House of Hope

Posted on: September 30, 2013

Marco woke to the sounds of his infant daughter stirring. She hadn’t cried out, but the studio apartment was small and Marco was a light sleeper. He got out of bed and tiptoed to her crib, taking care not to wake his girlfriend and the mother of his child. His daughter smiled as he approached, letting out a high-pitched squeal of delight. She kicked her small feet and shook her small fists, casting the shadows of four mischievous sprites dancing wildly against the fiery orange of the dim streetlamp outside. Marco lifted her from her crib and sang to her softly, “Duermete mi niña, duermete mi amor…”

Marco found out Gabriella, his girlfriend, was pregnant during one of his assignments. He contemplated what Gabriella’s pregnancy would mean for him as he pressed his handgun to the head of the man kneeling in front of him. They were in a narrow alleyway tucked between a shuttered pet shop and an empty bodega. The steel felt cold in Marco’s hands and the click of the hammer was deafening. The trigger resisted the weight of his finger and it took all of his strength to finally pull it. When the deed was done, he paused to catch his breath. He leaned against the stucco wall and let the weight of his body pull him down until he was level with the dead body at his feet. Marco looked away from the corpse and stared instead at the graffiti-strewn wall opposite him. He spotted a wheat-pasted poster of the Virgin Mary directly in his line of sight. It was old and was peeling away from the wall, maybe someone had tried to remove it. The Virgin Mary had been vibrant with color at some point, but was now sun-faded and looked gray in the dark of the night. There, Marco closed his eyes and prayed.

He named his daughter Esperanza, a child born amidst the chaos. Soon after, with the help of some of his friends, Marco left the Maras and found work in construction.

Marco woke again just as dawn was breaking. The world was blue-gray now, colors that signaled the start of his day. He slipped into his dusty work clothes in the bathroom so as not to wake his sleeping family. In front of the mirror, he gently ran his fingers over the scars on his bare chest, a constant reminder of a life just recently past. It all seemed so distant at that moment. Construction wasn’t anything to boast about, but it was legitimate, and he wouldn’t be ashamed to tell his daughter what her father did. It was honorable work. The Lord was a carpenter, a creator of things – who better to emulate?

He was only given a few hours of work that day, hours that had been dwindling more and more in the past year. The economy was down, they told him, and no one was building anymore.

At home, he watched Esperanza play with her toys in her crib, realizing that they had all been gifts. What kind of father couldn’t buy his own daughter toys to play with? Marco glanced around the small, unadorned apartment, his eyes landing on a stack of untouched bills which sat atop a coffee table he salvaged from a street corner. The coffee table, which doubled as a dining table, was made of particle board and had swollen where moisture had breached the paint-chipped surface. The unpaid bills bothered him, but it was the coffee table that sent him in a rage. It was falling apart. It was all falling apart.

“We’re running low on formula,” Gabriella said.

“Okay,” was all Marco could say in reply.

It was chilly outside. Marco had gone downstairs to smoke a cigarette, a habit he promised Gabriella he would kick. He only smoked because it helped calm him, but now each puff he took felt like another dollar stolen from his own daughter. He fumbled with his cellphone in his coat pocket before pulling it out. He scrolled through his contacts until he landed on one from his past.

“I need work Angel,” Marco said.

“You have work Marco,” Angel replied, “in construction.”

“You know what I mean.”

“No Marco. Have you already forgotten how hard it was to leave the Maras? You got a new start. You have a choice now.” Angel had grown up with Marco in El Salvador. They came to the United States together and joined the Maras together. After Esperanza was born, when Marco wanted out, it was Angel that convinced the Maras to leave him be.

“What choice? A choice between living like a beggar and living as a criminal? It’s the street one way or the other. You’re telling me that I can choose to be a mouse or a rat. Men like us will always be fighting for scraps, better to be feared than weak.”

“You have a family Marco.” Angel was desperate.

“Exactly.” Marco, more so.

There was a pause and a sigh. “Fine, meet me in the alleyway behind Lee’s Grocery, you remember where that is?”

“Sure, the bodega by the old pet store.” The image of the Virgin Mary flashed in Marco’s mind and for a moment he hesitated, but only for a moment.

It was late when Marco returned. He opened his apartment door as quietly as possible, but woke Esperanza anyway. She cried loudly, waking Gabriella.

“I’ve got her,” Marco said to his girlfriend, “go back to sleep.” Marco, without looking, felt the disappointment in Gabriella’s eyes, but she said nothing as she pulled the covers over her shoulders.

