in the leaves. I close my eyes, but peek out through my lashes.

When Billy turns around, I see his grin first, and then his hands. I see he means to terrify me; the evil dances in his eyes. In his hands is a bird, fresh from some unknown mishap. Its eyes are glassy like Billy’s. It’s rigid. Dead.

“It can be your baby!” he shouts, throwing it at me. I jump back. It lands on the ground belly up. Its legs, as delicate as dry pine needles, reach for the treetops. A tuft of yellow feathers on its belly flashes up at me.

“You’re sick,” I say, but Billy is running off to tell Carly Ruth and Brittany that I want a dead bird to be my baby, and I touched it and kissed it, and that I’m a freak.

I tell Mrs. Cook I have a stomachache, and she lets me go back in the classroom to read for the rest of recess.

By P.E., the word’s gotten around that I collect dead birds; that I’ve got a whole box of them under my bed at home; that I dug up a dead cat once too; that when the gifted class took that field trip in 3rd grade to the high school, I was the first one to ask to see the animals floating in their pickling jars.

“You know playing with dead animals is the first step to being a serial killer,” Brittany tells Tiffany in line at the water fountain.

Coach Sellers senses trouble, or maybe the universe smiles down, and we don’t play dodge ball. We play the game where you stand in line and try to shoot hoops, and if you miss, you’re out. I’m so, so ready to be out. When we go back to the locker rooms to change, my clothes are nowhere to be found. Carly Ruth and Hannah giggle as I search the stalls and through the cubbies. They turn up, miraculously, right after the bell rings.

The next day, Billy’s not in homeroom. Mrs. Cook and our other teacher, Mrs. Roberts, whisper in the hallway, and we start class late. Before morning break, Mrs. Cook announces that Billy will be absent for a while—that his mother has passed away and we should all keep him in our prayers.

At break, Tiffany, who has homeroom with Mrs. Roberts, shares the rest of the information—that his mother committed suicide. After lunch, Mrs. Cook passes around a card that reads “deepest sympathies,” on a muted image of the ocean.

I hold it for a moment. I pass it on unsigned.



Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Dot Dannenberg

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