As Marco embraced Esperanza, bouncing her lightly against his chest, she slowly drifted back to sleep. After she had dozed off, Marco held her out in front of him as she lay flat on his forearm. She felt warm and soft against his skin.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” he whispered to her. And then he sang, “Duermete mi niña, duermete mi amor…”

Written by: Sam Chow
Photograph by: Chris Boyles

Devaluation and Bodyworks

Posted on: September 26, 2013

First, just empty the overnight bag
. It’s going to be put away for a little while. Or a long while. Hard to say when you’re in the heat of a losing battle with reality – a reality that steadily prods your soft parts and whispers that absolutely nothing in life is guaranteed. Not even the regular use of a trendy black bag containing replacement underwear and travel-sized shampoos. Your contract with life was written in disappearing ink.

Ha ha. Joke’s on you.

This opportunity to extract oneself should feel nothing but liberating, because at the top of your skull – the place Buddhists deem to be most sacred – this is where you always knew that your interests were never even close to marrying up with his. He of bullshit and imposter Buddhist exhortations.

But really, this is not a horrific car crash where one of us is walking away maimed.

But still.

You need to unpack. You need to be distracted from the sudden and unsavory change in your circulatory function.

Was there anything of consequence left at his house? The running joke was that you were always leaving earrings under the sofa- exactly where his kids could find them. Curse the resiliency that is the human spirit. Better off to have one’s first injury stay sliced open to fester, rather than endure what has just taken place: a tired rerun that saw you pressing ‘End’ on a conversation with a suddenly incomprehensible stranger. How do any of us hazard the chance to go through this more than once?

Is this really happening again? It’s not until particular words are spoken that you recall the heart to be housed in an elevator attached to cables that span the length of your body. This reminder only resurfaces at the moment you feel the encasement slam into your feet. A free fall triggered by a secret combination of words. A phenomenon that only ever comes when you don’t see it coming at all.

In the seconds following the one-way plummet, you begin to wonder if any effort at braking was ever applied to those supposedly reinforced cables. After all, you’ve been here before. This is not your first ride in the heart-trashing rodeo. But it would appear that the point is moot; only a Pollockian rendition of a shattered heart outline now holds court there in your heels. Sitting right there next to your Achilles tendon. It would appear that life is at least guaranteed a certain level of irony.

None of this gets any easier, the second and third time around. When you have been downsized in someone else’s world, you’ll still gravitate to places that no longer exist. It’s an impulse you’ll entertain at the expense of moving forward. You neglect yourself as your insides try to recover. Appetite, like the sense of smell, takes on a tertiary significance as hunger backs away as a vital need.

The elevator that you are certain lay splintered at your base has inexplicably regained its function – albeit imperfectly. Up and down you now feel it cycle as you step one foot in front of the other, day after day. Except every now and then you notice that it gets hung up in places where you’d rather it not linger. You wonder if your insides have gone permanently haywire. Much like the fictional contract with life, you realize that this vital organ comes with no replacement warranty in the case of eventual malfunction.

This is all for the best. On an intellectual level, you’re happy that he has decided to roll over and stare at other things. Other people. Other women who are clearly superior to you. Other women who will put up with his repellent love for 1990s Kid Rock and the canisters of Kodiak tobacco that he will leave in their cars. Your brain loves to loop through this story, but the problem is that it delivers this sermon from a place that is inaccessible to the heart. Your voice box serves a choke point impeding the elevator’s unobstructed passage, and it makes you feel as though your brain were the most useless and ineffective organ in the body. Almost as unreliable as the heart.

Like the physical need to eat and sleep, this fantastic mind of yours has ceased to appear useful in the daily conduct your new routine. The only activity commanding your attention right now radiates in that transient chamber in your chest. The heart thuds with a rumble that blocks out just about everything in your immediate surroundings. Your brain disapproves of being ignored. It continues with unpacking your toiletry bag, waiting for you to come to your senses.

It’s going to feel bad like this for a little while. The connection between the heart and the brain is the ego, and it takes some time for the two to get back in sync. Like the mediocre musician who always plucks the same three sets of chords, your heart must first have free reign to return time and time again to a sound you once interpreted as melody. This will continue until you one day discover that all of it really does sound horribly out of key. And you’ll wonder why you ever listened at all.

It will take an indeterminate and slow-moving number of days, weeks, and months before you suddenly fail to notice the jerky and irregular cadence that is now your heart’s beating norm. Slowly you’ll even forget that there’s any sort of elevator living inside your chest cavity at all – and this will be the discreet signal that you have at last recalibrated yourself. All of the stinging details will have faded.

Where did I put that stupid overnight bag? By now it’s been awhile, and life has no guarantees. It is with this dictum in mind that you return to your closet and stuff your black bag accordingly.

Get ready, tender heart, because we just might be going down again.

Written By: Megan Hallinan
Photograph By: Emily Blincoe

Yes or No

Posted on: September 23, 2013

Should I still do it?

Look at her over there, seething.

Fuck! I knew this was a stupid idea. When in the course of our three years of courtship has she EVER mentioned horseback riding? When have I ever wanted to go horseback riding!?

Fucking Hollywood. Fucking Facebook. Fucking anyone who made me believe this had to be some fairytale scene.

Does she know? She has to know. She knows my palms haven’t stopped sweating since we woke up this morning. She knows I haven’t been this quiet since our first date. She knows I HAVE NO FUCKING INTEREST IN HORSEBACK RIDING.

The heat. The snakes. The minefield of shit all over these stables. HOW ROMANTIC.

JESUS. We haven’t fought like this since we thought I knocked her up.

I should wait.

Should I wait?

What if getting down on one knee is the only thing that could save this shitty day? Is a proposal powerful enough to make us look back on this string of mishaps with a sense of humor?

Maybe years from now we’ll gleefully sit our grandkids on our laps and tell them how Grandma realized she forgot to bring her special vitamin thirty minutes into our drive, leaving Grandpa no choice but to turn the car around. God knows he wasn’t going to let her do that again.

We’ll tell them how we lost phone reception and driving directions on the way, making us TWO HOURS late for our scheduled horse tour.

I’ll reenact the conversation between me and the inconvenienced cowboy who was “ten seconds from packin it in for the day.”

Grandma will take it from there, describing my total lack of horseback-riding skills, in painfully accurate details.

I’ll claim she’s exaggerating, but she won’t be.

She’ll DEFINITELY mention the look on my face when our trail guide pointed out the first of THREE rattlesnakes we saw that day.

I’ll get my revenge by telling them how she and her stubborn steed capsized while fording the creek, leaving her soaked from head to toe for the rest of the ride.

She’ll shoot me a playful glare and accuse me of spooking her horse with the high-pitched squeal I let out after seeing a very snake-like stick in the water.

I’ll insist it was a snake, but it will be too late. The laughter will already be at my expense.

We’ll find a common enemy in the catered lunch of baked beans and beef jerky, which, aside from its authenticity, added nothing to the experience or our stomachs. I’ll brag about suffering through an entire bite, and she’ll remind me how that one bite gave me violent diarrhea.

“NO,” I’ll yell before the giggle fits begin. “I just told you that so I could have a little time to myself.”

Then I’ll retell this moment. Me, hiding at the other end of the barn, working up the courage to ask for her hand in marriage. Her, staring into the wilderness, wishing we never met.

She’ll say I’m certifiably insane and rehash what was really going through her head at that moment.

I’ll listen intently, hoping to hear a genuine answer to the question I’ll have hounded her about throughout the course of our entire marriage.

She’ll either stick to her guns and give some light-hearted answer like, “I was thinking this diamond better be worth it,” or she’ll put tears in the eyes of everyone within earshot by saying something sweet like, “I was thinking how the worst thing about that day were the few times he wasn’t standing by my side.”

OR, this entire conversation will never take place because she’ll think this poor excuse for a proposal is an indication of how much I truly know her and she’ll leave me for a “better listener.”

No. That’s not possible. She’s shot down plenty of opportunities to turn me into a distant memory.

No one would’ve blamed her if she called it quits after she accepted that job offer half a state away.

She would’ve had every right to say goodbye once and for all after the way I overreacted about our pregnancy scare.

And I know of at least three members of her inner circle who would revel in the opportunity to do an I-told-you-so dance.

But she hasn’t taken the bait. She’s never even threatened it. Not once. There’s no way THIS will be the final straw.

She has to know that despite this terrible attempt at a grand gesture, my heart was in the right place.

Like that time I tried to cheer her up at her granddad’s funeral by making fun of the mortician’s makeup job.

Or that time I tried to make the distance between us easier by giving her a vibrator.

Or the card I gave her after we dodged the baby bullet, that read:

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”


“Mama who?”

“I don’t know, but it’s NOT YOU!”

Damn. Why HASN’T she left me?

Wrong question.

Will you marry me?

That’s what I need to be asking. Whatever motivates her to say yes is irrelevant.

All that matters right here, right now is that I know for a fact I want to spend the rest of my life with this lovely, loving and continuously forgiving female.

I want to feel her fist bore into my shoulder when I tell her I genuinely thought she might say no. I want to hear her laugh on the way home when she teases me about my serpent intolerance. I want to smell her shampoo wafting from the shower curtain as she aggressively scrubs the creek water out of her hair. And I want to go through this entire emotional cycle a thousand times over until one of us ends up on the wrong end of a mortician’s makeup kit.



“Will you look at me?”





“Because I’m still mad at you!”

“I think I may be able to cheer you up.”


“Turn around.”

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

All That's Colored

Posted on: September 19, 2013

When the shift occurred, without reason or warning, there were enough talking heads to fill a stadium – and many did. Lecterns were manned with the rapidity of automatic machine gun fire. But this was always an intellectual war, fought in city council meetings and university halls, among other places. Theories and ideas were lobbed with a casual surety that had never been reserved for bullets. They settled on calling it evolution, and when they did, the divisive nature of the human race took form in two very different but equally important questions. Which question you asked would ultimately define you in this new age of COLORBLINDNESS. I use this word in the most literal sense because over a period of 252 days from Mid-February to Late-October, mankind – the human species in its entirety – lost its collective ability to perceive color. The world through our eyes had become entirely black and white. As I said before, there were two immediate questions. The first – HOW? asked by the scientists among us. Theories were raised and dismissed until only one possibility was left standing – evolution. By a method of deduction, it was acknowledged by the scientific elite that receptors in the human eye had been somehow naturally modified. Strange it seems that, given the cavalier nature in which we use a word such as evolution, there have been no significant theories proposed regarding the so-called end game. We are evolving, but to what? There have been reports of increased audioception, gustaoception, olfacoception, and tactioception in test subjects, though the authenticity of these reports has been questioned. Regardless, they are known collectively as “The Mutation Papers,” and bring us to the next question – WHY?

In the days of THE BLINDING, most found themselves in their house of God. I was no different. I sat with my mother and father, brother, and little sister on wooden pews. With my hands clasped together and my elbows resting on my knees, I bowed my head and prayed. The Sunday morning televangelists coined the term THE BLINDING. They shouted into microphones chronicling our many sins and thousands fell at their feet. My father, disgusted, would turn the channel and whisper, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. Like most everyone as time went by, we continued on. My father rested after a hard day’s work. My sister attended second grade. My mother cut fresh-grown tomatoes in the evening and sprinkled them with salt. And yet every morning I believe each of us opened our eyes, and for a brief instant, it seemed possible that the world was once again overwhelmed with color. I surely did. My mother jokingly called it the hindsight of the damned. Many believed this to be some sort of punishment, while a few others thought it an awakening. To this day, we all fail to speak of the future. There will be a time, not so far off, when the last set of eyes that recognized color will finally close - and on that day we all will have lost something and we will ask why. But my mother used to say that day would also bring our salvation, and I prefer to think of our future as such. God has taken our color because we will survive, we will persevere, but we will never be the same. I believe there is assurance in that.

We’ve come to this place because some need to see it and some need to feel it. Some need to remember what it meant to have these walls, these gorgeous murals with all this color smashed together. Bold and bright they sit in our memories like beacons in the sea. Of all the cultural phenomena that have taken place since the blindness, the glorification of graffiti must be the greatest. Across the globe people flock to these places like they once flocked to Roman ruins. These walls of graffiti, from California to Buenos Aires to Jerusalem and back again, have become something more powerful than simple tagging. They’ve become remnants of a lost age – like Stonehenge or the Easter Island heads – wrapped in wonder, mystery, and a bit of sadness. I suppose our mystery is that nobody does graffiti anymore. They still sell spray-paint of course, and one could still physically tag a clean wall - but nobody does. Out of some mutual desire we’ve decided that creating new pieces like the one in front of us is disrespectful, or even evil. Personally, I think everyone knows that if we create new graffiti the old pieces don’t work, don’t mean anything, and if that happens then what do we have left? Some would say we are left with a species and a world that is unexplained, and we as a civilization are afraid of nothing more than the unknown. So in some form of group therapy we’ve decided that we without color are different. We do not yet know how we’ve changed, or how we will continue to progress in this particularly shaded world, we just know that we miss our color. So we take comfort in memories like graffitied walls, and we lean on them like vibrant walking sticks. We crowd around the scribbles because there will be no others like them and because there is communion in past appreciation, even if said appreciation was not so long ago outlawed. We look because we are now black and we are now white and ultimately, we are all in this together.

Photograph by: Emily Blincoe
Written by: Logan Theissen

Some Mistake

Posted on: September 16, 2013

For seven days, I’ve walked the road to Terra, a compound built forty years ago to protect people from the Dendra. They are also people, but with an insatiable hunger for the flesh of their own kind. It started out as a disease like jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. At first, the affected would nibble at their extremities until the instinct for survival overrode their morality and they began to hunt. Oddly enough, the Dendra are all female. More strange is their ability to reproduce without copulation.

My name is Dana and my mother became a Dendra shortly after my third birthday. I have the faint but haunting memory of watching her hold my father in her arms, gnawing almost affectionately on his ear. My brother Thomas was nine at the time. He packed his backpack with a couple juice boxes, my security blanket, his PS3 Vita, and a letter from our father explaining that the experimental treatment failed my mother in the end. Thomas grabbed my hand and snuck us out the sliding glass door. I took one last look at my parents before we ran around the side of the house and to the Kaufman’s down the street.

Thomas told me later that Rabbi Kaufman unfolded the letter with great care, as if unveiling an ancient secret. His eyes inched from left to right, filling with tears before halting at our father’s signature at the bottom. His trembling hand placed the letter on the table before drawing Thomas to him in an embrace. Thomas said Mrs. Kaufman held me against her chest and swayed from side to side, humming a lullaby in my ear to muffle the sobs that shook her inside. Childless, they took us in as my father wished.

Over the years, experts tried to come up with explanations for how the Dendra came to be. Some believed it was hereditary, possibly skipping generations. Others were convinced it was a sexually transmitted disease. A scant few decided it was an evolutionary development, but no one could discern why the affected majority were women or how they could bear children on their own. Even more troubling was how the condition failed to change the host’s personality. The Dendra are coherent and are exactly as they were before contracting the disease. The only difference is that they need human flesh to live.

When I was sixteen years old, my best friend Jessica stopped coming to school and didn’t respond to my text messages. When I snuck into her bedroom through the window one night, she looked up at me from a fetal position in the corner, fear pouring from her eyes. Without a word between us, I knew she was a Dendra. I sat down on the floor a few feet from her, pulling my knees into my chest with my arms.

“I bit Sam,” she said, talking about her boyfriend. “He said he wouldn’t tell anybody, but I could see how scared he was. He kept his eyes open when we kissed. Dana, I’m so scared. My parents don’t know yet, but my eyes. It’s in my eyes. And my stomach hurts so much.”

Jessica started to weep and I went to her, holding her head in my lap and stroking her hair until she cried herself to sleep. I covered her with a blanket before stepping back through the window, knowing I wouldn’t see or talk to her again. Two weeks later, she was taken into custody after Sam was found dead in his Jeep Wrangler in the parking lot at school. Rumor has it, you could see his trachea and that she'd eaten his heart.

The government and law enforcement had a hard time deciding what to do with them. Should they be tried like normal people? Should they be shot on sight? There were some Dendra who denied their need for human flesh and agreed to waste away under the scrutiny of medical researchers and scientists. There were others who fully embraced their cannibalism, going out only at night to hide their eyes and skin as they preyed upon the unsuspecting in nightclubs and bars.

Eventually, the Dendra outnumbered everyone else. They could bear daughters without a mate, and their gestation period had shortened to a mere five months. Some formed tribes that raised normal people like cattle, breeding them to feed their hunger, but also to hunt them for sport. Others formed factions that sought peace and a cure, but there’s been little progress and many moral Dendra die waiting.

I ran out of food three days ago and haven't found anything along the desolate road to Terra. For a week I’ve dreamt of a full belly and a warm place to sleep while trying not to dwell on the anniversary of my brother’s death. Three years ago, he was abducted by a tribe of Dendra who wanted to breed him, but when he refused, he was eaten without a second thought. They never suspected that his little sister would follow close behind with kerosene and a matchbook in tow. Their screams are my delight and my disturbance.

One hundred and forty miles on foot with only seventeen more to go until I reach the concrete barricade. They will screen me and interrogate me to ensure the safety of everyone inside. When I am cleared, I will be ushered into the compound built from the ruins of Waco, Texas. I will be assigned to a bunk, issued an ID number, and given a livelihood. They will give me a tour and show me the evacuation routes. I will have dinner in a military fashion mess hall before retreating to bed at curfew and waiting for my bunk mates to fall asleep. Then, I will eat. They will find their bodies, failing to understand that we are evolving, camouflaging, more quickly than they can hide.

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

Bench Warmers

Posted on: September 12, 2013

Tony met Miguel on a bridge about two years ago when he heard crying as he was packing up his fishing gear. He followed the sobbing to the top of the bridge and found Miguel about to jump. He was counting.


“Hey,” squeaked Tony. “Wanna fish?”


“Yeah … fish,” Tony said matter-of-factly. Luckily, it worked.

They fished together every Sunday after that and formed an unlikely friendship. Tony was a divorcee in his mid 40’s and Miguel was a widower in his late 60’s.

Miguel was a creature of habit, but after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he evolved into a creature of ritual. The number nine controlled everything Miguel did like a ruthless dictator. Instead of bowing to it, he counted to it.

He would turn lights on and off nine times. He’d lock his front door nine times, and before eating, he’d wash his hands nine times. If something interrupted him or it didn’t feel right, he’d start over again.

Sundays fishing with Tony helped Miguel free himself from the shackles of his OCD. He’d dip his lure into the water and watch his anxiety disappear into the river like rainwater.

Tony noticed his friend’s declining memory and chalked it up to old age. He didn’t mind Miguel starting a story he had just finished minutes earlier, but recently, things had gotten worse. Miguel would go through periods where he’d forget Tony’s name and treat him like a stranger.

On this Sunday, however, Tony marveled at Miguel. His memory was sharp and his banter was as witty as ever. They laughed and told stories. They even reminisced about Miguel’s fishing technique before Tony taught him the basics.

When they started getting ready to leave, Miguel began the conversation he had planned on having.

“I’m wasting away, Tony,” he said softly.

“What’s that?” Tony asked. He had been rummaging through his tackle box.

“I’m dying, man.”

Tony sat up and looked over at Miguel only to find him staring at the bridge.

“Did you go to the doctor or something? What’s wrong, Migs?”

“Remember that day on the bridge?” asked Miguel. “That’s the day I found out I had Alzheimer’s. I forget a lot, but I’ll never forget that day.”

Tony became angry.

“All this time and you didn’t tell me!? I thought you were just having a bad day.”

“I WAS having a bad day, Tony,” snapped Miguel. “I just found out that my mind was slowly wasting away, and that there was nothing I could do to stop it.”

“Do you remember what number I was on when you stopped me from jumping?” asked Miguel. Tony shook his head. He didn’t want Miguel to talk about that day anymore. He was afraid it’d make him walk back up there again.

Miguel answered his own question, “Nine. The number was nine.”

Tony tried to bite his tongue and let his friend talk, no matter how aimless it seemed.

Miguel continued, “And ever since then, that number has been my only hope. I counted to nine for everything. It was a superstition thing. I thought if I did it just right, I could keep the Alzheimer’s at bay. But now, now I can’t even remember most of my rituals. I can’t remember anything.”

Miguel, who hadn’t set foot in a hospital since his diagnosis, had been struggling with his Alzheimer’s like never before during the past few weeks. He could’ve gone to his doctor, but he had read the literature and seen other people suffering through his affliction. He already knew his fate.

“I never thanked you,” said Miguel. “Not only did you save my life, but you gave me something else to focus on. You gave me hope.”

Tony didn’t like to see Miguel give in. “There still IS hope, Migs,” said Tony. “You can fight this thing. They have treatments and ways to slow it down.”

Miguel hadn’t taken his eyes off of the bridge.

“I need you to do me one more favor, Tony,” said Miguel.

“Anything you need, bud. What is it?” asked Tony.

Miguel turned to look at Tony for the first time. “I need you to help me kill myself.”

Tony scrambled to his feet and looked down at his friend. Miguel slowly looked up and explained.

“I don’t want to be some guy who can’t recognize his friend, Tony. You saved my life before, now I need you to help me end my life.”

Tony, shaking, was hunting for words to describe what was whirling around inside his head. A loud “NO!” was all he could muster.

Miguel tried to calm his friend down. “I know this is hard to hear. But I need this, Tony. What kind of future do I have to look forward to? I’m going to die, can you please help me do it on my terms?” asked Miguel.

“How am I supposed to do something like that, Migs?” asked Tony.

Miguel decided to answer his question literally. “I want you count for me. I stop at nine so much, I don’t trust myself to get all the way to 10,” Miguel explained.

“And then?” asked Tony.

“I jump.” answered Miguel. “I jump to my freedom.”

With that, Miguel started walking towards the top of the bridge. Tony looked on, confused and horrified.

“Get back here!” he screamed. “You’re crazy, man! Let’s talk about this!”

When Miguel didn’t respond, Tony raced up to the bridge and found Miguel standing in the same spot where he first asked him if he wanted to fish. Only this time, Miguel wasn’t sobbing, he was smiling.

Tony had never seen Miguel so alive. He looked up to the sky and took a deep breath. He was calm now. Miguel’s tranquility seemed to be contagious.

“Please.” asked Miguel.

With tears starting to stream down his cheeks, Tony nodded and began counting, “1 … 2 … 3 … 4 … 5 … 6 … 7 … 8 ….9 ….10.”

Written by: Justin Grady
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

The Good Stuff

Posted on: September 9, 2013

At 10:05 every morning, the sixth graders at Fellowship Academy of Christ took a fifteen-minute break. They were too old for recess, for dangling from their growing limbs on jungle gyms and for getting sweaty playing tag. The sixth graders had more serious matters to attend to, like gossip and trading gel pens and playing the card game “Bullshit” around the corner of the building, well out of the teacher’s earshot. Andi had just broken into the card circle, and was gaining some street cred with her Bullshit skills. So this week, break was more crucial than ever.

The sixth grade card sharks were upping their stakes. It was Halloween, and Mallory was going to teach them how to play poker.

“Bring your candy stash tomorrow,” she ordered. “Everything you’ve got. We’re going big.”

The girls all nodded. They’d wanted to try poker for a while, but gambling, like smoking, taking the Lord’s name in vain, and boy-girl relations, was prohibited at Fellowship Academy of Christ. Halloween and the ruse of “trading candy” was to be their ticket.

Andi had a lot of problems. Namely, her off-brand wardrobe had gained her only probationary admission to the card circle. Outside of break, most of the girls ignored her. She hadn’t been invited to anyone’s slumber party yet, and sometimes Mallory made fun of her hair. So even more pressing was the matter of Halloween—of getting hold of the candy she’d need for the ante.

“Halloween is the devil’s night,” Andi’s mom said that afternoon. “I don’t want you and your sisters out there while spirits and sinners and drunk teenagers run wild. It’s not safe, and it’s not godly.”

“But what about the church party?” Andi pleaded. “Can we at least go to that?”

“I don’t agree with churches offering some kind of consolation prize for Halloween. They’re still celebrating a night that belongs to Satan, and we’re not having any part of it,” her mother said. “I don’t know why you’re worked up all of a sudden. We’ve never done Halloween. We’re not going to start now.”

Andi stomped up to her room to sulk. She took out her Teen Bible and scanned the index for Halloween. Nothing.

I bet Jesus never said one word about Halloween, Andi muttered under her breath. She rushed through her math homework and did a half-ass job on the dinner dishes in protest. When trick-or-treaters rang the bell, despite Andi’s mom turning off all the lights downstairs, Andi looked down on them from her bedroom window. They didn’t look so satanic to her. Just happy.

The next morning, Kim from next door picked her up for Wednesday morning prayer breakfast. Kim was a junior. She had wide-set eyes and a voice like a Disney princess. She was devout, and Andi’s mom thought she was a very good role model, so she’d talked her into this carpool arrangement. Kim was a vegetarian, but the last prayer breakfast of the month featured chicken biscuits from Chick-fil-A. Kim wanted to stop off at Pop’s Korner Mart to buy a few bananas.

“Why don’t you just eat the biscuit part?” Andi asked Kim as they climbed out of her rusty old Volvo.

“It still tastes like meat,” Kim said. “I think they just take the chicken out and re-wrap the biscuit. I can pray better if I just have fruit,” she chirped.

Andi wandered through the aisles while Kim puzzled over produce. Pop’s Korner Mart was a weird hybrid of a place—like if you meshed a general store with a gas station. Andi’s dad liked to remind his daughters that Pop’s had been open when he was a boy; that he had even known Pop himself back in the day. He couldn’t go to Pop’s without grumbling that any day now the new Wal-Mart would force gems like Pop’s to close.

Today, Andi agreed that Pop’s was better than Wal-Mart because the candy aisle was a treasure trove of poker ammunition. Candy cigarettes, cinnamon jawbreakers, and ginger zingers were the good stuff, worth way more than a whole palm full of candy corn or powdery Smarties. She felt around in the pocket of her skirt. A washed gum wrapper and some lint, but no money. Andi never had any money.

“Allowance?” her father had scoffed the one time she brought up the subject. “I pay for your food and put a roof over your head! Why should I pay you just for being alive?”

A thought flashed through Andi’s mind. She could take what she needed. The Bible said steal from the rich and give to the poor, right? And Pop’s Korner Mart was obviously rich if it was as old as her dad.

Andi slid her hand into a bin of licorice. With one eye on the front of the store, she slid five licorice sticks up the sleeve of her sweater.

That was easy, she thought. And she didn’t look any different than she had a few seconds before. She moved on to the Lindor truffles, slipping a few into each pocket. She partially unzipped her backpack and lingered for a second in front of each candy bin, grabbing a few pieces, then easing them through the opening in the zipper.


Andi gulped, releasing a handful of mini Mars bars back into their basket.

“You ready to go?”

It was just Kim, clutching her paper bag of bananas.

“Yeah,” Andi said. “I was just…thinking about getting some gum.”

“Oh, I have some in the car,” Kim said.

Back in the Volvo, Kim sang along to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. Andi sat very still so she wouldn’t crinkle from all the truffles in her pockets. All through prayer breakfast, she hugged her backpack to her chest, afraid someone might go through it and know what she’d done.

At break, the sixth grade girls sat Indian-style on the pavement and dumped their loot into their laps.

“Wow,” Mallory said, eyeing Andi’s haul. “You must have gone to the rich neighborhoods. Hey, you should come to our slumber party this weekend.”

Thank you, God, Andi thought, lifting her eyes toward heaven.

“Sure,” she said. “Now deal me in.”

Photo by: Emily Blincoe
Written by: Dot Dannenberg


Posted on: September 3, 2013

Walt was used to his mother’s itinerant habits. For the greater part of his childhood, he accompanied her as an additional bit of luggage. She was a devoted traveler – her sordid past, her illiteracy, and her general lack of an education were no barrier. She worked only enough to finance her next excursion. Each journey was more ambitious than the last, which made it more and more difficult for Walt to be a part of them. By the time his mother decided that she wanted to make a pilgrimage to a Buddhist temple in Tibet, he had long ceased to be her traveling companion.

But she always sent postcards, at least once a month, with messages scrawled in the shaky handwriting of someone who had learned to write late in life.

I met Walt almost five years ago now and we became fast friends. I was a young professor, eager to make a positive impression on the faculty. I spent my days in the university library, hoping to pad my academic credentials with research publications. Walt worked in the library re-shelving books, but his menial job was a poor reflection of his intelligence. He was brilliant and became the unofficial co-author of several of my articles. He was never afforded a formal education, but his mother always made sure there was a small library of books for him to read wherever they went. In India, he read translated buddhavacana, Siddhartha, and Rushdie. In Central America, he read Neruda, Garcia Marquez, and Cortazar. An education, she told him, was the key to a life she never had but always wanted. Walt was never sure what kind of life she meant by that.

Sometime in late August, Walt came to me at my usual carrel and slid a postcard towards me. “Algiers” was transposed in bright yellow text across an image of a coastal city. On the back, it read: “This is my view. Isn’t it beautiful? Egypt next?

“I have to find her.” Walt whispered.

“What do you mean?” I whispered back.

“My mother sent that six months ago. She never goes more than a few weeks without sending me a postcard. Something’s happened. I need to make sure she’s okay. I’m flying out tomorrow.”

“You’re going to try and find her? You can’t go over there now. It’s a mess.” I said in shock, still whispering. “Did she make it to Egypt? Where will you even start?”

“I’m flying into San Javier. Hopefully, I can pay my way onto a fishing vessel to Algiers from there. I’m going to start at the last place I know she was for sure.” He tapped his finger loudly on the postcard.

“Listen Walt, your mother is a seasoned globetrotter. I’m sure she’s been in trouble before, but she always finds her way home. You don’t even know that she’s in any trouble at all.”

“You don’t understand. Sure, she’s well-traveled, very well-traveled. But she's a dandelion puff. Her wanderlust is like a wind that carries her to these faraway places. At the end of the day it's my job to gather up all the little pieces to try and make her whole again, but it’s impossible. She's left part of herself in every one of the cities and towns she finds herself in. The irony is that she thinks of her journeys as a means to self-realization, to find herself. Yet, she loses more and more of herself each time she comes home. And she knows that. She knows that I know that, and she sends the postcards as a reassurance for my sake, as a sign that she hasn’t completely fallen apart.”

Walt was intent. All I could do was ask him to keep in touch, to let me know he was okay. Almost a full month later, I received a letter from him. He had arrived in Algiers safely and managed to find the small residential building his mother had stayed in.

“In spite of everything that’s happened in North Africa,” he wrote, “my mother was right. It’s beautiful here. The city is enchanting. The people are angry, but optimistic. And life goes on. My mother’s living quarters are Spartan, little more than a bed. The wallpaper is curling from the walls and the hardwood floor is rotting. I woke this morning to a breeze that brought in with it the acrid smell of the Bay, but it was refreshing anyway given the otherwise stagnant air of the room. As I lay in bed, listening to the sounds of routine as the fishermen prepped their boats by the marina, I realized that I could be content settling here. I also realized that that was a sentiment my mother never had the benefit of feeling herself. The landlord said my mother left several months ago. I’m not sure how I will find out where she’s gone.”

I wrote back, glibly sharing the banalities of my days and asking when he would return.

“When I find her,” he replied. I didn’t want to explore the possibility that that may never come to pass.

I didn’t hear from Walt for several months after that. Near the end of the term, I received a postcard from him. The picture was of the Great Pyramids and was sent in an envelope with some photographs he had taken. There was one of young children playing soccer in a sandlot, several candid portraits of Egyptian men and women, and one of him in front of a vibrant marketplace. He was smiling.

There was a short message on the back of the postcard. “She made it to Egypt, but left before the riots. I’m told she may have made her way back east, through Algeria. Tunisia next?”

That was the last I heard from Walt. In the years that have since passed, I realized that the irony of his mother’s life was an irony of self-preservation. We’re all just trying to live and to leave something behind before we die.

Written by: Sam Chow
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

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